Sunday 31 July 2011

Jacob, bread, fish and Israel

What a day for cool readings:

Jacob, contends with God and refuses to let go and (as usual) gets the blessing.
Have you noticed that regardless of how people bill him, Jacob always gets the blessing?
But with blessing comes a limp, or a whale, or prison, or execution!
Being blessed isn't always the blessing those who moan about not having it appears to be.
But that's the key, struggle with God and don't let go and eventually the struggle ends
With a blessing!!!

But when you have a blessing, God calls you to pass it on.
Jesus blesses the bread and fish and passes it on to His followers, who
Pass it on to those who are hungry (physically, spiritually, morally - health wise).
When you have something that Jesus has blessed, you pass it on.
We have nothing in our hands except that which God has given us,
And if jesus has blessed it and the Holy Spirit inspires us
(and we listen to that voice of inspiration)
The blessing is passed on.

And so, having been blessed and passed that blessing on,
We remember that we are grafted on to the parent flower,
The Rose of Sharon,
And we pray for the salvation of the spiritual nation of Israel,
And the coming of the Christ, the Messiah.
First time for them - second time for us - celebration for all.

Simple this lectionary business, isn't it?

Genesis 32.22-31 - Romans 9.1-5 - Matthew 14.13-21

Live Theatre - Mikron

Yesterday I was privileged to be at the Waterways Festival in Burton-on-Trent and whilst there saw a performance by the Mikron Theatre Company. The performance yesterday dealt with the creation of the very first inland waterway (canal), the Bridgewater, and the politics, pressures and characters involved ('Hell and High Water'). Today they will be doing 'Beer Street' which is about exactly what you might think it is about!

If you have an interest in the industrial revolution, inland waterways or the history of this country's development then I cannot recommend Mikron too highly. If you just want to see live theatre from a small company (only four) which brings together theatre and music, can I suggest that you take a look at their website.

And if you're near Burton, why not have a visit - a great show with lots of entertainment, boats (of course) and more besides (Boater Christian Fellowship doing morning worship today as well!).

Saturday 30 July 2011

Blogging - Do we have to say the same thing?

I did a quick straw poll of a few genres of blog yesterday and found that in each and every category (Christian, political, Evangelical, High, RC, Liberal, etc.) one of the interesting, and common, elements present in each was that many said exactly the same thing. O.K., I only looked at about fifteen from each category but it was sad that people who were political painted the same picture as all those who were of the same persuasion. Some of the Christian blogs all seemed to draw upon the news items and used them as their post with little opinion and nothing to make them theirs.

I took a look at all of the blogs that appear as recommendations on this blog and found that generally they were all very much individuals. Each had something to say about things that weren't perhaps in the news and when they were, there was some content and signs of the lights being on inside the writer's head.

Some are very straight (in a non-sexual way), some are pretty weird (in a 'should they be locked up way') and some are so tangential that they are a relief from the normal run of the mill experiences.

So, here's a request to those poor souls who visit here by choice or chance, if you're going to blog then please be you. Comment on the things that make you happy, drive you insane or won't let you sleep.

If everyone was different then we'd all be the same! (wouldn't we?)


Friday 29 July 2011

Caption Contest - 22

It's been a long and hard week and so I thought I'd give all you bright types a chance to shine:


Thursday 28 July 2011

Hacking - a Payne?

The revelations that Sara Payne's details were in Glenn Mulcaire's notes add yet another twist and turn to the Nows of the World (NotW) hacking scandal. What makes this piece of news more interesting to all the other hacks (who either never did it themselves or at least haven't been caught doing it) is the fact that the NotW supplied Sara Payne with a mobile!

Considering the fact that former NotW boss, Rebekah Brooks, was such a 'friend' and supporter makes one hope that this news item relates to something that she (Brooks) knew nothing about and that it wasn't the telephone they supplied.

Brooks has been quoted as saying, "These allegations are abhorrent and particularly upsetting as Sara Payne is a dear friend. For the benefit of the campaign for Sarah's Law, the News of the World have provided Sara with a mobile telephone for the last 11 years... The idea that anyone on the newspaper knew that Sara or the campaign team were targeted by Mr Mulcaire is unthinkable. The idea of her being targeted is beyond my comprehension."

Well let's hope that it proves to be beyond comprehension and that NotW are proved innocent on this charge and that the telephone is a different one. That said, if there was hacking by anyone on the NotW staff then they should not only be prosecuted but should lose their NUJ membership and become the Pariah they deserve to be among the other hacks.

Less and less it seems that the press can manage their own house when it comes to integrity and honesty and more and more it seems that the dog eat dog world which sees reporters work towards their being more controlled as the reveal the misdemeanors of colleagues will see them muzzled.

Sadly, although I support a free press it seems that our free press doesn't :(

I await the circus and the final results of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry with great interest.


Age, health and language

A couple of days ago I was listening to a programme which ran a piece on immune systems and subliminally made note of the fact that our immune systems cope well with various attacks until we get towards being eighty. It seems that passing seventy is the benchmark that leads us into the reappearance of chickenpox, in the form of shingles, and other ailments that until then have been effectively repressed. Subliminally, somewhere deep inside what passes for a mind, I thought to myself, "Wow, that's the three score and ten bit then. Perhaps after that we're potentially out of warranty!"

Now, looking at my system, the many hundreds of funerals I have conducted yield an average age of 87 and so it seems that the machine is so well designed that, like the old washing machines (some of which I still see in homes running as well as they did thirty years ago) we can just keep on going even though some of the lights no longer work and we leak a bit!

A new item this morning regarding Rashida Chapti, a British citizen, and her husband, Vali. Rashida wants her husband to come and join her but he cannot do sio unless he learns some basic English (an immigration rules requirement). Now this move is being branded 'racist' and Rashida says that her husband, being 57, is too old to learn a new language. Not only that, but (according to the Councillor who is supporting this case, whilst, "There's nothing wrong with speaking English," apparently it isn't necessary.

Now I can understand that perhaps culturally the learning of English is difficult but the reason cited, being 57, seems a bit hollow. Rashida also points to the fact that living in a rural community the forty to fifty hours of teaching required is cost prohibitive (perhaps a better reason than age). Apparently Vali doesn't need to speak English for he could have a job working in the same factory as his wife, but that doesn't resolve the immigration law requirements does it? This is not about age but the cultural, geographic (rural) and societal stuff and to to focus it on age as this morning's piece did is likely to win little support amongs many (especially those in their late fifties).

This is a mixed reaction issue for me, for having living in non-English speaking places (i.e. Southall) I am aware that people do come and settle here and live adequately within their own communities without a word of English (and they weren't just the older folk). I am also aware that across the world you will find Americans who never learn the language of the place in which they now live (including many missionaries who never spoke a word of the local or national languages even though they'd been there for twenty plus years - Brits on the whole at least appear to try).

The problem is that in Hounslow and Southall, it was very much a them and us situation because of the cultural and language barriers. Many of the locals resented the street signs in multiple languages and the fact that the community was one people divided into many because of the language and cultural issues.

Basically I think the immigration law might be correct but it, like all laws and policies, looks harsh and uncaring when it is personalised. There is of course a very simple resolution to getting them reunited, but it won't be popular, in that Rashida could of course just decide that it's time to return home and settle down with her family there. Throughout the discussion this was never offered as a solution - think I might be under-rated!

I see this as a story of desire rather than age and can see many making capital out of this for all the right and wrong reasons. Interestingly, before the new law came in Vali wouldn't have been eligible under the old laws either - so just moved the focus onto something that is 'racist' from something that would most likely also have been labelled such anyway.

Hey ho - life is always difficult when it becomes focussed on individuals!


Wednesday 27 July 2011

Catholics and Child Abuse

I was saddened to hear a Catholic priest discussing the child abuse issue on the radio this morning. When asked whether he would report, or encourage the penitent to report, any incident of child abuse, he issued a categorical 'No'. According to him, the Catholic church has, within its own ranks and mechanisms, all that is necessary to deal with such issues!

Sadly, this doesn't seem to marry up with reality and only enflames others against the Catholic church and therefore, by association, the universal Church as well. The priest said that he couldn't tell someone that they could be forgiven but needed to turn themselves in, this wasn't the nature of absolution. Funny that, but I thought the question was, "Who is there that condemns you?" and the instruction was, "Go and sin no more!"

Following on from the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and his words regarding the Cloyne report, the Church of Rome needs to get its act together and deal openly and honestly with its problems. After all, when the head of a (presumed Catholic) nation says things like:

"This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011, a republic of laws . . .The Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism -- that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day," and in closing voiced the opinion that the actions of the Catholic Church were, "Absolutely disgraceful."

