Monday, December 21, 2015

'Take the risk of kindness'

"For me it’s about responding to the love we’re given by God at Christmas by offering it to those who might be feeling like they are on the margins, just like Jesus and his family were.
That could be inviting your neighbour around for dinner or a cup of tea. It could be striking up that conversation in the school playground. It could be simply sitting next to that person on the bus who others seem nervous about sitting with. Try it – take the risk, see what happens.
As Christians we are called to be people who take that first step, Who take the risk of kindness because we believe the other person is a gift to us from God, just as we can be a gift to them.
We’re called to be people who don’t accept narratives that seek to divide us as communities – wherever we hear them – because we have a better narrative: that God poured out his love for us by sending his son to be with us in a world of fear and danger."

great stuff from Justin Welby

'Panic Saturday': Rebranding the Week

Last year saw the unpleasant arrival of 'Black Friday' in the pre-Christmas calendar. This year it was the turn of 'Panic Saturday', or 'Saturday' as it's normally known. The last Saturday before Christmas joins an unspecified Friday in late November in the sheep-pen of branded dates.

Before we end up with every single date from November 1 - December 23 rebranded by the retail lobby (hand in glove with the mainstream media, who seem to happily parrot this stuff without ever challenging it), how about some alternative names which truly capture the spirit of Christmas: for example

Sharing Monday
Unselfish Tuesday
Hospitality Wednesday
Thankful Thursday
Phone-Call Friday (for ringing that person you've not spoken to for a while)
Kindness Saturday
Switch-Off Sunday (minimise screen time, maximise face time)

None of these have any money in them, which is one reason they probably won't catch on.

The other reason is that none of them generate the same sense of urgency as the branded days - there may not be another day to catch this bargain (which is cobblers of course, just wait until January). But there's always another day to be kind, unselfish, make the phone call etc. Good deeds are easier to leave for later, if the clamour for a bargain has a grip on our souls. And if it does have that grip, we need a buy-nothing season to wean us off it: cold turkey is for life, not just for Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Top 10 posts of 2015

The most-read posts of 2015 were, in no particular order:

The new year began with a blizzard of new thinking from the CofE. Yes, you read that right...
In Praise of the Green Report which was at the time just about the only positive thing online about the 'Green Report' into CofE leadership training.
'Green Shoots? Archbishops Introduce CofE to Smell of Coffee, on some fairly trenchant words from messrs Welby and Sentamu about the need for serious change in the CofE
CofE discussion papers and forums - an overview of the CofE's 'Reform and Renewal' papers and discussion forums

The Spirituality Spectrum: some helpful research which goes beyond the normal binary believer/nonbeliever pigeonholes

Fresh Expressions of Vicar: guest post from Andy Griffiths on church leadership, using Titus as a model for how we prepare and model leadership.

They Didn't Think it Through: Sunday Trading: My response to the so-called 'consultation' on Sunday trading - at the time of writing the government is still 'analysing your feedback'. Which doesn't explain why they tried to change the law before this analysis had been done. Window dressing, deception, broken election promises, in the pockets of the big retailers, one-sided presentation of the facts, rearrange these phrases into any paragraph of your choice.

Inappropriate Clergy Awards glad I managed to pen something vaguely amusing, though that's usually best left to Archdruid Eileen

London: Lessons for the Church of England: digest of a fascinating talk by Richard Chartes, Bishop of London, on lessons learned in his diocese that have led to the growth of the church in the capital.

When Should My Parish Church Be Demolished? Thought I'd get the Express in to write some of my post titles. Some pretty eye-opening stats on the number of tiny CofE congregations running huge listed buildings, It's easier to identify the problem than to know how to deal with it.

Would it be better if we didn't talk about Jesus? New research showing that when Christians share their faith it's more often off-putting than uplifting. Oddly, I'm in agreement with the Church Times on this - we need to spend more time looking at the findings before we come up with recommendations for action. The answer to the question is, of course, no, but we have to find a better way of talking about Jesus. I'd recommend this for starters.

the main reason for most of these being clicked on more than the rest was a link from Thinking Anglicans, so a big thankyou to the team over there. And fair play to them for linking to a blogger from a different perspective - I don't find it easy to be in disagreement with people, but we need to learn to disagree well, in the church, and in society at large. And for that we need practice....

thankyou for all the comments, shares tweets etc. and bless you for reading

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lords Prayer 'ad': Investigation by Equality and Human Rights Commission


The Equality and Human Rights Commission has today announced that the issues raised by Digital Cinema Media’s (DCM) decision not to show a Church of England advert about the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas, will be examined as part of a major Commission report.
This report, examining the adequacy of the law protecting freedom of religion or belief, will be published early next year. The DCM decision has generated significant public concern about freedom of speech.
The Commission, the national expert in equality and human rights law, has also offered its legal expertise for the purpose of intervening in the case should the Church take legal proceedings against DCM.
The Commission has written to DCM to highlight the importance of Britain’s long tradition of freedom of expression and to reiterate its concerns about the justification for not showing the advertisement being that it risked offending audiences.  There is no right in Britain not to be offended, and respect for people’s right to express beliefs with which others might disagree is the mark of a democratic society.
Most of me is bothered by the fact that we can't screen the Lords Prayer before a 2 hour film about a universal supernatural force, in amongst adverts encouraging us to sue, kill people on a screen, spend more money than we've got, and consume products that are bad for our health. Which of these is most offensive? But the rest of me is bothered about opening the gates to overtly religious advertising. It's a blurred line, as most movies are advertising products and worldviews themselves. Legal minefield? In amongst all this its clear that DCM have made a pigs ear of it, having initially okayed the Lords Prayer clip, and then come up with poor reasoning for pulling it. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Merry Crispmas

Here's an attempt to retell the Christmas story using crisps, like you do. Any feedback would be helpful, as it's still in the baking stage! First outing will be this weekend. The crisps themselves are in a pile in my study: the trick will be laying them out in the right order, or it could easily turn into Tommy Coopers hat story

Crisps – Christmas talk 2015
How does Good King Wenceslas like his Pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even

Something amazing has happened. The world has changed, it has a whole new flavour.
The one who made everybody, now has a body
The one who made the sun bites into food
The one true God, the real McCoy, was born as a child, to show us the way to live, and the way to God.

