Faith journeys

24 January 2008

Sacramental theology and the Eucharist

A focus for conversations this week has been about the nature of the Eucharist - so I found this post  on what makes Eucharistic theology " high" particularly interesting.

It ends with this quote:

This is not to say that the Eucharist is not the “sacrament of sacraments”, only that it can never be considered in isolation, and that our theologies of Eucharistic presence do not establish our sacramental theologies as “high” or “low”.  Only a full-orbed understanding of the sacramental practices of the church presented in their wholeness and intimate inner-connection can give an adequate picture of what constitutes a truly high sacramental theology.

HT to Halden

11 January 2008

The Bishop of Rochester and the Church Times

Just as I decide again not to extend my subscription to the Church Times ( I signed up again on the cheap rate at Greenbelt) as there have been some truly awful editions in recent weeks and the design layout continues to be a sad example of failed trendiness, then what do they do but produce a good couples of issues.

Last weeks edition had some excellent articles and three genuinely perceptive book reviews, and this weeks addresses the Rochester problem with perception and sensitivity.

There is the good coverage of the responses from other bishops and local clergy, and the equally predictable support from Patrick Sukdeho (who as another 1st generation arrival from a convert family seems to have the same blinkers as the Bishop).

But there is an excellent perceptive editorial which raises important questions about what the Bishop failed to say or understand - at risk of breaching copyright I include it here( if CT want to object then I'll happily replace this with a link)

"The Bishop of Rochester is uniquely placed in the House of Bishops to speak about the experience of Christians as a beleaguered minority in a hostile society, though not by virtue of his see in southern England. His continuing interest in Pakistan has shown him how Christians there are becoming increasingly anxious about the growth of intolerant strains of Islam. As a global observer, he is inclined to take the “clash of cultures” view of the relationship between Islam and the West, and the treatment of Christians in the Indian subcontinent and parts of the Middle East contributes to this view.

There are several surprising aspects about his attempt, in a newspaper article, to place the British situation in this context. It is perhaps unfair to criticise him for what he did not say: Dr Nazir-Ali tends to need a larger canvas to develop his views. None the less, there were three elements missing from his article which might have tempered the glee with which his comments about no-go areas were seized on in some quarters. The first was any reference to moderate Islam. Muslim adherence ranges from secularism to extremism, with a large clump of moderates in the middle. What they lack is a rhetoric with which to express their religious views, especially while the influx of imams from overseas continues.

Second, in his concentration on religion, Dr Nazir-Ali plays down other, more important factors that contribute to segegration. Traditionally, the clustering of immigrants has been based on ethnicity rather than religion. It is possible that the desire to be near a place of worship, mosque, temple, or synagogue has had a growing influence, but language remains the deciding factor in inhibiting the spread of first-generation immigrants. If non-Muslims feel uncomfortable in certain areas (the Bishop does not specify who shares this feeling), it is far more to do with language and appearance than with religious beliefs.

This leads on to the third omission. Dr Nazir-Ali does not feel the need to temper his praise of “the nation’s laws, values, customs, and culture”. The successful assimilation of newcomers depends on the readiness of the host nation to accept individuals from alien cultures. It is, moreover, a gospel imperative. He cites black-majority churches and Eastern European Roman Catholics as the salvation of certain cities; yet they, too, have struggled against British prejudice. It is this that most prevents immigrant communities’ absorbing British laws, values, customs, and culture. And it is this that, in most instances, feeds a fear of certain neighbourhoods when the balance of the population leans too heavily in one direction.

A final surprise in the Bishop’s article is the depressed view of British Christianity he puts forward. Evangelicalism generally encourages an optimistic, confident outlook. If Dr Nazir-Ali looked more closely at many of the church-mosque initiatives begun after 9/11, he might regain his cheerfulness. Instead of attempting to emulate John the Baptist, he might see that Britain was not yet a wilderness."

I think the penultimate paragraph is particularly telling. The existence of the black-led churches remains a telling commentary of the failure of British Christians to welcome their fellow Anglicans, Methodists and other denominations as they arrived from the Caribbean - and similar issues are already arising with RC arrivals from Eastern Europe.

The point being that the seperation is not religious - it is cultural whether expressed as rejection by the host communities or the desire of new arrivals to retain their national and cultural identity (as it seems with some Polish RC communities).

The article highlights two particular dilemnas for me : how do we come to common understanding about what is distinctiveness about inter-faith relations here in the UK, and secondly more mundanely is the Church Times really worth its subscription?

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18 December 2007

Several great posts . . .

shallow.jpg

Jon Birch cartoon series of Asbo Jesus is always thought provoking, and today's produces that "ouch" response. Guess this is what is behind some the new direction at Willow Creek.

I always seem to identify with Rob Lord's thoughts at " A new and unending kind of life" as he writes on the missional agenda from within the formal Church - this post on Jesus as the centre point is a wonderful Advent reflection which challenged me to think what it is that I am "waiting" for during Advent.

Rob's brother Rick has written a thoughtful Advent series at his blog "World of your Making"

Pastor Rod writes very profoundly about issues of success and numbers here, and it is a profound challenge to those who would suggest simplistic "if only" formulaic approaches to missional orientation.

IX marks offers a challenging post from Michael Horton on whether the missional movement has already given into a modernist agenda - although written with evangelical churches in mind it raises wider questions. We need to hear more of Michael's writing and thoughts in the UK.

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

Tasteful Christmas MP3s

" Do you know any tasteful Christmas Music MP3 to replace the usual supermarket bland tat- but suitable for gentle background music?"

Well yes you might want to try this:

http://garritan.com/Xmas.html

With thanks to Garritan providers of some of the best orchestral samples around

 

 

THERE IS A DOWNLOAD SECTION BELOW THE FREE-PLAYER AND AN OFFER OF A FREE CD FOR USA READERS.

06 December 2007

Is changing your mind a sin?

" That's not what what you said when I asked you ** years ago"

I am beginning to wonder whether there isn't an undeclared sin (at least for clergy) within much of Church culture - its called " changing your mind"

Several situations occur:

  • sometimes I am asked for an opinion or decision on something which I regard as fairly inconsequential but realise that it is important for the person concerned - I won't have given the question much consideration so I give a quick response -
  • sometimes a problem is arises when the person asks the same question the following week/year /decade with the implicit hope that I might change my mind
  • too often with this kind of inconsequential decisions I can't remember what I said last time
  • sometimes something which has worked well in many other situations does not work at all in the current situation so it is time to do something different even if it is against my "principles"
  • sometimes I don't want to change my mind but find it hard to explain an instinctive decision which is sometimes based upon confidential pastoral information ( eg no it would not be good to ask so-and-so to that)
  • sometimes I just want to do something differently for a change
  • sometimes I am exploring different approaches to the same topic and want to trial a new approach
  • sometimes I have definitely changed my mind and that is a sign not of indecision or lacking principles but surely growing in faith.

nearly all these are seen as "changing your mind" with an implicit tone of censure.

Should Christians not be people who are encouraged to change our minds if we truly belief that our faith is a journey?

30 November 2007

St Andrew

Today in the Christian calendar is the Feast Day for St Andrew - patron Saint of Scotland - details here

Although most commentators suggest that we know very little about Andrew - the gospels nevertheless record the most important fact about him - he was so struck on meeting Jesus that rushed to get his brother - the rest as they say is history.

Paul Walker has a good reflection here on Andrew.

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

15 November 2007

"Do you love me?"

I think I have always assumed ( and probably therefore preached) that when in John 21 Jesus asks Peter " do you love me" three times he is issuing a challenge or a test ( counter balancing Peter's denial outside the High Priest's gate in John 18).

It is surely a missional question for it is followed by Jesus responding to Peter's affirmation by a commissioning statement ( feed my sheep etc)

But what would it say about the mutuality or reciprocity of the missional task if

  • Jesus asked the question because he needed to hear Peter affirm his love?
  • Jesus needed to know that his love for Peter was reciprocated?
  • Jesus remained unsure and a victim to "human" doubts that his work would continue following his departure?

14 November 2007

Feline mystery

Sgt Podge is collected by his owner

Feline posts are regular features of some blogs - but I have chosen to-date to stay off the topic thereby preserving the privacy of our two residents.

But this feline mystery is irresistible!

13 November 2007

Willow Creek and after thoughts

There has been much blog-speak in recent weeks about the "Cornelius" moment which has been experienced by Bill Hybels and The Willow Creek community see  summary write-up and here from Willow Creek themselves if you haven't a clue what I am writing about .

I have always admired their work while retaining some concerns about their model of Church and clearly many churches here in the UK have gained immense benefit from the model and fellowship.

I have been irritated by how some people have written up their new insight and change of heart in a "told you so" way.

I would want to welcome and endorse the changes that they are proposing for themselves and the thousands of churches around the world that have experienced renewal through their example and ministry.

One of the best reflective articles is by Diana Butler Bass see here.

One of the most exciting prospects is that this will open up new possibilities for co-operative ministry as Willow Creek learn new models of Church from other people, and that this public and brace admission removes one of the barriers and questions that other churches have held about Willow Creek.

