Clergy ways

28 December 2007

Christmas break

I have always found the Christmas period among the most tiring in the year - not the busiest compared with Holy Week and Easter or other peak times - but certainly the most people intensive and exhausting.

The family have rather given up on my participation in Christmas Day since I fell asleep during the opening of the presents last year!

This year, with a brief nap in the afternoon, I made it through until 8.30pm and then went to bed and managed 13 hours of sleep which is something of record for some-one who functions on 6 or 7 hours a night normally.

I can only compare the feeling with jet-lag - I guess the adrenaline just keeps flowing and then suddenly stops - and then there is the sense of loosing track of what day of the week it is, and normal patterns of everyday life go into suspension.

After tidying up various work things and clearing the desk on Boxing Day, I am now on holiday for just over a week - and have spent yesterday working on my guitars, changing strings, completing a custom job on a Squier 51, fixing faults and having a general clean-up of the guitar parts while listening to a selection of music. All very relaxing and helpful in switching off.

I am amazed at the people who have managed extensive blogs over Christmas Day and Boxing Day - where do they find the time and energy?

16 December 2007

New role in 2008

The good people of Christ Church Oakworth and St John's Newsholme heard the news at their Eucharists this morning that I am moving in 2008 - and this post is the blogging equivalent ahead of the formal press announcements tomorrow.

From June 1st 2008 I am moving to be "Chaplain to the Scottish Ports" working with Mission to Seafarers and The Scottish Episcopal Church alongside ecumenical and inter-faith partners.

For the equivalent of two days each week I shall be based at Grangemouth, working with other colleagues in the port - giving a rooted-ness to a role that will range across mainland Scotland and The Isles for the rest of the time.

Mission to Seafarers is an international missionary society of the Anglican Communion and you can read of its work here and I will be working closely with the The Scottish Episcopal Church and David Chillingworth (Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld, and Dunblane) who will be known to many south of the border through his blog Thinking Aloud. and chairs the Society's Scottish Council.

For the family this will plainly be a big change from Pennine Yorkshire, and we hope to be living in the Linlithgow area and there is much excitement in the household as we are finally allowed to tell friends and colleagues. Having grown to love so many parts of Scotland over the past 30 years on our main annual holidays we are looking forward to being Scottish residents.

For my wider commitments and priestly ministry there are also some implications which it would be as well to spell out at this stage (if only perhaps to head off any uncertainties) - and save a considerable amount of individual communication at a hectic time of the year.

I have decided, after in some cases nearly 20 years of involvement across Lancashire/Yorkshire (with only two exceptions who I have already spoken to), that I will end all my existing commitments south of the border by Easter 2008. How this happens will depend, but with the clear completion target of Easter. So pleased be willing to talk this through with me in the New Year.

I will be also ceasing my other charity consultancy and trusteeships. I may well pick their Scottish equivalents where they exist and as seems appropriate, but I am also being pressed to allow more time for music and writing.

Of course personal friendships and professional and artistic links will continue.

Your prayers would be much appreciated for all involved.

15 December 2007

Primary Agency and The Trinity - a missional model

I have not had the time recently to continue with an extended write-up of the pastoral experience of primary agency as a missional model of The Trinity, so it has been interesting recently to hear myself and the idea being quoted in a three settings.

The initial motivation came from a desire to get The Trinity down from the dusty shelves of "serious theology" or "difficult topic" or something we look at on the Sunday after Pentecost - and would you believe Church of England incumbents least favourite sermon topic. As Michael said to be at a set of traffic lights on the outskirts of Leeds " this is our God why we don't live it"

This is an idea that seems to be developing legs.

In keeping with the times the most recent example came from a quiet day via a pod-cast, and I would want to make clear that this is not intended as a corrective of what I am quoted as saying - more an update on the thinking.

Some preliminary points (a health warning perhaps) need to be made first:

1. This is provisional pastoral theology - I am not claiming the ability or need to write or comment on formal doctrines of The Trinity - such work and writing informs what I write and it is valuable but I do not wish to engage in a dialogue at that level.

2. Clearly what I write is influenced by notions of "The Social Trinity" - but I have also read some of the criticism of the model and would accept some of them - particular for those adherents who claim elements of exclusivity for the concept. I see "The Social Trinity" as a pastorally helpful aid rather than the "definitive way forward" for doctrinal discussions.

3. The focus and purpose is experiential and pastoral - I recognise that the inherent danger in such approach is that people believe that we can only write about or believe in what we can experience. So be clear where I stand ( see 4.) and then accept that in terms of pastoral support and spiritual direction it is entirely appropriate to focus on how an individual and Christians collective have and continue to experience God who is Trinity.

4. I wholly hold to the orthodox faith on The Trinity - God being God etc. The Doctrine of the Trinity is the Faith and the Truth it is not dependent upon what we in this age experience about God. With filioque exceptions this is the Catholic faith which I wholly accept and believe.

5. Primary agency does not suggest an exclusive relationship  - so there is no suggestion for example that the Spirit has an exclusive relationship with the world in the model below.

The model of primary agency suggests that in the history of the Church there have have been particular ( but not exclusive) attributes to Christians' relationship with the three persons of the Trinity.