Let me tell you how it happened.
One day, in a quiet village in Israel, to a young woman called Mary
An angel appeared from nowhere
Mary quavered
‘Don’t be afraid’ said the angel, you’ve been chosen, you’ll be the mother of God’s own son,
he’ll be a Sensation, he will save people, some people will think he’s nuts but he’ll be God’s promised king, the one everyone has been waiting for.

Fast forward 9 months, and there’s a new tax, set by the government, which hits the poor hardest. Sounds familiar.  Everyone has to Walker long way, to their place of birth, to register and pay.

From Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived, to Bethlehem, was a journey of 80 miles. On foot. Pregnant. They were pretty frazzled when they got to Josephs town of Bethlehem.

They knocked at the first Door it o pened onto a full house: no room here. And again, and again.

The Bible says that Jesus was born and put in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. Often people kept their animals in a section of their house overnight. Maybe the innkeeper, with all the guest room full, invited Mary and Joseph into his house, to stay as personal guests. You know how a crisp packet can feel full, but in fact there’s lots of space? It’s like that with us, our lives are full of stuff, but like the innkeeper there’s always room for Jesus.

Lets add a bit more flavour to the story:  shepherds on a hill outside Bethlehem. Salt of the earth. Watching over their lambs. Chilli in the night air. Maybe bacon something over a fire.  Night security men, not much of a steak in the world of the powerful.

But they soon turned chicken. A light appeared in the sky. Wotsit doing? it’s getting closer, it’s getting brighter, it’s… angels! ‘don’t be afraid’, said the angels, as they quavered too. Good news, your saviour is born down there in Bethlehem, Jesus, the King.
So they skipped off to see the child and worship, and spread the news.

Meanwhile far to the east, men who studied the stars saw a strange sign in the sky: Saturn – the planet of Israel, close to Jupiter – planet of kings, So close they looked like a single star. A new king in Israel? There were great stories, great prophecies. So they packed up gifts – not nick nacks , but great treasures, and set out across the deep ridged desert.

Many weeks later, Dry and roasted by the sun, they reached the royal palace in Jerusalem. This is where you’d find a king. But not the right king. This was the palace of Herod, who had his own family killed when they looked like being more popular than he was. Herod was a monster, munch-en (mention) a new king and he’d not be happy.
Herod hoped the wise men wouldn’t Twig: ‘let me know where he is so that I can worship him too.’ But they weren’t called wise men for nothing, and they kept Jesus a secret.

Just a few miles further, and the star showed them where Jesus was. They gave him gifts: incense, myrrh, and Gold, in Wonder at this child. the promised king. The Son of God.

What are crisps made from? (potatoes)
Put 1 small potato in the ground, it grows and makes loads more. And so from that small beginning, now the .Christmas story is told all over the world, and millions of people know Jesus, follow him, love him. All sorts of shapes and sizes and flavours. Jesus, God’s gift to the world.

We’ve discovered that Jesus is worth all we can give, the love of Mary, the faithfulness of Joseph, the excitement of the shepherds, the song of the angels, the precious gifts of the wise men.

The truth is crisp

This Christmas, taste, and see for yourself. 

Acapella Sing-Off: 'Mary Did You Know?'

Mary did you know that one day lots of acapella songs would be sung about you?

Peter Hollens v Pentatonix.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Run, Fat Vicar, Run

Cassock, dog collar, running shoes. I've probably set myself a stupid challenge in trying to combine that outfit with the Yeovil Half Marathon in March, but it's all in a good cause. If you get anything at all out of reading my blog, then please do consider sponsoring me

I'm planning to run the 13 and a bit miles in full clergy outfit to raise £2020 towards a refit of our church (600th birthday in 2020). Neither the congregation nor the community fits into it any more. Either we adapt, or we move out, but it's such a beautiful and prayerful place that abandoning it for a shed on an industrial estate isn't an option.

Not that I'm competitive, but this chap up the road did the full London Marathon, and raised more than 5x what I'm aiming at. He also looks like he's fit enough. Me? Well, I've done 21k on the exercise bike...... 

Monday, December 07, 2015

This Years Christmas Services - St. James Yeovil

'It's your busy time of year' - it's a different kind of busy, but here's our Christmas services this year

Sat 12th  4pm Christingle service, St. James Preston Rd, with Christingle oranges for everyone and a special charity collection for the Childrens Society
Sat 12th 4-6pm Messy Church Christingle, St. Peters Coronation Avenue

Sun 13th 10.30am Christmas Cafe Service, Abbey Community Centre

Fri 18th 4pm Christingle service, Palmers Garden Centre, with the Salvation Army Band. Come early for a seat, usually standing room only.