What remains interesting ( and as a Brit challenging) is how they then respond to the new insight - they propose a multi-million dollar programme to share this " new insight" with other churches - I can't help wondering whether it might have been more appropriate to call a moratorium on spending and invite their partner churches to spend time listening to other churches who have experience of this kind of work?

Perhaps the "American business enterprise model" and its inherent weaknesses is the next Cornelius moment?

More important for my own Church is how we ensure that in the flurry of fresh expressions etc and obsession with attendance statistics, we do not neglect those who have faith and need opportunity and encouragement to deepen it further.

Are we Anglicans also in danger of focusing on members rather than disciples?

10 November 2007

Lord God Almighty Blog

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At last he's tumbled to how easy it is to communicate with humans through a blog with interesting posts see here

09 November 2007

Educational bureaucrats lose

Today I have read a really Good News story for Samuel (on the left) which I have been following on the Moot blog.

Read an introduction here which is Samuel's dad Jonathan ( on the right above)writing in The Daily Telegraph

and then the outcome here

At a personal level for the family it is a triumph - but it also highlights some real issues in our education system:

1. How come the Church's education system can get so caught up in these procedures - it reflects so badly especially on the local Diocese and the Board of Education that a Christian family with a clear commitment to the school has to resort to the secular law to gain justice.

2. It is really scary that even with all the parental resources available to Samuel's parents, (including Jonathan who is one of the Church's most experienced and informed lobbyists and journalists see) it is soooo hard to get through the systems, so hard to counter the superficial and ill-informed opinions of the experts who rule on things like wheelchair space and health and safety, and that such decisions such cloud personal relationships between schools and parents.

3. Why is it that the policy of "inclusion" works to exclude children like Samuel (who with good-will, good resources and support clearly can be included) while at the same time on other occasions determines that children who desperately need special provision (and have no real chance of being part of the mainstream) are denied special education provision.

4. Where are going with real education for children according to their abilities when it can take so long to get an agreed statement of needs in my LEA that a child is already into secondary education?

But today at least in these complex and important issues of justice in education it is time to celebrate . . .

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.

02 November 2007

Scripture Reason and Tradition

Well that's the priority sequence that clearly found favour at Imagine recently. If Tradition is such a real struggle - what does it mean in the contemporary Church?

But should missional Christians have such a hang-up about tradition - only if it is mistaken for a "traditionalism" which asserts a static view of the faith. Tradition by contrast is intrinsically dynamic and changing

To be a traditional Anglican is valid, exciting, and exhibits contemporary integrity. Tradition is the recognition that within faith communities there are underlying principles which distinguish that community whatever its setting or circumstance.

From the world of literature comes the helpful definition of tradition as being an accumulated body of experience and knowledge based on and passed down through practical and continuous usage.

That is why Anglican priests are commissioned to proclaim the faith afresh in each generation

Find further thoughts at this fetching presentation here

28 October 2007

Paragraphs please to Lambeth Palace Webmasters

I want to make a plea to the staff at Lambeth Palace who are responsible for the web layout on the online resources for Rowan Williams - or at least that some-one responsible discovers the advantages of 'clear space paragraphs'

At the moment I think we are gifted by God with an Archbishop in Rowan Williams who has much to say to the Church, and the intellectual credibility to speak to the world - but this is being diminished by poor resources.

The Swansea "Dawkins sermon" text is the latest material to receive sloppy layout thereby diminishing the impact of what was said see here: and a worked example of the first few paragraphs

This is how the web-site presents it:

"Thank you very much for the invitation and for the welcome, to be here at home again. And thank you all for sacrificing a precious Saturday afternoon for this.
I want to begin with an episode in Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘The Idiot’, where the central character Prince Mishkin says to a friend ‘Atheists always seem to be talking about something else’. And he goes on to illustrate what he means by telling a short series of anecdotes about different kinds of religious behaviour. Some of these episodes are about bad religion and some of them are about what you might call good religion. But the point that he’s making throughout this little series of stories is that there is something here which is not easily recognizable as the kind of thing that the argumentative atheist is talking about. Now I think that Prince Mishkin’s response is one that a great many of religious believers are likely to feel when they pick up the works of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or any of those prominent critics of religious faith in our own day. We may feel as we turn the pages that ‘this is not it’ whatever the religion is being attacked here it’s not actually what I believe in. And along with that instinctive response of not recognizing, there may also be a touch of, let’s say, resentment at somebody trying to tell us what we really mean. (Because as we all know there are few things more annoying than somebody else saying ‘I know what you mean’!) More seriously, that is one of those features of a certain kind of exercise of power which is itself open to moral challenge. When we go to another person or another community and say with confidence ‘I will tell you what your real agenda is’ the other person or community may very well say ‘This is simply a bid for control. You are telling me that my world is smaller than yours, that yours can contain and reduce mine’. And that’s not just an intellectual but a political question, in the widest sense."

Whereas it is much more intelligible when presented like this:

Thank you very much for the invitation and for the welcome, to be here at home again. And thank you all for sacrificing a precious Saturday afternoon for this.

I want to begin with an episode in Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘The Idiot’, where the central character Prince Mishkin says to a friend ‘Atheists always seem to be talking about something else’. And he goes on to illustrate what he means by telling a short series of anecdotes about different kinds of religious behaviour. Some of these episodes are about bad religion and some of them are about what you might call good religion. But the point that he’s making throughout this little series of stories is that there is something here which is not easily recognizable as the kind of thing that the argumentative atheist is talking about.

Now I think that Prince Mishkin’s response is one that a great many of religious believers are likely to feel when they pick up the works of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or any of those prominent critics of religious faith in our own day. We may feel as we turn the pages that ‘this is not it’ whatever the religion is being attacked here it’s not actually what I believe in. And along with that instinctive response of not recognizing, there may also be a touch of, let’s say, resentment at somebody trying to tell us what we really mean. (Because as we all know there are few things more annoying than somebody else saying ‘I know what you mean’!)

More seriously, that is one of those features of a certain kind of exercise of power which is itself open to moral challenge. When we go to another person or another community and say with confidence ‘I will tell you what your real agenda is’ the other person or community may very well say ‘This is simply a bid for control. You are telling me that my world is smaller than yours, that yours can contain and reduce mine’. And that’s not just an intellectual but a political question, in the widest sense.

In the latter example the paragraphs re-enforce the sense of the text, rather than having to do battle with the layout - re-reading and research are so much easier.

Is it too much to ask?

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.

26 October 2007

Rediscovering Reinhold Niebuhr

image

Reinhold Niebuhr was one of my theological heroes during my theological undergraduate years in the mid 1970s, but he has since seemingly drifted from the focus of liberal theological studies.

Now his "Christian realism" is making something of a comeback in missional theology here in the UK , so I was interested to read recently of a similar ascendency in the US.

Among the resources that I have traced over the past week is this excellent interactive material from the American Public Media network which features resources and recording about Niebuhr's life and contemporary influence by Krista Tippett in her "Speaking of Faith" web radio series.

While some would question the relevance of Niebuhr's thinking in post-Christendom Britain, if you can read beyond the implicit reservations which arise from him being a man of his time and place (which the photo graphically illustrates), then there is many an insight into the theology of public place which translates into our own contemporary context.

20 October 2007

Blog reading trends

So Google has urged me to get on with "reading a book" - but Google reader also records what blogs I read and who is the most frequent blogger on my reading list choice.

I have never maintained a " blogs I read" category because they change so often that I cannot keep them up-to-date.

So here is brief insight into my favourite blogs of the last 30 days:

What is my highest percentage of blogs which I received and then read

Well as a good Anglican priest I was amused to see that I read:

92% of David Chillingworth's Thinking Aloud

he is closely followed by another episcopal uber-blogger

91% for Bishop Alan's blog

and their blogs give insights into the work of Anglican bishops and the faith that we share

but they are "out-read" by a cartoonist, a curate, and specialist music blog which says something about my Anglican perspectives

95% of The Ongoing adventures of ASBO Jesus

clever how cartoons say much more than words

97% of Nigel Wright

good to know what he is up to in his curacy

but top of the heap

100% is a subscription-only music site called Massive Music

My most frequent posters - (average posts per day over the last 30 days)

5.9 items goes to the prolific Mad priest

3.4 Harmony Central the excellent US music equipment site

2.3 Elizaphanian which is Sam Norton's fascinating mix of dog walking photos (see below) parish life and theology from good old Essex

So follow the links and perhaps discover some new blogging gems.

 

18 October 2007

Leadership in the Church

Two Paul's have informed my priestly task during this past week.

I have had an interesting email correspondence from across the Pond with Paul an Episcopal priest  who had found a link to my blog and had rejoiced that there was another person living the dilemmas which come from being a mission priest in a traditional parish.

