Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Payday Lenders start defaulting after OFT investigation

Well, who'd have thought it? No sooner does the Office of Fair Trading start investigating the payday lending market, than 30% of the top 50 companies in the sector throw in the towel, rather than face the scrutiny:
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said that 14 of the lenders have told it that they are leaving the payday market and another firm which failed to meet the deadline has said it is no longer operating as a lender.
The watchdog has been carrying out a probe into "deep-rooted" problems within the industry, such as lenders encouraging struggling borrowers to roll over loans they cannot afford so that the debt balloons. Last month it referred the sector for a full-blown investigation by the Competition Commission.
A 12-week cut-off point set by the OFT for 50 lenders, which account for 90pc of the market, to show they are acting responsibly has now passed for all firms.
The 50 companies includes Wonga, and not one of them emerges with a clean bill of health:

The watchdog identified areas of concern with each of the 50 firms and in some cases it sent them annexes of up to 70 pages long.

A loan shark is a loan shark, whether they have a Rottweiler or a saturation advertising campaign.

Citizens Advice is now capitalising on the high profile of payday lenders with a campaign to encourage people to complain about mistreatment to the Financial Ombudsman: 

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "Citizens Advice sees people day in day out who have been left in absolutely desperate situations by irresponsible lenders.
"Saddled with years worth of debts, many people are left feeling completely powerless."
Debt charity StepChange said the payday problems it is seeing are continuing to worsen. It helped 6,663 people with five or more payday loans in the first half of this year, which was almost the same number it saw for the whole of 2012.
StepChange's head of policy Peter Tutton said: "The number of people we help with payday loans looks set to almost double this year, while problems such as multiple borrowing and inadequate affordability checking by lenders continue to grow.
"The OFT's action including its compliance review and referral to the Competition Commission have both been welcome. However, the OFT should now issue a detailed progress report on how it plans to address the continued consumer detriment caused by payday loans."
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? commented: "“The fact that many lenders would rather leave the market than face scrutiny from the regulator shows just how bad practice has been in this fast-growing industry. People are increasingly turning to high cost credit just to pay for essentials or repay other debts, so it is vital that the Government and regulators continue to get tougher on irresponsible lenders."
This is good news, but clamping down on irresponsible lending is only part of the picture. There need to be less toxic alternatives, which address the reasons for people getting into serious financial difficulty in the first place. Despite the minor diversion into the CofE's investment policy, there seems to be a head of steam now behind Justin Welby's intervention last week, and a move from bland acceptance of Wongaville as part of modern life, to a serious questioning of the whole industry.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pornography: straws in the wind?

Following last weeks government announcement about a default block on online pornography, quickly followed by Microsoft suddenly discovering that they could make more difficult for certain sorts of web users, comes a third straw in the wind.

Co-op supermarkets have given lads mags a deadline of 9th September to introduce 'modesty bags' or be withdrawn from sale. Apparently the Daily Sport has already agreed to this - at our local Co-op, it's displayed at the eye level of an average 10 year old.

Steve Murrells, retail chief executive for the Co-operative Group, said: "As a community-based retailer, we have listened to the concerns of our customers and members, many of whom say they object to their children being able to see overt sexual images in our stores.
"Whilst we have tried to mitigate the likelihood of young children seeing the images with a number of measures in store, the most effective way of doing this is for these magazines to be put in individual, sealed modesty bags."
Well, no, the most effective way is not to stock them at all, the way you currently don't stock other pornographic titles. The local Tesco Express, which has all the papers at floor level, doesn't sell the Sport, though the lads mags are within easy reach/sight of the Year 6 kids from the local primary school. 
With 'No More Page 3' gaining signatories and influence, there are a few signs of hope that the tide of pornification is turning. But there's a long way to go, and vast swathes of the entertainment and fashion industries still defiantly waving Beyonce's booty at any notions of modesty, sexual purity, and respect for women as people rather than sexual objects.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Usain Bolt's Life Lessons

What a dream job: watching sport  all the time and calling it scientific study. An article in the European Journal of Physics (how many EU commissioners can you fit on the head of a pin?) examines the physics of Usain Bolt, and came to this startling discovery:

