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...

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Christians 'the most persecuted religious body on the planet'

A very sobering piece in the Spectator today, following a thread that's started to be picked up by some journalists, after recent comments by Justin Welby. There is a steady drip of stories of Christians being attacked - Peshawar, Kenya, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Bangladesh, but the focus is usually on the perpetrators, not the victims. But the victims of atrocities, most of the time, are Christians:

According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.

According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.

In effect, the world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs. The carnage is occurring on such a vast scale that it represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our time, but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era as well.

Worth reading it all, but it's hard reading. Lord have mercy.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

CofE Church Growth Research: The Findings

...will be announced at this conference in January

Here's some of the blurb:

This exciting conference will provide you with an early overview of the findings from a major 18- month research programme investigating factors related to church growth within the Church of England. This will include results from a survey of over 1,700 churches, a detailed study of Fresh Expressions in 12 dioceses and a study focused on factors related to growth at cathedrals and greater churches. You will gain from the conference:

 - An overview of what we can say about church growth from the data which the national Church already holds and which has been collected during the research.
- Insight into some of the challenges involved with researching church growth.
- Practical suggestions of how both diocesan leadership teams and those working on the ground in parishes, fresh expressions and cathedrals might seek to encourage church growth.
- A chance to discuss and debate the findings: including their relevance to your situation.
- An honest assessment of what we still do not know and of where we might go from here.

looks good.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Diocese of Bath and Wells: 'Our Common Fund' DVD

This is a video put together by my home diocese to give local parishes a sense of the work being done across the Diocese, and how the 'common fund' (contributions pooled from parishes) supports this.

It would be interesting to hear from people outside Bath and Wells how this comes across. The idea is to communicate across the diocese about where the money comes from, and goes to, to get past the idea of 'us' and 'them in Wells' to a greater sense of common purpose.

I'm aware of how vicar-centred it is, that most of the Diocesan outgoings on parishes are to put clergy in place. It would be great to see an updated video in 10 years time which has fewer dog-collars and more lay leaders.

Daily Mail resources

How Much Are You Hated by the Daily Mail? I'm loathed, apparently. I'll leave you to guess why.

The website Should I Read the Daily Mail is in-depth, interactive, and indispensable.

Such a shame therefore that a few days ago they published a really important piece by a former editor of Loaded on the impact of pornography on teenagers and their views on sex and self-image. So, do I link to it, at the same time linking to a sidebar of bikinis and cleavage photos which has precisely the opposite message to the article?

I guess if this is the biggest dilemma in my life at the moment I should just be thankful.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

It took us 2,000 years, but we made it

The Church of England has just published a new discipleship resource, roughly 2 millennia after Jesus made discipleship the top priority for his followers after his resurrection. This is, apparently, the first discipleship course ever commissioned by the bishops of the CofE. It's a recognition, perhaps, that the standard Anglican practices of attending worship and hearing the same 3-year cycle of readings repeatedly preached doesn't do the job of making disciples.

I've ordered the introductory pack and it'll be interesting to see what approaches it uses. Having something which both forms and informs is vital - I've experienced 'discipleship' courses which fill the head with knowledge and assume the heart will follow.

Here's an overview of the 8 sections of the course, there's some good quality people involved, and it looks to be booklet based (rather than presentation or DVD based). That's a plus in places without the computer literacy or hardware, but a minus in other ways. There are some audio and video files to go with the sessions, which hopefully come on a DVD with the booklets.. More when my parcel arrives! In the meantime there are some pdf sample sessions. I do like the way the session is set up, good mixture of input, reflection, discussion and spiritual exercises.