Its very emerging and missional to have this new relationship across the Internet and by the wonders of technology I was able to participate in one of his Home groups last night - its all done by computer with his parishioners who travel for work during the working week - so they were literally contributing from across the USA and the Far East

Nearer to home and in the same Diocese, Paul Walker and I met in real life on Monday at the HQ of the inherited Church (Bishop's House no less), and he writes a revealing post about the tensions of  leading across the boundaries of inherited and missional Church.

Where I seem to differ from some of the central Church of England thinking on the twin tracks of "inherited" and "fresh expressions" is that I don't believe that the former represents the past, and the latter the future. The missional perspective transcends such bleak separations.

I am sure that the Spirit is working in "inherited" patterns in such a way that not only will they "survive", but be  a resource for the future.

To give a very crude liturgical example I feel quite confident that there will be missional Christians in coming years who in their search for integrity and insight in worship will discover the joys of Book of Common Prayer evensong which has so enriched the Christian lives of countless generations across the world - BUT it will not be their core worship and there will be lots of other patterns and places happening as well. But BCP Evensong could be part of the liturgical repertoire which offers a meeting point for hugely varied sorts of Christians.

The distinctive insight which is emerging for me is that missional is a way of " being" rather than a way of "doing" - its about attitudes rather than rules - and it may be about doing considerably less "Church" in order to be more "faithful". Those who form the leadership of the missional Church will of course need many of the leadership skills with which we are familiar - but most of all it will be an attitudinal change that will be needed - that of recognizing and tolerating the quirks and insights of other people of different theological, faith and social backgrounds.

14 October 2007

Lambeth 2008

It seems an everyday occurrence that this Bishop or that Bishop is saying why they are not going to Lambeth - or more exactly why they are not going if "this Bishop or that Bishop" is either going or not going.

One wonders whether such people will demand to know from St Peter who he has already let in before deciding favour of heaven - and I guess they are in for a shock at his answer!

It makes a change to read a statement of intent from Alan Wilson the Bishop of Buckingham that he definitely will be going - (whoever else decides to go or not to go) and the coherent internally consistent reasons why he has made this decision.

Have a thoughtful and intelligent read here from one of growing band of Anglican episcopal bloggers.

10 October 2007

Transcendence @ York Minster

[St Cuthbert's Cross]I took the opportunity in Sunday evening to travel to York Minster where Visions the long standing Church 'for people who don't like Church' and York Minster have formed a partnership to offer


Transcendence
a monthly multi-visual Eucharist which unites the traditional with the future
and advertises itself as an "Anglo Catholic fresh expression of Church"

It is the brainchild as I understand it, of Sue Wallace of the Visions and Jeremy Fletcher Canon Precentor of the Minster 

Located in the East Crypt (a stunning location within an all together remarkable building which was made all the more evocative because of the late night and contrasting quietness of the building) I thought it a remarkably celebration of the Eucharist.

Unashamedly liturgical, based wholly on the Anglican Common Worship Eucharist it made no concessions to the newcomer or the curious visitor who might be unfamiliar with the words or format - but then any such participant could not have failed to have been drawn into the beauty of the music and visuals.

It succeeded precisely because it was uncluttered with superfluous introduction or explanation - the quality of the music and visuals and the familiarity of the majority of the congregation ensured that all who wished could readily participate.

The high point of the music was the contribution of 4 male voices from the Minster choir - whose supreme 4 part skill and effective use of the acoustics of the building translated well into the setting, making pre-recorded Gregorian chant beloved of alt worship groups seem thin. But the contemporary music and singing worked well too - "be thou my vision" sung congregationally to a dance beat etc.

Two fairly major hiccups need sorting for next time ( both alt worship classics which I have fallen foul of in other situations).

Firstly there was no indication at all outside the public face of the Minster as to how to get into the building - access was through a poorly lit door in the Minster car-park which hardly seemed like public space - two car loads of participants from Leeds never found the way in and returned home disgruntled.

Secondly the stretched but crinkled sheets used for display were fine for visuals but rendered words virtually unreadable. Neither were conducive to welcoming the newcomer and gave the hint of an "insider" feel - well anyone we would expect to come would know where the door is and what the words are.

While I am sure that the intention is for this to develop as a local initiative - its venue and ethos offers a wider significance.

Firstly the resources available from the two contributing churches ( the location and liturgical experience being matched by the superb technical expertise of Vision's resident DJs and VJ) mean that it could be an "exemplary event" which could stimulate other developments elsewhere.

Secondly The Anglo-Catholic end of the Church has been slow to respond to the cultural links which its rich tradition of ritual offer - too many Anglo-Catholics preferring to simply be snotty about alt worship groups adopting the likes of incense etc . . surely here is something which could inspire the A-C networks and places such as Walsingham to offer something which values the ritual but connects culturally with the young adult age group

Thirdly the location also says something about the value that "mainstream" Church represented by the Minister places upon new patterns of worship and Church - here is a Minster/Cathedral effectively performing one of it key roles to be a centre of excellence in worship.

So it was a delight - evocative and deeply worshipful . . . .

For those who might be interested the next Transcendence
is on the first Sunday 4th of November at 8pm.

07 October 2007

Don't mention the E (or F) word

Strange how hard it is sometimes to get 'slips of the tongue' out of one's head . . .

We are planning a short course for November on sharing faith with people we know - we deliberately haven't used the 'E'(vangelism) word, cos that tends to make people think that we on about something specialist and difficult.

In fact we are simply looking at ways to share our faith in natural and non-threatening ways - much like we might talk about England's win in the rugby or other things which excite us.

We are using the excellent J John's course materials called " Breaking News".

This morning before the Eucharist I was talking to my co-leader Emrys about a planning meet for the course and inadvertently referred to the course as " Breaking Wind" - which caused us to laugh, but has set me thinking.

Why is it that much of what we call "evangelism" has a similar effect as farting? Why is it something of a social embarrassment? Why can some people not help doing it even when it is completely inappropriate? Why does a room go quiet when you hear it . Which would be the most difficult in a room full of strangers?

better stop there . . .

06 October 2007

Remembering Burma today

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Today is the day when the world reminds the junta in Burma that all is not back to normal, and that with modern media and the net, millions of people around the world know what they have done and  demand a just and peaceful solution.

04 October 2007

"Through Christ and with Christ and in Christ"

Accept through him, our great high priest,
this our sacrifice of thanks and praise,
and as we eat and drink these holy gifts
in the presence of your divine majesty,
renew us by your Spirit,
inspire us with your love
and unite us in the body of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through him, and with him, and in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with all who stand before you in earth and heaven,
we worship you, Father almighty,
in songs of everlasting praise:
Blessing and honour and glory and power
be yours for ever and ever.
Amen.

( The ending of "Eucharistic Prayer A" in the Church of England's authorised Common Worship)

It is often said that Anglicans are formed in the faith by the experience and words of the liturgy - our liturgy is our doctrine - all that we do as Christians is centred on our worship.

(IMHO) Some of our more recent Church of England Eucharistic liturgies have blurred the power of the title phrase above by replacing "Christ" with the word "him"  (those who are interested in the minutia of Common Worship will know that the more powerful Saviour's name has been retained in Prayer E).

I love the way the language enables a President at the Eucharist to proclaim something of unique power.

But the real power ( the Christian secret) lies in the use of the preceding prepositions

through

with

in

for it is they which focus our attention on the loving activity of Jesus Christ through which a new relationship with God is made possible for all humanity.

It is these three words about Jesus which I am currently using as the basis for a vocational conversation.

The key transition in discerning any vocation is moving from the experience of Christ as an object of study or love or worship to the experience of  Jesus Christ as the "undeniable imperative" as we begin/continue to search for who God 'wants us to be'.

Put simply it is moving from "what we want from Jesus" to "what Jesus wants from us" - though it is of course a "both-and" and considerably more nuanced than that.

But when that vocational transition begins to arise then " through" and "with" and "in" begin to be "real" words for us.

Assembly follow-up

Yesterday at Oakworth School Assembly we explored " being nervous and feeling safe" - (it was Receptions first time into assembly with a great big giant dressed in black leaping around at the front so they had to look up ever-so high) and I used Steve Turner's poem Butterflies:

I've got butterflies in my stomach
and elephants in my head
my hearts turned into a kangaroo
Why can't they go to bed?

Lots of people said they liked poetry, and we talked a little about how poems can say things which are hard to express and make us feel better

This morning I had a hand drawn card through my door ( some-one was up early and thank you) which simply said:

The butterflies, elephants, and the kangeroo went to bed last night  - and I slept too ..... thank you Tom.

 One of the big surprises for Year 4 was that apparently teachers and Vicars get nervous too . . .

03 October 2007

Missional and gravity

Paul at Out of the Cocoon offers a good post based upon Rick Meigs, aka The Blind Beggar, but I would want to ask whether that is going far enough in our missional thinking.

It still focuses on re-orientating what the Church is doing, rather than  "asking what God is doing" - which might be quite different.

It seems to assume that where we apply our "money" is a good indicator of our values - whereas we may at this time be simply be spending our money where it is needed ( practically) and that the real scope for missional activity may not require money, but be about relationships and partnerships and the gift of time.