Sun 20th 4pm, 6.30pm Carols by Candelight St James Preston Rd, with mulled wine and mince pies between the two services

Christmas Eve
3pm and 5pm Nativity Service, St. James Preston Road
11pm Holy Communion, St. James

Christmas Day: 10.30am Family Communion, St. James

Those are all the public ones, there's also 11 other gigs involving nurseries, schools, Scouts, playgroups and the local Childrens Centre. All in all it'll be somewhere between 1500-2000 people involved in 'all of the above'. Which is all very exciting.

A Christmas talk telling the nativity story through chocolate ended up being repeated by popular demand (I think the kids just thought they might get some of the choccy at the end), this year the challenge is to tell the story using crisps. It won't be deep, and probably fairly uneven, but at least Wenceslas would be happy with 1/3 of it. .....Herod hoped the wise men wouldn’t Twig: ‘let me know where he is so that I can worship him too.’   still needs quite a bit of work!!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Multi-Coloured Friday


I like the idea that songs are a gift
"I never sit down and say, 'I'm gonna write a song about this person and this event'," he said as we passed the Venice skate park. "If I did do that, it would never make it, because that would be a song that you crafted rather than received."

And I asked every book
Poetry and chime
"Can there be breaks
In the chaos of times?"
Oh, thanks God
You must've heard when I prayed
Because now I always
Want to feel this way

(Amazing Day)

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Extreme Advent

Add a new level of reality to Advent: starting at one end of your street, call at one house a day, in sequence, open their door, and help yourself to some chocolate.

We live at number 3, and we're stocking up for Thursday.

If we're going to miss the point of Advent, lets at least make it interesting. Who knows what kind of great conversations might happen?

Oh Dave, Make Haste to Help Us?

Given the patchy record of foreign interventions in recent decades - an Iraq for every Kosovo - it makes no sense that only 1 day of debate is being allowed for the decision to bomb Syria. Why the rush? If it's the right decision, then taking longer over it will reveal the rightness. It's hard to make a good decision in a hurry. 

I'm bemused that we have a majority of MPs prepared to vote in favour of this: we have Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq as cautionary tales of military action taken without an exit strategy or planning for what happens afterwards. Every bomb dropped will mean millions in reconstruction costs further down the tracks, but the government isn't even offering a promise of rebuilding to the civilians of Syria who will have to live with the mess after Daesh are history. 

"We don’t really know what we want to achieve other than to hear the sound of bombs falling on Raqqa, thus satisfying the need to do something. We can’t win if we don’t know what winning looks like." (Giles Fraser)

Ian Paul offers 7 good reasons to really take our time over this, and consider if there is a less sexy, but more effective, way to tackle Daesh. 

Cameron has been itching to bomb Syria for a while, and the Paris attacks have given him the reason/excuse/pretext he needs. But the Paris attacks don't really change any of the military logic. If, as is frequently announced, 7 similar attacks have been foiled on the UK this year, then the threat has always been there, it's just that this time they weren't caught by the security services. The fact that one attack was successful, instead of joining with the other failures, doesn't change any of the maths around ISIS in Syria. If it didn't make sense a month ago, it doesn't make sense now. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less, Give More

"Maybe Christmas doesn't need to be different, but I need to be different."

This is always a good time of year to visit Advent Conspiracy, as a reminder that we don't have to let consumer capitalism write the script for Christmas.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New story, old url: the Telegraph and the Bishop of Greater London

May the Farce Be With You: there was a brief flutter this morning over a Telegraph story headlined 'Bishops Condemn CofE over Cinema Advert'.

If you visit the story now, you'll see that the headline and article have completely changed, but the url hasn't. The Bishops in question in the original (you only need 2 to make a plural) were Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, who wasn't criticising the CofE at all (which the new article recognises), and the 'Bishop of Greater London', who is nothing to do with the Church of England, Here's a bit about his 'Open Episcopal Church', though his work seems to be as more of a freelance celebrant and campaigner. He doesn't seem that keen on the Lords Prayer either, which is odd for a bishop.

Credit to the Telegraph for correcting the story, but not much for posting it in the first place. It almost looked like an informal competition with the Sun for most misleading headline of the week.

The whole business does raise the interesting question of DIY clergy titles. What other clergy with impressive titles are lurking out there, waiting to be uncovered? If the CofE missed Greater London, what other parts of the UK could be ripe for episcopal/ceremonial recognition? It could be quite a lucrative trade, the ecclesiastical equivalent of personalised number plates. Canon Precentor of Marks and Spencer? Pioneer Archdeacon of Helvellyn? The Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells could be a proper title at last, with the added bonus of getting quoted by national newspapers looking for a headline.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A New 'Nooma' ? - Great meditation on Thankfulness

Once upon a time lots of people got very excited about Rob Bells 'Nooma' DVDs, at the time a new and clever way to communicate. They're still worth a look:

There are now Christian DVDs everywhere, but these have grabbed me recently. A local church is doing a series on '7 life-changing habits', here's the clip for 'Thankfulness', and each theme comes with an accompanying pdf for personal or small group use.