In line with Social Trinity thought, the emphasis on "personhood" is not to anthropomorphise the 'divine' or emphasise the difference or distinct nature of the persons - personhood emphasises that it is possible to have a relationship with The Trinity.

Firstly I suggest that The Father is the main focus for the relationship of the individual - for human beings to have a fruitful Christian faith there needs to be living and vibrant relationship as an individual with the Father. This is the fundamental element of the faith relationship - in fact most theistic people have it inherent in their being. The words commonly used are "being" and "sense". In spiritual direction work it can be a profitable starting point for people seeking faith, and also a point of renewal for those fearful of loosing their faith. The Gospel accounts illustrate how fundamental this relationship is for Jesus. When worship goes "stale" for people I frequently found they have lost ( or never found) this relationship within worship. A simple acid test is to ask people who they think they are addressing when liturgy uses the word "Lord" - it is intriguing especially among faith loosing evangelicals how often they are focus on Jesus are Lord ( certainly sound but not the liturgical point). It is the Father who offers the truest understanding of the creedal word "Holy"

Then I suggest that Jesus is the main focus for the relationship of the Church - Jesus founded and commissioned the Church - and the relationship with Jesus remains the touch-stone for the life and work of the Church. This raises particular issues for Pentecostal-charismatic churches (whose focus tends to be on the Spirit) and for high Anglican churches (whose focus tends to be on numonous Father) but also interestingly for some reformed evangelical churches ( whose focus on an anthropomorphised Jesus which tends to be heavily filtered by Paul, rather than on the Gospel accounts) The key experiential words here are "example" ( hopefully at a little more sophisticated way than the cliche WWJD) and "knowledge". Jesus is the focus for our understanding of the sacraments, for the orders of the Church, and sadly often the divisions within The Church. It is Jesus who offers us the true sense of the creedal word "Catholic.

Then I suggest that The Holy Spirit is the main focus for the relationship with the World. It is the Spirit of God which since the creation of the world is the active and dynamic agent of love which is at work in all human beings, in the structures of society, and the whole of creation. This is a challenge to all those of many traditions within the Church who engage in the "ecclesiastical captivity of the Spirit" ie claim that the Spirit is most or only present within the Church or where Christians are present in the world. So for example I have realised recently that there are two forms of " prayer walking" - there is a form which believes that God is already present where we walk and we are by our prayers being salt to that presence : by contrast there is a second form which, implicitly or even unintentionally, believes that the act of praying takes God into that place or situation. The experiential words here are: "agent", "experience" and "instinct". It is the Spirit which offers us the true sense of the creedal word " Apostolic".

Can I emphasise that this is in a very potted form (those who have heard me speak about it will perhaps say very potted)

I found the model useful:

in spiritual direction, where in particular it enables people to identify where there most favoured relationship resides (and has that gone stale for example), it enables people to identify which person of the Trinity they least relate to or struggle with which can provide an interesting way forward through spiritual exercises to build or renew that relationship - and crucially it offers a way of assessing the Trinitarian health/balance of their Church.

in understanding where other Christians are coming from - what lies behind their commitment, their fears, their passions, and not least their prejudices and intolerance.

in understanding my own Christian tradition and other traditions  for example how has Anglo-Catholicism lost its "founding" missional edge and become a club for the like-minded refugee from other missional trends within the Church?

in understanding the dynamics, weaknesses and strengths of particular churches - it may suggest that Anglo-Catholics favour the Father, middle of the road and evangelicals favour Jesus, and Charismatic/Pentecostals favour the Holy Spirit. Perhaps renewal in each tradition comes from a focus on another person.

in understanding how clerical leadership relates to those churches - do they favour one person while the dynamic of their church or particular congregations favour another?

and in the wider trends within the Church - for example in understanding the growth of gathered mega-churches as the last call of the modern age - but that as they say is whole other subject!

Can I emphasise that this is a missional model (not a doctrinal statement) - it is provisional ( and as yet very little tested by others) and I welcome responses by email or comment.

Some of the comments and illustrations have been taken from other contexts where there was the space and time to develop and critique them.

. . .  and yes I know there is a book here!

PS. I have experienced some posting problems which mean that initial post did not appear on this blog - but may have appeared on RSS feeds. This is current version.

14 December 2007

Beginnings and Endings

Beginnings and Endings (and What Happens in Between): Daily Bible Readings from Advent to Epiphany

I've been loving Maggi Dawn's Beginnings and Endings (Daily Readings through Advent to Epiphany) - lots to chew on and reflect upon - there are several local clusters of people also travelling with me and I know they are appreciating the book - as are many people in blogosphere

Bishop Alan and here and here and for sheer parochial volume here

One comment that I have heard in the early days is that readers were surprised that the commentary was not more "religious". Hopefully the reflection for 12th "Eat Drink and Sleep" will have addressed that concern.

A second comment is the element of guilt that can be around about "missing a day" - or even worse the "set time" : get real folks!

its a busy time of the year -

the time of the year when people oversleep

the time of the year when some days are just one thing after another -

the time of the year when normal schedules are thrown all a kilter.

please be gentle on yourselves

read and reflect when you can - perhaps two days in one go - simply let a "day" go by or perhaps keep a note of missed days that you can return to

and best of all re-read pages bottom of 14 and 15 about "Auntie Margaret and gifts and times"

I have been reading it flexitime as part of my Evening office which can be anytime between 3.00pm and 1am - I wouldn't recommend the latter but it was on 12th December and the point was taken!