It implicitly seems to imply that Christians need "to be there" for anything Godly to be happening - I think the Spirit of God is at work everywhere.

So my questions are about a 24/7 faith;

what value does the missional Church place upon the everyday lives and witness of every member?

what value does The Church place upon what people do at work - would a Church be prepared to top-up some-ones salary in order that they could financially remain in post

what links does The Church does have into places of leisure and forums of creativity

The best question of all is:

Does your Church really know what people are doing at work - do you have an overview of the opportunities and places of influence not just to convert people and bring them but to share in the coming of the Kingdom through business and commerce?

The social capital of the faith groups is not just our ability " to go out there" but should be based far more on simply " being there"

Is it provocative to suggest that the early Church ( beyond the initial weeks of Pentecost and the specialist ministries of Paul and others) grew not because of people "going out" but because of people "staying in", that it grew because people continued to live with and among their non Christians neighbours?

This is an incarnational model of missional Church which affirms the world, and is focused on the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ.

Blogging angst?

There has been angst on Christian blogging about blogs not offering not offering "interactive conversations", and some well known bloggers have noted their dissatisfaction and need to move to Web 2 approaches.

I have indicated that this is mistake the "nature" of the medium - I blog to complement personal and email communication - and it offers an writing outlet to a much wider group of people who I would not otherwise be in contact with - or more creatively have the opportunity of reading their thoughts and experiences.

While I welcome comments, I have always made specifically clear that I do not regard my blog as an appropriate forum for conversation ( ie no spiritual direction on line), and quickly revert to personal meetings, the phone, email, or simply " sorry I can't help you" when that line is crossed.

I have had times when the response to particular posts has been so large that I have had to close email links since I do not have time to do justice/respond to the emails. My "comments - post ratio" is about 1-1 so I am not blogging to produce comments.

For similar reasons I never write about people/situations who do not have an opportunity to respond  personally (or given me permission to do so) - and actually get fairly nervous of some bloggers (clergy in particular) who blog about things which are personal and parochial which I think cross  that line.

In short blogging is a writer's media and its success or fruitfulness becomes apparent in personal links rather than on the blog itself. 

Maggi Dawn has offered an excellent post today which suggests that blogging has always been a writing media rather than a conversational media.

02 October 2007

The Spirit of God within

One of the continuing mysteries of being involved in spiritual direction is that people do not really believe that God loves them without condition.

The greater mystery is that it is the most gifted, talented and inspiring people who lack the self-confidence to believe that God loves them and works through them.

The Roman Catholic priest Honoriusz Kowalczyk was one of the martyrs of the Polish Solidarity revolution dying in a 'car accident' in 1983, but I regularly offer one of his poem/prayers to people:

the hope we carry with us
is within

the faith we offer life
is within

the love with which we conquer life
is within

the truth on which we found life
is within

the road we ever seek in life
is within

and what if
we should tear ourselves away and step
deeper within?

For introverts in particular this insight is a vital gift which confounds many traditional "external" expressions of finding faith - tears of joy trickled down G's face this afternoon as he read this poem.

Emerging - the UK-US gulf

Mark DriscollNothing illustrates the gulf between Christianity in the US and Christianity in the UK than the current bout of mud-slinging which seems to have broken out in the US over the emergent Church.

Perhaps we in the UK have a historical memory of what happens when Christians call other believers "heretic", while some in the US seem to have lost their historical memory as a nation founded on the search for Christian freedom and built on religious tolerance.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle (who I had a great deal of respect for) seems to be the latest leader to fall into the pit of concentrating on the "sins and weaknesses" of others see this summary at Emergent Village Weblog

01 October 2007

Blogging/emerging conversations?

Paul Walker at Out of the Cocoon asks some important questions about what sort of "conversation" is happening in the blogging world if people do not actively respond in " comments".

I am more optimistic than Paul - suggesting in his comments that it is the description that is at fault rather than the activity.

The conversation takes a different form ( perhaps more individual than we would normallyl prefer) but it is nevertheless a "conversation" because experiences, ideas and inspirations are shared in a way that would have been quite impossible pre-blogging.

So the process may not be the same as getting together for a chat, but the scope and power of the blogging conversation is much greater and more diverse.

For example just this evening I have read these two posts

First read Nigel Wright's experience as a man going to Church with his children here

Then read Ben Edson's experience as a man going to Church with his children here

Now there is a conversation point here - if they were in the same room chatting then they might get around to talking about these experiences - and that Ben's dilemma might be illuminated by Nigel's experience.

more importantly lots of other men and hopefully clergy have been offered new insights into how we exclude/exclude men from aspects of church life.

That I think is a blogging "conversation" and in wider context it is an "emerging" church conversation which uses contemporary media to share "experiences" - just as we might through email or text.

Church Gospel Church

Paul at soupablog reminded me today of one of the most influential things that I had heard/read about mission from Alan Roxburgh which he has transcribed from 2003 recordings as follows:

"But what is actually taking place, I want to suggest, is not a trialogue. It is a monologue.... that what is actually going on is ... that when we look at culture, most of what I read, people are asking 'church questions' of culture. They're not listening to culture. How do we take culture? How do we understand it so we can evangelize it? We objectify culture and the people of culture so that we can ask them church questions. In other words the church is the focus of our reading, our looking, our listening, our hearing. At the end of the day, we only ask culture questions because we want to get 'thems that are out there, in here,' whether we are evangelical or whatever we may be.

Look at what's going on. The biblical narratives are much more akin to Luke 10: sending out. Now don't misconstrue what I'm trying to frame here. I'm not saying that the church is unimportant; I am suggesting that we still have not shed a deeply ingrained Christendom imagination that continually places ecclesiological questions at the front end, and we wear ecclesiological lenses — in other words, we wear church lenses — to read most of what we're doing. And believe me (and challenge me on this) — if you're a pastor or a leader, that's what you're doing all of the time, folks. That's what's going on all of the time.

...The point, which I don't want to labor any more, is that we are fixated on the church side of this trialogue. And this actually, I want to suggest, is a barrier to our grasping what it means to become God's missional people. Our preoccupation and our focus on the church actually is a barrier to our hearing God in the biblical narratives and to hearing the culture for which Christ died; and actually this focus on the church that simply uses the culture is a deeply embedded gnosticism. Our preoccupation with the church betrays our continuing colonization to a Christendom imagination, which means that we are constantly being pushed to the question, "How do you make the church work?"

And maybe, maybe, the only place where we can hear God speak out of the gospel in culture is when we reach a place where we say, 'you know what — maybe we shouldn't be trying to make the church "work" anymore.'"

Alan Roxburgh 2003 "Prophetic Imagination"

At a recent clergy chapter David James ( Bishop of Bradford not England goalkeeper) made a related point that Christianity/ Church has become so all consuming for some Christians that they know no "culture" other than Church - it provides them with a complete package - friends, music, social life, entertainment, professional help etc.

For me the urgency of the missional agenda is encourage people who becomes Christians not to leave the culture but to use the Church as a resource to stay where they are. There is a horrible truth in the joke that "churches are too like Chinook helicopters - don't get too close or you will get caught up in the rotas".

I was very moved this afternoon at Imagine to hear the plea from one recovering Christian that there should be rule that an individual is allowed only one job in the local Church - we might do considerably less - but we would free people from a burden and release them to be themselves.

Similarly as we begin the conversations about reviewing our parish baptism policy ( as each parish in our Diocese is required to do by the end of the year) I have one fixed point - that we have the Christ-like generosity and imagination to start where people are, rather than where we would like or prefer them to be.

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? 

28 September 2007

The Church's Unfoundation

Not sure what to say about the whole Anglican Communion business - it makes we want to laugh and cry by turns.

I have been helped in the past fortnight by the coverage of the ECUSA discussions on various blogs - I now appreciate for the first time how divisive the issues within ECUSA itself.

This rewrite of the wonderful hymn "The Church's One Foundation" is doing the blog rounds - so I thought I would add to the circulation a little.

The Anglican Communion
Was mightily distressed
When bishops of ECUSA
Their heresies expressed,
And in Convention showed not
Repentance or regret,
But chose to walk their own path,
Firm in their own ways set.

Political correctness
And chic diversity –
These are our church's hallmarks,
And quite our cup of tea.
We follow where the winds blow,
We are the church of NOW.
We're new Episcopalians
And trendier than thou.

Our gospel is inclusive.
(The other one's passé.)
We welcome all the sexes,
Transgendered, lesbigay.
And though we're loudly preaching
Our relevant good news,
We are a tad perplexed by
So many empty pews.

"To God alone be glory" -
This used to be our song.
With Katharine Jefferts Schori
It likely won't be long
Before we change our story
And sing another tune -
Not Father, Son and Spirit,
But Mother, Child and Womb.