The team calculated that Bolt's maximum power occurred when he was less than one second into the race and was only at half his maximum speed. This demonstrates the near immediate effect of drag, which is where air resistance slows moving objects.
They also discovered less than 8% of the energy his muscles produced was used for motion, with the rest absorbed by drag.
92% of his energy is expended simply overcoming drag. 
Which made me wonder if a similar proportion applies in other fields of life. If from all that effort that Bolt puts in, just under 1/12th goes in forward motion, then what's the proportion for, say, parenting? Leading a church? Community development? Trying to get fit? Growing in character? 
If life feels like a drag, then perhaps that instinct is scientifically correct, and it literally is. Unless we're competing at altitude with a following wind (metaphor alert?), then we may end up wondering why every bit of effort we put in doesn't immediately translate into a result. But if 9% or more does, then we're doing better than Usain. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Welby vs Wonga

From an interview with Total Politics

His engagement in the financial world goes further still. A plan for the church to develop credit unions has been floated, with Welby proud that the church is “putting our money where our mouth is” in developing an alternative to payday money-lenders. The plan, he says, is to create “credit unions that are both engaged in their communities and are much more professional – and people have got to know about them.”
It will, he adds, be a “decade-long process”, but Welby is ready for the battle with the payday giants. “I’ve met the head of Wonga and I’ve had a very good conversation and I said to him quite bluntly we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence.” He flashes that smile again. “He’s a businessman; he took that well.”
It's quite something when an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported with headlines about a showdown with one of the UK's most toxic businesses (see also here and here), rather than about sex. Welby has already succeeded in changing the agenda. And if the Church can do something to dissolve the market for 6000% APR loans then maybe there are more worthwhile things to do than argue about bishops in dresses. 
It's worth reading the interview in full, it covers a lot of ground, and has a lot of thought-provoking stuff, including about safeguarding, politics, the monarchy, and the future of the church:
“People still tend to turn to the Church in pretty large numbers when something important happens: birth of children, bereavement, or on other occasions. Just before I became archbishop I did what we call a prayer journey through five cities: in Norwich, Coventry, London, Truro, Chichester, and in total over those five days 12500 people came. 
What that said to me was when we are actually very hospitable, when we do manage to give the impression of being signed up members of the human race, when we're not bossing people around too much there's a very strong response and all the churches I have been in, have been a member of, or for that matter have been involved in leading have grown, and I know an awful lot of rapidly growing churches. The Diocese of London numbers have grown 70 per cent over the last 15 years. You can do it. There's no reason.... my new adviser on evangelism, my old friend Chris Russell, is absolutely brilliant. What he says is they come in because it's community. When people find a community where they are loved and cared for they find that very attractive.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Q&A Sermon: all the questions, but probably not all the answers!

Last Sunday we had a Q&A sermon in our 2 churches, here are the questions asked, and some of the answers (summarised) given on the day. If commenters can expand on any of these, that would be really helpful! If you're a St. James/St. Peters member, please carry on the conversation in your cell groups.

During the communion service why do we have a gradual hymn and what does it signify?
‘Gradual’ is from the Latin ‘gradus’ meaning a step. Medieval churches had a reading pulpit, and a psalm or chant was sung from the step of this as the Gospel was taken in procession up to be read. We now sing a hymn, there are no steps involved, but we still call it the 'gradual'.

Can we have ongoing explanations of symbolism contained in our services, perhaps during the 5th Sunday service, e.g. What is a collect, why does  the vestment and altar cloths change colour, why are the bread and wine brought up from the back of church etc......why does David wear a white robe and Tony a black dress and white top?
good idea! 