Incidentally Maggi I feel sure that you are well on the way to being everything you admire about Auntie Margaret - this book alone will become a gift that people love - albeit some of them may need to relax about the schedule!

If you are reading this and have no idea of the book and what I am writing about then see this link, or this link if you prefer to support a Christian supplier, and buy it for next year.

The primary agency of The Trinity - a missional model

I have not had the time recently to continue with an extended write-up of the pastoral experience of primary agency as a missional model of The Trinity, so it has been interesting recently to hear myself and the idea being quoted in a three settings.

This is an idea that seems to be developing legs.

In keeping with the times the most recent example came from a quiet day via a pod-cast, and I would want to make clear that this is not intended as a corrective of what I am quoted as saying - more an update on the thinking.

Some preliminary points (a health warning perhaps) need to be made first:

1. This is provisional pastoral theology - I am not claiming the ability or need to write or comment on formal doctrines of The Trinity - such work and writing informs what I write and it is valuable but I do not wish to engage in a dialogue at that level.

2. Clearly what I write is influenced by notions of "The Social Trinity" - but I have also read some of the criticism of the model and would accept some of them - particular for those adherents who claim elements of exclusivity for the concept. I see "The Social Trinity" as a pastorally helpful aid rather than the "definitive way forward" for doctrinal discussions.

3. The focus and purpose is experiential and pastoral - I recognise that the inherent danger in such approach is that people believe that we can only write about or believe in what we can experience. So be clear where I stand ( see 4.) and then accept that in terms of pastoral support and spiritual direction it is entirely appropriate to focus on how an individual and Christians collective have and continue to experience God who is Trinity.

4. I wholly hold to the orthodox faith on The Trinity - God being God etc. The Doctrine of the Trinity is the Faith and the Truth it is not dependent upon what we in this age experience about God. With filioque exceptions this is the Catholic faith which I wholly accept and believe.

5. Primary agency does not suggest an exclusive relationship  - so there is no suggestion for example that the Spirit has an exclusive relationship with the world in the model below.

The model of primary agency suggests that in the history of the Church there have have been particular ( but not exclusive) attributes to Christians' relationship with the three persons of the Trinity.

In line with Social Trinity thought, the emphasis on "personhood" is not to anthropomorphise the 'divine' or emphasise the difference or distinct nature of the persons - personhood emphasises that it is possible to have a relationship with The Trinity.

Firstly I suggest that The Father is the main focus for the relationship of the individual - for human beings to have a fruitful Christian faith there needs to be living and vibrant relationship as an individual with the Father. This is the fundamental element of the faith relationship - in fact most theistic people have it inherent in their being. The words commonly used are "being" and "sense". In spiritual direction work it can be a profitable starting point for people seeking faith, and also a point of renewal for those fearful of loosing their faith. The Gospel accounts illustrate how fundamental this relationship is for Jesus. When worship goes "stale" for people I frequently found they have lost ( or never found) this relationship within worship. A simple acid test is to ask people who they think they are addressing when liturgy uses the word "Lord" - it is intriguing especially among faith loosing evangelicals how often they are focus on Jesus are Lord ( certainly sound but not the liturgical point). It is the Father who offers the truest understanding of the creedal word "Holy"

Then I suggest that Jesus is the main focus for the relationship of the Church - Jesus founded and commissioned the Church - and the relationship with Jesus remains the touch-stone for the life and work of the Church. This raises particular issues for Pentecostal-charismatic churches (whose focus tends to be on the Spirit) and for high Anglican churches (whose focus tends to be on numonous Father) but also interestingly for some reformed evangelical churches ( whose focus on an anthropomorphised Jesus which tends to be heavily filtered by Paul, rather than on the Gospel accounts) The key experiential words here are "example" ( hopefully at a little more sophisticated way than the cliche WWJD) and "knowledge". Jesus is the focus for our understanding of the sacraments, for the orders of the Church, and sadly often the divisions within The Church. It is Jesus who offers us the true sense of the creedal word "Catholic.

Then I suggest that The Holy Spirit is the main focus for the relationship with the World. It is the Spirit of God which since the creation of the world is the active and dynamic agent of love which is at work in all human beings, in the structures of society, and the whole of creation. This is a challenge to all those of many traditions within the Church who engage in the "ecclesiastical captivity of the Spirit" ie claim that the Spirit is most or only present within the Church or where Christians are present in the world. So for example I have realised recently that there are two forms of " prayer walking" - there is a form which believes that God is already present where we walk and we are by our prayers being salt to that presence : by contrast there is a second form which, implicitly or even unintentionally, believes that the act of praying takes God into that place or situation. The experiential words here are: "agent", "experience" and "instinct". It is the Spirit which offers us the true sense of the creedal word " Apostolic".

