Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas

A brief reflection:

Oxford English Dictionary Words of the Year

2010 Big Society
2011 Squeezed Middle
2012 Omnishambles
2013 Selfie

From Big Society to Selfie in 3 years. Make of that what you will.

At Christmas, God's selfie (Colossians 1:15) is shared with the world, born into the omnishambles, to create a new society based on peace with God and with one another.

Thankyou for visiting: whatever this season means to you, I hope and pray you have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Muslim Christmas Card

Well done to the Muslim Council of Britain for this Christmas card. I would love for tolerance of Christian festivals and practice to spread to Muslims in other parts of the world, but this is a start. It's also a perfect retort to the usual stories, which actually turn out to be local councillors banning Christian stuff on the pretext that it might offend someone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nativity Factor Winners 2013

Some excellent entries again in the Nativity Factor this year, congratulations to Dai Woolridge, pipped for 1st place last year, another excellent piece this year. Here's the top 3 adult entries, in order, and the winner of the youth category, which is a great take-off of Jeremy Kyle. Which is your favourite?

Top Posts from 2013

Here are the posts that have had the most hits in 2013, total recorded hits according to Bloggers 'interesting' stats reporting are in brackets:

General Synod: Sneaking in a radical growth strategy whilst everyone else is looking at women bishops  (1556)

Church Growth in the CofE - Discussion Paper (1275) short paper for local clergy/churches based on a CofE General Synod paper on church growth

Absent Fathers Day (1154) reflections on a Centre for Social Justice report on fatherhood, or rather the lack of it, in vast numbers of families.

The Church of England, the Gospel and the Future: my prayer for General Synod (993) having seen the agenda for the next synod, the prayer is still in the 'wait' queue. It's mostly about sex, again.

Flashmob Wedding (914) Kate Bottley sets an example to vicars everywhere

Church of England Headline Generator (837) can't take any credit for this, simply a one sentence link to the Beaker Folk

2-Faced Facebook (819) is Facebook a force for good or bad? Or, like all the people using it, both?

Minion Praise (816) excellent.

Church of England - Not Levelling Out (805) doing my Morrissey act on some positive reporting of CofE attendance stats earlier in the year.

David Mitchell on Faith, Atheism and Agnosticism (769) video clip

Christians the most persecuted religious body on the planet (741)

Papal Shortlist (728) not entirely serious. Perhaps we should be thankful someone else got the job.

Youth Run riot in Yeovil (725) possibly not what you're expecting from the headline. That's deliberate.

Most commented was Making Parenting Pay, which isn't saying a lot as most of these posts don't get any comments at all!

Most popular posts overall on this blog are from previous years, on the spirituality or otherwise of Coldplays Mylo Xyloto and this one on the future of the CofE (yes, yet another one, it also generated most discussion), looking at how a church based on having 15,000 full-time frontline staff will cope when it only has 5,000.

More and more traffic to the blog has come via Twitter - it's no coincidence that several of these top posts were written around the time of General Synod, and the #synod hashtag generated a lot more interest than usual. Inter-blog traffic is fading, but thankyou to anyone who's blogged or tweeted a link here, especially Cookies Days, Thinking Anglicans and God and Politics. I hope there's been something worth reading!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gary Barlow Does God: "I pray a lot"

Whatever you think of Gary Barlow and his music, the lyrics of 'God' on his latest CD are intriguing, to say the least:

Tell me
If you found God and he gave you hope
Would you tell the world or save your soul?
If you found God, would you take Him home
Would you open the curtains or keep them closed?
If you found God, if you found God
Would it be your secret?
If you found God, if you found God
Would it be your secret?

Could anyone really be that selfish?
Could anyone really be that cruel?
To keep the king of heaven and earth right next to you

Not sure what faith Barlow has or hasn't got, but I'm 100% with him on the challenge here, God doesn't bless us so we can keep it to ourselves, it's so that others can be blessed. 

Update: just found an interview with Barlow in the Mirror with this snippet:
With another track called God and references to souls, heaven and guardian angels, it is not only Gary’s most introspective work but also his most ambitious to date.
Questioning the whole concept of faith and God, he explains: “I do think about religion loads. It seems like quite an old-fashioned thing now but I’ve started to consider what goes on out there. You do as you get older.
“When big things happen in your life and you lose people you love, you do consider it, definitely.
“I do pray, I pray a lot... usually on take-off because I’m scared of flying. I honestly do. I put my hands together and say, ‘Please God, keep us safe’.
“I don’t know if there is a God but I do say prayers, and I say prayers for people. There are no answers on this record but there are considerations and questions of the whole idea around it.”

Update 2: I'm expecting a royalty fee from the Bishop of Taunton. 

Update 3: and here's Barlow talking about forgiveness, pretty remarkable. 

Update 4: looks like he'll have to pay a lot as well as pray a lot.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"If my sense of what I should do doesn't fit with the Bible, then I'm wrong" ABofC

Excellent snippet of the ABofC on God's guidance, and how you navigate your way when lots of people are trying to tell you what they think God wants you to do. Really helpful stuff on guidance and decision making of any sort. Ht Vic the Vicar.

And that's an excellent looking clergy shirt, if anyone sees them on sale somewhere, let me know.

Mental health - losing out yet again

story on the BBC website today:

Mental health trusts In England have had their funding cut by more than 2% in real terms over the past two years, figures show.
The BBC received data from 43 out of 51 mental health trusts following a Freedom of Information request.
The coalition has guaranteed the NHS budget will rise by 0.1% in real terms over the course of this parliament.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that mental health services are near breaking point.
Separate data for the same period shows referrals to crisis and community mental health teams have risen by 16%.
I really don't see how this squares with the stated commitment of the government to support mental health. Norman Lamb is quoted in the article  bemoaning the state of affairs, which I simply don't get at all. You're the government, in case you'd forgotten! 
High profile summits on dementia research are all very well, and a good thing, but just as important is the day by day support to the millions who already suffer from dementia, depression, anxiety, ocd etc. and for whom local mental health services might be the last thread holding them together. 

update: by 'coincidence' an e-newsletter from Mind and Soul just arrived. How to be a mental health friendly church, articles, testimonies, lots of helpful stuff. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Bishop of Bath and Wells

An introductory vid from the new Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, recorded yesterday as he toured the Diocese.

