Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Walk softly, as you go through Christmas,
that each step may bring you down the starlit path, to the manger bed.

Talk quietly, as you speak of Christmas
that you shall not drown out the glorious song of angels .

Kneel reverently as you pause for Christmas,
that you may feel again the Spirit of the Nativity, rekindled in your soul.

Rise eagerly, after you have trod the Christmas Path,
that you may serve more fully, the one whose birth we hail.

Friday, December 19, 2014

If politicians scripted the Nativity....

Nativity plays:
UKIP - the three wise men have been sent back where they came from and the virgin Mary has been told to stop breastfeeding in public
Conservative: the innkeeper has been stung for the bedroom tax after the stable was classed as a spare room. George Osborne says the Census is necessary as part of the long term economic plan.

LibDem - Promised 4 1/2 years ago there wouldn't be another census. Regularly briefing against Herod despite supporting him in power. Photos of Clegg in a 'this is what a Saviour looks like' t-shirt are being greeted with derision.
Labour - 'I met a shepherd the other day called Colin'. It's deeply unfair that shepherds are seated on the ground whilst other people have camels. Major policy speech on myrrh coming up.
Green: major plan to put solar panels on the hillsides around Bethlehem so that glory can be used as a renewable energy source.

The UKIP one was already doing the rounds on Twitter, so I figured it needed some company. Any bids for the SNP version?

Are people 'welcome' or welcome?

'Everyone welcome!' proclaims the poster outside the church. Is this a statement of fact, or a piece of marketing? It all depends on what happens when they turn up:

We all have people drifting into our churches from time to time. If they receive the right sort of welcome and feel they found a place where they can belong, a valuable start has been made. Here then is a 30 second checklist:
Outside: If the noticeboard is out of date and the grounds overgrown then the building is giving the impression of death and no-one will want to go near …
Inside: Solid wooden doors, long paths, dark porches, doors which don’t tell you whether to push or pull, poor signage and lack of disabled access are all things that seem small to us but which can put huge barriers in the way of a visitor. Remember, visitors will be embarrassed, nervous and unsure of themselves.
Welcome: The single most important factor in the first 30 seconds is the person you meet first on getting through the door … someone who smiles, is genuinely pleased to see people, and will enquire after the names of newcomers and show them to a seat is one of the most vital parts of a church.
Atmosphere: Walking into a buzz of conversation can seem friendly to those on the inside, but for a new person it can be intimidating because they feel that everyone has friends except them! The best atmosphere is one of prayer with music playing gently in the background so that the silence is compelling rather than embarrassing.
simple, but crucial. How welcoming is your church this Christmas?

update: just failed badly on the 30 second test at last nights service, what's the point in blogging this stuff if I then ignore it?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

12 Reasons Santa must live in a country estate, not a council estate

A few days ago, a high street store pulled a Christmas card stating why Santa must live on a council estate. The card was deemed to be offensive, so much so that every media report on the card had to reprint the whole thing in full just to show how offensive it was.

Of course the true reasons was never revealed: that the card is simply wrong. It's clear that Santa Claus is a member of the landed aristocracy:
  1. He has his own deer
  2. He only visits ordinary houses once a year, but doesn't like to be seen doing so.
  3. He doesn’t know how to open the front door for himself
  4. Whenever he enters a house, he has a drink
  5. He dresses in velvet
  6. He’s easy to mimic
  7. He drives an open-topped vintage vehicle
  8. He lets someone else do all the hard work, but he's still the one with the title
  9. He talks in an English accent but is ethnically from mainland Europe
  10. He has lots of stuff but is only generous once a year, and only then in response to a mass letter writing campaign. 
  11. He wears boots all the time
  12. His dress sense hasn't changed much since the 1950s

I hope that's cleared that up.

Monday, December 15, 2014

If I think x is wrong, does that make me x-phobic?

Odd piece by Giles Fraser in the Guardian a couple of days back, writing about Operation Christmas Child:

this literature promotes an exclusivist version of Christianity in the form of innocuous-looking comic book with the sinister message slipped in: “There is only one way to be friends with God.” In many places these boxes are distributed, this is thinly disguised code for: Islam is wrong.

I have two problems with this:

1. To say that something is wrong doesn't make you a phobic. This is a trick that goes all the way back to Freud, and probably long before: 'Disagreeing with me is nothing to do with my bad logic, it is an emotional flaw in you that is the problem'. Some things are right/true/correct and some things are wrong/mistaken/incorrect. Pointing out that something belongs in the later category, whether it's a system of thought or an answer in to a maths question, isn't a psychological condition. 