Can I emphasise that this is in a very potted form (those who have heard me speak about it will perhaps say very potted)

I found the model useful:

in spiritual direction, where in particular it enables people to identify where there most favoured relationship resides (and has that gone stale for example), it enables people to identify which person of the Trinity they least relate to or struggle with which can provide an interesting way forward through spiritual exercises to build or renew that relationship - and crucially it offers a way of assessing the Trinitarian health/balance of their Church.

in understanding where other Christians are coming from - what lies behind their commitment, their fears, their passions, and not least their prejudices and intolerance.

in understanding my own Christian tradition and other traditions  for example how has Anglo-Catholicism lost its "founding" missional edge and become a club for the like-minded refugee from other missional trends within the Church?

in understanding the dynamics, weaknesses and strengths of particular churches - it may suggest that Anglo-Catholics favour the Father, middle of the road and evangelicals favour Jesus, and Charismatic/Pentecostals favour the Holy Spirit. Perhaps renewal in each tradition comes from a focus on another person.

in understanding how clerical leadership relates to those churches - do they favour one person while the dynamic of their church or particular congregations favour another?

and in the wider trends within the Church - for example in understanding the growth of gathered mega-churches as the last call of the modern age - but that as they say is whole other subject!

Can I emphasise that this is a missional model (not a doctrinal statement) - it is provisional ( and as yet very little tested by others) and I welcome responses by email or comment.

Some of the comments and illustrations have been taken from other contexts where there was the space and time to develop and critique them.

. . .  and yes I know there is a book here!

06 December 2007

Bible Reading Fellowship and Clergy Mailings . . .

I really do wonder who makes decisions and "plans" clergy mailings in some organisations - for some of them are stunningly bad and poorly timed in a way which completely negates any inherent value, and leaves me wondering how such charities can afford to waste money in this way

The moral is very simple:

address it badly, organise it badly or time it badly

then it is likely to be ignored

So this morning I am working on the Crib service ( and have two other carol services, two Christmas morning Eucharists, and a midnight service to plan, together with sermons for Advent 2, 3, 4) and what arrives in the post from The Bible reading fellowship - a deeply annoying publicity shot for their resources.

Firstly it is one of those really irritating impersonal mail shots where they haven't even bothered to get their mailing list into a decent shape - there is no excuse in this day and age for addressing a letter to:

"Dear The Revd Allen"

and the topic of the mailing - yes you have guessed

their resources for Lent and Easter

Address it properly, and time to arrive in the New Year and it might have some impact - but what a waste of time and energy

- unless of course it is some subtle marketing strategy to so aggravate clergy that they take notice of the content

well if it was then it failed in this vicarage because the resources went straight in the shredder with three other items of junk mail.

27 November 2007

UK Emerging / Missional Church forum

cult.jpg

Paul Walker has launched  a new forum called RETHINKING CHURCH - it will be really good if this can develop into a forum for some serious exchange of practice matched with considered exchange of theological thinking about this topic in the UK - there are others around of value but none at the moment focused on what it means here in the UK.

Some may think that Web 2 developments have made these irrelevant - I think that the written from still have immense descriptive value.

Paul himself will act as moderator- so you can offer your experience and insights without fear of flaming from the ill-informed.

See here for details of how to join.

Hope to hear of your experience.

Great stuff Paul!

18 November 2007

Celibate gay clergy?

Jennette Rude ordained at Resurrection Lutheran Church

The Ordination of Jeanette Rude into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Chicago raises some interesting issues see the press write-up ( leaving aside the ever-present question of whether gay people should be Christians/ordained/ welcomed/excluded/stoned /treated as rapists etc - if you think this extreme read the comments below the article!)

1. The previous inhibition on her ordination was not that she was gay, but that as a single gay person she refused to take a vow of celibacy which a homo-sexual single ordinand would not be required to take.

2. This raises some interesting questions for the Church of England where even some of the most tolerant Bishops currently tie themselves in moral knots, if not all quite so publicly as The Bishop of Hereford.

3. Wayne Miller The Bishop has remained within national boundaries by not attending but it then seems he "knew" of the ordination - which might raise new questions when the new rules arrive in 2009 - in this instance it seems that conscience has over-ruled oath ( I note that in a morally neutral way) - perhaps an advantage of Lutheran ordinations not available to Anglican Bishops who kind of need to be present!

4. Jeanette seems to been allowed a conscience clause of her own - whereby the rules are changed/ignored/flexed because of the 'discriminatory' policies of the Church

5. Perhaps they are after all in the kind of legal/moral/theological/social tangle which the Church of England specializes in - she will be an official ordained minister - but not actually on the payroll if you get my meaning - so that is OK?

Intriguing . . .

17 November 2007

Willow Creek and their new leaf?

Had an interesting email today from a curate (assistant pastor!) at a UK Willow Creek influenced Anglican Church who offered me some thoughts on what would be prophetic signs of Willow Creek really changing.

Despite some pleading on my part he would not place these thoughts on the comments, because it would then be on record which he was not willing to do - kind of prophetic in itself about leadership at his Church.

So  his thoughts were that you would really be able to tell they were changing when;

1 WC launched a new programme without saying how much it cost

2. Described an event or conference without mentioning how many were there in the first sentence

3. They credited some-one outside their denomination with alerting them to the proposed changes - apparently friends of WC have been pointing this out for years.

Now there might just be some wisdom amid the curate's cynicism.

Time for your "own" Church I think - a good "middle of the road" Anglican parish would be ideal - or maybe not?