"we are already the richest and most well-developed generation in history, and yet we are also the most in debt, medicated, depressed, overweight, stressed-out, addicted generation in history."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Star Wars Ad Agency: No Force Please We're Squeamish

'Lord Prayer cinema ad ban' runs the BBC headline. As one Twitter correspondent pointed out this morning, it isn't. The ad agency which handles cinema advertising has refused to run the CofE's Lords Prayer video before showings of Star Wars, because it "could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith"

So, millions of people go to see a film about an all-pervading supernatural force, and they'll get upset about a shorter film about an all-pervading supernatural force. Run that past me again?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Downton Abbey: Why His Grace has Gone Missing

God's absence from Downton Abbey was noted a couple of years ago, but it turns out it was more by design than by accident. The historical advisor to the show told the Telegraph earlier this week that DA bent over backwards to keep God out of it. On the absence of a mealtime 'grace':
“In essence you hardly ever see a table that isn’t already sat at. We never see the beginning of a luncheon or a dinner, because no one was ever allowed to see a grace being said, and I would never allow them to sit down without having said grace.
“I think that the view was that we’d leave religion out of it, and it would’ve taken extra time too. I suggested a Latin grace, but they decided that was too far, and no one would’ve known what was going on.”
Mr Bruce said that he was even banned from featuring napkins folded in the shape of a bishop’s mitre, for fear of breaching the religious edict. “Everyone panics when you try to do anything religious on the telly,”
The US screening of the show even looked at leaving out the word 'Abbey' from the title. So you leave out a prayer of thanks, but call the dog Isis.....
It's ironic that the very article which broke this story writes this about the Christmas episode: The feature-length yuletide edition will be the show’s last ever episode, ... though to be fair it does use the word 'Christmas' too. 
Even though the stories are usually fake, it's no surprise that  'Christmas banned by local council in....' gains such traction and is believed by so many people. If you can't screen a prayer on a Sunday night costume drama, when can you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New Yeovil Counselling Service

Counselling4Yeovil is a Christian organisation offering affordable professional counselling in Yeovil to people of any or no faith. We aim to communicate our unconditional acceptance and valuing of each person we work with and to respect each person's right to make their own decisions about how to live.

We developed from Yeovil Pregnancy Crisis Centre which has been counselling women in Yeovil since 2007 on issues surrounding pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion and infant death. We continue to offer a free counselling service to women and their partners dealing with these issues.

Website here.

A much needed new service, NHS mental health services are way past full stretch, and that is as true in Yeovil and South Somerset as anywhere else. There are some good ideas around - e.g. the 'Triangle of Care' - but mental health is currently an area where voluntary, community and private healthcare groups are needed to fill the holes in the safety net.

Counselling4Yeovil has a team of fully qualified counsellors, and though it has a Christian basis, it's open to people of any faith position, and aims to make counselling available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sham 'Consultation' on Sunday Trading

What was the point? The government has (thankfully) shelved plans to liberalise Sunday trading after the SNP made it clear they'd vote against. A shared day of rest is likely to be one of the first casualties of EVEL, but for now workers, families, charities and communities get a reprieve.

What's obvious is that the so-called consultation held by the government on its plans to reform the law was a complete waste of space.

The prime minister's official spokeswoman said the next steps would await analysis of the results of a consultation and be made clear "in due course"

So the initial plans, which have been 'parked', were going to happen before the consultation results were in and analysed. The consultation is a pointless exercise, because the government hasn't even bothered to listen to it, it's only the 20 or so Conservative MPs who made it clear they'd vote against that's forced the U-turn.

Either have participative democracy, or be honest that you're railroading things through no matter what people think or what you promised before the election, and save everyone a bit of time and money. Today it's the sheer dishonesty of the process that annoys me. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fake Christmas

In what may just be a bizarre coincidence, the first Fake Shop in the UK opened in Yeovil recently. At the same time, the front page of the local paper, the Western Gazette, ran with the visit of the 'famous Coca-Cola Christmas truck'. No, me neither. A drink featuring a waste gas, an artificial stimulant, and unhealthy quantities of sugar, all dissolved in a freely available natural resource and sold back to us as a desirable product. If the truck actually parked in the Fake Shop, that would be a prophetic statement about Christmas worthy of Banksy.

In other news, you're more likely to find an Advent calendar with a dog in a silly costume than one with a picture of Jesus. Dog rest ye merry gentlemen.

Milton Jones: comedians and Christians are dealing with the same stuff

Good interview with comedian Milton Jones at the very excellent LICC website:

Comedians are well-known for mocking religion; do you think Christianity and comedy can happily coexist?

It’s easy to see the church as a sort of bullied boy in the playground that won’t fight back. But God is big enough to take criticism or take a joke. There’s something pretty insecure about feeling the need to do God’s work or protect him. I did do a video a little while ago about the weirdness of Christianity, but honestly within comedy people don’t actually hate Christianity. They hate two-dimensional reactionary Christianity, but there’s actually quite a softness towards ‘thinking’ Christianity. Comedy is full of people who used to go to church but couldn’t quite go along with the whole package because it was too jingoistic. I know a heck of a lot of people in comedy whose parents were clergy or missionaries. Ultimately a lot of comedy is dealing with the truth, about life and what it’s all about. The same is true of faith.

Monday, November 09, 2015

'Break the Cycle' - Doctor Who's sermon on Matthew 6 and the Iraq war.

Doctor Who usually peaks around Remembrance Day. This year is no exception, the following dialogue from Saturdays episode (starts from about 32 mins in, full section from 30m 22s). It's a cracking script & dialogue, covering war, forgiveness, repentance, Iraq, pride, sin, you name it. The Doctor is in blue, 'Zygella' the adversary in red, trying to justify her actions... 

It’s not fair

Oh it’s not fair, oh I didn’t realise that, it’s not fair! You know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor.

The things don’t equate

These things have happened Zygella, they are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, who’ll be cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive...why don’t you break the cycle.

Why should we?

What is it that you actually want?