"The mission that God has given to us: to proclaim Christs love, to live that love, and to share it with others."

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Foodbank

Latest cartoon in Dave Walkers current Advent series. Puts me in mind of a line from a church urban fund chap (can't remember his name), that's it's all very well pulling people out of the river, but we also need to ask why people are falling in in the first place.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Nativity According to Chocolate

An updated version of a talk I posted a few years back, in case anyone is a bit stuck for Christmas talks. It all depends on which of the chocolates/sweets you can get hold of, or which ones people will recognise, there's probably 3-4 too many here anyway.

Apologies in advance for the presence of a couple of Nestle products in the list, I'm sure it works just as well without them. I usually introduce it by talking about chocolate advent calendars, and that even if chocolate and sweets took over Christmas entirely, God's story would still be hidden in there. Then if you've got all the chocolates laid out in the right order, the script almost looks after itself:

A long time ago, God made the Galaxy,
Beautiful, rich, wonderful
And filled it with people, people he made, people he loved, people like you and me, people who were all special to him.
But the people decided they didn’t want to be in God’s Club, they wanted to have their own, without God. That’s a bit like trying to sing with no tune. And everything started to go wrong
Really really Rocky.
Suffering, pain, loneliness, bullying, violence, death
Because we’d chosen our way instead of God’s way
Everything just got really Haribo (horrible)
So to give them a Boost
God promised that things would change.
One day a special person would come and start to put things right.

Many years later, a young woman was FRIGHTENED OUT OF HER WITS
When an angel suddenly turned up
The Angel wondered if he Malteser fear (‘might ease her’) Don’t be scared he said, You’re going to have a son, the Son of God, call him Jesus
A name that means he’ll save people, he’ll make them friends with God again.
And though Joseph, her fiancée, was a bit confused, he was a good egg, you couldn’t hope to meet a Kinder man, so he decided to look after Mary, and God’s baby.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem
(Mary was heavily pregnant, and Joseph wondered if she’d Flake out on the journey)
Joseph tried to find a place werther could have the baby.
The innkeeper didn’t have any rooms, but he was able to Lindor manger and some straw.
In those days, people often lived in a house with a split floor, animals on the lower level, people on the next, so maybe the innkeeper let them into his home. We don’t know what sort of animals were there, whether there was a Kit Kat, but by morning there was Jesus Nestleing in his mothers arms.

All sorts of strange visitors started to turn up.
Up on the hillside, the kind of place where banditS nicker sheep or two, there were shepherds watching over the flock at night.

they were looking up at the Milky Way, when a strange light appeared in the sky.
The light got nearer and nearer, brighter and brighter
then suddenly what they thought was a star burst into song
a choir of heavenly minstrels praising God in Celebration

the angels said go and see God’s promised saviour
Tell everyone, don’t Wispa, shout it out, God is here.
So straight as an Aero they headed for Bethlehem to find Jesus.
And they were there in a Jaffa

Further away, some wise men were also looking at the sky: the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and they decided to tracker 'n object that had appeared in the sky  and started moving in a strange way.
In the ancient world, all the planets stood for something: Jupiter was the ‘king star’, and at the time of the birth of Jesus, Jupiter appeared in the night sky very close to Saturn, which represented Israel. If you were reading the sky you’d see ‘new king in Israel’.

So the kings packed up their bounty – presents for the new king
And came to see Jesus. They didn’t find him at king Herods palace,
But those wise men were smarties, they didn’t give up
And when they found Jesus they brought out their Kingsize gifts, no Twix, just treats:
Gold for a king, incense for worship, myrrh for death.

And here’s the Crunch ie
The baby Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God into the world
He is Divine, in human wrapping.
God’s gift to you: but you can only taste how good the gift is if you unwrap it.

I hope you do choose to unwrap the gift, choose Jesus, but in the end, it’s your selection.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


If, as David Cameron says

"we are a Christian country"

why are Christians forced to choose between work and faith for not working on Sundays, despite having told their employer beforehand they couldn't do so, and then having their shifts changed? A decision then backed by our court system?

At what point does this sort of rhetoric simply become meaningless (left-leaning readers will probably respond 'as soon as Cameron says it')..?

Christmas Time - thought provoking poem/graphics

I'm going to have to plan some more Christmas services, running out of opportunities to show videos like this one:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in Yeovil

Just had the latest newsletter from our local CAP centre. Some fantastic work being done there, here's a few snippets from it:

Please pray for those potential clients who need our help, but can’t get appointments. We are booked up 3 months ahead and had to turn 2 away last week.

To help with the situation we are now delivering 38 Christmas hampers to our current clients, and we have opened a regular drop in centre at St John’s Church every Thursday morning from 10am to 12 noon. As well as being somewhere warm where our existing clients can drop in for a coffee, cake and friendly chat, it’s also useful for anyone with appointments in January or February, or potential clients to come and get some immediate advice. So far this has been very successful. 

We’ve managed to  make a couple of phone calls and avoid court action, bring a very urgent visit forward when we got a cancellation, and by showing what paperwork is needed make the first visit far more effective and less stressful....

..Also anyone who will otherwise be alone, and that includes a lot of our clients, is invited to the Christmas dinner in the schoolrooms on Christmas day.

Please pray for all these events, and that people experience Jesus for real at these events. I think that’s what “The Word became flesh” is meant to mean….

As we look back over another year we have a lot to be thankful for.