16 November 2007

Glad to be gay and the Church of England?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has made public its submission to The Church of England's Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality which is the formal working party charged with reviewing the churches teaching on human sexuality - focused inevitably on attitudes to LGB people.

In its conclusion it (in effect) calls on the Church of England to honour the element of The Windsor Report which committed the Church to welcoming gay and lesbian people within congregations and invites it to go a step further in extending such values to Church leaders.

In conclusion the evidence would suggest that there is no scientific
or rational reason for treating LGB people any differently to their
heterosexual counterparts.  People are happiest and are likely to
reach their potential when they are able to integrate the various
aspects of the self as fully as possible19.  Socially inclusive, non-
judgemental attitudes to LGB people who attend places of worship
or who are religious leaders themselves will have positive
consequences for LGB people as well as for the wider society in
which they live.   

Read the full report here

07 November 2007

Remembrance Assemblies

A bright red poppy in a field.

Two very different "assemblies" today on the Remembrance Day theme:

1. The first at primary level we explored how we use flowers to express what we feel - a very high proportion spotted that a bright daisy was not the correct flower for this weekend - but fewer knew why poppies had been chosen - but lots of wonderful suggestions about who and why they have given flowers - ending with one lucky teacher getting a bunch of flowers from a pupil to say "thank you for being my teacher".

I set them the challenge of having a peaceful Remembrance Day - no falling out with mum and dad or siblings - or at least making up as soon as possible if they did.

2. A mixed six-form/college group was predictably much more sophisticated - knew most of the factual information but with an altogether more cynical approach - done that got the tea- shirt kind of thing.

Two things broke through the "whatever coolness" of these young adults:

1. Looking at the history of "why" the two world wars happened - the utter pettiness of the First World War causes - and why did a whole nation get caught up by Hitler - could we be similarly caught in England etc etc.

2. I invited them to imagine that they were going "over the top at lunchtime" - what would they write to their parents saying ( just in case they were killed)- the response was quite amazing with one lad in tears as he read his out loud - then I offered them an envelope to take it home and give to their parents anyway. There was a strong element of confession ( sorry for being stroppy etc) in some of the letters - while others simply spoke of their love - just wonderful. I personally was very moved by the ability of some of the lads to engage with the exercise and with their emotions.

I hope that there will be more peace in our local communities on Sunday, as well as an important time of remembering and giving thanks.

30 October 2007

Clergy mailings and surveys

Been honing some thoughts while travelling yesterday for a workshop on "communicating with clergy" .

I happen to think that "partnerships" with other agencies (of other faiths or none) is one sign of the 'missional Church' and the coming of the Kingdom.

But many staff in voluntary agencies find communicating with clergy so frustrating - often with the implication that clergy are unprofessional.

Hence the workshop - " how do you communicate with clergy" - with an acknowledgement that we are a strange and profoundly individual calling.

One key aspect of this is mailings, surveys and personal donor relationships

Some of the ideas relate to national charities etc as well and I have listed them below from my notes:

1. Requests - look carefully at what is being requested and reply briefly and without "jargon"

I recently asked for some information and received by email a huge collection of information including 24 sides of closely typed A4.

I only know that it is 24 sides cos I have just counted it for this "post" - I certainly haven't read it, and it will probably reside in my pending tray until - well I will probably use it as an example of what NOT to communicate with clergy at the workshop

If you can't summarise your work in a side or two of A4 I would suggest that you do not actually know what you are doing.

2. Updates - keep them brief and specific - what do want to say this time! 

My favourite regular mailing is CMS Mission update - which arrives monthly an attractively presented single A4 double-sided sheet with three or four mission updates - and their excellent monthly Prayer lines.

Most months I read the first and use the second - while lots of other stuff sits in the pending tray.

 

A lovely quote by John Martin (CMS Head of Communications) launches this months Prayerlines:

Prayer is a great weapon, a rich treasure, a wealth that is never exhausted, an undisturbed refuge, a cause of tranquillity, the root of multitude of blessings, and their source.

St John the Chrysostom (the golden mouthed!)

You can download the latest CMS update here - actually it is not the " latest" as the web version is stuck in October while the November version is on my desk ( one up for pigeon post!)

3. Surveys - please do not send unsolicited surveys.

Over the past 12 months I have been bombarded with survey material - now it has to be said that they are my least favourite form of communication - but three or four survey requests a month has been getting a bit rich.

Lately I have learnt that Oakworth has a consumer profile which makes it ideal for most surveys "balance". The truth is it takes me too much time and the current craze for "congregational surveys" adds to the dilemma particular when it is about money etc.

If it is a legitimate request that I tend to email a refusal - but it staggering how often this is simply ignored.

Today I had a long letter from the Church of England's statistic unit about a survey which I had not "returned" - notwithstanding that I had already written to the Head of the Unit a month ago saying that I was not going to reply.

4. The phone - clergy don't sit at a desk waiting for it to ring

If you are going to "phone" - then try several times during the same day - you might be unlucky and hit a day when I am out all day - but they are rare and I have no sympathy for people who complain they tried ( once at 9am when I am rarely in) - and please please remember that each and every day is different. There is little routine to when clergy can answer the phone - and that applies to mobiles since we are often in situations where it is simply inappropriate ( nay discourteous) to answer a mobile.