Ah, right! And when this war is over, when you have a homeland free from humans (insert own personal enemies here) what do you think it’s going to be like? You know, have you thought about it, have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses, are people going to work, will there be holidays? Oh, will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? who’s going to make the violins? Well? Oh, You don’t actually know do you? Because like every other tantrumming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want.  

So let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when its all perfect and just an fair, when you have finally got It exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you, the troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one.

We’ll win

Oh will you? Well maybe… maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long, the wheel just keeps on turning, so come on, break the cycle.

… when you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered. How much blood will be spilt before everyone has to do what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning – sit down and talk! … listen to me, listen, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It's just a fancy word for changing your mind.

I will not change my mind

Then you will die stupid. Alternatively, you could step away..

..No, I’m not stopping this you think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done

You’re all the same you screaming kids, you know that? 'Look at me, I’m unforgiveable', well here’s the unforeseeable – I forgive you. After all you’ve done. I forgive you. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Talking About Jesus - Would It Be Better If We Didn't?

Talking Jesus this week published a survey of just over 2500 'normal' people and 1500 Christians. The findings are going to General Synod later this month.

Here are the questions the research was trying to get at:
What do people in this nation know and believe about Jesus? What do they really think of us, his followers? Are we talking about Jesus enough? And when we are, are we drawing people closer towards him, or further away?

The work was a joint project between the CofE, Evangelical Alliance, and other Christian agencies. Some of the findings:
 - 40% of the general population believe the Bible is God's word
 - 60% think Jesus really existed, 25% of under-35s think he is a fictional character
 - 21% think he was God, the majority believe Jesus was a spiritual leader/normal human being
 - just over 40% think Jesus was raised from the dead

A key focus of the survey was evangelism, how Christians are seen and how we share (or don't share) our faith:
- 2/3 of people know a 'practising Christian', and 60% of them enjoy that persons company. That means 40% don't/didn't know
- When asked to describe their Christian friend/acquaintance, positive characterstics scored much higher than negative ones (hooray!) - caring, friendly, generous, good-humoured were all about 5x more common than hypocritical, narrow minded, uptight and foolish.

Here's the really worrying bit: the majority of Christians feel comfortable to some degree in talking to others about Jesus, look for opportunities to do so, and have done so in the last month. But as for the fruits.....
 More than half of English non-Christians who know a Christian (58%) have had a conversation with them about Jesus. Younger adults 18 to 34 (61%) are somewhat more likely than adults over 35 (54%) to report having had such a conversation. Two out of every five non-Christians say evangelism made them glad not to be a Christian (42%). Another two in five don’t know how they felt about it (42%), while only 16 per cent felt sad, after the conversation about Jesus, that they did not share the Christian’s faith. 

 When Christians talk about Jesus, the response is mixed. One in five non-Christians say they, after such a conversation, felt open to an experience or encounter with Jesus. But almost half say they were not open to such an experience (49%) and six in 10 didn’t want to know more about Jesus (59%). One in five did want to know more (19%); 16 per cent felt sad that they did not share the Christian’s faith; nearly one-quarter felt more positive about Jesus (23%) or felt closer to the Christian with whom they had the conversation (26%).

Whilst Christians who share their faith feel positive about having done so, the clear majority of those on the receiving end are turned off Christian faith, and the one telling them about it, by the experience. Christians think that the effects of their talking about Jesus is positive, but that's not what most of their hearers think. 

The recommendations from the survey don't reflect any of this. They pick up on some of the positives (that there are millions who believe Jesus was real, was God and rose from the dead, but haven't joined the dots, that Christians are generally seen in a positive light), but there is nothing that addresses our inability to share our faith in a helpful way in the majority of cases. Though the full report mentions a goal of (enabling) Christians to have millions more sensitive, positive, culturally-relevant conversations about Jesus that could be deeply effective in evangelism, I don't actually see anything that explores what sensitivity and cultural relevance look like. 

For many Christians, talking with a friend about their faith and about Jesus is a key part of their journey into faith. Sadly it sounds like for many non-Christians, such a conversation could also be a key part of their journeying away from faith. The solution is not to stop talking about Jesus, but to find out how to do it well, in a sensitive and relevant way.

There are many encouraging findings in the report, but I wish that there was a bit more engagement with the discouraging ones. I'm with Andrew Brown - there's no point encouraging more of us to talk about Jesus if we're not doing it very well. It's very helpful research, and the powerpoint summaries are really useful, but there's no point doing the research if we ignore one of the key findings. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Your Church Wedding: new upgraded website

The excellent Your Church Wedding website from the CofE has just had a reboot, to make it more mobile/tablet-friendly

Nicely put together, readable, the sections look bite-sized rather than essay length, and the visuals are good. Whoever put this together, as well as the new Church of England Christenings site, gets a big well done. A very helpful resource for couples, clergy and local churches.

Monday, November 02, 2015

What Do Children Actually Want for Christmas?

Ok its an advert, but one every parent should spend 2 minutes with before they spend hours and £100s on Christmas shopping.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2011 Census Data - Mapping Your Town/Village/City

Remember the 2011 census? Whatever happened to all that information?

Well here's some of it, a mapping tool for deprivation data, where you can input your postcode and find out how it ranks on crime, employment, incomes for families and older people, living environment, or all deprivation factors combined. Above is the 'multiple deprivation' map for Yeovil - the purple bits are the two most deprived 'output areas' (neighbourhoods to you and me), both in the 10% most deprived areas nationally.

The area of Sheffield where I grew up turns out to be in the 100 least deprived areas nationally (out of over 33,000). So it turns out I'm reight posh.