  • We’ve now been open a month longer than 2½ years which is the national average.
  • We’ve dealt with 102 clients.
  • 17 of these are now debt free.
  • 10 have made a first time commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ as their saviour as a result of the Grace they’ve been shown and an explanation of the Gospel.
  • 43 are on a debt management plan and are somewhere between initial contact and becoming debt free.
  • 4 have parted company in a very positive way as they now feel empowered to work with their debts themselves and no longer need CAP’s help.
  • 42 are still living in their homes, when they otherwise would have been evicted by their landlord or mortgage provider for arrears.
We were challenged at our 'clergy gathering' last week by a Kiran Martin from India, whose work in the slums was showing what the kingdom of God looks like in terms of transformation of everything - health, work, education, relationships, hearts, relationship with God, government, homes, from whatever angle you looked at it, it was good news. Reading the summary above I get the same feeling. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New CofE Internship Scheme

The Church of England is going national with an internship progamme already running in pilot form in some dioceses. Here's one example, in Stepney.

The framework looks like a good one: "The scheme.....is a one year programme of theological teaching, practical experience and personal development  for young people aged 18-30 who are considering future ministry in the church. The scheme was set up to encourage more young people to consider being involved in ministry and focus on the nine criteria used in the selection of clergy."

So there's a clear focus - testing a calling to ordained ministry - based on actual selection criteria. The details of the Stepney project sound like a standard gap year: accomodation and subsistence provided, with the bonus that all the theological and practical training is provided for free.

15 more dioceses are interested in the the scheme, and the intention is for it to run nationally. Looks good - at the moment there's a gap in the market. Young people with a sense of calling may not be the finished article, but can get frustrated with a long vocations process that keeps them hanging on in uncertainty. Having something to get stuck into will be helpful.

One other thought is whether dots can be joined with things like the Arrow Leadership Programme, run by CPAS for younger leaders in Christian settings, including clergy. It would be good to see a consistent track of personal, spiritual and leadership development worked into the vocations and training process.

update: for people who looked at the CofE link before Tues lunchtime, they've now added a couple of case studies.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A few of my favourite things

Inspired by Tanya Marlows post on the same topic (and with a bit of overlap) here are some of my favourite things. I'll probably think of more as soon as this is posted:

Books - fiction
  • Jostein Gaarder - The Solitaire Mystery. All his stuff is superb, love the story within a story format.
  • JK Rowling - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Especially the last 2-3 chapters. 
  • Jon MacGregor - If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. Poetic. 'If you listen, you can hear it. The city, it sings'
  • Douglas Coupland - Jpod. Well, everything by Coupland.
  • Agatha Christie - devoured these as a teenager, think I read every single one.
  • Simon Parke - Desert Child. Read this on a particularly awful retreat and it was spot on.

  • The Choir - US Christian alternative rock outfit. Still producing superb music after 25 years. Like this
  • Shriekback - bit of teenage oddness in the 80s, unique sound.
  • The Smiths - musically and lyrically brilliant, marmite band
  • Coldplay - also great to play on piano, which is a bonus.
  • U2 - maddeningly inconsistent, usually 2-3 standout tracks on each album, and 2 or 3 they really should have left off. Joshua Tree probably the exception.
  • Evanescence - purely for Fallen, packed with epic tracks. Bring Me To Life is spine-tingling.
  • Jean Michel Jarre - love his early stuff
  • Steve Taylor - razor sharp lyrics, great tunes, bags of energy. 
  • Newsboys - see Steve Taylor
  • New Order/Electronic - bags of classic tunes, quirky, and a bass line to die for.
TV programmes
  • Gigglebiz - kids sketch show with the multi-talented Justin Fletcher
  • Have I Got News for You
  • Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes. Brilliant ending.
  • House of Cards. You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment.
  • The Goodies - haven't seen it since I was small, but usually ended up comatose with laughter on the carpet
  • The Choir: Boys Don't Sing. A masterclass in discipleship, and inspiring others.
  • Live Cricket. You'd never realise, but we used to get it on terrestrial TV. Spent hours glued to BBC2 every summer as a kid.
  • Election night results shows. Can't beat a good all-nighter with the Swingometer.
  • Sherlock. Loved it. Can't wait for the new series.
  • Airplane!  - Watched it 5 times at the cinema alone. 'A hospital? why what is it?'
  • The Usual Suspects -  The twist to end all twists.
  • Shawshank Redemption -  Of course. Brilliant central characters
  • Memento -  incredibly clever film, recreating in the viewer what it's like to have amnesia. But I find it really hard to watch as well, there's so little redemption at work.
  • Spiderman 3 -  Packed with spiritual themes, and does the standard postmodern hero deconstruction thing without having to go all Batman.
  • Up - Brilliant opening 2 minutes, and stays brilliant. 
  • The Incredibles -  Love the interplay of family dynamics and superheroes.
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales - I find that I dislike everything that Clint movies stand for (revenge, individualism, redemptive violence) but find them compelling anyway.
  • Lord of the Rings - can't think of many fantasy books that haven't been ruined by movie adaptations (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, the Hobbit), but apart from the daft Elf love triangle, LOTR is great. Aragorn rocks. So does Sam.
  • The Full Monty/Brassed Off - having grown up in Sheffield, anything that gives the old city a starring role has to be good. Great stories, and some devastating pictures of the vulnerable male psyche. 'Nobody wants to see this dance'.
  • Shrek. Inventive and hugely quotable.
  • The Matrix. There's a bit of Neo in all of us. Well, blokes anyway.
  • Pay It Forward. Great cast, inspiring story.
John Simm, Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Emma Thomson, Hattie Morahan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Judi Dench, Leslie Nielsen, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Samuel L Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Christopher Ecclestone.

  • Top of Dale Head in the Lake district, looking down the Newlands Valley
  • The moors around Fox House near Sheffield
  • Cologne Cathedral
  • St. Johns College Nottingham, especially the quiet room.
  • Mill House retreats in Devon
  • a cricket pitch, as long as it's not cold or raining
  • round the meal table with my family
  • the waterfalls walk around Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales
Books that have helped me most on my journey with God
Richard Foster - Celebration of Discipline
Gordon MacDonald - Ordering Your Private World
Bill Hybels - Courageous Leadership
Nicky Cruz - Run Baby Run (part of my journey to faith)
Francis Schaeffer - The God Who Is There.