It's all well and good standing behind the sanctity of the confessional but when I was training the group I was in was told by a senior police officer that in reality this did not exist and that we needed to take care over issues such as child abuse and the like lest we become complicit! Interestingly, this was in the late eighties! Enda Kenny laid down the gauntlet to Benedict and those who form part of his church - seems that, if today's priest is a voice of that organisation, it will not be taken up :(

We do need to be able to hear each others' confession but we also need to discharge our duty towards the innocents and to Christ, whose body we are, faithfully and i a way that restores and also honours God's laws and those laws that are also natural and national (which of course reflect God's law more often than not too!).


Tuesday 26 July 2011

Anders Brevik: 'Probably Insane' - Definitely NOT Christian!

I am getting increasing ticked off by the naff, lazy and incorrect journalism. The BBC reporting (where you there? Has it affected you? Do you have any photographs to support our shoestring news gathering company?) hasn't helped me much with this either!! That said, I have to applaud Brevik's lawyer when he tells the press that the evidence and his meetings suggest that his client is 'probably insane'.

What is sure is that the bloke has not started a sixty year war and that he neither promotes any true Christian viewpoint or any element of Biblical teaching in what he believes. He voices anger against his own nation's cultural, political and societal standards which were (in his view) fuelling the spectre of a growing Islamic population (and power) and many other issues besides.

I haven't seen any photographs of the bloke wearing a mitre or a dog-collar, neither has I seen images of him carrying a Bible but there one of him dressed as a Mason! Perhaps the headlines should be mentioning this rather than the Christian bit!

Mind you, it might be worthwhile pointing out that Jones and Sapp appear to have helped sow the seeds that flowered in the death of so many innocents with their brand of Islamaphobic self-promoting tosh!

So, when someone mentions this tragic happening and uses the word 'Christian' would you kindly point out that this doesn't appear to match up with the accounts of his writings - it's just the result of lazy and inadequate journalists (and perhaps also the result of some spin on their part too!) If they want a label, tell them 'Brevik is a nationalist extremist' (nuff said?)


Buzz Magazine

Just been reminded of 'Buzz' magazine and the work of Music Gospel Outreach (MGO) and Pete Meadows. Our church boasted the person who ran the Buzz store (which was a garage full of stuff offered for mail order in the mag') and we used to go and sell programmes, lift heavy objects and move them around the Royal Albert Hall and do other tasks for the concerts MGO put on.

Time moved on and Buzz eventually gave way to the wonderfully named 21st Century Christian (which always made me think of Gerry Anderson's puppet shows).

But what heady days with acts like the Advocates, Malcolm and Alwyn, Ishmael and Andy and many other names proclaiming the Gospel!

Looking back at some of the magazines that remain I am amazed at who we were then (still play Larry Norman and have the Advocates vinyl offering in the loft!) and the music of emerging people like Graham Kendrick (Fighter - what an album), Adrian Snell and the like.

Makes me realise that Christian music, like computing, was a very different and perhaps much more exciting place to be when I was younger - great leaps forward and very much part of the music scene and yet also so very different.

If you weren't there you need to hear it (I reckons) and you can do a bit of time warp with Kendrick's 'Fighter' by clicking here:


Enjoy man!

Monday 25 July 2011

Familiar Words - Foreign Tunes

Speaking of musical upset - a few years back, the worship band played "when I survey' but to a different tune and there were a great many sad people. Now it is a strange phenomenon that there are many sad people in the Christian world isn't it. What makes it sadder still is the fact that those who do nothing to make things happen are always invariably the same people who put the most energy into com[plaining and moaning about things!

Well, it was these do nothing/be happy with nothing types who took every opportunity to regale anyone who would listen with their contempt for the music the words were sung to.

Have a listen and ask which you prefer and why?

What does this tell you about:

1. Pathetic, lazy and opinionated Christians?

2. Your own musical tradition?

3. Modern settings and their merit (musically or otherwise)?


Singing in Church, School and Home

I have received a number of mails regarding my post on the English Choral Tradition, most of which link the demise of the BCP services and the rise of the 'worship band'. I have had a few who claim that the modern music has 'the anointing' and the 'old stuff' is exactly that - old and stuffy!

I have various editions of Hymns Ancient and Modern (HA&M) and one, early copy, makes note that some hymns, "Which never really found favour," and those that had been removed, "On the assumption that they were not likely to last much longer!" (even though some might consider them popular)

There are comments regarding the inclusion of 'new' songs which, causing people to move from plainsong, caused quite a stir but the books, "Sought not to break fresh ground or exploit novel ideas," but:

"The hope is that it may prove to be, as it was before, a consolidation of all that has been gained over many a long year since the wholesome practice of hymn-singing won an accepted place in Church, School and Home."

Many have moaned at the modern songs that have appeared in the various editions of HA&M and yet over time they became accepted and took their place as 'standards'. The same is true of some of the modern songs that abound (although there is much doggerel and trite scribbling to be overcome as well - but that was ever the case). As for anointing, I believe that people can be anointed in the task of writing songs but don't believe songs 'possess anointing'. They might bring us into a place where God can touch us and where we, realising our inadequacies, revelling in our salvation or brought into wonder, love and praise - let Him. But that is very different from the song possessing the anointing itself.

We need to be flexible in what we sing (after all, as Sumner puts it, the organ is the King of all instruments and (my opinion) the voice is the most flexible of all). Bach or Berio, Kendrick or Keble - We need to sing together and praise God for all we are and with all we have.

So, let's hear one of those modern songs (according to someone in the nineteen fifties:

One man's modern doggerel is another's sublime experience!


Sunday 24 July 2011

Jacob gets the blind girl - We are the treasure

Just loved this morning's service for we find Jacob (still on the run from Esau) heading into Haran and falling for Rachel. Dodgy Jacob gets some of his own from Uncle Laban who rewards him for seven year's work with Leah, the dodgy eyed uggle. "What, didn't we explain the eldest has to be married first," say Uncle Laban.

Seven more years and Jacob finally gets Rachel (and then there's more year and . . . Eastenders theme)

When you see what you want you'll pay the price, even if it's another seven years of working for your dodgy uncle cum Father-in-Law!

So we get the readings about the man who find treasure in a field and give all he has to possess that treasure. Another reading of a man who finds a pearl that makes him realise everything he has treasured until now is just dross! So he sells it all and buys the things that is precious and special.

Enter God who (Paul points out) pays the price of His Son, Jesus the Christ, to purchase something.

Wow, if it cost the life of His Son it has to be really special - but what can it be?


If God was willing to pay the price of His Son for YOU then how special, precious, treasured, loved, valued (etc.) can that make YOU.

Live in it and live worthy of it, today and always,


Friday 22 July 2011

Music - the end of the choral tradition

Engaged in a conversation about a church choir in a place that my companion had visited, they made the observation that the choir was 'well advanced in years' and as a result the women were thin and reedy and the men obviously past 'their sell by dates'. Another person expressed the view that the 'Glee' type programmes and other 'music' shows had to be good for the choral experience and that therefore this had to be good for the English Church Choral Tradition (ECCT) too!

They seemed shocked and perhaps a little antagonistic (or just plain unbelieving) that I had considered that to be the case but I stand by my views.

The reality is that this country was shaped, musically, by the ECCT. People went to church and by so doing were exposed to singing with others and the hearing of some great (and some not so great, I'll say it before someone else does) choral and organ music. When I was a young boy I found myself in a church choir (I was eight) and dutifully turned up every Thursday evening for choir practice (if you didn't go you couldn't do weddings and weddings meant money!) where I learned to read music, to listen to other people singing and sing with them. This gave me a love of music, all music, and has served me well ever since.

Then we came to the time when decline 9and other influences) meant that we had mixed choirs. My how the purists threw up their hands at that. But the loss of the pure treble and the male alto for women wasn't all bad m'Lord, for it extended the experience and swelled the, often diminishing, ranks. A love of music is to great to be witheld of restricted and so on the ECCT went.

Then as church-going declined and the availability of so many other forms of music and the leading people away from the square ECCT took hold the choirs began to close their doors. The marketing of what music was according to shows like Britain hasn't got talent, Flop Star and many others told the kids who once would have graced a church choir that this was what music was all about.Singing through the nose, epiglotis-wobbling, musical cobblers! Even if they sing (badly) there would be redemption for them in a church choir but this is outside the experience of the parents and so the children never get taken along.

"But," (always a BUT) says one of those with whom I conversed, "If they make Glee groups or sing Gospel, this will lead them to move in to sacred (my word) as they develop!" Would that it did, for in conversation with the head of a supposedly specialist music school some time back, asking whether we could encourage the pupils who were doing grades into the local church choir to help them with their aural tests and improve their listening and musical skills, I was shocked to hear that they'd tried and found not one pupil interested. A week after this there were queues outside the school hall when they auditioned for Annie get yourGreased Lightning Oklahoma show!