New BBC Schedules Revealed

Meal or No Meal: live broadcast from the new Job Centre Minus, where 24 people whose benefits have been stopped compete for an offer from the Food Banker.

Relocation Relocation Relocation  An exploration of government policy towards refugees. 

CountryFile: a dossier containing the personal details of everyone living within 50 miles of Hinkley Point is offered to the Chinese government, in return for a couple of free batteries. Details of the presenter still to be confirmed, we think its somebody Craven.

Doctors: A quiet week at the surgery. Of the 5 staff, one is off with stress, one is on a Junior Doctors protest march, one has just quit to work for the private sector, and one is too busy with paperwork to see any patients. That just leaves the agency guy, who came in 2014 from Uganda for 3 weeks work experience and is still here. Subtitles. 

Doctor Who?: Like Doctors, but from the patients point of view. 

Doctor Where?: Like Doctors, but broadcast from a country with a life expectancy 20 years below that in the UK, whose doctors are being poached to fill holes in the NHS.

Song of Praise: Cut down version to make more time for shopping. Unfortunately the lady in last weeks live interview from Sports Direct, talking about faith in the workplace, has been sacked for not working on a Sunday. 

Escape to the Country: this week featuring two families, a UKIP member from Uxbridge who wants to build a new house for his retirement to Devon, and an Eritrean family trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel. 

Pointless: documentary on the value of promises made during election campaigns. 

Strictly No Dancing: it probably wasn't a good idea to send Tess Daly to report on the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Her sentence has been reduced to 350 lashes.

Downton Abbi: A footballers girlfriend looks for a stately home he can buy for a weeks wages. Quite a few to choose from in his price range, as it turns out. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture?

"We are analysing your feedback". So says the government consultation page on Sunday Trading law reform today. The consultation ran for 6 weeks up to September, and here's what I sent in as my feedback.

Analysing my feedback? No you're not. David Cameron still wants to do what he promised not to, to make Sunday another shopping day just like any other. This seems to be yet another calculated lie by the government. Seriously Dave, you never intended to take any notice of this 'consultation' did you? If the government were still analysing the feedback, they wouldn't have planned to vote through the homogenisation of Sundays next week, thankfully now withdrawn due to pressure from Conservative MPs.

At PMQ's yesterday, Cameron had the chance to back existing Sunday trading laws, instead he said 'there is a strong case for change', and said that his plan hadn't changed, the government was still going to give local authorities the chance to scrap Sunday trading restrictions. 'Choice' and 'modernisation' won't apply to the people who have to work on Sundays, and as for Camerons claim that liberalisation creates jobs, the evidence actually points the other way.

Maybe there's a donor trail that has something to do with all this. There certainly isn't an evidence trail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Moral Austerity: Steep Government Cuts to Promise Keeping

I'm starting to lose count of the number of promises the Conservatives made before the election that they have ripped up in the last 5 months. Forget the budget deficit, there is a widening trust deficit:

“I can assure you that we have no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday, and those who would like to see further restrictions.”  Instead the government launched a hideously skewed 'consultation' on changes to the law, and plans to introduce back-door reforms have been headed off this week by rebel MPs

We will invest a record £13 billion in transport for the North....on top of our £50 billion commitment to build High Speed 2 – the new North-South railway linking up London with the West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester – and develop High Speed 3 to join up the North. (Manifesto p12)...electrifying the Midland Main Line from St Pancras to Sheffield.....electrification of the Great Western Main Line –bringing new fast trains on the route. (p12) 'frozen' in June 2015, with plenty of evidence that the Conservatives knew this wasn't a promise they would keep.

We will increase NHS spending every year. (Conservative Manifesto p9). All depends how you measure it. Rising in cash terms, but falling as a % of GDP.

we will back British businesses (p18)  (unless they make solar panels, steel....)

we will freeze working age benefits for 2 years from April 2016 (p29). I.e. they won't fall. A pledge Cameron repeated in the election campaign on a specific question about tax credits. 

Both promises broken.

I'm posting this not because I'm a standard lefty Anglican, but because I think trust is vital, and people who break trust, especially those who have specifically asked for it, need to be called out. If we get to a stage where words mean nothing, where they are said for effect (to get votes) rather than for meaning or truth content (i.e. you actually mean them) then we're stuffed. We can't afford to get used to a situation where we are routinely misled, and accept it as a fact of life, whether it's politicians, phone salesmen or advertisers.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Cameron is a serial promise breaker. This is not one or two incidents, where there's an understandable train of events that has derailed best intentions. Its systematic, habitual, deliberate, and seemingly done without shame or apology. If he suggests to Samantha that they renew their wedding vows, she should be seriously worried.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Dude Samaritan


From the excellent Cake or Death cartoon blog. I was sad to see that ASBO Jesus wasn't cartooning any more, but I guess once you've produced about 1000 of the things, a break is well deserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When Should My Parish Church Be Demolished?

There, I trust that picture makes perfect sense.

Alright then... the CofE (not before time) has just launched a major report and review into the use, upkeep and management of its 16000 church buildings. Nearly half the Grade 1 listed buildings in the country are Anglican churches, and many of those are in rural areas, with small populations and even smaller congregations.

The chart above, from the full report, illustrates the big presenting issue. Each vertical line represents a set of the 16000 churches. The line & value in the middle is the average congregation, and the upper and lower lines are the 75th and 25th percentiles. In other words, 25% of CofE congregations are larger than 81, and 25% are smaller than 16.

