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.