What is the structure of the Anglican Church?
I'd better let the CofE answer this for itself, click here

What does a usual week as a member of the clergy consist of
There's no such thing as a usual week! The past 7 days has included:
 - meeting with a local family to support them and plan for a difficult funeral, then taking the service itself and spending time with mourners afterwards
 - preparing for this sermon
 - time with lay leaders in the church: deacon in training, Childrens and Families worker, leaders of the H+ course we'll be running in the autumn on getting into the Bible, staff meeting, college chaplaincy volunteers
 - meeting with other local church leaders
 - preparing and leading leavers assemblies for the local primary school
 - preparing families for baptisms and weddings
 - meeting with a small accountability group of fellow clergy for prayer and mutual support
 - planning with community leaders, local councils and housing associations about work on the Wyndham Park new estate
 - the usual round of emails, Facebook etc. (different people like to keep in touch in different ways, including phone, email, Facebook and Twitter. I even got a handwritten letter!)
 - pastoral work - home visits for the recently bereaved, following up with local families, simply being around at church groups, school gate etc. for people to chat
 - supporting our work with children and young people: Tea and Toast, the Christian Club at Preston Primary school
...and next week will be different again.....!

How do we live with the tension between turning the other cheek and laying ourselves open to being taken advantage of? 

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus gives 3 examples of non-violent resistance. A slap to the right cheek would be backhanded, i.e. a real insult. Offering the other cheek demands to be treated as an equal. Taking a soldiers pack 2 miles would have landed the soldier in trouble, as they were only allowed to force civilians to carry their load for one. So these are ways for people who are being mistreated to stand up to bullying without resorting to violence.

How do we make sense of Revelation and the other difficult bits of the bible?
 - There will always be bits of the Bible we don't understand, but we don't have to be afraid of them.
 - In the autumn we're going to begin using the Hplus course, which helps people to develop confidence in understanding the Bible, and working out how it fits together.
 - There are lots of commentaries, and online resources, to help us get to grips with tricky bits. Christians have more resources available now than ever,  the problem is knowing which ones to use. 
 - Sometimes it's just about understanding what we're reading: the Bible is a collection of different types of writing (poetry, law, story, rhetoric). Sometimes it's about translating images from one culture to another. If I said of someone ‘he has the personal charm of Alan Sugar, and the humility of Simon Cowell’, you’d understand what I was talking about in 2013, but someone reading that in 100 years wouldn’t. They’d need to understand who Simon Cowell was and Lord Sugar to understand what I meant - i.e. they'd need to find out more about the culture the statement was written in. It's the same with the Bible, some bits make more sense once we understand the background and the culture they're written in.
-          Revelation is written in code, it’s almost like a script for a great Sci-Fi movie – so the sea stands for the source of evil, the beasts with horns are great empires, the numbers all mean something too. A decent commentary can unpack and explain all of that.
-          at the same time, Revelation is very simple: ‘God wins’.

How do we love Jesus more than our own children or family - is it right that we have the impression that we should?
-          Mark 10:28-31 and Mat 10:34-39 are the key texts here: Jesus saying that we need to love him more than anything, even our own lives, but at the same time whatever we give up for his sake will be honoured
 - Jesus is not an add-on, if he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. If Jesus is the one who made heaven and earth, who died in my place on the cross, who rose again and waits to judge all of heaven and earth, then we can’t be half-hearted in following him
 - In the story of Abraham and Isaac, A is willing to sacrifice his son and Isaac is spared. God loves us, so whatever we give up for him, it's not as though he'll make our lives, or theirs, a misery as a result. It's in putting God first that we truly love our families. Seek first God's kingdom, and everything else will be taken care of. 
 -  Our  culture has made an absolute value out of families: e.g. Christmas ‘it’s all about family’. We just need to be careful here that we don’t swallow what seems good, and lose out on the best.

Why does the church not talk more about the concept of heaven and what happens when we die, or are taken up in rapture, as we discovered last week in our cell group.
-          possibly some cultural stuff here: back in 1850, life expectancy at birth was 39. Lots of children died young, mothers died in childbirth, men died in war. By 1930 life expectancy was 60, and now it’s around 80, and with each day that passes, our average lifespan grows by 5-6 hours, a baby born tomorrow will, on average, live 5-6 hours longer than one born today.
-          The older prayer book has the phrase: ‘in the midst of life we are in death’, that was daily reality. It isn’t now, and we also use more recently written liturgy which isn’t as ‘in your face’ about death and heaven and hell as it used to be. It's a subject that our culture shies away from, and perhaps the church shies away from too. 
-      There's maybe some nervousness about talking about hell, it’s not a ‘nice subject’.
-   Perhaps it's because we have more to go on in the Bible about this life and how to live it, than we do about the next one. But what we think about life after death will affect how we live this one, our values, priorities, attitudes to death and dying etc. So yes it is an important subject and one we should tackle more