'God's Grandeur' - poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thai Green Curry, cross country running, real ale, alternative worship, politics, the chocolate cake served in Vennels cafe in Durham, cheesy Doritos, old friends, reading to the kids, discovering an 80's track on Spotify that I used to love at school, Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, the Ethiopian orthodox chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, people smiling, the moment in a wedding service where I pronounce them husband and wife.

To see the original list that kicked this off, go to JK Rowborys blog. It's a list that took several months to compose, and when you read the intro you'll understand why.

Your turn!

Christmas in a Nutshell

Really like this

Saturday, November 30, 2013


“The Church's task is not just to pull people out of the river, but to go upstream and ask who or what is throwing them in in the first place” (Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Incarnational Homespun Blues

potential winner for this years Nativity Factor?

here's the original, in case you're wondering what the above is all about

and this wouldn't be complete without Weird Al Yankovic's inspired palindrome parody version

Weird Al Yankovic: Bob from ding dong on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A TV Show of Biblical Proportions

The Bible, a TV miniseries made for US television, is to air on Channel 5 from Saturday 30th November, 9pm. Here's the trailer, and there's all sorts of clips, snippets & info at the link. Or go here, where Damaris have put some resources together for churches.

Having just about finished a Bible Society course on how we interpret and apply the Bible, it'll be interesting to see how the series does it. Reports are a bit mixed! But then, when did a movie version of a book ever constitute an improvement?

Or if you want something on the big screen:

Monday, November 18, 2013

General Synod on 'The Priority of Evangelism and Making New Disciples'. No, you're not dreaming.

Following this afternoons debate on 'Intentional Evangelism' (which prompted some wag on Twitter to ask what 'Unintentional Evangelism' might look like), the CofE General Synod passed this motion:

'That this Synod in the light of the priority of evangelism and making new disciples:
(a) support the formation of an Archbishops' Task Group on Evangelism with the terms of reference and timetable as set out in GS 1917 and urge that its members include:
(i)  staff of Anglican home mission agencies with expertise in helping local churches engage in effective evangelism and disciple-making, and
(ii)  those with a proven record in those disciplines at local level".'
(b) call upon the Task Group to make its first priority a new call to prayer;
(c) commend to the Task Group an initial programme for its work around the seven disciplines of evangelisation as set out in the same paper; and
(d) call upon every diocesan and deanery synod and every PCC to spend the bulk of one meeting annually and some part of every meeting focusing on sharing experiences and initiatives for making new disciples.'
(e) urge every local church in 2014 prayerfully to try tat least one new way, appropriate to their local context, of seeking to make new disciples of Jesus Christ.".'
Bits in italics are amendments added during the debate. 
One concern already voiced is that 'top-down' initiatives from the CofE rarely work, and that encouraging evangelism and disciple-making needs to happen from the bottom up. What the top can provide is accountability, encouragement, permission, and reshaping of structures. Sections d and e won't amount to very much unless bishops, archdeacons, clergy and church members all pick them up and run with them. But if they become standard practice, then they could make a huge difference. 
I'm encouraged by the fact that both Archbishops have made this a priority, both in Synod agenda terms, and in their own commitment to it - up to 6 meetings a year on the task group for up to 5 years. This is the kind of long-term leadership we need to bring about a change of culture and practices. It can't happen soon enough.
For snippets from the main background paper to this debate, have a look here.

And for a penetrating insight into Synod processes, try this. Really, try it. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Church of England, the Gospel, and the Future: my prayer for General Synod

The good news of Jesus Christ is not a human invention but the revelation of God’s grace to humankind

This gospel of Jesus Christ offers forgiveness for sin for those who are alienated from God and a renewed relationship with our creator and with one another. The gospel offers guidance for the lost, spiritual food for the hungry, healing for the broken in spirit, freedom for those who are captives, order and safety for those whose lives are in chaos, fruitful living for those whose lives are barren. The gospel offers the gift of life in all its fullness and fellowship in the life of God the Trinity both now and for all eternity. The gospel offers the rich gift of resurrection and life beyond death for, in Christ, the power of death itself has been vanquished and resurrection life is offered to all.

From this paper for General Synod, meeting in the next few days. Amidst all the women bishops stuff, the Synod actually kicks off with a paper and debate on Intentional Evangelism. The paper goes on to say:

The Church is compelled to proclaim the gospel with imagination and perseverance out of 
love for God, whose gospel this is, and out of love for the world. We have nothing more, and nothing less, to offer to the world around us than this pearl of inestimable value. The world around, at different times, may ridicule, scoff or reject the message. But the response of the world does not invalidate the gospel or excuse the Church from the call to proclaim it.

and states plainly what the CofE needs to do:

Evangelism is not something which will happen in the present climate on its own without a deliberate and intentional emphasis and strategy to guide us forward which is owned at every level across the Church of England. The lessons we have learned and are learning need to be shared, owned and developed in a clear and systematic way. We need the urgent investment of resources, time and energy into each of the different aspects of evangelism over the medium and long term. We need to be focussed in our prayers and in our resourcing of this aspect of our calling in the local church, in dioceses and in the national church. We need, in brief, to be intentional about evangelism in this next period of our life as the Church of England, not for a five or ten year period but for a generation or more in order to reverse the decline we have seen over the last century and to lay a foundation for the growth of the Church in this land in future generations. 

Yes, we need to get on with ordaining women to the episcopate, but we have only so much time and energy as a church, and this single issue is consuming far too much of it. Apologies to everyone campaigning for women bishops, but my prayer is that if there is anything at the coming General Synod which shapes the CofE for the future, it is this. GS1917. It is more important than who we ordain to the episcopate, and therefore deserves more time and energy than our debates over women bishops.

the paper itself recognises this:
the translation of this desire for a strategy into a meaningful and workable plan for the next period of our common life has still to be achieved. Motions in the General Synod about evangelism and the growth of the church are in danger of becoming bland. We seem to be at the point where evangelism cannot be taken forward by the embracing of one or two big new ideas but is more about an intentional shift across a whole range of disciplines. 