The thrill of singing with others and making a sound that echoes the concord of God and touches something deep inside of us is something that we are fast losing. My girls (have a houseful) sing all the latest songs and they are musical, but if it wasn't for the stuff we play and the fact that they sing in church, they'd merely be like the rest of the one-dimensional musical experience kids that walk past our doors.

The demise of the ECCT is about more than church-going, it is also about the demise of music in a nation that has been sold a minuscule part of musical experience and told that it is the whole. Consumerism in music limiting rather than promoting it (perhaps that's because those who do so don't promote 'serious' of sacred choral stuff!)


Thursday 21 July 2011

Supermarkets - the end of choice (1)

I visited an ironmongers shop today and whilst there managed to buy everything I wanted and paid a good price for it too. Also in our town we have a cheese shop which sells the cheese you want!

Have I been shopping and had a good morning or is there more to it that that and if so is what's the point of this post (I hear you ask)?

It is this . . . In our town we have supermarkets which supply whatever they want us to buy. There are many positives broadcast regarding supermarkets in that they are cheaper than the local (ie. high street) shops and because they are bigger (in outlet size and buying power) they have a greater selection of products and more brands to choose from. Well, I happen to think that some of this is more marketing than reality for the following reasons:

I am constantly being told that supermarkets provide me with more choice but the reality is that they provide me with more opportunity to choose the things they might want to sell me rather than the things that I might actually want. Let's consider, as an example Grommit, the subject of cheese! Now, I go to the supermarket and ask if I can buy some Red Windsor and am told that they don't stock it. I move along the counter and look for some Derby and the answer is the same.
BUT then I am told that Bowland (a mature Lancashire cheese with apples, raisins and a dash of cinnamon) is available (yippee thinks I, for this is one of my favourites anyway) and the upshot is that I walk away happy that I have purchased what I wasn't looking for.

This time I visit the local cheese vendor (Truckles in Tamworth - a delight) and I for some Red Windsor and am served with exactly that. I also ask for some Derby and yahoo the stuff is wrapped and ready to go. I have been served with the things I wanted, not the the things they wanted to serve me with.

I go back to the supermarket and ask why they don't stock Red Windsor and the relevant person tells me that they don't stock it as there is no demand for it. I tell them that they create the demand by stocking the stuff and in return am told that they choose what they want to sell on the basis of what they think they can sell and so, as a result, some brands will inevitably fall to the side and eventually (outside of specialist shops) vanish from view.

"But that means that you are shaping the buying habits of the customers to suit you," says I. "Of course it does. We decide what we will sell and these are the staple dietary requirements, with our own brands competing with the 'named brands', and the things we think we can persuade customers to buy."

Taking this a step further we discuss some of the brands we no longer see and it transpires that some vanish because the supermarkets sell 'white label' goods (never heard of this before - means stuff made by one manufacturer and then labelled for many different outlets, hence the 'we only make nnn for ourselves' advertising). Apparently by clever placement and marketing strategies customers can be moved from a named brand to a generic, store-label, brand. As this happens the named brand loses market share and as a result it eventually withers and dies.

Just think of some of the chocolate stuff that used to be out there: Old Jamaica, Five boys, five centres and that's from just a quick conversation! Products we used to think of when we thought of a foodstuff, chemical cleaner or even an electrical appliance have all gone because of replacement strategies of other manufacturers or shelf-stocking characteristics of supermarkets.

Today I went into a toolshop and bought one of what I needed, the shop met my needs and sold me what I wanted, not what they wanted to sell me. The things I purchased were in the quantity I wanted (one) and offered me the variety that made the experience good. I didn't need to buy things in packs with stuff I didn't want and the price, from a high street shop, was better than the local DIY outlets (and conveniently sited too).

So, perhaps when you shop in the place you live rather than travelling out to the shopping malls, precincts, whatever you call them you save fuel and get to buy what you want rather than what they want you to want?

An interesting concept ;)

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Gerald Hegarty - a sad loss

I found out today that one of my heroes, teacher, supporter and advisor had died. It's funny but I assumed he would always be around somewhere even though we hadn't spoken for some time. Gerald taught me such that even now I hear his voice, always beginning with the Northern Irish variant of 'now' (a sort of 'noy' sound!), cautioning me when I engage in some 'real' theology and probing to see into the depths (aaargh - Monophysites, monothelites and kenotic revelations all come flooding back).

The man who always had a smile and a twinkle in his eye, would challenge and correct with an air of loving (parental) concern is gone, but his impact and legacy remains within his immediate family and within the family of those he trained. His letters from Oxford when he returned as Chaplain to St Edmund Hall and his advice demonstrated to me the mark of this lovely individual.

The first time I met Gerald, he approached me and asked if I had a barge. "No," I replied, "It's a narrowboat!"
Gerald's eyes widened and his eyebrows rose. "Do you have a namebadge?" It was the accent, honest!

So farewell, for now, to one of the Christian world's nicest and most learned (and gentlest) of people.

My prayers (belatedly) are with Karen and the children and all who mourn his passing.

Dona eis requiem Gerald

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Counter-cultural - defence or offence?

In discussion with workmates yesterday we came round to the topic of being 'counter-cultural' (CC) and it led to my considering what being counter-cultural is really all about. I see CC as being something positive and extremely valid and value the fact that, in a Judeo-Christian construct, we are not of the world but in the world, sojourners and strangers in an alien land and that we live 'differently'.

Whether the issue is tattoos, a hard subject in today's multi-coloured (and later faded and sagging) world, or piercings (do they get bogeys on the nose wotsits) which leave me cold and extremely turned off or many of the other (then and now) issues - I can always find a reason for the proscription. What saddens me is that some look at Church and see the fact that we are different and scream for us to comply with the standards and legal instruments of the world at the expense of out 'otherness'.

Now before people reach for their stones, or words, which usually (despite the saying) do hurt more than stones (and take longer to heal), and set about me, I am not saying that we should practice discrimination. I don't want slavery to be re-introduced (we call that lay ministry where I am) or people to be burnt at the stake BUT I do want us to realise that we have a very powerful message in the otherness and difference that we live within.

My problem is that when others were having occultic tattoos the people of God were refraining from tattoos because they wanted to show their allegiance to one God and the absence of such things was a silent witness. A quick aside - one of my soldiers had a tattoo and when we went to a Chinese restaurant the waiter sniggered when he saw it. Asking the soldier what it was, he told me it was 'good luck - long life' - popping to the loo I asked the waiter and he said, "Western idiot' (or a ruder version actually) Seems that even today tattoos speak volumes about who we are and what we represent!

When everywhere else was into weird and wonderful sexual stuff, the people of God were into heterosexual, monogamous (eventually!), fidelity ridden marriage.

It is a shame that we have slipped into so many ways of the world that people rarely see us as being any different and in fact abuse us when we are different because it says something about them as well as us!

It is sad that when we had people come and lead a debate on the consecration of women that one spoke of scripture and orthodoxy whilst the other spoke of the Bible having nothing much to say todays as it was merely an archaic, patriarchal and irrelevant book for today. Seems that we need to toss it out because we live in a world where women are equal and even in the ascendency!

I'm not interested in being like the world. I am not interested in putting people down because of who they are but then again I do reserve the right to to accept or reject what people CHOOSE to do when it goes against the teaching of the orthodox Christian faith. I am not interested in the foolish people who want to believe that once we are approved of by the world and approve of all that they do the people will come flocking in. If there is no difference between what is to be found within a church building and what exists outside then the otherness and the reason to come in is lost.

Aha aha (I love that bit in the Bible) I hear you say, but we will be able to preach Jesus. Indeed you will, but you will able also to deny Him and His words and the basis of all that He is that is to be found in the Old Testament and so will issue forth only hollow words.

Otherness is supported by, and supports, a relationship with the one true living God won by the sacrifice of God made man, Jesus (the Christ) and lived out through the enabling of His Holy Spirit - all else if froth and dissipation. If we don't live as He commands then every day of our life is an act of rejection and living against Him, not for and not with!


Monday 18 July 2011

Age, Sex and Ordination

I have been quite surprised by the number of emails I have received on the 'grey hair, golden boy' post. Seems that there are a few common themes cropping up regarding selection, these are:

1. An obvious feeling that younger is better,

2. An obvious bias towards those who have graduated from Oxbridge returning (quite quickly) to college (often in the same place) as ordinands,

3. Claims of bias towards one group of people (the male/female debate), and

4. Being clergy is a family business!

Regarding the first point, I am aware that there is a desire to see more 'young' ordinands and that there are many who wish to see something like 50% of a diocese's ordinands being under thirty-five. Some of the older people putting themselves forward seem to think that they are being funnelled into other forms of ministry (such as OLM where it exists and if not NSM or Reader or something else.) rather than given encouragement to pursue the calling they feel is upon them.