Did Jesus get married
Three things possibly behind this question
-          Interest in the wider media, books, e.g. Dan Brown on Jesus and Mary
-          Celebrity culture, where the most interesting thing about a person is who they’re having sex with. A Melvin Bragg documentary on Mary Magdalene at Easter, which was almost all the BBC did on Jesus, was promoted on this basis. Out of all the things that Jesus said, did and claimed, is this really the most important or interesting fact?
-          More positively, there’s a question here about Jesus himself: was he really, truly, fully, one of us? If Jesus is the Son of God, what kind of human being is he? Is he fully human, or is he just a good actor?

-         Only if Jesus is fully God can he reveal God fully to us. Otherwise he's the latest in a long line of messengers, and no different to the other prophets. Only if Jesus is fully human can he take our place on the cross, and fully identify with us in death and resurrection. Lose one or the other, and you lose the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus can only be a substitute if he is human. Can only be a saviour if he is God. 

The Christian message teaches that there is a clear distinction between 'saved' and 'unsaved', yet as you look around the world and indeed the church there seems to be many shades of grey
Sad but true. Sometimes it comes down to persecution: Brother Yun in China ('The Heavenly Man') has written that the West in its current state will not be able to send many missionaries to the Muslim world, because we are too comfortable. It's only nations where the church has been toughened up by persecution, like China, that will be able to go to those places where persecution is at its most fierce. 

And the church is composed of people on a journey, we don't become saints overnight,  we are a body of forgiven sinners. Having said that, the normal Christian life is growth in grace, in holiness, in character, in the fruits of the Spirit, in spiritual gifts, in love, in gracious witness to our faith. 

A few which were asked, but there wasn't time to deal with on Sunday: discuss!
 -We have introduced hearling prayer into the life of our church, but how do we introduce/operate the other gifts of the Spirit in the 'formal' services of the CofE?
 - How do you reconcile the scriptural universal invitation of the gospel to all people, agains the Bible saying that we ave been chosen/called?
 - Why is healing prayer important?

(There's lots of other things that were said on Sunday that I've not written up here, either because I can't remember them or because this post is long enough already!!)

update: audio of the Q&A at St. James is available here

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

'Gate-crashing an exclusive club': welcome to church?

How welcoming is your church. Really? Honestly? Excellent piece from our Archdeacon:
......when I'm on holiday and go to the local parish church ....on the whole my experience has been - bluntly - that we Anglicans are not very good at welcome.
I'm spoilt as an Archdeacon ... when I go to a parish usually someone has been briefed to meet me, even carry my bags and make sure I get to the vestry and know what I'm doing. When I go to church on holiday (not in this diocese of course!) my experience has been generally dismal -- collecting books from a group of people chatting to one another and no doubt thinking theirs is a very friendly church, no indication as to where to sit ... we all dread the embarrassment of being told we’re in someone else's seat ... and no one cheerily saying, ‘Good morning, welcome, are you are visitor? Good to see you…. Let me introduce you to so-and-so.’ Frankly, I wouldn't want to go back to many of them as the experience felt more like gate-crashing an exclusive club than worshipping God with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I'm making a plea for us to look at the ministry of welcome. This is not a grand initiative to recruit new congregation members; rather it is offering simple kindness, acceptance and hospitality to another human being. It does not have to be intrusive or cringe-making. It's better to risk getting it wrong and welcoming someone who you later discover has been coming to church for 40 years, than ignoring the stranger.
read the rest here

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who/What Are You Following?

Remarkable story:

67-year-old Sabine Moreau originally planned to drive 38 miles to Solre-sur-Sambre in Belgium to pick up a friend from the station, the Daily Mail reports, but when her sat-nav decided to take the scenic route, she ended up some 900 miles away in Zagreb, Croatia.
Such was her faith in the sat-nav, she failed to realise she had driven through six countries with different languages on the road signs. She stopped multiple times to refuel and, incredibly, even parked up in a lay-by for a few hours to sleep. When asked whether the length of her journey seemed strange, Moreau said: "Maybe, but I was just preoccupied... I was a bit absent-minded as I had a few things to think about, I suppose."
It's too nice a day to spend ages on a computer unpacking this particular parable......

