Sunday, December 23, 2018

If its Christmas, it must be the Christmas Linebacker

An annual tradition on this blog is to celebrate Christmas by showing a video of a scary man rugby tackling people with Christmas presents in order to explain the Christmas message.

This ain't no sleigh ride baby!

Why is Stonewall getting money from the National Lottery?

The Sunday Times reports that the National Lottery has awarded just shy of £500,000 to Stonewall, expressly for the purpose of political lobbying (aka 'leadership, media and influencing'). Stonewall has an annual income of over £7m, and reserves of nearly £5m.

We've had a grant from the Lottery of £500k too, to help build a community centre for one of the most deprived areas in South Somerset. Our annual income (at St. Peters church Westfield) is about £17-18k, reserves are around £12k. So it would take us a few years to come up with the money ourselves, from a community which doesn't actually have those resources in the first place. One of Stonewall's founders is Sir Ian McKellen, who has an estimated net worth of $55m.

The Lottery is already a deeply flawed system for funding public goods. It is predominantly played by those on lower incomes, and the funding itself doesn't go back into the poorer communities who generate most of it. I have serious questions over why a well resourced, well connected group with nearly £5m reserves should get any of this cash at all, when we are surrounded by food banks, homelessness and local support services for children and vulnerable adults closing own left right and centre. I'm grateful to the Lottery: Building Communities team for the £1/2m that Westfield is getting, but the mission creep in other parts of the organisation is serious cause for concern.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

So is it true?

Here's a few recommended links to blogs and websites which tackle the truthfulness and relevance of the Christian faith in the face of common challenges and modern ethical and spiritual issues. These were all pinged my way after asking for recommendations on a Facebook page, so I thought I'd post them in case anyone else found them useful  website with lots of links, topics and things to explore on spiritual questions.  lectures on a range of different topics around faith, world religions, science, moral issues etc. Nabeel Qureshi (one of the speakers) is highly recommended  good blog by scientist and Christian by Benjamin Chang, with blogs, articles and videos on a range of topics articles by William Lane Craig, who does lots of public debates and discussions on the Christian faith, the evidence for it, and some of the common challenges to it. Lots of videos and other materials on the website.

One that's been around for a bit longer is the L'Abri fellowship, founded by philosopher and evangelist Francis Schaeffer, and they have a vast online library of lectures and talks on modern thought, philosophy, psychology and Christianity. A real treasure trove 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

'Walk softly, as you go through 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."
(Margaret Bundy Moss)

Monday, December 17, 2018

New Joke Added to Westminster Pantomime

Apparently David Cameron is now advising Teresa May on how to handle the Brexit process. She'll be taking marriage guidance counselling from Boris Johnson next.

I hope this is part of a cunning plan by TM to lock him in to No 10 until he's cleaned up the mess he created whilst she goes on extended leave.

UK note to self: if someone has been a member of an Oxford club which dressed up to the nines, trashed an eating joint, then threw a wad of notes over their shoulders as they left, that might have some bearing on how they will handle politics if you elect them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Trainee Youth Worker role in Yeovil

If you know anyone who is thinking about training in youth work and church leadership then please point them towards this. It's the outline role description for a youth work trainee based in our parish, starting in September 2019. We provide a local placement and accommodation, training is done through South West Youth Ministries, a well established Christian training agency which oversees dozens of placements around the SW every year.

Brexit TV Scheduling - New Additions

In a vain attempt to keep up with events, TV companies have announced yet more  new programming for late December

Deal or No Deal: Teresa May searches 22 identical red boxes for something that she can sell to her MPs. Every now and again the Junker rings up and offers her nothing.

The Half-Baked British Break Off: hosted from a small second hand gazebo by Barely Merry

Sounds of the 70s At last UKIP finds a decade which resonates with its values. Featuring old classics such as Making Plans for Nigel, Here's to You Tommy Robinson, and a remix of Money, Money, Money featuring Aaron Banks.

DIY SAS under cover of the Brexit chaos, the government sneak out plans for further cuts to the armed forces.

Are You Being Served Notice? Revival of the classic comedy set in a department store. For the first week anyway, after that it's set in deserted retail premises in an anonymous town centre.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

3 ways to tell the Christmas story with food

All of these 3 have been road tested in Yeovil, and extensively 'borrowed' for elsewhere, and they all work really well:

Chocolate Christmas - telling the story through chocolates and sweets. Or just browse the chocolate aisle of your local supermarket and see what names jump off the shelf.