I was surprised that a few people had mentioned the selection of bright young things from the Oxbridge factories and asking some of those at college, it does seem that there is a fair proportion of those who went to good schools and then on to Oxbridge where they remain and return as ordinands. An argument for this is that the CofE sees these people as a good investment (because they are supposedly bright) and perhaps that good schools and Oxbridge fosters some form of faith within their young people. Then again, a former bishop once told our potty-training group that the CofE was still the greatest gentleman's club in the world - could be that little has changed and the Oxbridge cleric is the gold standard still?

It is strange that I have had comments from women telling me that it is getting harder for women to be selected! To be honest I had expected the opposite because for so long I have had to endure people wittering on about women being 'under-represented' and have heard amazingly frightening stories of people being selected to 'make up the numbers'. Perhaps the tide has turned, but if it has this is equally sad because selection should be about calling not sex (which is different from gender by the way) or colour of which college you went to (bearing in mind that you do need to be able to endure the rigours of theological education).

The 'family business' aspect really shocked me, mind you there were a few at college when I was there who were going to serve their title in the diocese of a Father, God-Father, Uncle or friend of the family and were children of bishops or other clergy! The fact that there were more than one made me laugh but I hear from a few people that in their place of study there are a few who are following in the family business of Anglican ministry. How interesting! (but we will probably never know whether this is real or realised!).

It was interesting to hear from one person that there experience was a number of people whose children had left home and so had, in order to find something to do, had gone off for ordination. I would expect there to be some calling and yet my correspondent says that being 'collared' is merely an extension of the stuff they've done - I hope this is a skewed perspective (or perhaps sour grapes) but am open to information or remedy for this one - seems odd if true and sad (for the person who feels it) if it isn't.


Saturday 16 July 2011

School trips and institutionalised lying

Now this is a really controversial topic for many people because what happens is that the parent gets a letter from scholl saying that little billy's class is going for an educational visit to the local amusement park and that the school would like an 'voluntary' donation of £15 to offset the costs. The letter goes on to say that no child will be excluded on the grounds of non-payment. Bit the voluntary donation and the non-exclusion clause are products of the 1984 Children's Act and the 1996 Education Act.

Now, for the sake of a bit f social experimentation, decide not to send the voluntary donation and, having lit the blue touchpaper, wait for the show.

Point the First - there's the reminder that there is money outstanding. When this comes telephone the school and tell them that you are unable to pay the required 'voluntary' donation.

Point the Second - You are then told that if the money isn't paid then the child cannot be included in the trip. To this you point out that the donation is 'voluntary' to which you will be told that the word 'voluntary' is only in the letter because the law requires it and that if you don't pay they can't go!

Point the Third - explain that it is illegal to prevent any child going on an 'educational' trip because they haven't paid. This is the good bit, because whilst acknowledging that this is what the law says, the person on the other end points out that what the law says and the real world are a great deal different form each other!

So what we have here is institutionalised deceit and illegal behaviour as well!

I work in an area where there are many who can pay, but apparently often don't and many more who struggle to exist and yet pay and this is, for me, an area of concern, frustration and intense niggle. As Christians we are called to let our 'Yes' be 'Yes' and our 'No' be 'No' but it appears that the (increasingly less than) noble profession of teaching and the world of education exists to live in a world of deceit and double-talk!

Is it any wonder we live in such a sad world when the basic tenets of integrity no longer apply to those who teach our kids?


Thursday 14 July 2011

Pioneer Ministry - What People Want!

conversing with a colleague on their journey towards having a Pioneer Minister, this outline document came to mind:


Working with others to plan, develop and sustain a fresh expression of church for those who are non-churched. Task and roles includes:

1. Exploring and engaging with the culture and context of the community where the fresh expression of church is to be established. Consulting and liaising with others who are working both within the local church community and in the wider community.

2. Leading the emerging Christian community in ways which are culturally relevant and authentic having an obvious connection with the church and subscribing to the views and practices of orthodox Christianity and the Anglican tradition.

3. Assembling a team of committed volunteers who subscribe to the vision and who have the suitable gifts and potential to assist in establishing the fresh expression of church. Supporting, pastoring and mentoring those team members as they grow in personal and Christian formation and in effectiveness in leading a fresh expression of church.

4. Establishing suitable processes for mutual and individual accountability within the project.

5. Reflecting prayerfully on the most appropriate ways to establish a form of church for non-churched people (adult and young people) within that community.

6. Co-ordinating appropriate worship (having due care for the need for an appropriate sacramental life), prayer, fellowship, outreach and social engagement within the life of the community.

7. Putting in place a strategy for the continuing development and future sustainability of the project. Identifying and securing the necessary resources for all, and any, new forms of church.

8. Drawing up and managing the budget for any fresh expressions of church that may come into being.

9. Convening and facilitating the management group for the project.

10. Sharing within the wider parish/diocesan/denominational setting the experience and learning gained from the project as might be fitting.

11. Contributing to the evaluation of the project as required, preparing such reports as may from time to time be requested.

12 . Acting as coach/mentor to other pioneer mission leaders within the project/area [optional - depending upon experience and skills]

13. Engaging in any continuing professional development or other appropriate ongoing training as is required.

14. Any other duties reasonably requested by the incumbent or project manager (where applicable).

Not a job for the fainthearted when it is put on paper like this is it? More than just sitting in cafés and dossing around with non-Christians, more like a load of work (often without the support structure that a standard parish role which perhaps indicates some benefit in a curacy of sort being with those starting out?)


Characteristics of a Pioneer Minister

Have this on file too:

Also have this on file:

Pioneering ministry is extremely rewarding with huge challenges. Below are some of the characteristics that we consider support the work of a Pioneer Minister and will be looking for evidence of them in your personal and work life thus far. In addition to these, we will also be looking for what you consider your current gifts, calling and passions to help us identify the right person. The characteristics sought are:

1. Visionary
Pioneer Mission Leaders will be people who are able to see possibilities which others often may not recognise. They will seek to discern what God is doing and shape their work and aims accordingly so that they can pursue a God-given vision. They will be willing to adopt an approach which involves ‘holy risk,’ and will naturally begin with people and community rather than taking church as their starting point. We will be looking for people who are able to think ‘outside the box,’ who can share vision effectively and who can inspire and encourage others to be visionary.

2. Team builder and leader
We will be looking, not only for those who can take a lead in starting up new Christian communities and activities, but who are also able to inspire and encourage others to share in that task with them. They will be able to lead a team as well as being able to function as part of a team and be an asset to the teams they belong to. Pioneers will be able to help others to discern their gifts and offer them suitable encouragement and training so that those gifts can be appropriately used as part of a team.

3. Collaborator
It is important that Pioneer Mission Leaders are able to share their vision and their dreams with others and to collaborate as a natural way of working. They will help others to feel a sense of ownership of the project and to feel valued as their contribution and skills are drawn in to its development. They will routinely consult with and involve those in the local church community and the wider community, and will work ecumenically wherever possible. They will share experience with others involved with fresh expressions work locally and beyond.

4. Relationship builder
We will be looking for people who have excellent relationship skills and who are able to form open and healthy relationships with others, and encourage others to form good relationships also. They will naturally seek to get to know others personally and to build relationships of integrity and trust, acknowledging and respecting appropriate boundaries. They will have a Godly love and compassion towards others and will seek to respond to their expressed needs and concerns.

5. Initiator

Pioneers are people who are self-starters, intrinsically motivated, and able to initiate a project or community of people, often building from nothing. They are highly motivated, have qualities of persistence and commitment and are able to see a project come to birth despite obstacles and setbacks. We will be looking for people who are creative, innovative and imaginative and who also have the ability to be reflective about their work. We would normally expect that prospective Pioneer Mission Leaders have already demonstrated their ability to initiate a fresh expression of church by having done so, or by having initiated a comparable innovative project. They will have the ability to plan strategically and manage the process of beginning a project from scratch.

See how these Christians loathe one another

Talking about church and the business of factions, politics and division a while back with other church people recently, one of them came up with an interesting, yet earthy, summation of the business of church business meetings:

Open in prayer - Close in prayer - Shit in between!

I don't often include such terminology because I don't want to offend, but having heard of some meetings, the collateral damage, the wounding of non-combatants and innocents this does appear to be an accurate and perhaps kind summation of some of the goings!

Too often we find people who engage in stuff that just isn't Church! Put any bunch of people together and we will find control freaks, tradtionalists, movers and shakers (they shake people up and they move away!) and more besides. Ordinary humans who need to be dealt with with grace and humility and need to be taught to do the same to others (by example, not just words).

Church needs to live within the Law of active Churchmanship (whoo hoo, kept the acronym LOAC) in that we remember in all our dealings with each other, these few simple rules:

Proportionality: We make the point but we don't kill the innocent, or the guilty, when we encounter a problem within our church setting. It appears that all too often the response of some in church is to make the punishment exceed the crime rather than fit it. Then again, having discovered what e consider error we are called to forgive (70*7?) not to crucify - only needs one act of crucifixion to redeem the whole world!