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mental Health and Work Capability

Dick Acworth, a former vicar and Archdeacon of Bath and Wells, has a son with bipolar disorder who was wrongly found fit for work by the DWP using the controversial Work Capability Assessment.
In May, as part of an ongoing Judicial Review of the Work Capability Assessment, three judges ruled that the process is unfair for people with a mental illness and puts them at a ‘substantial disadvantage’.
Despite this, the DWP is continuing to use the process to assess roughly 6,000 people a week with mental health problems.
With backing from the national charity, Rethink Mental Illness Dick’s petition calls on Iain Duncan Smith to temporarily stop reassessing people with a mental illness who are being moved from incapacity benefit to the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), until changes are made to the test, to ensure it’s fair.
The 76-year-old said: “If my son didn’t have parents to support him and push through a benefits appeal, I don’t know what he would have done. I really fear for other people who don’t have anyone to help them through such a difficult process. I try as much as I can to shield my son from the stress, but this has taken a real toll on me and his mother.
“It is intolerable that the government is putting people through so much stress and anxiety just to get the support they need. In many cases this unfair test is making people more ill. Everyone deserves the chance to be treated fairly.”
more here, the petition is here

Monday, July 15, 2013

Good Morning Jesus

Cue general amusement, at the Aussie computer consultant who thinks he's Jesus, and that his girlfriend is Mary Magdalene. After the Ashes victory yesterday, maybe the Aussies will need a miracle. Is the man deluded? A con artist? A nutter? A false prophet? Or a mixture of all 4?

Well, what would you think of someone who claimed to be specially sent by God to save the world...........?

Whatever you think of the guy, the way the interview is conducted is fascinating. How would we treat the real Jesus if he turned up in 2013?

update: some suggested questions for Jesus here

Thursday, July 11, 2013

South Somerset Local Plan: Advantage East Coker

Update: BBC report here, report from Western Gazette here

Update 2 (29/7): SSDC has voted to suspend the plan for 6 months, pending further work

A little local difficulty: South Somerset District Council (SSDC) has been working for years on its Local Plan, covering development in the district up to 2028 in things like housing, jobs, environment etc.

The centrepiece of the Plan is a Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE) to the South of Yeovil, of 2500 homes including a secondary school, health centre (and possibly a site for a church), and land for employment and community use. This has been hotly contested by East Coker, a village to the S of Yeovil, whose expensive views/rural tranquility and quality of life (depending on how you look at it) are seen to be at stake.

The plan has recently been going through a public enquiry with a government planning inspector. This is the crucial hurdle - if he declares the plan 'sound', it has legal force and becomes the basis for local planning and development for the next 15 years. If he declares it 'unsound', then we fall into the untested hands of the NPPF (National Policy Planning Framework), with its presumption that planning permission will be granted on new developments, and is effectively a government sanctioned development free-for-all, with added spin-offs for the legal profession in deciding what the broad principles of the NPPF actually mean.

The inspector has just released his interim findings, and they are grim reading for SSDC. He has three major concerns - one is a technical issue about employment land in some of our larger villages, one about the growth of Ilminster (on both he judges the plan currently 'unsound'), and the biggie is about the SUE. Though he supports the principle of a 'sustainable' large estate (i.e. one which has most of its required facilities and employment land on site rather than off-site), there is a catalogue of weaknesses in the evidence for where it should go. SSDC had used a scoring system covering several key factors (travel, employment, access to services, health and wellbeing etc.) to compare alternative sites: the inspectors report argues that they have consistently over-egged the South Yeovil option, and that in reality there is much less to choose between alternative sites than SSDC have claimed.

There is so much remedial work to do on the Plan that the inspector also questions whether a 6 month 'time out' would actually give the council time to rewrite a 'sound' Plan, but if they don't revise it, it seems likely to be thrown out anyway. And then we are through the looking glass. To use a tennis metaphor, the first serve has gone out, and there's a serious danger of a double fault.

The council have responded in a remarkably upbeat way, noting that large swathes of the Plan are seen as ok (including projected housing totals, which have been a persistent bone of contention, and a repeated focus of lobbying).