Outside the CofE, I'm not aware of many groups with a membership of 15 who own their own premises, let alone own premises which are grade 1 listed.

It's even trickier in rural areas. 25% of the congregations there are in single figures, and another 25% are between 10 and 19.

Putting the buildings on the back of a truck and shipping them to where they're needed (new housing estates, replacing urban churches like my own which are now too small for a growing area and congregation) isn't really an option. So far we have muddled through, but the dead stones need to serve the living stones of the church, not stifle them.

If the local church becomes a fundraising body with 'keeping the building open' as its top priority, it is no longer the church Jesus Christ came to establish. Marshall McLuhan observed that we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us. In many places the church (i.e. the people) is being forced out of shape by premises which may be beautiful and soaked in prayer, but are a burden more than they are a blessing. Any local church which couldn't conceive of its existence without a church building would be best served by losing the building anyway. Once masonry (of either sort) defines a church, it's in serious trouble.

There's an open consultation running for several months, and a few ideas already being floated. My fear is that it could turn out much like government planning law: lots of people agreeing in principle that 'something must be done', but hardly anybody wants it done here. At the other extreme, we don't want a Beeching-like cull that destroys all the branch lines.

PS I wonder if there is any causal relationship between a church not being listed, and it having a bigger than average congregation? It would make sense....

update: helpful piece from Ian Paul.
and another from the National Churches Trust.
Richard Chartres lecture on the Diocese of London, reported here a few days ago, talks about creative uses of church buildings in urban settings. The report and consultation is maybe a chance to think more creatively than 'keep them all open at whatever cost' or 'close them all down'.
and quite a bit on the mixed blessing of buildings in this sermon by the ABofC

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Our Education Secretary Has Forgotten What Schools are For

Bring back Michael Gove, all is forgiven.....
Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Ms Morgan said: "We're going to give more working parents something the best schools already do."
"We will be giving families in thousands of schools a 'right to request' their school provides childcare for a full working day, before and after school and during the school holidays.
"If enough parents call for childcare at their local school, we will expect the school to take reasonable steps to accommodate it, in a way that works for them.
"Because we want working parents to have the confidence their child is in a happy and safe environment."
Schools are places of education, they are not a babysitting service. Nicky Morgan has forgotten what schools are for. The schools should exercise their 'right to refuse' this silly policy. I despair that the Conservatives have picked up where Labour left off: the more time parents can spend at work, and the less time with their children, the better. As the school day expands, and free nursery places get pushed back to a younger and younger age, there'll come a point where the government simply seize our children at birth and kick us out of hospital to go and find a job.

Monday, October 05, 2015

What the World Eats, Or Doesn't.

Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg. 

Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta.

This British family spend just over £260 per week on food.

This family in Chad spend about 80p
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp.

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23.
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat.

'Hungry Planet - what the world eats' has 27 snapshots from round the world of a weekly diet for different families. If you've not caught it yet, Hans Roslings superb BBC programme on ending world poverty is still available on Iplayer, and is really worth a look. It combines brilliant presentation of the stats, with simple stories of how well-targeted aid and help could transform lives.

I showed a selection of the Hungry Planet photos to a school harvest assembly today, where we were collecting for the local food bank. One little boy got it straight away: 'why don't we send all this food to Chad?'

Saturday, October 03, 2015

London: Lessons for the Church of England

A couple of days ago Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, delivered a lecture on the remarkable turnaround in the Diocese of London. For the last 20 years, London has been just about the only place in the CofE which has been growing, whilst all but 1 of the other 42 Dioceses have been shrinking, some at an alarming rate.

In terms of England, London is an exceptional place, but there are other Dioceses (Southwark, Chelmsford) which also cover parts of the capital, and there are particular things that London Diocese has done that others could learn from. Some will be more controversial than others.

Here's a few of them, with some quotes from the lecture.

The mission of the church is to all sectors of society, not just the most vulnerable: We can regret this now, but at the time it seemed to be inevitable and even meritorious that the Church should retreat from what could be regarded as imperial over-reach to associate itself with the voiceless in the back streets. Sympathy with vulnerable local communities also led the church into sustained opposition to major new developments, notably Canary Wharf where no attempt was made to establish a Christian presence in what was effectively a new town with a working population which now exceeds that of Leicester.

Scrap the boards: there was an energy-sapping superstructure of boards and committees for Mission, Unity, Ministry, Social Responsibility and the like, all of which had been established during the period of decline with the professed aim of widening participation in decision-making and stimulating action. The result, of course, was the very opposite as I discovered as Chairman of the Board of Ministry. Over-worked members of the Diocesan staff found themselves discussing the same issues over and over again in slightly different forums. There were ideas in plenty and not a few “initiatives” but little energy left over for implementation..........No one has ever said to me “if only we had a Board of Mission we would have done some mission”. Instead a black hole of energy was closed and, as a result, effort directed to supporting those individuals and places which signalled life and possessed the missionary gene.....We significantly reduced the number of Diocesan advisers in the belief that financial resources were better deployed in local mission initiatives.
If a Diocese doesn't have a focus and a vision, everyone will do their own thing, and internal divisions will increase: a sense of drift and consequent fragmentation as people identified with their own parish or Area over against the “Diocese”..... introduction of Mission Action Planning focussed attention on growth rather than on the various divisive issues.