Our church has no foundation
And Christ is not her Lord.
She is our new creation
By our own mighty word.
The Bible's too oppressive,
And morals leave us bored.
Who then is our salvation?
It's our own selves - adored

The original words are here

Of course I disagree with the sentiment,  but can appreciate where the author is coming from - it reminds me conversely of the current joke about parents having four children so that they can be truly inclusive and have "one of each"

The real test of the coming months will be the extent to which real Anglican tolerance can be shown on both sides:

can the tolerant tolerate the intolerant?

can the intolerant tolerate the tolerant.?

both are being called to "act in faith" rather than from instinct or tradition.

27 September 2007

Searchers and travellers

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In my summer readings of John's Gospel, it was verses 9 and 10 of  Chapter 1 which came to inhabit my understanding of so much of my sabbatical experience.

The Message version of the Bible offers what I had always understood these verses to mean:

The Life-Light was the real thing:
      Every person entering Life
      he brings into Light.
   He was in the world,
      the world was there through him,
      and yet the world didn't even notice.

But the Good News version provides a different tone:

This was the real light - the light that comes into the world and shines on all mankind. The Word was in the world and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him  

The former seems to imply some criticism, while the latter seems to imply some future potential - one is world denying, while the other is world affirming as a place of potential.

I guess it is a missional instinct that forms me to see the possibility/potential for recognition in the people, places situations and art forms which speak unconsciously of The Word and the Creator.

Indeed I meet people outside the Church who seem to be asking the Christ-like spiritual questions in a way that Christians who have found "the answer" have long since forgotten.

I am delighted that the Scripture Union's  Wise Traveller network now has books available which will speak to people on this level - not as "convert or else" but as "carry on the journey or pilgrimage".

23 September 2007

Luke 16:1-13

I rarely write about sermons or post actual scripts - tending to the view that there are specific to a situation and rarely translate across the Internet to other people's situations.

But today's Gospel reading from Luke stimulated some irresistible questions about how we read and understand parables in the Gospels.

It made me realise that people still tend to take parables literally as morality tales (and so essentially about people and how we should behave) rather than stories which point to the love and purposes of God.

Howard Jameson at gatheringgrace has written well about the challenge of the parable of The Shrewd Steward as is it described in The Good News Bible.

So what does this tricky story,difficult context, and problematic exegetical diagnosis (- does it really fit here or do the succeeding verses more properly relate to the preceding Chapter) really offer us as a picture of the love and purposes of God.

Firstly the context is important - the passage begins with the vital clause that hints that this teaching addressed to the "disciples"

1. That God will offer forgiveness even when it is neither deserved nor expected - indicating perhaps something in favour of a "universalist" view of salvation - and in contrast with the attitude of the Prodigal Son - who "came to his senses" realised his guilt and returned in expectation of forgiveness

2. That the Masters peculiar praising of the stewards action seems to come from the stewards willingness to "forgive" the debtors.

This perhaps indicates that our forgiveness of others will always be incomplete, frequently founded on base motives, often seeking some "compensation" from those we forgive - but that ultimately our forgiveness however "corrupted" is valued by God.

Perhaps there is a link here with Desmond Tutu's perspective that if we can bring ourselves to forgive then we (as the forgiver) ultimately gain more than the forgiven in the divine scheme of things .

3. That God has offered us his gifts and has expectations are that we be good stewards of them - the key feature of this story being that the servant was "caught out" not using the given resources.

4. The value of a "fixed lectionary" within Church tradition - would a preacher willing choose this parable otherwise - or would we not succumb to "easier" parts of Holy Scripture?

If nothing else it ensures that many preachers will have worked hard in the past week - and preached today with a particular humility which says " I can only take a stab" at what this means - and invaluably says to congregations "you must arrive at your own conclusions". It reminds us that preaching is a matter of the "heart and soul" rather than of the "head or intellect" - though the latter are clearly important.

22 September 2007

Cartoons

I confess that I am not a great one for cartoons which really on words for their meaning but this one is great from Asbo Jesus.

20 September 2007

Are church-less Christians new?

Interesting Imagine discussion this afternoon about the classic question:

Do you have to go to Church to be a Christian?

After covering the usual ground on this topic we moved to a different but related consideration

Over the summer I have been interested and privileged to meet up with small groups of people who are searchers for faith - some of them consciously followers of Jesus - this is emerging church at its most organic and grass roots.

Some groups have sensed a need for some relationship with the formal church or a local minister/priest, others have a strong aversion to any relationship with the formal Church ( often post-church refugee in nature or as one person put it rather starkly " my names Paul and I am recovering evangelical") - while two ( both oddly the most obviously Churchy) had little sense of what a formal/real Church might mean.

Several questions ensued:

Are such bodies "Church" - when two or three are gathered etc etc

Is this a new church-less Church?

Are Church-less Christians new?

How common are such groups - or have the small number that have made contact via BBA all made contact

What are the connections say with the grass-roots Church movements of South America?

How do they start up - are their any common patterns - are they replicable as a missional strategy?

19 September 2007

Reading discipline 3

For the first time in living memory I had actually read all the books which I bought at Greenbelt 2006 - largely due to the time made available during my sabbatical.

So trying to implement the new- found reading discipline I bought fewer books at Greenbelt this year than ever before - perhaps if you have had a good reading spell then guilt does not tempt you into replacing "buying books" with actually "reading books".

These 2007 purchases are on the go at the moment:

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell - so those good folk who have been bugging me to read Rob Bells stuff can relax it's in the stack being read - and I am impressed and challenged by it so far. Rob Bell has the most wonderfully accessible writing style - I am not surprised that it is a best seller. Its a kind of antidote to the kind of wayside pulpit which proclaims " Jesus saves" or some other form of Christian jargon without realising that the internal language fails to communicate.

The Life and Work of a Priest by John Pritchard  - John is now Bishop of Oxford and has written some inspiring books on prayer and evangelism so I am looking forward to reading his thoughts on priesthood which he describes under three principal tasks: 1 The Glory of God 2. The pain of the world and 3. The renewal of the Church - its really good stuff in a creative Anglican way.

Divine Beauty by John O'Donohue

image The chance to hear him speak and hear him being interviewed made this an essential purchase. It fascinates me how really inspired and gifted writing embodies the author, so if you have read the book meeting the real person is not a shock

Perhaps if you have had a good reading spell then guilt does not tempt you into replacing "buying books" with actually "reading books".

18 September 2007

Emerging Church Magazine

Will be subscribing to this exciting new magazine initiative which I am sure will provide important insights into emerging Church

image

Reading discipline 2

Some words of wisdom from Leslie Newbigin about reading recorded by Dave Wheatley at Finkin out Loud

16 September 2007

The Visual Dictionary

The Visual Dictionary

is one of the best resources for visuals which illustrate single words in everyday situations.

A collaborative effort the copyright resides with the photographer so some care needs to be taken with credits or costs - but the general ethos is that they are there to be used - so as long as you do not use a photo on a million dollar selling book and give credits then you should be OK.

Fun to see what is not covered by the letter search - "emerging" and "justice" being just two examples - but there is often a visual which takes the predictable beyond the cliche as in:

image

14 September 2007

Holy Cross Day with the bloggers

image

Interesting how Holy Cross Day is picked up on my bloglines list

from an Anglican Bishop who had never heard of it before and remains sceptical ( where do they train them these days?)

to Kathryn's local reflections at Good in Parts ( HT for the picture)

to some historical background for those who are interested courtesy of Bryan Sherwood

while Alan Creech supports hisrecent return to the Roman Catholic fold with an excellent post

and finally a wide selection of posts here in the universal blogdom which is CatholicBlogs.com (with its excellent search engine)

12 September 2007

Steve Biko RIP

It never ceases to amaze me how Steve Biko has been forgotten in South Africa - perhaps it is inevitable given that he represented a different strand of ANC thinking which focused on grass roots action and education, rather than the dominant strand which was centralising and politically focused.

There are some moving memories and testimonies here, and reminder of his life here

While it is easy to idolise those who die before their time, before they achieve their potential, or see their visions realised, one wonders whether he would still be campaigning against the South African Government for the rights of the individual.

He died horribly 30 years ago today, may his soul rest in peace, and his family and friends draw continuing comfort from all that he contributed to our world.

11 September 2007

"inspire, determine and enable"

I have for some weeks been pursued by a phrase from a poem or reflection without being able to trace the source,

In fact I had been searching in the wrong two books,until Jan emailed me tonight to remind me that it comes from the reflective prayer

Intention
in Eric Milner White's classic collection
" My God My Glory"

Here is the full quote:

O Lord God
inspire, determine and enable
the intention of my life
that it be to thine honour

Seal it as the desire of my heart
the purpose of my mind
the goal of my whole strength
that it continue single,clear,immutable importunate

O Lord
be this intention THOU
thy truth, thy work, thy love, thy glory

Let it govern my words
burn in all my thoughts
purify my dealings
occupy and redeem my time

Let it bring THEE into all my ways
and the ways of those with whom I have to do
thyself, thy light, thy salvation
thy wisdom, thy worship, thy blessing
today and always.

There are some wonderful phrases and prayerful ideas here.