2. Last time I looked Giles Fraser was a CofE vicar, a Christian. Christians believe that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah, God in human form who dies for our salvation and rises again so that we might rise with him. (plus some small print). Jesus is both the fullest revelation of God on earth, and the God-given path to a restored relationship with God now an in eternity. That's what Jesus said he was, and that's what Christians believe. The leaflet simply paraphrases this: does that make Jesus himself sinister?

So someone else then turns up a few hundred years later, be they Mohammed or Joseph Smith, and claims to have a better idea than Jesus about who God is, how he is at work, and how to live in response to this. No Christian can logically go 'oh well, that's fair enough, you're just as likely to be right as Jesus'. There are flat contradictions between the Koran and the Bible. Jesus and Mohammed cannot both be right about themselves and about God. God isn't going to turn up in person to save the world, and then a few hundreds years later go 'oh that didn't work, I'll just go back to using prophets'. 

I believe Islam is wrong because I believe Jesus is who he says he is. (To put this in perspective, I also believe there are certain traditions of thought within Christianity that are wrong, along with capitalism, communism, buying t-shirts made in sweatshops, texting during a conversation, and using Facebook as a form of therapy. I'm a mass of phobias) But lets have an adult, reasoned discussion about it, rather than chucking abusive labels at people who don't see things the way we do, closing down the debate before its even begun. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Top Posts from 2014

Here are the 10 most viewed posts from 2014 on Opinionated Vicar

1. Latest Church of England Attendance Stats: making mud seem clear: written in the light of the CofE stats released in March.

2. The Parish system: game over? (also attracted most comments)

3. Vicars: Personality Type and  Church Growth (some of the church growth research published at the start of the year linked particular clergy personality types to growing churches, though the growth was self-reported: do extrovert visionaries tend to big things up, or are they actually more suited to parish leadership than the average?)

4. First Woman Bishop: the Shortlist (not entirely serious...)

5. Vicars - A Great Resource Squandered? (in the light of some research which showed a large % of clergy saying the church was bad at recognising their talents and gifts)

6. Women Bishops: the morning after (a lament that the CofE had taken so long to get round to it, and had taken its eye off the main business of the church)

7. Questions for the CofE to ask itself  (how realistic & ruthless does the CofE need to be in order to survive?)

8. Is the Bishop of Bath and Wells a person or a tourist attraction? at the time when there was a public outcry at the prospect of the new Bishop of B&W living somewhere more normal than the Palace in Wells (complete with moat, swans etc.)

9. Latest CofE stats: Attendance by Diocese 2009-13 (table of attendance change by Diocese, based on the figures up to 2013).

10. Growing Churches and Good Vicars: Blog round up and thoughts  posted after Justin Welbys comments early in the year linking church growth to having a 'good vicar'

Looking at the list, it's striking how Anglican they all are - nearly all are about CofE structures, practice and priorities. There's a danger in that of becoming too niche, a talking/blogging shop for Anglican concerns alone. I blog regularly about all sorts of other things - mental health, politics, money, media, culture etc., but none of it gets the kind of traffic that these things do.

On one hand, I'm pleased these posts are getting the visits and comments - part of the reason for posting them is to get a debate going in the CofE. A few years ago I felt like a bit of a lone voice, going on about mission, growth and leadership, but now these are mainstream topics of discussion. And there are some easy ways to grab Anglican traffic (e.g. the #synod hashtag during General Synod meetings) which I haven't really worked out for the other denominations!

On the other hand, I'm still frustrated that a comedy list of women bishops gets more than 10x as many visits as a post on mental illness a few days later.

For info, because people sometimes ask, the top post here has had just over 4000 hits (according to Blogger stats, which I don't think are very accurate!!) The site gets roughly 500-700 hits on an average day, but again I'm not convinced that's accurate, and a lot of it is spam. As a sign of how blogging has evolved since I started, main traffic sources are Twitter and Facebook, though a link from Thinking Anglicans is still worth quite a bit.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Russell Brand visits a food bank, falls in love with a Christian

In a warehouse in a retail park Christians and sixth formers assemble bags of what would rightly be considered “staples” in a kinder world. Tins of food and packets of biscuits and it’s good that we’re near to the “White Cliffs of Dover” because it feels like there’s a war on and the livid coloured packaging goes sepia in my mind as Dame Vera scores the melancholy scene.

