Thursday, January 30, 2014

One Million Conversations #TimetoTalk

The excellent Time to Change campaign, which focuses on ending the stigma around mental health, has hit on a simple and superb idea. 6th February (Thursday next week) is Time To Talk day, with the aim of 1 million conversations around the country about mental health. Here's a bit of the blurb:

As part of our national advertising campaign, we want to get more people talking about mental health than ever before. We're aiming to spark one million conversations. And we need your help to get there!
Sometimes it's the little things we do that make a big difference to someone who's experiencing a mental health problem - like having a chat over a cuppa, sending a text or inviting someone out. So, on Time to Talk Day we’re encouraging people to do just that.
This can involve school, workplace, a local cafe or the kitchen table, and there are various resources, posters etc. which you can get from the site. There was even an ad for it on Dave last night. 
We have a national problem at the level both of resources, and of understanding. 'Care in the community' is a lottery depending on how many friends you have and how courageous individuals can be in talking about what's going on inside their heads. Many do a great but draining job of hiding their sufferings. Meanwhile, despite fine words from the government, mental health services are being cut
In this context, one conversation doesn't sound like much, but it might be a lifesaver.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Complaints Queue

It occurred to me during a talk I heard to day at (ironically) the Bishops Palace in Wells, that I do far too much moaning and not enough thanking. Early candidate for a Lent discipline this year is to spend 40 days being grateful, rather than adding to the complaints queue.

Or I may just settle for quitting alcohol, social media, cake and unhealthy snacks, and take up running on a daily basis. It'll probably be easier.

Thankyou to David Wells for an inspiring and challenging day today.

Monday, January 27, 2014

St James Church Yeovil - New Website

Our new church website has just gone live, some nice feedback so far, but please have a look and let me know what you think. Or just have a look:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Is the Bishop of Bath and Wells a person, or a tourist attraction?

update 10th Feb. Two important pieces
Stephen Lynas, Bishops Chaplain in Wells on why Diocesan reps are now taking this to General Synod this week
A Statement from the Church Commissioners released today, which claims they did consult, and sets out more of their reasoning.

update: another piece on the evolving pickle, the Bishop of Taunton calling for more consultation, and there'll be a question at General Synod. I despair, our membership is in freefall, and the main topic of conversation in the Diocese is whether the Bishop gets to live in a palace or a £900k property.

The saga of the Bishops Palace takes another turn. There was a public meeting yesterday in Wells to protest at the decision that the new Bishop of Bath and Wells should not live in the Palace, but in a 'normal' residence. The BBC report also mentions a statement by the Diocese itself, to the effect that they weren't properly consulted, don't support the decision, and haven't heard a persuasive case for moving the Bishops residence.

I blogged about this a couple of weeks back, noting that having a front garden which the general public were free to wander around probably wasn't great for work-life balance. To me, the fact that all this is news makes the case very powerfully for moving the Bishop out of the Palace. If your personal living arrangements are considered the stuff of press articles, public meetings and campaigns by the local MP, then how on earth is a Bishop supposed to carve out time away from it all to remain sane and properly rested? How on earth is the Bishops family supposed to feel when the location of their own front door is something that everyone feels they have a right to comment on?

Even though it's a Palace, it's possible that living under the shadow of Wells Cathedral, with tourists wandering round outside your house on a daily basis, might be considered a rather strange and oppressive working environment. Yes if you're a parish priest  you need to live in the parish to be most effective, but that doesn't apply to bishops, they have the whole county to play with. And if your work/life triangle consists of a Palace, the House of Lords, and the House of Bishops, how exactly are you supposed to stay in touch with reality? Spending nearly £3/4m on a house seems excessive, (especially as it's only a temporary residence!), but I would rather have a church where the living arrangements of clergy, including bishops, are no longer public property, and we recognise that clergy are people too, who don't wear their dog collars 24/7.

The Church Commissioners may be consulting too little and too late, but speaking from the wilds of Yeovil, I find it slightly embarrassing to have our senior clergyman living in a palace (and called a 'Lord', for that matter). Nobody should have to live in a visitor attraction, which is what the Bishops Palace in Wells now is. The Bishop of Bath and Wells is not some National Trust guide-in-a-period-costume stuck in the corner to add a touch of humanity and authenticity.

I'll repeat myself: if the Bishops living arrangements are seen as public property, then that is neither right nor healthy, and that will only be resolved if he lives away from the Palace.