I particularly like the idea of God redeeming my time . . . it is a very missional idea for a busy busy world.

I remember on a retreat on Iona exploring the word "Glory" with a group of young adults sitting watching the sun go down across the sea having explored this prayer during the day

Glory means in this context " significance" or "weighty value"

How can we share these insights with the " O my God" generation?

10 September 2007

Genius that is Billie Holiday

Moby says it all - or rather the film recording does!

02 September 2007

Sin

I have stumbled upon a picture by Stephen Pfohl which represents Sin - see left

Within the Catholic tradition of the Church the definition of sin has always started with love, with law as a "secondary assistant" as one of my catechetical books put it.

Sin is therefore understood as being "that which breaks the relationship of love between the human being and the divine".

I am intrigued how this idea of sin is gaining momentum within Protestant/evangelical traditions, with Scott McKnight being the latest theologian who I have read offering a very similar perspective on sin on his excellent blog Jesus Creed. I think that the third comment which follows establishing a link with "The Kingdom of God" is particularly helpful

Above all it is important (but hard) to remember that sin is not primarily about morality or rules but about theology or God. When Christians fall into the trap of placing morality first then there is a tendency to focus on other people's sin rather than ones own.

But if sin is about love then the only starting place is own relationship with God, and whether we are living lives which are fully open to God or whether we choose to apply make-up ( to make us appear better to others) or masks (to hide from the realities of our lives). 

We should leave the judgement of others' sins to the loving and forgiving assessment of God who knows the deepest attitudes and intentions of our hearts.

31 August 2007

Starting school today?

Can you imagine what your first day at school is like if you and your friends have been looking forward to it for months and months - new uniform and photos etc - plus new teacher etc etc.

Except for one little girl all that promise and expectation has been lost - for she is Madeline McCann - and instead of pride and joy its another agonising day for her parents, family and friends, and for those friends expecting to start school with her.

Behind all the press speculation is the day to day reality for her parents which is recalled in moving detail on Gerry McCann's blog Missing Madeline which also has details of their Charity and the wider issues of missing children.

Please remember them in your prayers today.

30 August 2007

Greenbelt 2007 - Best session: John O'Donohue

Having read some of his books it was pure delight to hear John (a level 5 Christian if ever there was one) interviewed (wonderfully) by Martin Wroe, and to hear some of his thoughts and to hear his response - not least to the level 1 question which came from the floor asking whether he had been born again ( ie are you a real Christian?). It's the kind of insightful generosity which we need in The Church.

22 August 2007

Greenbelt

I set off for Greenbelt tomorrow with a couple of other really pleasurable commitments on route from the North:

Firstly it will be great to visit Courtney Nichol and see his newly opened recording studio near Tewksbury. Having seen it earlier in the year when the builders where (still)in and the acoustic specialist had just been delayed a further fortnight, and the bills were mounting it has very much been an act of faith and commitment.

The design includes some very interesting features including a double control room onto the main recording area which includes "mezzanine" drum and vocal booths. The smaller of the two control rooms can be used as a mixing suite and will come on line in that role early in 2008.

It is great to see that his perseverance has paid off with Studio 1 now solidly booked until October 2008 purely by word of mouth and with an encouraging portfolio of clients. They will not only benefit from the wonderful facilities but Courtney's gifts and Joan's wonderful hospitality.

Then on Friday I am visiting Street in Somerset to plan some retreat sessions for 2008, and my hosts Peter and Helen have promised to show me around Glastonbury town and Abbey which I have long wanted to visit - so that will have something of a sense of pilgrimage about it.

Then on to Greenbelt which is perhaps the strongest musically for some years - weather forecast is promising - not too many clashes in the programme - and Aqualung have been moved to mainstage ( from the overcrowded Centaur)

Look forward to seeing and meeting you there . . .

John Henry Newman

Over the past week I have been reading again about John Henry Newman the 19th century divine who was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement which bought renewal to the Church of England. JHN was one of my chosen feature topics during the final year of my theology degree.

As with many "great men", he is a most intriguing mix of achievement and failure, - so for example he wrote the most remarkable and inspiring sermons, but was not according to most accounts a particularly good preacher himself.

Some would suggest his greatest achievement is what he inspired in others - and as I have travelled over the past three sabbatical months it has struck me how much has been inspired or attributed to him particularly in the vexed questions of the design of church buildings as worship spaces.

Several people have offered me this saying/litany from JHN

Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall ever have a beginning.

Growth is the only evidence of life.

If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards.

If we insist on being as sure as is conceivable... we must be content to creep along the ground, and never soar.

Let us act on what we have, since we have not what we wish.

Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.

To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

Written in the mid 19th century it provides an inspiration for our current missional ambitions and hopes. I am particularly challenged by the penultimate paragraph . ..

I loved the image above of JHN which I found during a visit to Chester - so often the popular images are either of him as an elderly man or even a lampooning cartoon. The image should remind us of his great achievements in the first half of his 89 year life.

18 August 2007

The Bible

Enjoying a summer reading from The New Jerusalem Bible. The chance for systematic reading of books of The Bible, has bought me up short and alerted me to how selective my reading and use of The Bible is.

I loved this YouTube which highlights some of the dangers of modern "use" of The Bible:

The iBible

08 August 2007

Faithful reactions to sudden illness

What's Your Excuse?One of the agendas I have been reflecting on in the last few weeks is the different reactions/approaches which people of faith ( Christian or otherwise) take when faced with sudden serious illness. 

As God loves each one of us personally and individually then we surely expect our reactions and responses to be individual.

In addition to the core task of prayer and presence,

pastorally I see the need for priests/ministers to be

 the prayerful holder of personal secrets 

an un-shockable sounding board for honest fears,

the creator and enabler of personal space for the patient

and the challenger of preconceptions and expectations

and that this ministry is lovingly exercised both with the "patient" and their family and network of friends.

You can read the remarkable "blog story" behind the photo here

07 August 2007

The Transfiguration

Yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration within the life of the Church - the third most important feast day within the Church - but I guess it was ignored by many and its important insights into the significance of Jesus Christ thereby being lost to those who would call themselves Christians never mind the wider world.

 

 

But in a more mundane if musically significant sense there was a different Transfiguration yesterday as Apple launched a musically and financially competitive audio capable computer for the masses with the arrival of the new Imac.

The acid test for recording use is whether this time with the improved casing they can actually make a model which is consistently quiet across the range.

 I have held off making the decision about my audio computer pending its arrival - but I guess the price of the top of the range model is now equal to a audio specified PC - and off course it offers the "cool" look

17 July 2007

All age worship

Seems to be a bit of thing among clergy recently that All Age Worship is becoming "culturally impossible" as the age groups cease to mix in normal life - especially teenagers and young adults.

Then on Sunday I saw a vision of all age worship as Madness shared " It must be love" that wonderful Labi Siffri song with a huge all-age crowd at Guilfest.

A wonderful spiritual moment.

More to follow on Guilfest - some great music but a dire festival (must suggest the organisers visit Greenbelt for some tips on a truly family friendly Festival)

13 July 2007

Anglicanism - Uganda views

Henry Luke Orombi is the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda - a thoughtful and creative man behind the spin that is sometimes placed upon him both in the local press and in the international Anglican press - not least in the misunderstandings which followed his decision to make Sandy Millar a Bishop.

His recent article on The future of Anglicanism explores The Communion from his Ugandan perspective and is therefore worth reading - it offers to Anglicans of the North some insight into how the faith had been integrated in the cultures of the great country of Uganda.

Read it here - not in the expectation that we might agreed with everything but to develop our awareness of the issues which face Anglican leaders of the South.

Guilfest Weekend and Cherry Ghost

Off down south to Guilfest (the only Festival I know sponsored by a Trade Union) with Sprog 2 who is really looking forward to seeing some of his musical heroes live: Toots and the Maytals, Madness, The Beat, The Dub  Pistols and best of all Jimmy Cliff.

What's good about Sprog 2 is that he is now independent enough to do his own thing, (though his refusal to use mobile phones complicates meeting up)which means that I can make my own choice:  Morcheeba, Supergrass, and The Magic Numbers.

But most of all I am really looking forward to seeing Bolton's best Simon Aldred and his band Cherry Ghost perform, - expect some really good guitars sounds and tasteful band production!

One of the trickier bits of festival production (which reveals how events can overtake forward planning) is that Cherry Ghost are on Stage 2 despite rapidly running up the charts at the moment with their brilliant album Thirst for Romance ( its CD of the week at Sainsbury's if you want a bargain copy).

Cherry Ghost (pic: Stefan Klenke)Media reviews of the CD have been quite remarkable as people try to pigeon-hole an album which is not easily compared with anything else I have heard recently. 

So comparison vary from Jonny Cash to Coldplay which takes some doing - but reveals that there is no real substitute for long previous experience when it comes to depth in music.

Guess I would describe the CD as timeless ballads which then emerge as crafted indie pop - but even that doesn't really work.

12 July 2007

The divine gift of "being"

In his long list of gifts of the Spirit I have often thought that St Paul missed out on one gift which is perhaps deeply unfashionable today - that of the gift of stickability. 