The Christians are as Christians are, kind and optimistic. The donations come from ordinary local folk “We get more from the poorer people” says Martin, a quick deputy in a cuddly jumper. “More from Asda shoppers than Waitrose.” As I contemplate cancelling my Ocado (or whatever it’s called) order Chrissy, the lady who runs the scheme says that this year people who received packages previously have now donated themselves. Previous recipients often volunteer an all. Here older folk and the students diligently box off the nosh and I determine to give them and their heartening endeavor a shout out on the show and my writhing, nervous gut begins to settle.

Chrissy explains how the Canterbury Food Bank has brought people together, not just those it feeds but those who volunteer. “It seemed like a good way to worship Christ” she says. Martin, who I am starting to gently fall in love with, observes that supermarkets profit from the enterprise as Food Bank campaigns encourage their customers to spend more there. “Do you think there’s an obligation for the state to feed people?” I ask “or room for a bit more Jesus kicking the money lenders out of the temple type stuff?”

They smile.

....The Britain of the future will be born of alliances between ordinary, self-governing people, organised locally, communicating globally. Built on principles that are found in traditions like Christianity; community, altruism, kindness, love.

from RB's reflections on last nights Question Time. 

Top Christmas Videos #10: The Writings on the Wall

Ok this is nothing to do with Christmas, but it's absolutely brilliant. Almost single-handedly redeems the pop video as an art form.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Christmas videos #9 Christmas Starts

A shorter and much less expensive ad than John Lewis. Amid the various marketing attempts to colonise the birth of Jesus as a shopping festival, and the widespread confusion about whether Jesus plays for Chelsea, it reminds us that  Christmas starts with Christ.

Top Christmas videos #8 No Pressure

another Nativity Factor winner, very clever, love the bickering angels

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

32,449% increase in 8 years. Guess what?

no, not the amount of plastic surgery done on prime time TV presenters. (though that's probably close). It's this:


update & statistical note: this figure is based only on those fed by Trussell Trust foodbanks. The Trussell Trust was set up in 1999 in Salisbury, and has grown to over 400 centres. There are other food banks (e.g. the Lords Larder here in Yeovil, which has been running since 1991. The 59,000 items they gave out to 3979 people in 2013 was a 25% rise on the year before, and 2014 is running ahead of 2013 in terms of demand. This isn't quite the exponential growth that the Trussell Trust have seen, but any growth is bad. The Feeding Britain report claims that there may be just as many independent food banks as those the Trussell Trust is running.

For example, in Somerset there is also the West Somerset Food Cupboard, though most of the others in the county (Bath, Taunton, Weston, Bridgwater, Somer Valley, Cheddar etc.) are supported by the TT.

Top Christmas videos #6: Beat Convention 'O Come O Come Emmanuel'

As featured on Songs of Praise and this BBC piece. This vid is from last year, and here's this years rap carol, GRYMG

Monday, December 08, 2014

Love your neighbour? First you've got to meet them. Here's how.

They teach that people should love their neighbour* but a major new study shows that churches are one of the few places most modern Britons might even meet them.
Ground-breaking new analysis of the friendship networks of almost 4,300 people aged from 13 to 80 has identified churches and sporting events as the last bastions of neighbourliness and integration in Britain.
Overall, it found that churches and other places of worship are more successful than any other social setting at bringing people of different backgrounds together, well ahead of gatherings such as parties, meetings, weddings or venues such as pubs and clubs.
*I think that was Jesus who said that, so it's not a surprise to find his followers modelling community (however imperfectly), more than most other settings. 
Media story here, based on some ongoing work by the Social Integration Commission (no, I'd never heard of them before either), with a report due out next month. I do sometimes wonder where else the children in our church (or indeed the adults) would get the chance to mix with such a diverse range of people: aged 0 to 90+, Navy commanders, nurses, single parents, widows, carpenters, engineers, teachers, Japanese, Romanian, Italian, Nigerian, kids from several local primary and secondary schools, Oxbridge degree, NVQ1, self employed, and I won't even start on the range of medical conditions. 
A few days after discovering our daughter had type 1 diabetes, a church member 55 years older than her had a chat: he told her he'd been diagnosed when he was 5, and it hadn't stopped him doing anything. To see the living, breathing proof of what we'd been told/read but hadn't really taken in was so reassuring, and just one aspect of the church being the church. 
I'm also reminded of something wise said by one of our tutors at vicar college: in church, just as we are enriched by the presence of others, so we are diminished by their absence. The church could do and be so much more if those who professed to be Christians realised that you do have to be part of a church to fully live that out.