5. Don't send bulky mailings which will not fit through letter box.

A real annoyance is when organizations which our Church "supports" decide that this sending me 30 unsolicited copies of their latest magazine for "circulation" and sends in a big parcel which will not fit through the letter box.

So it doesn't get delivered - and I end up with a card saying "we try again tomorrow or you can collect from ( somewhere 2 or 20 miles away)".

So don't assume - ask what are appropriate quantities. Remember that the really committed supporters are probably already getting their personal copy of the monthly magazine.

6. Mailing lists - do inefficient mailing lists mean inefficient charities?

Please keep mailing lists up-to-date - if you are asked to remove a name or change details please ensure that it is done. I personally stopped giving to one Christian charity that continued to send mailings to my predecessor five years after he had moved parish (I had told them four times)

Are there other things which clergy would add - your annoyances and ideas would be welcome?

27 October 2007

Are Christenings becoming substitute weddings?

image

One of the social phenomena which may be developing within Occasional Offices is that christenings can been seen to be a social substitute for weddings.

By this I mean that where the parents are unmarried the baptism is the first time that the two families and the couples friends get together for a formal right of passage and perhaps more significantly the christening of the child becomes a point of commitment for the couple not just as parents, but also intrinsically as a couple.

I conducted one baptism in my last parish where it was the first time that the grandmothers had met (very amicably I hastened to add), and more generally the social events which follow some baptisms and the number of guests seem to be growing in size and the attire perhaps mirroring wedding ceremonies of the past

Eric Clapton and his (now) wife Melia took this trend to its logical conclusion in 2002 when they invited guests to his daughter Julie Rose's baptism, and then sprung a surprise wedding ceremony in addition - all to avoid press attention.

29 September 2007

If Jesus were alive today?

This whimsical video is doing the rounds of Anglican blogs (HT Bishop Alan), and it is a simply classic example of the clash theological understanding of how God relates to the world.

Four thoughts follow:

If Jesus were alive today I could just imagine her approaching him too.

From the video it seems unlikely that she has found an Anglican "vicar" - from the pectoral cross and purplish shirt she has either found a Bishop or a minister of another denomination.

Notice there is no mention of the fact that the priest/minister is smoking - its the beer that makes her angry - though of course she is not really angry.

I am seriously tempted to send her my video of the hymn singing at the organic beer tent at Greenbelt. 

Of the links I have followed I loved this prayer:

Lord, grant that we may see Vivien’s distress as a by-product of her love for you rather than annoying, hubristic or beyond-the-bounds-of-reason-and-good-taste. And grant your fervent servant, Vivien, the peace of knowing that you, in your infinite wisdom and loving kindness, love her and have got everything under control. (And Lord, please do not smite me for wanting to give Vivien a drink.) Amen.

(HT Heather)

If you are interested in Vivien's theology, the good lady has a website - not quite worked out the 666 bus stuff yet? 

18 September 2007

Rowan Telegraph Interview

Had to chuckle. As ABC departs for the US in cloud of press coverage, I was re-reading the Telegraph article from the week before last which had led to all the " Defender of The Faith" headlines about the next British coronation.

What amused me was that there were two Telegraph journalist on the feature - is it normal to send two journalist or why was Rowan singled out for this special treatment - does the complexity of his interviews demand two minds to understand him and write it up.

See the details here

While at The Times Ruth Gledhill offers a "scoop" about Rowan's "secret" Eucharist with gay clergy - see here

12 September 2007

Swimming routine

I am getting back into a routine swimming (its hard work when I've missed days in the previous weeks), but then I realised that certain priests visit a better class of establishment for their exercise!

19 July 2007

A ministry will end 2

Wow amazed by the response - and here are some quick replies:

Sam at Elizaphanian offers some linked thoughts which have some interesting resonance's in terms of priestly roles which I am working on as part of my sabbatical and which I sketched in an earlier post here.

Revds J, M and DB thank you for your personal and trusting responses - I am not able to respond personally because of family commitments but can I commend to you and others in the South (West) the ministry of The Society of Martha and Mary who may be able to offer the kind of independent and confidential support that you need - see here

To Revds P, M, S, sadly I know of no equivalent in the Midlands or the North, ( ideas or suggestions please through comments) though many Diocese now have an independent counsellor role in their structures, most of whom guarantee confidentiality vis a vis Senior staff.

 If you don't trust that commitment to confidentiality (which tragically seems a common perception among too many clergy based on first-hand or direct second-hand experience) then The Samaritans do not just deal with people who are suicidal.

To the three clergy wives (and any other husbands or wives) then YES it surely is right to intervene and ask for help even if your beloved may reject the help or be pretty mad with you - BUT I think it would reduce the "threat" if it were not Senior staff or local colleagues.

You are not betraying trust if you act in your spouses interests and those of your family. There is something about the role which makes it very hard for us clergy to see the wood for the trees until they start falling down around us, and most Diocese don't seem to have the "support radar" to detect the real problems - not least cos it is easy for your beloved to appear confident and OK when around Diocesan folk. Actually I would even suggest that an increasing tendency to withdraw from non-parochial events etc is a warning sign.

Can I add that if you in anyway identify with the first post or the link contained within it - and are left wondering does this apply to me  - then NOW is the time to do something about it - talk it through with a spiritual director or some-one independent who has no vested interest in you continuing in your current role (and family, clergy colleagues and others, trusted parishioners all do in different ways).