Update: here's the statement from the senior staff of the Diocese in opposition to the move. Strange, it's dated Friday but I'm sure it wasn't on the website at the weekend. I'm assuming these representations have already been made to the Church Commissioners. It's a difficult line to tread, with the issue now being a matter of open debate, but conducting your disputes in public is never a great idea, if it can be avoided (he says on his blog #hypocrite).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Pressure to Die

"Many people ask me, several times a week... if I ever contemplate (assisted suicide). It makes one feel like I should be contemplating it for the sake of the health service, for my family watching what I'm going through. I'm afraid that it will extend into the social conscience that people will almost expect assisted dying.... a (new) law will pressurise people."

story here.

If this is happening when assisted suicide is still illegal (though increasingly allowed through the legal system), then it will only get worse if it is legalised.

Even those who support euthanasia agree that it is a 'slippery slope', 12 years after legalising it, Belgium has now extended euthanasia to children. The Belgian experience has seen assisted dying extended to people who aren't terminally ill, and with the change in law has come a change in culture. Once you cross a line, it becomes very difficult to draw new ones that have the same moral force.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Social Media Guidlines

The sagacious Steve Tilley has written some social media guidelines for the Diocese of Bath and Wells. You can see the whole document here, but I didn't get much further than page 1:

The immediacy of social media is one of its benefits – we can respond quickly to questions, correct misunderstandings, give our perspective about a breaking story in the news media. Responding quickly doesn’t mean doing so without due consideration. 
Before posting always think: 
 Is this my story to share? 
 Would I want my mum to read this? 
 Would I want God to read this? 
 Would I want this on the front page of a newspaper? 

what are your social media rules of thumb?

update: if you ignore the headlines, and the picture of a severe looking vicar, media reporting has been fairly balanced: Telegraph, Independent

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Church Growth Infographic - CofE Research

The Church Growth Research Programme has created this handy infographic, summarising the results released this week from their research. Sorry about the overlap into the sidebar, I tried to resize it but couldn't. The original is here, if this one is undreadable!!

Good blog post at useful in parts, who was there on the day.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Church Growth Research Findings published today

The Faith in Research conference today will showcase the findings of the CofE's 'Church Growth Research Programme'. Looking again at the strands of the research, I wonder if some of this was behind Justin Welbys new year comments on growing churches. If quality of local leadership is found to be a key factor in church growth, then the dots are fairly easy to join.

There is the inevitable hashtag, so you can follow the conference via #FIRChurchGrowth, or the Church Growth R&D twitter account.

update: and here's the report of findings.

Researchers have concluded that, while there is no single recipe, there are common ingredients strongly associated* with growth in churches of any size, place or context. 

  •  Good leadership
  •  A clear mission and purpose
  •  Willingness to self-reflect, to change and adapt according to context
  •  Involvement of lay members
  •  Being intentional in prioritising growth
  •  Being intentional in chosen style of worship
  •  Being intentional in nurturing disciples
  • All of the above are linked to growing churches
I get the feeling Justin Welby knew all this when he was speaking on New Years Eve.....

nice little graphic on the Fresh Expressions research:

and a fairly lengthy press release from the CofE here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Growing Churches and Good Vicars - blog round-up and thoughts

"lots of local churches are growing in numbers, they are being extremely effective in their local communities, partly the things they've always done... and in some of the needs that have arisen over the last few years in terms of poverty and deprivation..

"we are falling in numbers, and there is a change in the attitude to Christian faith generally across the country, that is unquestionable and we need to be realistic about that

"we need to specialise in what we do, which is the worship of God and seeking to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ.... around the country the main effort and impact of the church comes from the local churches, working incredibly hard."

"Of course there are churches that are doing better and churches that are struggling more, depending on area and on leadership. But the reality is that where you have a good vicar you will find growing churches."

the Church "needs to be very flexible in how it engages locally, and it needs to be very clear about its intention of growing its numbers. It doesn't happen accidentally. All the research we've got is that if we don't actually set out to grow the number of people and draw people to the reality of the love of  God, in Jesus Christ, it doesn't happen. It's not a collateral benefit to existing. So you've got to be very intentional, and you've got to be very flexible about how you do it"

I've struggled to find a full transcript of Justin Welbys comments on church growth on New Years Eve, but the full interview is here, and a lot of people have already had their say on the 'good vicars' comment. For example:

Excellent piece from Jo Neary, from a rural Dorset context: Good vicars equal growing congregations - maybe. But perhaps the challenge this year is to try to be a good vicar and enable people to grow: in faith, in hospitality, in leadership and in discipleship.  This year has to be about growth, but it may not be about numbers.