Collateral damage: If one innocent is taken out, the whole world dies. Now if Islam can get this right (although don't see it preached that often) how much more should those who claim to be Christians take note of, and live within, this? If by our actions, attitudes or responses we cause others to stumble then their blood (or lack of salvation in this case perhaps) is on our hands. We don't shoot their wounded and we most certainly don't shoot our own (despite the church's billing.

Restoration: Brothers, if you find someone doing it wrong, those of you who are spiritual should restore them 'gently' because if you don't then you have caused yourself to sin as well. What's the point of being right and making yourself wrong so that neither of you learn and the relationship is broken?

God calls us to live in relationship with each other, taking joy in the image of the unseen God made visible in the brother (or sister) who stands before you as a reflection of Christ, God incarnate. Words of peace and correction for errors made show us to be in possession of Christlike characteristics, for who is there to condemn others when we are told to go and sin no more?

Humility, justice and mercy are the hallmarks of a person who knows, loves and serves God and these, tinged with thanks that God doesn't treat us as we treat others, make for a body that accepts the weaknesses and errors in others, leads them from them into something better and builds a Church of living stones brought together by Grace and held together by Love.

I'll be extra careful next week when we have our Church Council meeting - can't preach it without practising it, can i?


Wednesday 13 July 2011

Pioneering and Empire

One of my favourite reads was Brian Stanley's 'Christ and the flag'. This book looked at the rise of Empire as a function of Christian missionary zeal. The missionaries made the tracks into Africa and the traders, explorers, colonialists and others followed. Conquest and exploitation of natural resources (including of course people) came about as a result of the Church's actions but not its intentions. The problem was (is?) that people saw the results of Empire and blamed the Church for providing the means by which they were brought into being.

Taking this as an example, seems to me that the key to pioneering is that we need people to be where, in this case, Church is perceived not to be awaiting the arrival of those who come to conqueror (for Christ). Just as Empire used the paths trodden and the places inhabited by missionaries, so to do Pioneers. This means that when we send Pioneers into a place, there needs to be people who have established or settled that place beforehand so that there is a core membership of any groups that come into being. There aren't there to run things as leaders but are there to add normal Christians who by being salt and light bring the kingdom of God (basiliea) into that place.

One of the big problems with some aspects I have seen with pioneering is that there is a tendency towards being so much unlike 'Church' that the groups that come into being are also un like Christians. Rather than draw lines and preach 'hardline' Christianity, there is at times something that feels rather syncretic and unable to correct lest those newbies feel judged or corrected. The Empire-builders had no problems with this and their evangelistic zeal (including teaching the national anthem) did them much credit, even if it was misplaced and ill thought through!

So here's a bit more thinking on the pioneering front, hope it is proving useful, challenging, funny (perhaps in an "Oh my, look what he's written now!" sort of way!).


Pioneer Ministry - Gloves Off?

Following on from my post yesterday on the issue of Pioneer Ministry, I received this response:

"Too many clergy assume that they can do the work of a pioneer minister because they have done church but this isnt the case. Pioneering is church at the cutting edge rather than the dull edge of declining church."

Wow! 'Church at the 'cutting edge', now that's a challenge to all those poor souls who merely manage things at the dull edge I guess. I 've been thinking and praying a lot about this topic because the church I go to have a Pioneer Minister and wonder what she does and why we have one and she tells me and shows me areas of engagement and considers things like accessibility and opportunity and the like where others talk of 'services' and 'ministry'.

During a moment of reflection and prayer I realised that of course the world we occupy is a tardis-like creation that is, minute by minute, hour by hour, taking us through time. The result of this is that some of the congregation of my local big church tells me of days when everyone knew the Lord's Prayer and how they were packed every Sunday evening for Evensnog! The problem is that ministry in this established church (been there in some form for around 1,500 years) is to the older, established, folk and the newer, don't actually know about church or come in, folk. This means that even in the established and ordered churches there is an element of pioneering!

The scenery doesn't change but the people within it does and rather than 'settle a region' the minister needs to 'settle a people' and this, whether my correspondent likes it or not, is pioneering. So let us have a go at modifying the Pioneer Minister definition:

A 'Parish Minister' (PM) is 'a person who is among those who first engages or settles a people, thus opening them up to the inspiration and acceptance of God through Jesus, His Son. Therefore, Parish Ministry is 'doing and being Church where no Church is to be found'.

Now some PMs are engaged and effective in evangelistic zeal and practice. Some are content to live in a parish that neither grows or declines and maintain the status quo (and oddly they are applauded because they pay their Parish Share and never post negative numbers). Other still are ?????? [insert label from: lazy, incompetent, overworked, under-equipped, unlucky, disengaged, battle-weary or (add your own label here) and they sit within their dwindling numbers and await retirement with the same hope that others have for the parousia!

Pioneer ministry cannot exist without established church and established church cannot exist without pioneer minister who bring expertise, evangelistic zeal and a desire to build the kingdom. BUT - some of those who would be Pioneers wish to do so on their own terms and in isolation from the established or settled church. Some of those who wish to be Pioneer ministers have the zeal but lack the understanding and the tools and abilities, the experience of ministry and the theological sense that is required.

Both groups have their weaknesses, but in partnership we are strong. Can the eye say to the hand I have no need of you? if it does we will never dry our tears will we?


Golden boy or grey haired wrinkly?

Met a chap a while back and he was one of the CofE's new breed of 'wonder clergy'. Left University with a good degree in something wonderful, spent six months working as a 'parish assistant' in the church around the corner from his college and then entered theological college as an ordinand. Then, after the required period (three years) he had been sent out, ordained and served his title, finished his curacy and become an assistant Priest for a few years, finished that and done another job for a few years (as Assistant again) and then moved on to a 'church of his own'.

Met another chap who had been out and done something or other, somewhere or other, and then got himself selected for ministry. Trained on a scheme (one night a week, six weekends and a Summer school for three years) and then got himself ordained and served his title as Curate before moving into a church as minister (stipendiary), which is where he still was a few years later in his early fifties.

Two men, twenty years apart. One calling and doing the same stuff. One a bright young thing, tipped for preferment, the other a solid clergyman destined to be a foot soldier. The training was different, the qualifications possessed by each were miles apart, the lifestyles and attitudes were light years apart and yet both are priests, both are 'colleagues', but are they the same?

Of course not, for one brings with him experience of life and loss whilst the other had never actually had a job (no, I'm sorry but a Christmas job delivering letters doesn't quite qualify) and had never buried anyone they'd loved (other than a pet hamster I believe!!). One couldn't quite get their head around the pastoral role and the demands of the ministerial life to the extent that they were considering 'throwing in the towel' and going off to do 'something else' (which I think is totally tragic) whilst the other couldn't get enough of parish ministry.

Apparently being ordained young is a curse because of the implicit pressures (and expectations) that preferment and the upper echelons of church will be theirs. Now I'm not saying that either of the two represent a consistent or common model, for they are individuals and so are unique eben if they also represent something consistent. One spoke of calling and the other spoke of pressures, stress and frustration.

Just makes me wonder what we look for and how we select (because I have total confidence in the selection process as a sound and right system) those who go for selection and whether the (voiced) desire to see more 'young' people being ordained might not colour the process and perhaps cause problems. I hear of more younger ministers suffering from stress whilst the older clergy seem to have the ability to let this stress pass them by. I'm not ageist (young or old) but I have to say that the young man (who has now gone off into another form of ministry) was broken, stressed and aware that he'd lost the plot and that raises the questions of selection, preparation before BAP (selection conference), formation during college and Potty training/title.

Are younger people going to be cost-effective (as one senior chap put it) or are we merely sowing the seeds for early retirement, disaffection and healthy doses of unbelief (self and God) in the Clergy - The Next Generation?

Now, back to evangelicals (unless something else comes up),


Tuesday 12 July 2011

Pioneer Ministry - 1

Mention this and you usually get the question, "What is it?" or perhaps, "Who does it?"

The most common definitions appears to be that a 'Pioneer Minister' is 'a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others' and so pioneer ministry is 'doing and being Church where no Church is to be found'.

The reality is that once this country knew the Bible stories, understood the times and seasons and was the physical embodiment of the Christian message. Then, following a couple of World Wars, this situation started to change and secularism and its servant consumerism began to rise up. The situation now is that amongst the indigenous british citizen (and they are white multi-generational british not immigrants as many seem to assume) the situation is the many have no idea what Christmas of Easter is truly about and the stories some assume as being commonplace are untold and thus unknown!