Back the missionaries, even if they aren't your type: The local hierarchy was unwilling to see HTB as much more than a conventional parish in the Area, and in particular was keen to restrict the numbers of curates that the Church could employ, even though there was finance available to enlarge the staff. The restrictions were fuelled by a liberal distaste for charismatic evangelicalism and a conviction that the supply of curates should be evenly spread throughout the Diocese, irrespective of the capacity to pay

parish clergy need to be held to account: in one parish which sociologically offered good prospects for the Church of England, an elderly single- handed parson was replaced by the standard bearer for one of the extreme churchmanship factions. The new man was given two able curates financed by the London Diocesan Fund, and within two years the electoral roll which had stood at 110 had been reduced to 75. It apparently occurred to no one that this was a scandalous situation. What right had any outsider to criticise parochial policies?

Technique is no substitute for holiness: The one thing that cannot be delegated is one’s own prayer and study of the scriptures. An MBA in ecclesiastical administration is no substitute for the development of a beginner’s mind and acquiring the teachability with which the Spirit can work.

Find new purposes for old buildings: Chartres gives several examples of redundant churches which were given a new focus - e.g. as a centre for reconciliation. Not every building has to be used to house a congregation, but neither do they all have to be sold off. 

Abolish the 'tax on growth' system of collecting funds from parishes to finance the work of the church: We reduced the mysteries of the old formula by inviting each parish to pay for its ministry costs .... Well-financed parishes were encouraged to pay over the odds to support Christian ministry in areas of need. The effect was to abolish the fine on growth and release money to be spent close to where it was raised. It proved to be possible to support the work of the church in less affluent areas although, as so often, parishes which had been subsidised proved willing and able to rise to the challenge of greater self-sufficiency. 

Reform Diocesan structures so that people are accountable for their actions, and pursue a shared vision: Unity in the Diocesan team and in the structure of the Diocese has been an important ingredient in being able to pursue consistent policies addressed to growth. 

The current way of ever more thinly spread clergy is not sustainable: The healthier financial situation enabled the diocese to avoid the widespread formula of reducing clergy numbers by multiplying the number of churches for which an individual cleric is responsible. This may be an effective cost-cutting strategy but it is not an effective mission strategy and is calculated only to maintain congregations rather than growing them.

The parish system is good, but it's not enough: It is obvious that, while there is huge virtue in the parish church ideal, the parochial system in the Church of England, with its excess of law, is open to being manipulated by small groups who wish to frustrate unwelcome mission initiatives. In an urban setting, while flexible agreements about areas of pastoral care for each parish church are clearly desirable, mission to networks that are not principally defined geographically argues for an unfreezing of rigid parochial boundaries that have long since ceased to correspond to sociological realities. 

criticise well, or don't criticise at all: Publically expressed and constructive criticism should always be welcome, but subversives, “weevils of the commonwealth”, those who damage morale by cynicism and gossip have to be weeded out.

Invest in church planting: ....our pledge of establishing 100 new worshipping communities in London by 2020 ...My prayer is that it will be possible to learn from our experience -- and especially our mistakes -- so that other places will be able to surpass our successes.
Recognise where to engage: The need for greater clarity and a confident response to the incessant propaganda directed against so called “faith schools” has been recognised in the Diocese, and is one of the themes of Capital Vision 2020 which has risen to the top of the agenda in the current year.  
Prayer and vision are fundamental: The Christian community will continue to thrive as long as it is vision-led and not problem-led. Prayer of the persevering kind that marks the 24/7 prayer movement really does open the door to God’s future while the Holy Spirit never leaves himself without witnesses.

sorry about the uneven formatting! Good old Blogger....

Update: Cranmer has also done a presee of the lecture, with chunky quotes from it. Imitation is the sincerest form.... ;-)

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Unholy Statistics: British Humanist Society and Schools

The British Humanist Association has published a report on faith schools, 'Unholy Mess', claiming that As many as hundreds of thousands of children have been unlawfully denied access to religiously selective state schools in England

That's a big claim, there are 4700 Church of England state schools alone, with over 1 million children attending them. According to the BHA "almost all of (them) are failing to comply" with the official Schools Admission Code. 

Ok, just imagine this. A village of 4700 people. 70 people are interviewed. Some of them don't even live in the village, but are from a similar village down the road. If 43 of them had a significant weight problem, would you deduce that 'almost all' of the people in the village are fat?

Church of England schools were only 1/3 of the schools in the 43, yet the results are extrapolated to every CofE school, primary and secondary.  There are clearly some practices which need sorting out, but it looks very much as though the evidence has been interpreted to fit the BHAs agenda. 

The BHA's solution is not to recommend that the schools get in line with standard admissions criteria, but that they be scrapped completely. As a VW owner, I'm just glad they're not in the used car market, or they'd be calling for 1.2m German motors to be melted down tomorrow.

Update: a couple of responses
 Reverend Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said: “We would strongly refute any suggestion that our schools have a near universal noncompliance with the code. The OSA annual report tells a very different story to this over-exaggerated report, which equates small administrative errors or minuscule technicalities with major systemic failure. If schools were able to focus more time on getting on running their schools, rather than responding to these sorts of campaigns, children would be better served.

“The majority of Church of England schools do not prioritise their places on the basis of church attendance, and most of those that do still make places available for children in the school’s immediate community. Our secondary schools have an average of 10 per cent selection by religious criteria – this is based on church attendance only. We also have as many pupils on free school meals as the national average, some much higher."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We want every child to have access to the best education possible, and where there is evidence a school does not have fair and transparent admissions arrangements, swift action will be taken.
"We will consider the findings of BHA's report carefully. All of the objections they have listed have now been resolved."
i.e. all the issues can be sorted within the current system, rather than by scrapping it.