Headline motions about the growth of the church cannot by themselves prevent this agenda being squeezed by the seemingly more pressing calls to focus time and attention on questions of gender and ministry or human sexuality

There are 4 core proposals:
1.  an Archbishops’ Task Group on Evangelism which will enable national leadership and co-ordination in this area of Church life 
this is proposed in the motion, the group will include both Archbishops and will meet 4-6 times annually for at least the next 2 years. That's a significant commitment. The focus of its work will be prioritising evangelism and prayer within the CofE as a whole

2. Support for a national call to prayer around this agenda in the coming years. 

3. Support for a programme of action to be articulated by the Task Group around the Seven Disciplines of Evangelisation
sounds churchy, but have a look at the 7 Disciplines on page 14ff, evangelism, church planting, nurture, church growth, apologetics...

4. A call to every PCC and every diocesan and deanery Synod to take time annually to develop and focus on this agenda
I mean, what have we been doing if this isn't happening already?

But I'm hopeful that at last it is going to happen. Pray for the Church of England this week, that it will get its priorities right, and put its energies in the right place. I pray that this paper sets the tone for everything that follows, not just in this next week, but for the next generation.

update: some other synod previews here, one by the Bishops Chaplain from our diocese (which, in constrast to this post, is entirely about women bishops!), and this excellent post by Pete Broadbent looking at mission, ministry and reshaping the church.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Beatboxing Christmas

Hot on the heels of the original Beatbox Nativity, Gavin Tyte has recorded the whole of Lukes gospel as a rap. If you're short of a reader for one of those Christmas services, or just think it's time for a slightly different version of the story, scripts and audio are here.

In case you've no idea what I'm talking about:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Petition: Put Age Ratings on Music Videos

With a couple of kids at primary school, I'm fairly picky about which channels get blocked on our TV. Anything showing music videos is off air, along with the shopping channels and pornography. I've just signed this petition, which calls for age ratings to be applied to music videos whether sold in shops or online, something which is long overdue. Please consider signing it too.

Here's some of the wording, addressed to the Prime Minister:

I know that you care deeply about the sexualisation of women and girls in the media and are taking action to tackle this. Your commitment to introducing age-ratings for music videos sold in shops is very welcome. For consistency, I would urge you to extend age-ratings to music videos viewed online also, as recommended by a Government commissioned review, because most people now watch and share videos this way.
This is not about censorship as music videos shown on TV, video games, films and ads are all regulated or have age-ratings so that there is guidance on sexually explicit images, and many harmful images are removed altogether. This same principle should apply to music videos online, linked to filters, so that there is a trusted guide about content. Many online platforms including iTunes and Netflix already carry BBFC age-ratings and content advice.
I hope that you will listen to the voices of young women and make this change so that we can enjoy music videos without being bombarded by these harmful images.

'Joseph' - great bit of Christmas performance poetry

Last years 'Christmas C(h)ord' was brilliant, here's another superb presentation of the Christmas story from the very talented Dai Woolridge. You can download 'Joseph' here.

Meanwhile the Nativity Factor, which Dai very nearly won last year, is open for entries for the next couple of weeks. Here's some of the best from the last couple of years.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Christmas Gifts: Archbishop v Advertisers

There's a Justin Welby interview with money saving expert Martin Lewis due for broadcast this evening, which is already making the news. Here's some of it:
The archbishop said that if he suggested that people should stop giving Christmas gifts, no-one would listen.
"It's obviously not what Christmas is about but to be absolutely honest, there's not that much point in saying it because nobody's going to pay attention," he said.
He added: "Giving at Christmas reflects that generosity of God. So be generous in a way that shows love and affection rather than trying to buy love and affection," he said.
"You can't buy it, you can show it, and when you show it, it comes back at you with interest.
"Save up for the Christmas budget, be sensible, don't put pressure on your finances - don't make your life miserable with Christmas.
"Share love and affection with reasonable gifts that demonstrate you really care for someone. That makes for the best Christmas you could ever have."
The CofE daily bulletin also has some of the coverage. There is a relentless attempt by advertisers to define what Christmas is about, and of course their false paradise includes us spending more money than last year on stuff we never knew we could manage without. I hope the Archbishops voice is heard above the beeping credit card machines.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Logic Fail: National Secular Society and the Coronation Oath

He (Keith Porteous Wood) added: "We object almost as much to Prince Charles's intention to be 'defender of faith'; that is like saying he doesn't care about half of the population who are not religious or are religiously unconcerned."

from this piece on the latest National Secular Society headline-grabber. If Mr Porteous Wood intends to defend the rights of a town councillor who doesn't want to pray in a public meeting, does that therefore mean that he doesn't care about anyone else in the country? The suggestion that Charles will only rule (if he ever does) on behalf of people with faith is ridiculous.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Defying 'Gravity'


Alone and facing almost certain death, astronaut Dr Ryan Stone reflects aloud  "No one will mourn for me. No one will pray for my soul... I’ve never prayed... Nobody has taught me how..."

Gravity is at the same time both spectacular and peculiar. It's a classic 'alone in space' thriller in the tradition of 2001, Solaris and Moon, a disaster movie with a cast of 2. You simply have to switch off the part of your brain going 'how on earth did they film that?' (the opening 17 minute spacewalk shot, Sandra Bullocks tears floating away weightless) and hold onto your seat. It will surely win a sackful of awards, but there are odd bits too. George Clooney's character - the experienced mentor to Stone's novice -  seems to be there solely to keep Bullocks character alive, and is oddly dispassionate about his own fate. 

And there's prayer. Here is a character who has a PhD, is an astronaut, can read Russian and Chinese, but can't pray because 'nobody has taught me how.' It's sad, strange, and out of character. This doesn't seem like someone who wouldn't attempt something just because nobody had taught her how. Does this line ring true? Is prayer something so peculiar that even the cleverest and most resourceful person needs teaching? Does it come naturally? Or are we now so disconnected as a culture from God that prayer is a foreign language? 

Yet there seems to be some mercy at work: as Stone is losing consciousness she hallucinates/dreams Clooneys character rejoining her and telling her how to get home - recovering consciousness to find he's not there, but that his advice in her 'dream' is spot on. Angel? 