Top Christmas videos #5 U2 'I Believe in Father Christmas'

lyrics slightly changed from the original, to make it an affirmation of faith rather than a denial

How to live 10 years longer

"living a pure life, no alcohol, no tobacco, going to bed early, praising God for his goodness and for the blessing of life".


Every Friday evening (the community of) Loma Linda falls quiet. On Saturday, Adventists take the day off from anything that could be considered work.

This includes browsing social media or, in some cases, watching television. For most, Saturday is a day to recuperate from the past week and to be with family and friends.

"Our Sabbath is more than just the church that takes place in the morning," says Dustin Aho, executive pastor at the huge University Church, which dominates the centre of town.

"The actual Sabbath day is in our name, Seventh-day Adventists, and so the day is crucial. What is more crucial to us is the time set aside for our community and for our God."

and vegetarianism. Here's the full story

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Mental health - what's changed in 10 years?

I ask… What has any government really done to improve mental health care?
Charities and some very well known people are very vocal about conditions and campaigning for better services and provisions. But what of those that are asking for our vote? Having been in the system for close to 10 years, I have seen many changes…

• Loss of beds on inpatient wards
• Less support services in the community
• Services tailored more to addiction than mental health
• Massive increase in those suffering milder forms of mental illness, that have gone on to develop significant problems, due to lack of attention from relevant medical professionals
• Children being sent hundreds of miles from their families, just to receive the care required
• Mental health crimes increasing
• Police being used as ‘baby sitters’ for those that are deemed too ill to be in society at that time.
• Anti depressants being handed out more freely, with no follow up counselling or support

I have not seen any real significant increase in companies changing their view on employing those with mental health problems. Nor have I seen any huge Government plans to ease or aid the situation. However, I have seen a change in our communities....

read the rest here. Good, honest and challenging post from a local blogger and community organiser in Yeovil.

Top Christmas videos #4 Three Kings

another Nativity Factor finalist, very funny.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Food Banks: Still a Boom Part of the Economy

The Lords Larder, our local food bank in Yeovil, publishes stats on how many people it helps each year:

2012 - 42,000 items of food to 1986 adults and 1116 children
2013 - 59,000 items of food to 2570 adults and 1409 children

that's a 25% increase in clients, and a 40% increase in food given. Yeovil itself has a population of 45,000  - I think the parcels go further afield than just Yeovil, otherwise we have 10% of the population who are needing food parcels. Bear in mind also that this is the 2013 figure, it would be no surprise if the 2014 figure was even worse. And that's before we've looked at what's coming next.

It's been encouraging to see Yeovil College get involved in supporting them recently, with regular collections of food, and a cash collection at next Thursdays Carol Service. What's more sobering is to think that there are probably lots of college students who are receivers, as well as givers.

Update: major new report coming out on all this Monday, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has thrown his weight behind. Sounds like it will be calling for more food banks, turning Make Lunch into an official part of the welfare state, and getting more 'waste' food used rather than binned.

update 2, and here it is, Feeding Britain

Top Christmas videos #3 'The Christmas C(h)ord

Nativity factor winner a couple of years ago. This is really clever.

Dai Woolridge has done a few other things too

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Turnip Prize - British Art at its Best

Here's the winner of the annual Turnip Prize, an annual Bad Art alternative to the Turner Prize. I'd have gone for Stick Another Shrimp on the Barbie, but to be fair they'd gone to a bit too much effort.

Another triumphant contribution to global culture from Somerset, the awards were given out just up the road at Wedmore. All we need to do now is to get Cider Monday properly organised for the first Monday after Black Friday (whatever that is).

Top Christmas videos #1 Second Chance

There are so many great vids to use at Christmas that it's hard to know where to start, so I'll start here, and if there's time you'll get one a day from now until Christmas. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude! I think this originally came from the Churches Advertising Network.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Nativity Factor 2014

Having given us the Beatbox Bible a couple of years back, the Nativity Factor this year comes down to a straight play-off between two teams. Last weekend, they were filming their offerings, and they've been uploaded today. Here's a look behind the scenes.

If you've missed it in previous years, here's a collection of the top entries. The idea is to provide a modern take on the Christmas story in a 2-3m short film. I liked Incarnational Homespun Blues, and the Christmas C(h)ord, but they're all worth a look.

Update: here they are

The Audition

and #Nativity, bit of an angel theme this year.

whichever gets most views by December 22nd is the winner.