I really do hope they can get this together: whilst I imagine the report has gone down well in East Coker - and vindicates their consistent and detailed lobbying  - it's not good news for the rest of the District. At least with SSDC in control of the planning process, there are people who are accountable to the community and have something resembling its best interests at heart, even if they don't always deliver on that. Whilst we have some smaller local developers who want to work with the community, (the estate I live on was put together by a local developer and works really well), that's not a reputation shared with the likes of Persimmon and Barratts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Close the building, grow the church

This may not work for everyone, but there's an encouraging story here of a church near Darlington which had to move out of its poorly-made and crumbling Victorian building and decamp to the local school. It was mentioned in the Church Commissioners Annual Report for 2012 (page 9), but since nobody reads that, people have only become interested since it was mentioned at General Synod this weekend.

Here's a bit of the story:
Since moving into the school 4 years ago the congregation has continued to increase in faith & numbers.  One particular young mam and her children came and joined the church just as it was opened in school.  

She talked about how she had been trying to pluck up the courage for six weeks to come through the church doors,  as she hadn't been to church before apart from weddings, christenings & funerals.  However, when the church moved into school she came and joined us straight away saying it was so easy to come into school as it was a familiar place for her. Quite a few people have said that since then

Suffice to say this has needed committed and courageous leadership, and having known the church before the move, it's fantastic to hear how it is thriving now.

We use a local community centre twice a month, and see a similar thing happening - people who feel intimidated/put off by the church building, who feel more at home in the community centre. There are also folk for whom it works the other way around!

PS If you're in a church that ever gets any grief from the Victorian Society over planned alterations, bear in mind that they wanted this church to spend large quantities of money trying to shore up a building that was dangerous to use and literally falling apart. Had they got their way, none of the above would have happened.

With One Heart and Voice

It looks as though singing praise together literally does unite people in one heart and voice:

Choir singers not only harmonise their voices, they also synchronise their heartbeats, a study suggests.
Researchers in Sweden monitored the heart rates of singers as they performed a variety of choral works.
They found that as the members sang in unison, their pulses began to speed up and slow down at the same rate.
What puts an even bigger smile on my face is that the tagline for our St. James Community Choir is 'Sing Your Heart Out', and for our church is 'A Wholehearted Church'. Truer than we knew at the time.....
read the rest here

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

General Synod blogs

Quite a few people are blogging from within about General Synod, which closes today. Here are a few of them:

(updated to include....Bermondsey Vicar not a blog I'd come across before, but looks good, nicely written.

Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford (who won't have a diocese much longer..)

Stephen Lynas, Bishops Chaplain from Bath & Wells Diocese

Jeremy Fletcher, Beverley Minster (I think that's a place, not the name of the first female CofE Bishop, though you never know)

Dave Walker, 1000 words in visual form.

The General Synod blog

Thinking Anglicans has lots of reports (mainly focusing on women bishops/sexuality. What do Anglicans think about every 7 seconds?)

Church of England Newspaper live blog, which reads like a Twitter feed. or tennis match text commentary.

Steve Croft, Bishop of Sheffield.

any more out there?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Background Reading for General #Synod

There's no point reading the mainstream press about General Synod, which starts tomorrow in York. If you get withdrawal symptoms, there's always the Church of England Headline Generator, which will give you just as much truth and significantly more amusement.

In the meantime, here's some background reading for Synod members who get bored of talking/listening/agreeing/disagreeing/brinkmanship about W***n B*****s.

Attendance stats: Diocesan tables for 2008-11 and 2001-11. In the light of the upbeat headlines around the stats published a couple of months ago, here's the gnarlier reality. If you're not from London diocese, make sure you're sitting down.

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies: index page of various blog posts from a recent conference on how Dioceses can facilitate the growth of the local church. Numerical and spiritual growth are now officially top of the agenda of the national church, and once we've stopped the self-indulgent talkfest over women bishops we might get on and give this agenda the time and effort it deserves.