Despite the nods to some kind of supernatural help, the film is a homage to human resourcefulness - Stone survives, and emerges from the sea onto solid ground - as she stands she almost becomes a giant, rising up to fill the entire frame, taking her first faltering steps into an untouched world. But..... as she lies on the beach, squeezing the sand between her fingers, she says 'thank you'. Who to? Maybe she's learnt to pray after all - Meister Eckhart, a medieval monk, is reputed to have said 'if the only prayer you say in life is 'thankyou', that would suffice.'

With shots of a St. Christopher icon in the Russian space station, and a buddha in the Chinese one, Gravity's bets are very well hedged. There's enough bones thrown to the large US Christian audience to keep them happy, and like lots of good stories Gravity raises questions without answering them. Parts of the movie flash REBIRTH in large letters, but doesn't resolve whether rebirth is something we achieve ourselves, or whether, as Jesus said, it's the gift of God.

Here's some other interesting reviews

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Blogs worth a browse

Good to see God and Politics back at the top of this particular blog rating site - possibly helped by the CofE now including blogs in its daily updates, as well as the continued excellence of the site and its content.

A couple of sites I'd not noticed before are now in the Ebuzzing top 20 for Religion and Belief, both worth a look, for different reasons:

Thorns and Gold by Tanya Marlow, mum, bible teacher, counsellor, ME sufferer. Her latest guest post is by Katharine Welby, and is excellent.

Though it's not strictly a blog, the Joint Public Issues Team of the Baptist, Methodist and URC churches has lots of provocative stuff on poverty, energy, environment, benefits, and everything from a theological critique of the use of drone strikes to how the church can respond to the housing shortage. Really worth a few minutes digging.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Halloween: Parental Guidance

I was at a well attended public sports event Up North last week, with lots of children present. It was 31st October, so there was a Hallowe'en theme, including a fancy dress competition and the home team playing in themed shirts (which were then raffled off). During a rest period in the match, we were treated to Michael Jacksons 'Thriller' video. The uncut one that they wouldn't play on Top of the Pops, which has a 15 rating (originally 18).

Neither of my kids are anywhere near 15, and neither were scores of other children present. I've emailed the host venue to highlight the issue, and also BBFC to ask about the legality or otherwise of showing a 15 certificate film in a public venue with no warning or parental advisory.

Hallowe'en is getting worse by the year - this years pulling of mental patient 'costumes' by big high street names is the tip of the iceberg, there is a gruesome window display greeting you as you turn into the centre of Yeovil, zombies are murderers are taking over from pumpkins. Even Angry Birds has gone into overkill (sorry for the pun) with 4 weeks of Halloween (i.e. zombie pig) themed games on its Facebook app running deep into November.

I'm not an angry bird, just a parent feeling protective and besieged in equal measure. Hallowe'en is becoming a celebration of gold and gore, can I say 'enough' without being called a killjoy?

update: the BBFC have responded and are looking into it, no reply from the venue yet.

update 2: still no response from the venue, but here's the BBFC's email -
Dear David,

Thank you again for your query regarding the screening of a sequence from Thriller at an ice hockey match.

As the venue was not a cinema we would advise you to send your comments to the organisers of the event. If you don't get a satisfactory response then you may wish to contact the appropriate local council as they should be able to advise you on the matter.

I hope this information is helpful.

odd that the BBFC can't advise me on whether this was legal. 


"Pray we must, but prayer must never be an escape from reality. Prayer cannot preserve a man from the insistent cry of human need. It must prepare him for it' and sometimes he will need to rise from his knees too soon and get to work - even when he does not want to." (William Barclay)

"...Give me grace to call on thee at all times by diligent Prayer.Ah Lord, I know my Devotion has dailymany unavoidable and necessary interruptions,and I cannot always be actually praying,all I can do is to beg of thy Love,to keep my heart always in an habitual disposition to Devotion,and in mindfulness of thy divine presence..." (Thomas Ken)

Not sure if these appeal to me because activity comes more naturally to me than prayer, or because they ring true.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Saturday, November 02, 2013

South Somerset Local Plan - Goodbye SUE

In the latest instalment of the Local Plan for South Somerset, a revised Plan is being presented next week to the local council. This follows a warning from a government planning inspector that the plan would fail at public inquiry, and a 6 month grace period to put it right.

You can follow the history of this via the tabs, but here are the headline revisions:

 - The idea of a Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE) has been abandoned. After successive downgrades in size from 5,000 homes to 3,000 to 2,500, SSDC is now only planning to build 1565 in the period covered by the plan (up to 2028), rather than 2500 in a period extending beyond the end of the plan, to create a bigger community

 - Since this isn't big enough to provide a 'sustainable' neighbourhood (most/all facilities required by residents on-site, including health centre, secondary school, place of worship etc.), there is no compelling logic to providing it all in one place. There is also, after a re-appraisal of the alternative sites, no obvious ideal location for this site, with all 3 main options around Yeovil (S, NW, NE) coming out roughly level.

 - So, SSDC are now planning on two sites, of roughly 800 houses each, one on the original SUE site by the A37 South of Yeovil, and one to the NE, next door to the current Wyndham Park development. It's worth noting that plans to develop this NE site had already been submitted by a local developer.

If this goes through the District Executive this week, there'll be a fresh round of public consultations from 28th November, and the revised plan will then go back to the planning inspector. Background papers here if you have a spare half day to read them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

2-Faced Facebook

A Facebook day yesterday:

On the down side, a discussion on one page that passed on a misquote, and had the potential to get negative, but thankfully didn't.

On the massive up side, there's a really creative Facebook admin in Yeovil who's set up a range of sites. One, which is mainly for the clients of the main local social housing provider (Yarlington Chat), has had a number of 'live chats' with people from different backgrounds over the last couple of weeks. Zoe the Admin has set them all up, and last night it was my turn as a vicar. Everything from gay marriage (of course) to dog collars, baby funerals, creation, other faiths, safeguarding in the church, the Illuminati, street preachers, favourite bible quote, why I decided to become a vicar, and lots and lots more. Even better, all from people in and around the same place - not an abstract Twitter discussion between people from all over the place, but a community in conversation.