Merry Crispmas - telling the story through brands and flavours of crips and snacks

Fruit and Veg Christmas - well, you get the idea

and just in case these inspire you, here's a chocolate version of the Easter story.

To avoid spending lots of cash, you could use pictures rather than the real thing. But it's quite fun rummaging through for the next item whilst everyone tries to guess what it is. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Brex You

When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need

Teresa May can always be consoled this month by the fact that, back in 2005, Coldplay wrote a song about her. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Church membership patterns in Bath and Wells Diocese

This is going to be a pretty niche post, as I guess the Venn Diagram of a) statisticians who are b) interested in Somerset and c) interested in Anglican attendance is not going to have a huge shaded area.

But hey, I'm in the shaded area, and this is my blog, so....

Every year Bath and Wells, like all dioceses, collects church membership stats to calculate 'Parish Share' - the contribution each Anglican church makes to overall running costs. The latest set include membership figures from the last 2 years, the amount of Parish Share paid, and the parish 'category' - an indicator of how prosperous (or not) the parish is.

Here's what our 484 churches look like, with Bath Abbey (542) to the left, and Greinton (0) to the right, and the rest of us in between.

Compared to the CofE as a whole, our churches are a bit smaller on average. If your picture of the average church was of 60-80 people with a Sunday school and a vicar, think again. 50% of churches in Bath and Wells have an average Sunday congregation of 23 or fewer. 

...which is a problem, as smaller churches are more likely to be shrinking, and to be shrinking faster, than larger ones. In fact it's only larger churches as a group which are growing in this Diocese:

This table collects several bits of data - church size, church growth, Parish Share paid by these churches (an indicator of financial viability) and the number of CofE clergy that equates to (we cost about £50k per year when salary, housing, pension, training etc. costs are all added up. Someone else can blog about whether that's value for money!!). The smallest churches would need to club together in groups of 15 to support 1 vicar, whilst the largest ones pay enough parish share to support 3 clergy per church - in practice, this usually means they are supporting clergy posts elsewhere in the Diocese. Wells Cathedral and Bath Abbey are the only churches in Bath and Wells which get to recruit 3 or more full time vicars. 

You can see that it's only the larger churches that are doing anything like holding their own - this is just 2 years membership stats, so the smallest ones have lost a pretty steepling (sorry) 13% in 2 years. 

In passing, of the 7 shrinking churches in the 200+ bracket, 5 have had a vacancy in their senior leadership position during these two years. Church practice usually ensures these vacancies last for at least a year. In small churches the key relationships of the congregation will be with each other (and they may only see the vicar every 3-4 weeks), whilst once you get over 80-90 people, the vicar becomes more of a focal individual. Church members can't know all the other members, but they all know the vicar. So a void in this chair in a larger church could have a bigger effect than in a smaller one. 

There's still around 25% of churches growing, but many more shrinking. Here's what that looks like in people numbers

 And finally, I had a look at whether churches who paid more or less in Parish Share did any different. Category 'A' are the richest parishes, F, G and s are the poorest.

The top category is skewed by having Bath Abbey as one of the two churches - the largest church in the Diocese, and also the one that is growing most strongly (79 new members in 2 years). The 2nd fastest growing church is in category G, St. Pauls Weston super Mare, which has added 78, and this rather skews that line of the table - without this church it would see a -3.5% fall in membership.

However, there is a significantly higher proportion of churches in the bottom 3 lines growing than in the top 3. Does that mean we're doing better in poorer neighbourhoods, or that churches with a smaller financial burden from the centre have more resources to give to mission and ministry?

There are 2 other questions I'm not sure we're asking. One is of the growing churches in each category, to find out what they're doing well so that good practice can be shared. The other is of those which are falling off a cliff - 35 churches lost 1/3 or more of their membership in these 2 years. Some are very small churches, but when a church of 100 loses 30 members in a short space of time, we have to ask if there is any extra support needed, or anything that could be done to catch this sort of thing before it happens.

If you're from a different diocese and want to have a play with the figures, email your finance department and ask them for an Excel spreadsheet of the parish membership stats collected for parish share. Ours were very obliging, though they might think better of it now they've seen the results!