Sneaking in a Radical Growth Strategy: After a full day of group therapy on you-know-what, there is 90 minutes on Saturday evening concerning whether the first female bishop will be asked to lead a diocese or switch off the lights as she leaves the building. If, like me, you despaired of the CofE ever facing up to the stats above, this is the most encouraging bit of Synod business in a long while.

Church Growth in the CofE: discussion paper  - a summary of GS Misc 1054, a document which, if taken seriously, would completely transform the CofE.

If you've been a regular visitor here in the last few weeks, you'll have seen most of these already, but there's still the General Synod blog, which lo! has sprung to life again. Dave Walkers cartoon will help you visualise the goings-on, if you desperately need to. and update Jeremy Fletcher blogging from the inside of the goldfish bowl.

The Lindisfarne Gospel Train

Love this - to mark a 3 month display of the Lindsfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral, a train has been christened 'Durham Cathedral' and decorated with images from the Gospels. 

"It’s especially fitting that at this special time, with the Lindisfarne Gospels attracting thousands of visitors, that we name the train in honour of this iconic building.
"We’re expecting to bring thousands of visitors to Durham during the three months when the Gospels are displayed. This eye-catching train will promote the city, Cathedral and Gospels along the East Coast Main Line all the way from London to Edinburgh."
Apparently 23,000 people have already booked to visit the exhibition. I'm reminded both of Bill Bryson and David Goodhew:
Bryson, because he spoke of Durham as his favourite place in the UK (and it's hard to disagree, it also has the best chocolate cake, if Vennels is still in business). Durham returned the favour, making him the first foreigner to have the freedom of the city.
Goodhew is a church growth researcher based in the NE, and I heard him speak recently about how church plants and new ventures often seemed to cluster around main trade routes. I'm sure he'd be tickled by the idea of a gospel train retracing the steps of some of Britains most influential saints - Cuthbert, Aidan, from Scotland, past Lindsfarne, into NE England and beyond. It's certainly an improvement on the agnostibus.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Church Growth in the CofE - discussion paper

What follows is a paper I'm presenting to local CofE clergy next week, based on the recent General Synod documents relating to church growth. The stuff in italics is all direct quotations. It's a cut and paste from 2 sides of A4 so it should fit onto that if anyone wants to use it as a discussion starter.

I'm hoping it'll raise the issues itself, otherwise I've a few questions up my sleeve!

Church Growth in the CofE?

1.       General Synod 9.7.11:
this Synod
a) recognise the urgent missionary task facing the Church of England to reverse decades of numerical decline and make new disciples for Jesus Christ in every community in our land;
b) welcome the priority given to facilitating church growth in Challenges for the New Quinquennium (GS 1815)….. (translation, 'Challenges for the New Quinquennium was a primer for the priorities of the national CofE for 2011-15) 

2. July 2013 – extracts from GS Misc 1054 ‘Making New Disciples: the Growth of the Church of England’, a report by a task group set up in response to the 2011 motion:

Why does Making New Disciples Matter?

a)   It’s Gods’ mission – God is a missionary and sends us.
the mission of God is not being undertaken in all its fullness unless people are called to become disciples of Jesus Christ.’

A vibrant Church which grows new disciples will have more energy to transform the world through the power of God’s love. This holistic vision of growth is focused on the Kingdom of God, not just on church attendance. Yet without a regular flow of new disciples, the Church will be less and less able to fulfil its calling to be an agent of God’s transformation in the world.

b)  It matters to the whole church:
in some circles there is a latent fear that a commitment to evangelism is about advancing Evangelicalism (the name for one tradition of churchmanship in the Church of England). This fear must be acknowledged, since it is real, but challenged robustly. Evangelism/evangelisation is core to the vocation of every Christian and every church community

‘the priority of growth is an authentic core component for all the traditions within the church’.

c)  The pragmatic bit:
 Church membership is declining, and average age is rising. The average age of the church is around 10.5 years older than the general population (49 to 38.5. If you take out children, the average age of adults in the CofE is 61, compared to 47). Decline, and ageing, makes it harder for the church to sustain its’ current presence, both nationally and locally.