I was on there for about 90 minutes, and never was I more glad for those hours learning to touch type 20 years ago. I was really nervous before starting, but ended up in conversation with dozens and dozens of people, and it was really worthwhile. Partly for being able answer some of the questions, but more importantly for being able to hear what they were in the first place. The church has often been accused of answering questions nobody is asking, so it was great to be pitched into a situation where the real questions could be asked, and also not to be the only voice. At times it was like being in a crowded pub with 15 conversations happening at once. What seemed to be most important was not getting the answer right, but being someone who could be questioned without feeling awkward or stupid.

Someone recently commented to me that they didn't see what good could come out of Facebook. Based on last nights experience, I would say plenty. I know another vicar whose main means of engaging with the community is via Facebook, another who is planting a church on a new housing estate, where people join the local FB group before they move in, and so they know their neighbours even before they arrive, and the group really helps the community to form well. Used well, it's a great tool. One of the questions was about whether the church should be more involved in social media. On the basis of last night, I would have to say a big yes.


Churches simply building great websites, twitter feeds etc. is one thing. Jesus sends his followers two by two into the surrounding villages with nothing, and told them to depend on the hospitality of strangers. Where they were welcomed, share the message. Last night felt like one of those - I wasn't on 'home turf', somewhere safe, launching out the gospel grenades from behind a safe wall. I had no idea what was coming, and just had to trust in God, the hospitality of Zoe the Admin, and my typing skills. 37 questions and 180 comments (ish) later, it felt like holy ground.

update: from a comment below by Zoe the Admin, which says it better than I can: All the feedback I received was great... people who had long given up any faith were contemplating coming back and this was not due to an epiphany, but down to one man who approached people in a way they could relate to.. Too often the church can be seen as daunting and unapproachable and when questions are raised, they have nowhere to turn. .... Face book does have it's draw backs, of that there is no doubt, but it also gives those who think they are unimportant, a voice. I, for one, am very grateful for you giving up time last night to come on talk to us and showing the church is moving forward and reaching out to people in a very down to earth honest manner.

update 2: great reflections on Facebook from Tanya Marlow

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

UK Snapshot: post-christian christenings, faith-based politics, changing churches.

1. The BBC has a piece on '10 ways christenings have changed', in advance of Prince Georges baptism later today. The last 2 of the 10 are an improvement, but I'm not sure about the rest! One thing is certain, we've moved on a long way from the original idea of godparents as potential surrogate parents who would step in if a childs birth parents were martyred for their faith.

update: one of the trends - increasing numbers of godparents - is followed religiously (if that's the right word) by Prince George, who has 7. That makes for an interesting precedent: the most I've ever agreed to is 6 (bartered down from an original 16!), and I encourage people to aim for 2-4. 

2. Labour MP Stephen Timms highlights a recent Demos report (free download) which argues that faith groups are more likely to be sympathetic to left-wing perspectives than those of the right, and that "faith is a very good starting point for politics, and for progressive politics in particular, because faith inspires, on a large scale, exactly the values that can make politics work: responsibility, solidarity, patience, compassion and truthfulness."

3. Christian Today has an interview with Phil Potter, new national head of Fresh Expressions for the Anglican church. "my vision is to see the culture of the church itself change. That change would see it becoming a culture which welcomes and embraces an ongoing cycle of transformation and renewal for the sake of the Gospel." You might almost suspect he's been talking to his boss. The CofE has tended to change in nausea-inducing lurches, we don't seem to be able to celebrate anything good without erecting a Grade 1 listed monument over it. 

To review, decide, plan and change on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual cycle is a good spiritual discipline both for the church, and for individual Christians. The irony is, we have the resources in our tradition to do this: from the Catholic side, Ignatian prayer (with the practice of a daily 'examen of conscience', a spiritual review), and from the Protestant side the idea of 'semper reformanda' (such fun we still cit it in Latin) - 'constant reformation' as the guiding principle of the church. But it's our attitude to those same traditions, our idolisation of them, that makes change such hard work. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Justin Welby on Baptism & the Prince

Vid specially produced by the ABofC for Prince George's baptism.

"God's love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people in all circumstances always."

Interesting what isn't in here. Both the cross and the baptism in water are marks of death as well as new life. Even the future king needs to be born again to see the Kingdom of God. Surprisingly, it's down to the Guardian to point all this out.

But it's worth watching the clip to the end, the final words are excellent (see below), I might start using them in our services.

There's a baptism enquiry evening at our place tonight, wondering if there'll be a sudden influx through the West Country rain. (update 2: no rain, no influx. Having said that, we do encourage people to come along on Sunday first and meet one of the clergy, and that would have been quite tricky to manage between 9am and 7.30pm on a Tuesday. I did have an enquiry about a renewal of marriage vows at a school parents evening though, not sure if that counts.)

update: here's the text of that closing prayer
For you Jesus Christ came into the world
For you He lived and showed God’s love
For you He suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last “it is accomplished”
For you He triumphed over death and rose to new life
For you He reigns at God’s right hand
All this He did for you,
   though you do not know it yet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fetch The Comfy Chair!

Somehow it's a news story that churches are getting rid of uncomfortable seating for a more user-friendly option. It's notable that pews are never 'removed' or 'replaced', they are 'ripped out'. Have you ever tried ripping out a pew? It's an act only possible with a JCB, I can nudge some of our lighter ones sideways by a couple of inches, but ripping, I save that for garlic bread and junk mail.

Pews might 'look right' if you've been used to the sight of them, but it's hard to appreciate the 'beauty of holiness' when you're struggling for comfort on a wooden bench. Prince Philip is right, the mind cannot absorb what the backside cannot tolerate.  Cathedrals have had flexible seating for ages, and they're seeing growing numbers of both visitors and worshippers.

There are, apparently, greater health benefits to standing than sitting, but I've yet to attend a CofE church with pews in where people could just stand or wander around when they felt like it.