Finally four thoughts which I consider vital and which you can do something about yourself and you don't need anyone else's agreement or consent:

1. Take your day off without fail and with no excuses - and if you in this situation then take time out of the parish each day - maybe just and hour but do it.

2. Friends etc outside the church structures are vitally important at this time - while they not understand immediately how such situations arise they do offer a sense of normality which is not often available from church related folk who have such expectations of their clergy.

3. Hobbies and outside interests are doorways to sanity and perspective - drive a steam train , sing in choir, go pot-holing doesn't matter which but get away and out of the situation which is causing the grief.

4. Burnout is creeps up on people, but the three things above will help you realise when things are gradually getting out of control.

Blessings and prayers to all

18 July 2007

A ministry will end . . .

In a way that I could never imagine in the past, I think that nothing upsets me more in present times than to hear that a priest is leaving the formal ordained ministry.

I spent sometime this morning with a friend of many years (one of the people who fostered my vocation in fact) hearing about the intolerable amount of grief that had become part of his role as a vicar of a parish, and which had led him to conclude that he ought to leave any priestly role.

Apart from his wife and one trusted member of his Diocesan senior staff team , I am the only person to know this decision at the moment (but he has approved this post), which leaves me both flattered and deeply saddened.

When we met this morning, it was clear to me that this was not a conversation about how he could be persuaded to change his mind, for the burden which he has carried has simply been too much.

In plain speaking at the heart of the issue is a matter of bullying - directly in the case of three specific lay individuals, and more general by a morass of unreasonable expectations.

In any other profession or role it would probably be identified as that, and at least some effort would be made to challenge the bullies.

So I sat this morning with a broken man, exhausted by the competing expectations of a diverse multi-benefice parish, and the failure (with the exception of the person mentioned above) of anyone in his Diocese to provide any kind of empathetic support or forward thinking guidance.

And so a priest of great gifts and spiritual insight (who remains a man of great faith and with a profound sense of God's love for him and all people) will move onto other things in the near future - to a role which I am sure will value him for who he is and what he has to offer.

It breaks my heart to see it happening, not just for him and his family, but also for the Church I love. There are particular circumstances for his wife which make the pain of a move and leaving even harder to cope with.

It makes me angry because it is happening too often in my limited experience - and it was suggested to me today that this is just the tip of the iceberg with more wanting to leave but unable to find another job or housing which is deeply worrying for the Church.

It feels to me that in a time of such change if proper support is not offered it may happen time and time again and there seems to be little good practice at the moment to prevent it happening.

Perhaps you would good enough to pray for others who face this situation and their families, and for those in senior staff team commissioned to offer the support.

If you are reading this and identify with it personally or know some-one who might be affected then this site might be helpful - it led directly to the decision above.

11 July 2007

The Pope and the real Church

The formal announcement has been made of the Roman Catholic Church position in relation to other Churches - in effect only the Roman Catholic Church is the "real Church".

No doubt many people will spend a considerable amount of time and words interpreting the ecumenical implications of this. Others have already suggested that this marks a considerable step back to a more conservative position.

I am inclined to several much more personal reflections:

1. Can I sum up the curial position by saying " well he would say that wouldn't he". I am not sure that I expected anything different when one views the inclinations of the current Pope and the place that the curial thinking is.

2. More important is what is happening at a local level. Here in England I experience a much more liberal view. In essence what I experience is that Roman Catholics view themselves in practice as "one part of The Church" - some may see themselves as being the "true" part of the Church but they do intrinsically recognise that there are other parts. So on a day-to-day basis lay Catholics regard me as a priest in exactly the same way they might there parish priest. In the context of closer relationships priests simply ignore curial rulings and niceties.

3. I would offer my personal experience as a priest - over the years my role/status with Catholic contexts has developed as follows:

not receiving at The  Public/Community Mass and not receiving at the Retreat Mass

receiving at the Retreat Mass

receiving at the Public Community Mass

Distributing at the Retreat Mass ( a Deacons role formally)

Assisting at the Retreat Mass

Preaching at a Public Community mass as an ecumenical guest

Preaching at a Public/Community Mass with no explanation and processing as a priest

Assisting as a Public/Community Mass

Concelebrating at the Retreat Mass

Hearing confessions during a Retreat

Presiding at The Mass on a retreat-day with three catholic priests and several lay Catholics present - they all recieved and regarded the celebration as "the full works".

4. So do the priests that are extending these invitations feel they are "pushing the boat out". The response from one that I spoke to this morning was that he did not see anything particular radical about it " its just a natural development which is accepted by me and mine on the journey of faith we are on together"

5. What is interesting is that my instinct is not to say where and when - because there is still the potential for causing problems for my Catholic priestly colleagues - a change of Bishop in particular can change the tone of a Diocese - and repercussions can develop years after the event.

6. This is a hallmark of real ecumenical relations between an Anglican-Catholic Priest (who would for example believe that there will be a Pope role within the united Church of Christ) and Roman Catholic priests. The differences between us are largely matters of institution or order, and the theological differences which do exist are (in a very Anglican sense) comfortably containable within a single Church. I recognised that this would not be true for all non-Catholics - but suggests that the boundaries are not denominational ones but theological ones.