The problem is that some, not all, of those in the organised church assumes that anything new must look like it and must bring people into it (and quickly!) whilst others in the pioneer church assume that whatever it is it must not look like organised church and thus they are free from the constraints and demands of the former. This causes some to sneer when dog-collars in 'organised church' say that all are pioneers, because, "If they were, where are the new members, where are the new congregations!" Some claim that the organised church dog-collars are merely archaic protectionists who are frightened by the new breed of bright young (and not so young) things that are coming to do Church in a new and 'real' way!

In return, there are many established dog-collars who see the unstructured, 'let's do coffee', abstract efforts of some of the pioneers as unproductive, elitist and separatist. "They want Church on their terms and set themselves us as something different and better that us," whined one cleric recently. The reason for this being that they'd tried to embrace (not physically) someone doing 'pioneering' and been totally blown off by them!

The aim of pioneer ministry is to create congregations (gatherings) of people who know Christ, accept that He died for them and live within all the traditional tenets of the Christian faith but perhaps in ways that are not traditional or within traditional buildings. The hope is that at some stage the two will coalesce - but in partnership not ownership! The work of pioneering is carried out in people that are wild and separate from God (just like the open prairies of the Wester US). The desire is to see them 'become Church' not 'Come to Church' and you know when a pioneer settlement has become Church because it will possess within it it the two Anglican sacraments (oooh, using the term sacrament often throws some into a flat spin - too possessive, too controlling, 'not what we are about man!') of baptism and communion.

Pioneer ministry is about doing what Church has always done, meeting the people where they are and helping them to recognise the hand of God on their lives and come to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is not the panacea for that formidable parish share, neither is it a declaration of independence from the rest of the (tired, old and irrelevant) Church - it is yet another facet of the ministry of the Church and, as per Eph 4:11, gives us:

Apostles (ἀπόστολος)
Prophets (προφήτης)
Evangelists (εὐαγγελιστής)
Pastors (ποιμήν), and
Teachers (διδάσκαλος)

Not in isolation but in partnership. In an army you need bayonets (infantry), bridges (engineers), communications (signallers), medics, people who can 'soften' up the enemy and their positions before the bayonets go in (artillery), understanding of the enemy, their strength and tactics (Intelligence) and some AFvs too (why walk to war when you can ride?). Some of these are regular, some of these are volunteer reserves - but we need to have a 'one army' approach if we are to fight well and work together.

Seems this is a lesson some within Church circles could do with learning!


Monday 11 July 2011

If it's all about Grace . .

Then why is there so much 'law'?

This is a question that I have had put to me regarding what evangelicals believe.

First and foremost I don't see Christianity as being about rules, for rules are what makes for religion and what does religion make? (Well, in my book it certainly isn't prizes, that's for sure).

The problem is that so many people lump 'evangelicals' 'into a one size fits all' approach. RThis of course falls hollow and worthless to the floor as soon as it is uttered because we have so many brands, types and groups all clamouring to use the label evangelical.

Some use 'evangelical' to bring some form of credibility to their position i.e. Evangelical Universalists, Evangelical Gays, etc. Others, oddly, use it to presume that any viewpoint outside of being 'evangelical' (their type) that might be held has to be wrong.

The problem as it was dealt to me is that we have evangelicals bearing the label: Reformed, Neo-reformed, Open, Closed, Conservative, liberal, revisionist and even Post-Evangelicals (who appear to be perhaps disaffected evangelicals with a dash of confusion and a pinch of liberalism added for flavour) evangelicals too!

Having explained the many (and I'm sure I have missed some) types of evangelicals, I was posed with this question:

"But ALL evangelicals are taken up with law and legal terms (like justification) and hold to the same views regarding sin, redemption and Christian living, aren't they?"

Well, Let's see, shall we?

I'd be most happy for anyone who has another label or can provide and pointers to through their all into this topic as the more input the clearer (hopefully) we find the emerging picture.


Sunday 10 July 2011

Be sure they really understand!

Talking to a friend after this morning's service and we were talking about the fact that we (the family) meandered into a wood full of extremely angry hornets. One of our girls was getting covered in the nasty things and beginning to panic so I rushed down the path to her and started clearing them off. Realising that this wasn't the place to be we bugged out (sic!) and in the process I received about seven really big stings and another five which were less painful!

So, one of the church members suggested that I apply vinegar to the stings and another suggested something else, which I hadn't heard of, and this took me back to a situation a few years back when I was working in the City of London (scene shimmers) . . .

Having arrived at work, one of the staff members advised me to keep a wide berth of one of the young ladies because she appeared to be a 'bit grumpy'. Well, I soon realised that the 'bit grumpy' was on a par with the Titanic being a 'problem with a boat'. She was foul and as the temperature rose so did her temper and by lunchtime I decided that, being a Christian, I should take her aside and see what the problem was.

After a bit of a conversation I asked her why she was being so irritable and offer my services if I could help. "Well, you're a Christian aren't you?" she asked, "So if I tell you will you promise not to tell anyone else here?" I quickly affirmed the Christian bit and promised not to tell anyone at work what the problem was, and so she told me.

Actually I rather wished she hadn't when she had because it transpired that she what sounded very much like that wonderful yeast infection, Thrush. Having heard something on the radio about it (think it was Woman's Hour - still a good listen to and from the crem' even today) I explained that the solution was readily to hand - all she had to do was pop over to the shops and buy a live yoghurt and, a la Henry Cooper, "slap it on all over" for a few days and (to quote my mate Dave), "The job's a good'un!" With that I left, assuming that I had done my good Samaritan bit for the day.

The next day I came in and apparently our heroine was in an even fouler mood and not only that, but she was apparently after my blood too! Confused I popped over to where she was usually to be found and immediately came under a broadside of abuse! Eventually, when it had subsided a little, I asked how the problem was and she said it was no better thanks to me 'taking the mickey' (although I recall perhaps stronger words were used here) and to make matters even worse the raspberry pips were 'playing havoc with her 'sore bits' (my paraphrase of something I'm too polite to record accurately!).

It didn't take long to ascertain that a raspberry yoghurt purchased from Benjy's next door hadn't been a great deal of help and that she hadn't understood what I meant by 'live yoghurt'. I rushed down to a friendly fine food seller along the road in Leadenhall Market and purchased a large tub of the required substance. Having taken it to her I suggested that she applied some ASAP and kept the remaining stuff labelled in the 'fridge as hers for use over the rest of the week (mind you, I've just realised that there was quite a bit of moaning about people using other people's stuff - let's hope her yoghurt never got helped to!!).

Bottom (or very near it) line is that once I had explained properly and made sure that I knew the person had understood, the problem was solved. This is a lesson I thing we all need because sometimes the pip that come from miscommunication can indeed be troublesome and even when the object of our advice applies it (they think) properly, we might find things actually get a whole lot worse!

So there we are, lesson, anecdote and medical tip in one post - economic or what?


Saturday 9 July 2011

Church Fees - measure rejected

More in the morning, but Synod rejected the measure which was apparently going to make wedding costs rise.

Now all they have to do is deal with some of the non-extra extras!

Hey ho!

New of the world - giving what we want?

The News of the World (NotW) debacle has, trite and pseudo-intellectual blogs aside, brought some terrible truths to the light. It has also provided us with a platform for moral indignation and allowed us to bemoan the closure of a newspaper in allegorical splendour! But my issues and concerns lie on the general populace who fund the journo's wrong behaviour!

An interview with shoppers regarding the story brought many similar comments along the lines of:

"I always wondered how they got their information!"

When asked if they would stop buying the paper each and every person said they wouldn't because it was 'interesting' and 'they enjoyed it'!

Not one person approved of the acts or means used to garner the information but none were willing to stop funding them. The height of hypocrisy and yet they don't stand alone for, and call me a cynic if you will, I get the feeling that the crime that separates the NotW and the other
Newspapers who report on this story is that of having been caught! If one hack hits on a means of getting its stories then others are usually not far behind!

Then, maintaining our 'what's in it for me' society we have people in possession of information, the police officers, who see themselves as selling that information as a legitimate 'perk' and by so doing provide means of damaging and influencing the case before them and cause further pain to those afflicted by the crime before them.

We need to see a few things:

1. the newspapers dealt with regarding the criminal acts,

2. The Police investigated and individuals brought to book whilst the institutional ills are remedied,

3. The newspapers brought under some form of control (which is odd because I've always baulked at this) regarding the way the operate and get their news, and

4. Society (in general and NOW readers and the like in particular) are made to realise that they promoted and funded the excesses that they now tut at and continue to sponsor.

Not clever, eloquent of wonderfully allegorical stuff I know, but valid all the same (I hope).


ps. Seems the NotW will give way to a Sun on Sunday - cynicism just keeps on going and growing, doesn't it?

Friday 8 July 2011

What is 'Being Church' all about?