Rambling Rector questions whether you can be a 'good vicar' and keep the rules and regulations imposed by the CofE, whilst living with the pastoral demands of the community. 

David Scott wonders what is a good vicar and a growing church anyway, and thinks that measuring growth is opposed to the New Testament. I disagree with him on the last point - Luke seems to spend most of the days after Pentecost doing headcounts and reporting numerical growth, it clearly is important.

There's a good debate on Peter Ould's post, and on Ship of Fools. I liked this comment: The minute you start to talk about the necessity for congregations to grow, those (clergy) whose congregations aren't growing start to talk about how it makes them feel a failure. It's important to be supportive to colleagues. However, it's equally important to have a vision for growing our congregations. Not for the sake of numbers, but because every number is a person.

Kelvin Holdsworth focuses on local leadership, and recognises that it's a more complicated equation than good vicar = church growth. I found this helpful: within what he was saying was something rather important which is that vicars – clergy generally matter. Should they be miserable, unsupported, unloved and sad there is almost no chance of a church in their care thriving. Clergy matter an enormous amount and if one wants churches to grow one does need to think about clergy rather a lot.
The short version is, clergy matter. And so do bums on pews. The two are related. But oh, oh – it’s complicated.
St Mungos Edinburgh has some reflections on the headwinds a 'good vicar' faces that mean the equation doesn't work out, but concludes Church growth, whether that a small little family sized fellowship, or large mega church is complex.   But I do agree with the Archbishop’s general principle the church growth is very dependent upon leadership.
Vic the Vicar thinks it's good medicine

Good post from The Blog of Kevin, pointing out the other things that Justin Welby says: that the key things in the local context are flexibility and intentionality: When we came to this church, the congregation knew when everyone was there, so the welcomers closed the door and sat down. When we begin to expect and anticipate newcomers, it changes how we approach the welcome. Intentionality. From nothing for kids at all, we went from a kids colouring table at the back, to kids sitting at the front on the mat, to a regular kids group. Intentionality.

Geoff Read notes that a focus on mission and numerical growth means an uncomfortable culture shift for many in the CofE.

Artsy Honker helpfully distinguishes between evangelism and recruitment, and calls for more work on what 'good' evangelism looks like. She adds some personal reflections as someone who left church, her experience of what put her off (ouch.....), and then came back, exploring the key factors. Worth a read.

Church Times opinion piece from Adrian Newman, writing from a Diocese (London) which has growth at the heart of its vision to 2020.  it is only partially about the numbers. Growth cannot be an end in itself. Like the Church, it must serve a higher calling. Hmm, yes and no, every '1' in the numbers is a person, a person who is worshipping God, (hopefully) growing in faith, supporting and being supported by other Christians, and engaging in ministry and service to the world. The calling of the church is to call people to follow Jesus, to baptise and make disciples. Healthy growth (not just people shopping around for a more convenient church to be part of, but actually responding to God), is a sign that our highest calling is being fulfilled.

The reality is more nuanced than the soundbite, but I'm glad that at the beginning of a new year
 - we are talking about leadership, and the need for it in the church, and what good leadership and pastoral ministry looks like. 
 - we are talking about church growth, alongside the reality of decline, rather than ignoring it or relabelling decline as 'spiritual growth'. That's going to be painful.

Personally, I need to be careful. Our church has grown steadily for several years, so I'm going to hear Justin Welbys comments about good vicars and growth in a very different way to someone whose church is shrinking. They aren't easy comments to hear if you're working your socks off and seeing little or no fruit.

Not all good leadership has to come with a dog collar. The vast majority of the gifts, energy, time vision and resources of the church are the 'ordinary' Christians. It's not all down to vicars (thank goodness), but there are some key tasks - e.g. setting vision, spotting talent - that enable the gifts of others to flourish.

And there are also different ways of being good: Alice Manns The In Between Church explores the dynamics of different sizes of churches, and argues that certain styles of leadership work better in certain contexts. I guess that will also apply to the social, ethnic and class background of a place, as well as the size of the church. 

I know that in a few years time, if our Diocesan financial system and interregnum policy doesn't change, we may well see some decline (we have a 'parish share' system which means that growing churches face an invoice from the diocese which rises 10-15% a year for a church that's growing 3-5% a year. In the long run that will mean cuts to the staffing and ministries which have enabled our growth in the first place so that we can pay the Diocesan bills, which in turn will choke off the growth.) So there are structural, as well as local, headwinds which the local leader and church will struggle with. I know good vicars whose churches aren't growing - as several of the bloggers above note, it's complicated. 