Traditional evangelism with those on the fringe is fishing in a shrinking pool. We need new approaches for those who’ve never had any contact with the church. Churches need to “equip lay people to be a little more confident in talking about where God fits into their life

Church is also becoming shallower – people attend less often. How do we disciple people who only attend 20-30 times a year? e.g. online, mentoring etc. How far does attendance at worship facilitate discipleship in the first place?

d) Facilitating Growth
“facilitating growth is a multi-faceted issue”
1.       Prayer ‘the first need in evangelism is for a strengthening and a quickening of spiritual life within the Church’ (William Temple, 1944)
2.       A change of prioritiesbeyond care and nurture to proclamation and service’ (Lambeth 1988), deeper prayer and more outgoing evangelism
3.       keeping growth on the agenda of our meetings. (PCC, deanery?)
4.       mobilising the laity as an agent of mission: The duty of evangelism is laid upon the whole Church.
          By every means possible the clergy must be set free from all hindrances, spiritual as well as material, which prevent them from exercising an evangelistic ministry. More particularly must they be given time to fulfil their primary responsibility of training the laity for evangelism.(Towards the Conversion of England, 1945)
          A key part of the investment in mission must be in the training of the laity and clergy. The goal is to form a laity confident and skilled to make Christ known in their home, work and leisure environments. This in turn requires clergy who – as well as being evangelists themselves – are able to envision, equip and support the laity in their work of outreach.’ (Resourcing Mission Group report to General Synod)

5.      What’s working: Fresh Expression,  grassroots initiatives which have spread (e.g. CAP, Messy Church, Back to Church Sunday)
6.       Mission Action Planning – tool for clarifying mission by listening to God and the community, producing a plan for action, acting, then reflecting on the results. there is a strong correlation between churches whose leadership engage with MAP in a systematic and sustained way and those that are more likely to grow in faith and numbers
7.       Doing the ‘ordinary’ things well: worship, pastoral, community, welcome, intentionally integrating new people into the life of the church, finding out why people are leaving, learning from other churches how to break through ‘glass ceilings’ of numbers.

As part of the exchange of ideas we recommend that the Mission Network is encouraged to invite innovative responses from local churches, deaneries, diocesan secretaries, etc to the question... “What could be done differently at national level that would help you to make new disciples?” (or Diocesan level, or Deanery level?)

The urgent missionary task facing the Church is to make new disciples for Jesus Christ who will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. The priority of growing the number of new believers is not for the sake of the Church itself, but to enable the Church to fulfil God’s mission to be a sign, agent and foretaste of his Kingdom, where ultimately every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord

From GS 1895, quinquennium goals review by the 2 Archbishops, July 2013:
It is, rightly, the challenge of growth that is increasingly at the centre of the church’s agendas. As in New Testament days there is a sharp awareness of the challenge posed by an abundance of fields white to harvest and a relatively limited supply of labourers.

A prayer for the growth of the Church:
God our Creator and Redeemer, help your Church to grow in holiness, unity, effectiveness and numbers.
Draw us closer to you and to those around us.
Give us enthusiasm in our faith, and wisdom in sharing it with young and old.
Open our eyes to new opportunities, our lips to sing and speak of you, and our hearts to welcome the stranger.
Grow your kingdom in us and in the world, through the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Monday, July 01, 2013

What Our Diocese Needs

from the person spec:

The person appointed will have a wide vision of the church and the ways of God. His key mission will be ‘to lead the Church in worshipping Jesus Christ and encouraging people to believe in him and follow him’  (Archbishop Justin).

He will be:
1. Well-integrated and secure in his spiritual journey with a presence that makes the living God real; 
someone who is confident in the distinctive role of the Church of England in God’s mission today; and a  person deeply rooted in the theology of the bible and the church, who seeks to articulate clearly the meaning of the good news of Jesus Christ for this generation.

2. Able to lead the diocese in turning vision into an inspiring and realistic strategy for growth in both rural and urban parishes; and who will be courageous in overseeing the changes that will be needed to deliver that strategy at every level.

From the Diocese of Bath and Wells Statement of Needs for appointing a new bishop. Press release here. (My emphasis.)

There's obviously a lot more to it than this, but we are a Diocese which has been solidly in the bottom 25% of the CofE for growth (i.e. decline) in recent years. If you're the praying kind, please pray for the right appointment for us - the final decision will be taken some time in October.