It's 23:30 here and the house is (at last) beginning to settle after all the usual havoc and chaos that Friday with its Kid's Club, piano lessons, ministry and everything that having a house full of children entails. Time for a bit of a reflection as I unwind and get ready for some zzz's.

The problem is that I have questions buzzing around in my head regarding what 'being Church' is all about because for me it means working together with all the other Christian believers in the place in which I find myself to build the Church. Immediately a conversation where I am berated because, "We don't build Church, that's God's job!" leaps into my mind. Apparently we only have to tell others, it is God's job to win them! Well, whilst I understand what the speaker meant, I have to say that this isn't what I'm thinking!

As I see it 'being Church' is about building the whole body of Christ, not just the expression of it that has our name above the door as Vicar / Minister / Pastor. As I see it "being Church' is about making disciples of those who do not know Christ and so have a separation from God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit - are you listening UCC?). In fact this is the commandment that we corporately possess as Church (universal not local!) as given in Matthew 28:18-20:

"“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

We go - and we tell - and they come - and they repent - and we baptise - and we teach - and they learn - and they become disciples - then they go - and they tell - et seq.

The problem is that when we find it hard to 'be' Church and 'be' with each other and pray and enjoy each other's company, some bright spark comes up with the idea that we should 'do a mission' because when we work together the task brings us together. And then the task is complete and we can drift apart until we can think of another artificial way of making us 'one' again!

Surely Church is about seeing the image of the unseen God made visible by God incarnate, Jesus, in one another and celebrating that. How can we fail to see the image of God made flesh in those who are flesh made God (as part of His body) unless we fail to look?

I'm so very tired of having to 'do' to 'be' Church. I want to 'be' and from that 'being' let the things that come out of it, come out of it. I'm fed up with Protestant work ethics that drive us to perform (like Martha) when Christ is calling us into relationship (like Mary?).

I'm fed up with numbers being the yardstick by which success is measured. Number of BOPs (Bums on Pews), the numbers with pound signs attached associated with the offering, the numbers relating to Parish Share payments and all those other indicators of quantity that convey nothing of the true meaning of Church (yes, I know we have to pay our way!).

When are we going to see the worth of those in a missionary context where lives changed and professions of faith in a man whose name was once merely an expletive and the measure of the ministry?

Where the ability to greet those from other fellowships as family and mean it is the reality rather than what is demanded?

This is what 'being Church' is all about, but:

"If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Josh 24


Funny Things at the crem'

I think people are quite shocked at the thought of anything to do with a funeral being funny, but often there is something or other that makes for a bit of light relief and brings a bit of (unintended) laughter into the proceedings.

Some of this year's highlight's include these five:

The couple who (sitting quite centrally in the Crem') were trying to talk to each other without being noticed as the welcome was under way. After the hymn and the readings one of the family got up to say something and they began talking in a much more animated fashion and then got up and left! When I came out of the Crem' after the service they were sitting on the bench outside. Seems that they'd got the time wrong and had arrived an hour early (just as we were going in) and rushed in with them thinking it was their service.

The 'Mexican wave' service where the people on the front row sat down and seeing this, so this many of the others. Someone on the front row realised people were standing and stood up again, those who were sitting got up and those who were still up were just beginning to sit. This was repeated a couple more times and a new record of the person on the from sitting and standing six times before we got underway was set! Don't think that's going to be a record easily broken :)

An excellent, and hitherto unseen, attraction was the lady who sat on the front row fiddling with her umbrella. We were just into the committal (ashes to ashes bit) when there was an audible click (made all the louder by the fact it came in the gap before 'dust to dust') and one of the most colourful (and biggest) golf umbrellas appeared!

The person who stood up to pay tribute to the dearly departed and as they did lost their top set of dentures into the lap of a lady on the front row, rushed round, retrieved than and carried on as if nothing had happened. What a trouper!

And my favourite, thus far: The toddler who walked up during the Nunc' and disappeared behind the curtains that now concealed the coffin. The child was oblivious to the panic caused as they spent a final few moments with their great grandparent behind the curtain, but I was nearly killed in the stampede to retrieve them. Funny thing was, it only took one person to go and get them but in the end there were five people (and a toddler, now screaming in response to the panic in the adults) standing behind me to help me do the blessing!

Who ever said funerals were always the same :)

Happy Friday people

Thursday 7 July 2011

How can they believe?

In the run up to this Sunday when the seed will be scattered on various soils, I thought today's morning office NT reading (Romans 10.11-end) was a most excellent signpost on the way and perhaps (yet another) remedy to those who who support the all/no road lead to God universalism and a spur for us to tell others of the salvation that comes through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross:

The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.’
Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
‘I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’
But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’

"How can they call on the one in whom they have not believed?
If they haven't heard, they they need to be told!"

Lord, send us into the places where you are perceived not to be,
To speak to those who have never heard,
To speak release from captivity to sin,
To speak acceptance in a world of rejection,
To bring trust into lives of deceit.
help us to preach your word in and out of season,
Without favour or partiality,
That your will may be seen and done in the lives of all.


Wednesday 6 July 2011

Christian Gene isolated!

Have to love this one - enjoy

(thanks to those who sent me the link)

A message to UCC

From the Church of England's liturgical vaults for the Third Sunday after Trinity (this Sunday):

The Collect

Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Post Communion

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
show us your glory as far as we can grasp it,
and shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

No more GodFather!

I see the United Church of Christ (AKA Obama's church) has decided to drop references to God and the word 'Father'! No more 'God the father, heavenly father, father God' or the like because "it's too restrictive!"[read it here]

The move would have them bill themselves as:

"A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in the triune God, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

STRIKE the First!
"In the UCC, our language for God, Christ and the Holy Spirit … is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity," she said. "Heavenly Father is just one vision. The denomination seeks to be "inclusive" in its language, so therefore we will tend to change language that is more traditional to be more inclusive."

How on earth can you believe in a triune God and deny one of the three persons in it?

Strike the Second
A spokeswoman says that, Some of the denomination's pastors refer to God with terms such as "Creator" and "Father and Mother."

This is taking us down the same old 'Creator, Redeemer, Enabler' tosh that seeks to remove anything masculine from the equation and adds nothing but takes much away.

Strike the Third
Apparently the UCC are one of leaders when it comes to declining church and it seems to me that this is a desperate act to win those who would like their Christianity to fit their demands. Too many churches see the only path to survival as being that of selling out the tradition Christian beliefs and practices in the hope that looking more like the world they will come in. The problem is that whilst many seek to have their ears tickled there is little point in coming into a place that is no different from the world outside.

Seems to me that this is a declining church who is seeking to sell itself to the world rather than stand and be different from it in the hope it will bring people in. The problem is that Church is about who we worship and serve not how many we can attract. This is the reason the liberal end fails to attract much in terms of converts and grows only as a container for like-minded sorts who leave other (often traditional) churches.

Two choices:
Call people to follow Christ, be different with regard to the world, and bless God
Call people to 'be themselves' and expect God to bless them.

As St Dumbledore of Hogwarts succinctly put it:

"The time is coming when you will have to choose between what is right and what is easy!"

Seems UCC are taking the easy route!


Crematoria Cowboys

It is interesting that Ruth Gledhill referred to 'Crematoria Cowboys' in her 2008 piece in the Times, for this is a problem that appears to not only be always with us, but is also, if my recent experiences are anything to go on, on the increase.

When I was training we had a local crematorium where three retired clergy had set themselves up with 'duty days' so that, in the case of local clergy not being available, they would do the service. Now this was quite popular with the local dog-collars because they didn't have to rush about doing services for people they didn't know and they maintained their own round of visits and stuff without the added burden of more work!

Many of the local undertakers knew that if there was no relationship with a local church they could could turn to one of the three ministers and they would be sorted.

Then the diocese sent out a letter to local clergy telling them that they were missing a pastoral opportunity at a church level and the fees were being missed at a church level so they should take every funeral that came their way. Undertakers were asked to route funerals to the nearest church to the deceased should there be no prior relationship and they wished to have a 'church' service.

This touched me at a number of levels:

1. A funeral is an opportunity for a very special pastoral engagement and viewing it as just 'work' was a sad reflection on the attitude of some of those with dog-collars,

2. I was impressed that the three old geezers were offering a service (in every sense) to the community and to their colleagues,

3. I was saddened that despite the pastoral wording, the emphasis appeared to be that the diocese was losing income!

Where I am we have a few people springing up, offering themselves for funerals, in a number of guises and forms. We have:

i. The person who is billing himself as a 'military' chaplain in order to do services for those who have served in one of the three branches of our armed forces,

2. We have those who belong to weird and wonderful denominations ie. the free and independent Anglican Episcopalian Reformed Church (I made the name up - don't want to upset just one group do I?) and are taking services which are billed as CofE at the Crem,

3. The rise in humanist (or 'non-religious') 'ministers' (seems to me that 'humanist minister' is an oxymoron!) appears to be driven by the customers saying they aren't religious! Once that's said it seems that some undertakers offer a 'humanist' (with all that doesn't perhaps offer) to suit their clients needs. I have asked some people who had humanist ministers do a funeral service for a member of their family and found that they didn't specifically ask for a humanist but merely said they 'weren't religious' and the rest just sort of happened.