And finally, the Church Growth Research Programme will be publishing its results at a conference on Thursday. It sounds like there's an embargo on it all until then, but there might be some material which has a bearing on this debate.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Niagara Falls, Frozen Solid

Judging by the spray, a bit of it is still working, but this is amazing.

compare and contrast

Random Jottings: Bishops, Bad Weather, Baptism and Byyyy Eck Lad

Wells MP Tessa Munt has written (presumably at taxpayers expense) to the CofE to ask why the Bishop of Bath and Wells will no longer live in the Bishops Palace. "One of the charms of the palace was the possibility that one might just run into the bishop or his wonderful wife in the grounds, and in my view, it is a great shame that the chances of being blessed in this way are reduced almost to nothing. Unless Ms Munt is happy for her constituents to wander around her front garden on the off chance that they might bump into her, I really can't see what the problem is. The Palace will remain, the Bishop will still work there, it will still be open to visitors. And the Diocese will benefit from having a bishop who can get some proper time off, rather than living over the shop trying to avoid politicians.

The Sun once again shows its contempt for ordinary people. I don't imagine its much fun living in Mulcheney at the moment, using it as a backdrop for a cheap publicity stunt is pretty dire. Maybe they'll be sending a page 3 girl to a Syrian refugee camp to cheer people up there? I'm sure that'd work a treat.

In other weather related news. Hell has frozen over. I guess a lot of other stuff will happen now.

Delighted to find out I'm still a Northerner, even though I've now been in Somerset longer than I lived in Yorkshire.

I've been trying to avoid getting too far into the kerfuffle over the provisional, experimental, temporary baptism prayers: various links to opinions here, and this is a good piece. And this is the only revision that would be acceptable to the Daily Mail.

Was really encouraged by this, the amazing diversity of God's church in the UK. And here's an article on our little corner of it, due in the local paper tomorrow, weather permitting.

In case you missed it, Dave Walkers cartoon advent calendar kept me amused for most of December, and it sees him restored to rightful prominence in the Ebuzzing blog list.

If you're looking for some new blogs to browse for 2014, The Church Sofa has some suggestions. I'd want to add the excellent Cookies Days, which along with Quarentia was my most fruitful source for good links and inspiration last year.

Monday, January 06, 2014

South Somerset Local Plan - Last few days of consultation

The latest consultation on the South Somerset local plan closes on Friday, details are here, and you can sign up here to comment online. There are getting on for 200 comments at time of writing.

The two main issues in the modifications are:
a) a revised plan for greenfield housing in Yeovil, splitting the original larger site to the south of the town in two, one to the south on the A37, and one to the NE - it would have a lovely view of the floods in Mudford at the bottom of the hill.
b) revisions of a new housing site in Ilminster.

I've commented on 'a', my main concern being the quality of life of people living in the new housing areas. There seem to be plenty of people willing to speak up for the quality of life of existing residents, but my concern is that the space and facilities available in newer estates will get squeezed in response to the protests of the current generation of residents. That's already happened - a larger single estate came with the possibility of a range of facilities, including a potential secondary school and new place of worship. That is now off the table, with two smaller estates instead, and even plans for one of them to make up for the planning failures and poor facilities on an estate that's currently under construction.

We shouldn't be a town that's only prepared to build shoeboxes and give them a bare minimum of local facilities. If that means some sacrifices, then fair enough, other people made sacrifices for the homes that most of us are living in now.

After the consultation, we then have to see if the Planning Inspector is satisfied. If not, then we are into uncharted waters - no Local Plan at all. Whatever people are objecting to, this alternative could be far worse: no limits on development except the vague National Planning Policy Framework, plenty of work for lawyers, and much less local control over what gets the nod and what doesn't. Be careful what you wish for.

Update: neighbouring Mendip council has no local plan, and that's causing problems.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Finding Jesus

I'm preaching on the Magi tomorrow, strange people for God to put at the front of the queue to worship Jesus, happy to travel hundreds of miles whilst the professionals in Jerusalem couldn't even manage the 6-8 miles to Bethlehem.

I'll be using a story from this article by Carl Medearis, who has an amazing ministry looking for Jesus in places where few people expect to find him. The paper is a reminder that God is constantly surprising, and a reminder that if we start by assuming that God is at work, we'll probably be more likely to find out what He's doing.

Happy hunting.