I was therefore hugely struck by Andrew Hamilton's post on the Emergent site today which explores the theme of keeping going in the absence of apparent results or success.

I particularly identified with this paragraph:

We have also chosen to live at a very sustainable pace of life which means we are not going to run ourselves ragged in the name of growing a church. Nowadays when people ask me if I’m ‘busy’ the answer more often that not is ‘no’ and I hope to keep it that way. We have chosen to work less than full time and to make our time available to those in our community, but we can only travel at the pace people want to go at. In busy suburbia this means the pace is slow for the most part, because most people work long hours, are time poor and very few are available to ‘hang out’ during the week.

It resonates strongly with my own increasing inclination that we may actually need to do less as "Church" and more as God's people in God's world - to value the way that we "are" as much as the things that we "do" ( the being - action balance)

IKEA + Worship Tricks

Ikea are offering the latest development in their global intention to cater for the emergent/missional Christian in their product range.

Realising that cheap candles, bags of pebbles, cool wood products etc are not sufficient to sate the theological appetite of this growing strand of Christianity they have introduced a new range of co-ordinated living products called Freja (literally " the journey" in Swedish).

For the new "everyone sit on the cushion" act of worship (and feel really uncomfortable while appearing really cool) they offer

Freja Labarint

 

FREJA LABYRINT Cushion

 

and if you want to offer a more collective experience, or signal your emergent/missional credentials to all who enter your Church lounge or your personal living room then they offer this rug in medium and large formats.

FREJA Rug

Unfortunately even the large size would prove extremely cosy if more than one person followed the prayer path at once - but at least they are on special offer in the current sale.

Yes to the initial Diaconate

(For some reason this post did not arrive at BBA last week as it should have done - it was originally posted on the 7/7/07 and may have appeared in your feed.)

Had some interesting conversations in the last couple of weeks about the "initial" Diaconate within the Church of England - there are obviously some strong views on the subject, and some confusion among those not familiar with Anglican ways

( For those who not familiar with our Orders - most clergy who are ordained serve a year as a Deacon within the Church before being made priest - though we do also have much-less commonly a permanent Diaconate as well where men and women feel a call to a permanent ministry of this kind - this had become particularly valued in recent times for women who either personally or more generally do not feel that women should be ordained priests).

So why have an initial Diaconate - is it not an historical anomaly which is out of date in our contemporary understanding of shared ministry. So here's some thoughts on the value of what we currently practice:

1. Firstly the Diaconate is an important first year in the years of training which we call a curacy or in a more historic phrase "serving your title" - it is important to remember (however experienced and mature an ordinand may be) these are years of training.

2. The training is not just about how to "do" the job, but is also about "formation" which is about "being". The diaconate provides something of a buffer for new clergy which permits them to focus on "being" - partly because they are not permitted to "do" certain priestly tasks, nor should they be given particular responsibilities (though this is changing where people have served and know a parish before their curacy).

3. The "diaconate" is importantly about learning, practicing and experiencing prayerful and willing service of others - and this sense of Diaconate does not cease after a year, but is foundation of the subsequent ministry as a priest. With more mature ordinands this is sometimes about learning to work under authority and offering a willingness to undertaken tasks which one might not be wholly comfortable with or even in agreement with.

4. The Anglican Church generally contrasts with other denominations who often pitch a newly ordained person into responsibility for churches and congregations from day one - I remember one Methodist minister friend really struggling with this despite the positive presence of his circuit Superintendent and mentor minister - four churches was four churches and he had a fairly hellish first year which in my view diminished his subsequent ministry until his next appointment. Apart from anything else he was forced to experience and be the focus of the manipulative behaviour of some of his lay members - whereas an Anglican deacon can at least observe it for the first year if the training Incumbent offers suitable protection.

5. The diaconate offers those around the newly ordained person time to adjust to their new role - I think this is particularly important for spouses and children - for kids it offers a gradualness of seeing their parent develop into new responsibilities with a certain freedom from priestly rotas.

6. For the parishes where they serve it also allows time for them to get to know the new person, before they exercise a fuller leadership ministry. In my training parish I remember one member of the congregation (who had known I think 7 curates) saying that no-ne really remembers a particular curates year as a deacon - (most of the memorable experience took place during the two/three years as a priest), but that both parties would really miss the buffer of the diaconate if it were dropped. Perhaps this is particularly important where someone is a NSM deacon who may have more limited contact with the worshipping congregations during the week than someone in stipendiary ministry.

So I personally think the Diaconate is still valid and important. I sense the pressures to do away with it are actually institutional ones such as shorter curacies and giving people more responsibility, rather then good and deep-seated formational motives.

 

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.

07 July 2007

Bristol Cathedral

image

I visited Bristol Cathedral today - what a delight!

By some accident of history and travel I have visited every other Anglican Cathedral in England and Wales apart from Bristol.

Could I say humbly that compared with many of its contemporaries it was a real joy.

1. I was welcomed with clear signing in normal non-ecclesiastical language - among the best that I have ever seen - lots of feel free and very few no-no and above all NO CHARGE - so I actually donated far more than I ever paid to get into York Minister etc etc!!

2. As I entered the building there was no welcome desk or people in strange gowns or clothes to welcome me - kind of felt like a place of worship rather than a museum.

3. Some cracking displays around the place - and brilliant simple signs at key parts of the building which explained both purpose and history without assuming any prior knowledge.

Some other posts to follow - but what a place - what a sense of worship and prayer - and what a welcome - a few Deans could do with visiting Bristol!

29 June 2007

Moving out and divine creativity

Brownsremovals_small

Legoland keep up with contemporary events - HT to Richard Frank for the link and I loved his reflection on creativity

28 June 2007

Jim Wallis on Gordon Brown

Jim Wallis, of American Sojourners fame, introduces his American constituency to Britain's new Prime Minister. Behind the genuine affection and regard do I detect a little envy that we have Gordon Brown as an alternative to George Bush? Jim writes:

"Someone You Should Know

I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Gordon Brown, and he just became Britain's new Prime Minister. You have probably been hearing and reading the news about the transition from Tony Blair to Brown.

Get a free issue of Sojourners

Among other things, Brown is a voracious reader, and reads many American books about politics, including those that focus on moral values and politics. That’s how I first met Gordon Brown: I was speaking in Britain and got a call from the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (his former position) saying that Brown wanted to get together that evening, if I was available. So I went over to his office at the Treasury, and he told me that he had read my books and had many questions for me. So we put our feet up and began talking, and have been doing so now for a number of years.

I’ve done several interviews recently with British newspapers and television networks about what kind of man Gordon Brown is. One asked me the word I would use to best describe him, and I said "passion." That’s in sharp contrast to some of the British press, who refer to the new Prime Minister as "dour," as one Guardian columnist did this morning on National Public Radio. But that is simply not the man that I have come to know, and whose friendship I deeply value. I have taken American heads of churches and development agencies to visit with Brown, and they have been universally and amazingly impressed with his deep understanding of the issues of globalization and his personal commitment to tackling the moral challenge of inequality. I believe that Gordon Brown has more passion (and knowledge) about the issues of global poverty and social justice than any other Western leader today. And I believe his leadership could make a great difference. He is somebody you should know and follow closely.

Gordon Brown is the son of a Church of Scotland pastor and grew up in a manse where the biblical vision of justice seems to have found its place in his heart. Quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah pepper his speeches about the kind of global economy we must be working for, and as I said in God’s Politics, Brown’s words often remind me of the prophet Micah, who knew that true security requires that "all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid."

Let me share a few of his words from his speech this week on his transition to the new post of Labor Party Leader and Prime Minister.
First on his values and moral compass:

All I believe and all I try to do comes from the values that I grew up with: duty, honesty, hard work, family, and respect for others.

And this is what my parents taught me and will never leave me: that each and every one of us has a talent, each and every one of us should have the chance to develop their talent, and that each of us should use whatever talents we have to enable people least able to help themselves.

And so I say honestly: I am a conviction politician. My conviction that everyone deserves a fair chance in life. My conviction that each of us has a responsibility to each other. And my conviction that when the strong help the weak, it makes us all stronger. Call it ‘the driving power of social conscience,’ call it 'the better angels of our nature,’ call it ‘our moral sense,’ call it a belief in ‘civic duty.’
I joined this party as a teenager because I believed in these values. They guide my work, they are my moral compass. This is who I am. And because these are the values of our party, too, the party I lead must have more than a set of policies – we must have a soul.

On children in poverty:

... let me say also that in the fourth richest country in the world it is simply wrong – wrong that any child should grow up in poverty. To address this poverty of income and to address also the poverty of aspirations by better parenting, better schools, and more one-to-one support, I want to bring together all the forces of compassion – charities, voluntary sector, local councils, so that at the heart of building a better Britain is the cause of ending child poverty.