One staff member of a funeral company about an hour away from me told me that they used some people on a 'booking fee' basis. What this meant was, in this cash-strapped age, that the funeral director took a percentage of the minister's fee for providing the booking. With the number of FDs going to the wall I can understand that any revenue stream is welcome, but I'm not sure this is totally ethical or efficacious and regarding fees and the CofE might mean less services for CofE clergy!

Then we have the diocesan money people, I bet they are most unchuffed at the thought of independent ministers and humanists getting the business, but this is perhaps more fiscal that theological or pastoral?

Considering the fact that the CofE relies so heavily upon retired clergy, I am always saddened when we start talking about restricting fees or taking percentages from them (although of course them offering percentages would be nice) but we shouldn't muzzle the ox that treads the grain, should we?

As for the others - bumped into a freelance dog-collar who was offering prayer and taking 'donations' in a place they had no right to be and when I appeared (looking official) they pretty much legged it! Seems that there is money to be made from funerals and some aren't shy in taking it!

How very mercenary and sad :(

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Church Fees - Proper Perspective

I'm trying to make sense of the changes to fees that the measure passed in May will make and despite the fact that some claim that the CofE is still a cheap place for weddings, seems to me that the majority are thinking that what we have before us is a negative step.

One view:
"We have always scrupulously stuck to the statutory fee, plus £25 for a verger, and adding a small amount for heating in the winter months, the new wedding fee will represent a huge hike for us. At the moment the basic charge before organ, choir etc. is £312.50, so it will be a big leap up to £425. I am very concerned about the fact that this will come in in Jan 2012. We already have six weddings booked for next year - couples often book well over a year in advance. I always warn them that the fees go up a bit in Jan each year and that the fee is that payable at the time of the wedding not at the time of booking - couples are quite happy with this, since it has never gone up by more than about £10. There is no way I am going to be charging those who have already booked (and in some cases paid), an extra sum of over £100 for their wedding, though - it seems to me to be blatantly unfair and unreasonable."

I note that one of the Wedding magazines puts the estimated average cost of a wedding for 2011 at something approaching £19,000:

This leads many to make the observation that even if the cost of the church wedding was £600, this would be small beer when considered in the overall figures (I see the magazine sets the cost at £520)

The reality is that many of the couples I have met spend around two thousand pounds for the wedding and all that it involves and where I am, the last wedding we did saw the money for the service donated by members and the church did the catering whilst another got his Dad's vintage car and chauffeured the couple round town whilst we changed the building into a venue for the reception. Mind you, I did one a few years back where they had a crystal coach and a £5k reception in a package that (Mum proudly informed me) was going to cost about £20k! Sadly, the repayments will be going on for longer than the wedding as I understand they split last year :(

Clayboy makes for interesting reading on the subject of the fees issue.

I'd be grateful for any other links on the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011 and of the ways that this affects churches and how the diocesan money managers are going to implement this.

I hear horror stories of fees being paid directly to the diocese and the like but beyond the froth there seems to be little substance at the moment. In the text I actually see some good things (no funeral cost for those sixteen years and below and the opportunity to waive wedding fees in cases of pecuniary disadvantage - I like that term :) ).

So please, tell me the realities . . .


Church Fees - background reading

This piece was suggested by someone who left a comment as something of interest in the fees debate, so here it is:

Church sounds death knell for ‘ash cash’
Ruth Gledhill - The Times - 22Jan 2008

The Church of England is taking steps to ban “ash cash” payments to clergy for taking funerals at churches and crematoria.

Instead, the money will go direct to dioceses. The move will stamp out the “crematoria cowboys”, clergy who supplement meagre or non-existent incomes by conducting dozens of crematorium funerals at £96 a time.

At its meeting next month in Westminster, the General Synod will debate switching the “incumbent’s fee” for pastoral services to a fee payable direct to the diocesan board of finance.

The Church will also set fees for the first time for other services that have grown sharply in recent years, such as memorial services and the “service of blessing” that often follows a civil marriage. Fees for funerals for children under the age of 16 are to be abolished, as are the £34 fees for the reading of wedding banns in church.

The proposals are set out in a report, Four Funerals and a Wedding, which takes its title from statistics showing that in 2005, Church of England ministers conducted 207,200 funerals and 57,200 weddings. The fees that clergy can charge for weddings and funerals are fixed by the Archbishops’ Council, the Church’s policy body. Every person in England is legally entitled to a wedding and funeral in the parish in which they live. Clergy can charge £120 for a weddding, £36 for a burial of remains, £51 for a funeral and £96 for a service at a crematorium.

In 2002, the most recent year for which full figures are available, fees raised more than £37 million for the Church. Of this, £14 million went towards paying stipends — about one twelfth of the total stipend bill of £180 million — and the remainder went to parishes. The new fees for “ministry”, as they will be styled, will be higher because they will contribute towards training for clergy as well as stipends.

More than nine in ten serving clergy donate their fees direct to their diocese. The few who keep them have the amount deducted from the following year’s stipend.

With declining clergy numbers, dioceses depend on retired clergy to keep pace with the number of funerals. Most dioceses have allowed retired clergy to keep a proportion, such as two thirds, of the fees.

The report says that there is evidence of “leakage” of fees that should be used to contribute to stipends. Most clergy set up good systems to manage the fees, but there have been cases of clergy getting into “financial difficulty” through failing to pass on the fees.

Tax inspectors are known to be unhappy about funeral directors who make cash payments direct to individual clergy, according to the report.

It says: “Tales abound, usually anecdotal and some certainly apocryphal, about ministers who operate outside the system and allegedly make a fortune as freelance purveyors of funeral and other services while apparently ministering under the auspices of the Church of England.”

Retired and non-stipendiary clergy will, under the new rules, be able to apply for a “retainer” based on how many funerals and weddings they conduct: a priest who carried out 71 to 80 a year could be granted a stipend of £5,500. Up to ten weddings and funerals would net a mere £600. The report says these services represent “some of the Church of England’s main opportunities for pastoral mission.”

The Ven Norman Russell, Archdeacon of Berkshire and the prolocuter of the Synod’s House of Clergy for Canterbury province, said that some would see the moves as a further step in breaking down the concept of clergy freehold, where the incumbent priest “owns” the benefice.

There would be concerns that the parish priest would be cut out of the process and the pastoral needs of families overlooked were undertakers dealing directly with dioceses, he said, adding: “Most retired clergy behave responsibly. It could be that there is the occasional person — what is known as a crematorium cowboy — who might have his wings clipped by this.”

— “They’ve got a nerve,” said the Rev Chris Horseman when The Times told him that funeral fees would be paid direct to dioceses.

Mr Horseman, who conducts 250 funerals a year, recently set up Rent-a-Rev, a business specialising in funeral and wedding services.

This month he resigned his licence to minister as a priest in the Church after he was told he was in breach of Canon Law for services that did not conform with church liturgy. He said the new rules would not affect him. “The Church does not have the right to dictate who should be paid for a funeral,” he said.

The 'Bill and Ted' Collect

There are a few collects that stick in my mind for a number of reasons. Some because of the poetry, others because of their succinct assessment or proclamation, some because of the association ie. Time Lords - "both our hearts" and 'Bill and Ted':

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ's sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

That 'most excellent' gift of love, the Holy Spirit and the reality that without love, we have nothing. God's love, as shown by Christ and the Cross. The love which enables us and binds us together.

May love be our hope, enabler and guide this day and always and may we live within it and share it with others.


Monday 4 July 2011

The "I'm Ordained Conundrum"

Picking up on a point RevSimmy made on a previous post.

When I was first ordained I went off in the morning to morning prayer (that's how I knew it wasn't evening!) and from there did a school assembly and some hospital visiting. I then had some lunch (in town with the wife) and then went off to do some home visits. I finally got back and went into my study concerned that I hadn't done anything and needed to get some work done. Mrs. Vicarage came into the study and informed me that I'd been working all day because that was what I was supposed to do!

My problem was that what I'd done as a matter of course as a non-ordained person was now what I was supposed to do as one who received a stipend. This made me realise how very privileged I was to be able to do what I would have done anyway as part of my daily working life.

One of the things I ask people seeking ordination is the question, "What will ordination allow you to do that you cannot do now?" The answers are amazingly diverse (won't go into them now) but one of them that rings my bells is the one that says, "Engage pastorally at times when I might not otherwise be able to in a role which draws others to me." (I liked the person who said that!)