7. So the above may possibly be "unusual" but it is "possible". The absolute key to developing such relationships is never ever pushing the boundaries of priestly colleagues, and accepting with complete grace the decisions which call for tighter/traditional boundaries. Friendship and mutual recognition must never be forced. Effective progressive movement has to emerge from a genuine invitation, rather than from any sense of obligation. Non-parochial settings ( retreats and teaching conferences are the most appropriate testing grounds for lay support and understanding. Most Bishops choose (very positively) to be deaf and blind to such developments.

Will the latest declaration from the Pope change the situation - we will see but I very much doubt it.

10 July 2007

Meetings - ugh?

I have been interested in Gordon Brown's determination to do away with sofa style Government, and return to more formal Cabinet Meetings.

As someone who instinctively regards formal meetings as perhaps the least attractive constituent of my formal role as the Vicar of a parish Church my sympathies are very much with Blair in that regard.

But I found these ideas about meetings really helpful with HT to Howard for making me think.

04 June 2007

Daily Prayer + Sabbatical Prayer

I have laid aside Common Worship Daily Prayer order for the duration of my sabbatical and moved back to my rather battered Taize Office Book "Praise in All our Days".

For people not familiar with the nature of Anglican priesthood the Daily Office has a dual integrity:

1. it is offered in a public Vicar type role (offered publicly, and often collectively with others, in the Church building and within the Church of England this practice is a requirement of the office of a Vicar or parish priest )

2. it is also offered as a personal commitment or discipline of being a priest - a reminder that as a priest we pray as would any other Christian, but also as part of the universal Church.

Changing the form of the office makes clear that for the time being it is the latter personal commitment which I am maintaining, while laying aside the public role as I have in all aspects of my ministry for the period of the sabbatical.   

For people not familiar with the life of The Taize Community see here

A flavour of the office can be read online here.

The more contemporary form of the office can be purchased as Prayer for Each Day (ISBN: 1579990290. GIA Publications, Decani Music)

I have been using the Community's short daily readings for evening prayer for the past six years so there is a familiarity with the single verse approach.

But using the Taize Office feels like returning to familiar territory since I used this order throughout my ordination training and for Evening Prayer until a couple of years ago.

One of the features which really strikes me is how confidently religious the language is - it makes no pretence at accessibility - you have to understand/explore the language for it to have meaning.

To this I am adding the Daily Meditation each morning.

(I have offered this extended explanation because of some interesting overnight emails - most of them make reference to this US site Taize Exposed which many worldwide Christians will find intriguing - I had not realised that Taize was controversial in this way in the US.)

09 May 2007

Ten propositions on being a minister

Kim Fabricius (what a cool name) Yankee-Welsh theologian, bard and writer has added ministers/priests to his list of ten propositions with the customary challenging insight.

I loved No 8 with its powerfully Jesus-like understanding of a traditional image beloved of sentimental Victorians and contemporary cosy Christians.

8. Ministers are shepherds – though many a member would prefer a pet lamb. As they call their flock to new pastures, and to experimental patterns and models of ministry, they are inevitably going to piss off some of the fat sheep. So ministers must expect to be butted. Another zoological metaphor: ministers should be horseflies, not butterflies – better to be swatted than mounted.

 

I remember (none too gently) reminding one parishioner who was suggesting that I should spend more time with the (real) flock and less with the "fringe" that Jesus image of the Shepherd was of some-one who would leave the 99 to search for the missing 100th.

03 April 2007

WH Vanstone

Paul Fromont writes about the influence of one my Anglican heroes WH Vanstone here, and there is a sad response in the comments.

Clearly from the comments he had a huge impact on the local parish which is not recorded in his books - or maybe he was that kind of modest Anglican priest who refused to record numbers and successes or even consistently under-estimated his significance in peoples lives.

One hates to think what he would have made of the Church of England's clumsy adoption of "mission action plans" and "clergy reviews" etc.

What Paul writes about the suburbs would also apply in much of the UK where I would venture to suggest that only eclectic non-parochially based evangelical mini-mega churches have had any real missional response in the post Christendom era.

19 March 2007

LLLL Lenten discipline

Several people have asked why no music reviews or recommendations recently - well its not laziness or business but Lenten discipline.

Although I am following Love Life Live Lent, I also decided to follow a more traditional giving-up discipline - so I have given up buying CDs for Lent  - hence no reviews.

Actually I wondered whether I had been covertly "cheating" by writing down the CDs I might have bought so I unintentionally created a list for later purchase - top of the list of temptation has been Arcade Fire's new CD - and the ease of purchase via the internet has made for a tough discipline

It will have to wait until after Easter.

10 March 2007

Love life live Lent

Today LLLL suggested that we should leave a pound coin in shopping trolley - and my attempt was a delightful failure.

Having done a mini-shop at Asda, I duly left the pound coin behind in the trolley only to be hailed by a Yorkshire granny who said I ought to more careful - and then she recognised me as The Vicar.

I explained that is was not clerical forgetfulness, and there was much laughter, and her husband promptly dipped in his pocket and gave me a five pound note to add to the Church collection.

No doubt he will add to his stories of the week in the pub tonight - oblivious that is generosity is now recorded on the www.