Fetch the comfy chair!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On putting up with things longer than we have to

I've just uninstalled a virus programme that I've paid for faithfully for several years, but slows down my laptop to an unusable degree. The slowdowns used to happen just during scans and updates, more recently they happen all the time.

So its gone, and thanks to the joys of Twitter I've a free replacement that's scanning my PC now with no noticeable effects on the speed or responsiveness.

Which makes me wonder how many other costly impediments I'm putting up with just because they're so familiar, and not sufficiently annoying, that I never got round to dealing with them?

Monday, October 14, 2013

'The Bible' TV series

Channel 5 are showing the US-made miniseries (10 hours) in December, and it looks like it will come out on DVD at the same time. There's a helpful website  just launched, with lots of clips, handy episode summaries, and some linked resources created by Damaris.

I was interested to see the endorsements, including a couple of Bible scholars who say positive things about it. There's a bit more background to the project here, reviews have been mixed, though most of the Amazon crowd seem pretty happy. Can't really say any more until we've seen it!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

David Mitchell on Faith, Atheism, & Agnosticism

A lot of sense in a short clip. Ht Cookies Days. Would be fascinating to hear Mitchell and his wife in conversation on this.

Update: written piece by Mitchell on why agnosticism makes more sense than atheism quoted here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How To Lose Friends and Annoy People

How on earth is this 'outreach'? A billboard addressed to 'all of our atheist friends' (I guessing that totals zero, which makes it a billboard addressed to nobody), telling them they're wrong and directing them to a creationist website. 

This is only 'reaching out to atheists' in order to slap them round the head with a King James Bible. 

Ken Ham, president of AiG and the Creation Museum stated: "In a friendly way, we want to reach out to people in secularized parts of the country and share the hope we have in Christ.

This is 'friendly'? The article says that the billboards have gone up to 'engage' atheists and secularists. I think there's a typo there, it's 'r' not 'g'. It certainly annoys me. 

Why should we trust the gospels?

Great post, downloadable talk, handout and slides at Mark Meynells blog.

Had an 'I love the internet' moment as I found them.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Violence against Christians: 2 sides

Following on from the piece the other day, about Christians being the most persecuted religious body on the planet:

Egypt: The Archbishop of Canterbury has welcomed a new Amnesty International report calling on Egypt to prevent ‘deeply disturbing’ attacks on Christians in the country.

The report describes an ‘unprecedented level' of attacks against Coptic Christians following the dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo on 14 August.

More than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged in 'deeply sectarian attacks' against Coptic and other Christian denominations, the report says.

Pakistan: The Muslim and Christian communities came together during Sunday mass in a show of solidarity in Lahore.
Hand in hand as many as 200-300 people formed a human chain outside the St Anthony’s Church adjacent to the District Police Lines at the Empress Road, in a show of solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar church attack two weeks back, which resulted in over a 100 deaths. The twin suicide attack on All Saints church occurred after Sunday mass ended and is believed to be the country’s deadliest attack on Christians.
Standing in the small courtyard of St Anthony’s Church, as Mufti Mohammad Farooq delivered a sermon quoting a few verses of the Holy Quran that preached tolerance and respect for other beliefs, Father Nasir Gulfam stepped right next to him after having conducted a two hour long Sunday service inside the church. The two men stood should to shoulder, hand in hand as part of the human chain that was formed outside the church not just as a show of solidarity but also to send out a message, ‘One Nation, One Blood’.
more here 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Scouts add Alternative Promise for Atheists

After a consultation with over 15,000 responses, the scouts have taken a different route to the Guides. Instead of replacing the existing promise, there's now a non-religious alternative:

Alternative versions of the Scout Promise have been available for nearly 50 years and have been used by Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and those who live in the UK but are not UK citizens. This is the first time that the Movement has introduced a Promise for members and potential members who are without a faith.

The core Scout Promise, which refers to a ‘Duty to God’, remains intact and Scouting remains fully committed as a Movement that explores faith and religion as a core element of its programme.

and here it is..

The existing Scout Promise
On my honour, I promise that I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and to the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law.
New alternative wording of the Promise
On my honour I promise that I will do my best
To uphold our Scout values, to do my duty to the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law.
For Cub Scout section:I promise that I will do my best
To uphold our Scout values, to do my duty to the Queen
To help other people
And to keep the Cub Scout Law.
For Beaver Scout sectionI promise to do my best
To be kind and helpful and to love our world.
'Belief' remains one of the 5 'core values of Scouting'. All the more important after the recent findings about the quality of RE teaching in schools. This is unpacked a bit more in the very comprehensive FAQs page:
Scouting is not about ‘teaching’ religion, however it does encourage and enable young people to explore faith, beliefs and attitudes. This is in Scouting’s five principles of spiritual reflection, which are:
1.    To develop an inner discipline and training
2.    To be involved in corporate activities
3.    To understand the natural world around them
4.    To help to create a more tolerant and caring society
5.    To discover the need for spiritual reflection
Just as with the Guides, here is a youth movement committed to exploring questions of faith, spirituality etc. That hasn't changed with the addition of the alternative promise, which seems a sensible way to go. The best way for churches to engage with this is simply to get involved with their local units. It would be great to see the CofE respond with some resources that could be appropriately used by local churches with their scout and guide groups, though I suspect the best route to that is finding good practice at local level and then spreading it around.  

Sunday, October 06, 2013

"At the very least, read it" Lee Mack on the Bible

Lee Mack, on Desert Island Discs, musing on having the Bible to read on his Desert Island: 

"I'm glad you get the Bible, because I would read the Bible. I think it's quite odd that people like myself, in their forties, quite happy to dismiss the Bible, but I've never read it. I always think that if an alien came down and you were the only person they met, and they said, 'What's life about? What's earth about? Tell us everything,' and you said, 'Well, there's a book here that purports to tell you everything. Some people believe it to be true; some people [do] not believe it [to be] true.' 'Wow, what's it like?' and you go, 'I don't know, I've never read it.' It would be an odd thing wouldn't it? So, at the very least, read it."

Ht The Blue Fish Project

The prospect of alien encounter as an incentive to read the Bible? It's a new one, but it might be worth a try...