On foreign policy:

Our foreign policy in years ahead will reflect the truth that to isolate and defeat terrorist extremism now involves more than military force – it is also a struggle of ideas and ideals that in the coming years will be waged and won for hearts and minds here at home and round the world. And an essential contribution to this will be what becomes daily more urgent – a Middle East settlement upholding a two state solution, that protects the security of Israel and the legitimate enduring desire for a Palestinian state.

Because we all want to address the roots of injustice, I can tell you today that we will strengthen and enhance the work of the department of international development and align aid, debt relief and trade policies to wage an unremitting battle against the poverty, illiteracy, disease and environmental degradation that it has fallen to our generation to eradicate.

Gordon Brown is a new kind of political leader, one who seeks to practice moral politics. He has already worked very closely with the community of faith and seeks a vital partnership. He knows that even politicians like him need to be challenged and held accountable by social movements with spiritual foundations. He once told me that without Jubilee 2000, the church-based movement to cancel Third World debt, the Labor government would have never done so. He encouraged me to keep building such movements because the world of politics needs them.

So pay attention to what Gordon Brown does now and please pray for him. I believe he could become the kind of international leader who really helps to change things. I watched his remarks on the BBC, just before he and his wife walked through the door of 10 Downing Street to spend his first night as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I’m glad he is there."

Blair leaves - but what about the guitars?

Yesterday was one of those wonderful political days - and for a change I was able to watch some of the events unfold on BBC24 news.

But there is one question which has gone unanswered in all the exhaustive coverage which I think requires clarification and action.

What has happened to the guitars which TB recieved as official gifts.

According to the official gifts list he has recieved no less than 24 guitars during his time on office (including 12 Stratocasters) from among other donors Fender Musical Instruments, Bryan Adams, Bono, and the Governments of Romania, Mexico, Portugal, China and France.

TB also recieved a tasteful "Faith acoustic guitar" from his Parliamentary Party as a personal farewell gift.

Tony BlairOfficial gifts however have to be left in The Office of the Prime Minister - so has Gordon Brown inherited a wonderful collection OR have they or could they be passed to some community music project who would make better us of them.

It well known what happened to the most famous and valuable guitar TB was given in 2000 a '57 Eric Clapton Strat:  which had originally been purchased by Eric Clapton, who gave it to Pete Townshend who used it on Quadrophenia and then several years later appeared at a charity auction by where it was bought by David Bowie  and Mick Jagger who gave it to TB. When TB was advised as to its potential value he returned the gift, and it eventually sold at another charity auction for £75k and is now owned by Bono's guitar tech who collects guitars for his pension fund.

I have written to the new Prime Minister to offer him prayers and blessings on his appointment, and to enquire about his intentions for the guitars.

27 June 2007

What does it mean "to evangelise"?

One of the surprises of my sabbatical is how questions arise about what a "sabbatical" means for a priest. 

Christian people can presume the role to be "a way of life" and therefore find it hard to comprehend how I can "lay the role aside for a time" - there has been almost a sense of resentment at times - revealed not least by jokey but ill-informed comments which have replaced "sabbatical" with "holiday".

By contrast folk outside the Church have humbly and unquestionably enjoyed the potential for friendship and creativity which have been offered so far.

My sabbatical has opened up new possibilities for my priestly role - not least among musicians, artists and youth workers - the kind of creative and imaginative people who were my kindred spirits prior to ordination which may offer some indicators for my future priestly ministry.

Today I had conversation with a musician "J" who was joking about a comment which Nigel made to an earlier post. ( Nigel by the way is to be ordained deacon on Sunday so begins the transition to a new role within the Church - please pray for him and all others who are to be ordained to the diaconate or priesthood in the coming weeks)

The conversation started with a comment about what a complex person Tom Allen is - although he knew that I was a Christian he had no idea that I was a "Vicar" he had simply known me as a guitarist for 20 years - whereas as for Nigel apparently the reverse was true! 

I was set thinking about how we "offer ourselves to others" - which is what my definition of real evangelism is - and that linked me to this wonderful writing from the Taize Community:

In these days of marketing, we have learned to mistrust those who promise us good things. In this context, the New Testament verb “to evangelize” can frighten us. We are embarrassed to propose our faith to someone else, as if we were trying to sell something. And we are so deeply concerned to respect others that we do not want to give the impression of imposing our own ideas or to try and convince others. Especially when it is a question of a subject as intimate as trust in God.

But do we really know what the New Testament means by “evangelizing”? In Greek, the verb is used for the expression “to announce good news”: someone who is “evangelized” is basically someone who has been “made aware, brought up to date.” The verb can be used to announce a birth, an armistice or the inauguration of a new leader. It has no religious meaning in itself. And yet it was that word, almost too commonplace, that Christians used to describe the most precious aspect of their faith: the announcement of Christ’s resurrection. What is interesting is that, gradually, the word lost its complement. People didn’t say “make someone aware of Christ’s resurrection” but simply “evangelize someone.” This was obviously to save time, but that lack of a complement also has a deeper significance.

To proclaim the Good News of the resurrection is not, for Christians, to speak of a doctrine to be learned by heart or a piece of wisdom to meditate on. To evangelize means above all to bear witness to a transformation within a human being: because of the resurrection of Christ, our own resurrection has already begun. By his infinite respect towards those he encountered (visible through the acts of healing we find in the Gospels), by taking the lowest place so that no one would be lower than him (that is the meaning of his baptism), Christ Jesus restored worth and dignity to every person. Still more, Jesus was with us in death, so that we could be close to him in his communion with the Father. By this “admirable exchange” (Easter liturgy), we discover that we are fully accepted by God, fully welcomed by him just as we are. The Christians of the first centuries summed this up by saying, “God became man so that man could become God!” To evangelize thus does not mean in the first place talking about Jesus to someone but, on a much deeper level, making that person aware of the value he or she has in God’s eyes. Evangelizing means communicating these words of God that rang out five centuries before Christ: “You are precious in my sight, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). Since Easter morning, we know that God did not hesitate to give everything so that we would never forget what we are worth.

Can we “evangelize” someone while respecting his or her freedom?

Causing people to realize their worth in God’s eyes is not something optional. Paul even goes as far as saying, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). For him, evangelization is the direct consequence of his attachment to Christ. Through his resurrection, Christ unites us inseparably to God. No one can ever again feel they are excluded from that union. And at the same time, humanity is no longer fragmented: since the resurrection, we belong to one another.

Still, the question remains: how can we communicate that news to people who know nothing of God and seem to expect nothing from God? First of all, by our personal attachment to Christ. Paul said, “You have clothed yourselves in Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Evangelization calls us to start with ourselves. It is first of all by our life, and not by words, that we witness to the reality of the resurrection: “To know Christ and the power of his resurrection and a sharing in his sufferings, coming to be like him in his death, so that [we] might finally attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). It is by our assurance, by our serene joy in knowing that we have been loved from all eternity, that Christ becomes credible in the eyes of those who do not know him.

There are situations, however, when words are necessary. Peter puts it well: “Always be ready to reply to whoever asks you the reason for the hope which is in you” (1 Peter 3:16). Of course, speaking of an intimate love requires much sensitivity. And sometimes it is hard to find words, especially in situations where faith is brutally called into question. Jesus knew this well, and he said to his disciples, “When you are brought before (…) the authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you need to say” (Luke 12:11-12).

Because Christ clothed himself in our humanity and we have clothed ourselves in Christ, we should never be afraid of not knowing how to speak. In the Christian vocation of not choosing those they love, but of receiving everyone without discrimination, there is a generosity that is touching, and even more, that encloses someone in the life of Christ. In our capacity as servants, we share our garment with those we serve, a bit like Jesus who, when he washed his disciples’ feet, “took off his garments” (John 13:4). It is above all the disinterestedness of our acts that will speak for us; it will authentify the words we speak.

How sad it is that this wonderful task of "offering of ourselves" has declined to mean some soulless obligation - or has been high-jacked to be equated with those who stand in streets spouting meaningless sentences from the Bible or words of condemnation to those who walk past.

24 June 2007

Christopher Hitchens shock

Lovely story (courtesy of Pendennis in the Observer) about Christopher Hitchens.

Having launched his latest diatribe God is not Great in London on Wednesday to less than fulsome reviews, and some perceptive criticism from among others Richard Chartres (Bishop of London) and his Christian sibling Peter, and a less than successful appearance for a recording for BBC Question Time, he retires back to his home in Washington DC exhausted.

Later in the day having recovered enough to eat his evening meal at his local restaurant, (and perhaps seeking some respite from intellectually able clerics), he is heard to let out a shriek as he realises that his neighbour on the next table is a certain well-know cleric enjoying his sabbatical!

Continue reading "Christopher Hitchens shock" »

19 June 2007

Church shopping - and why it annoys me!

Absolutely stonking post from Paul Walker about the fickleness of Christian commitment which sees Christians searching for the Church which "meets their needs" - (or more commonly "the needs of their children").

Go read it!

I know little of the local situation because although we are in the same Diocese, Bradford is another world in terms of parochial. 

But it has always struck me as being amusingly prophetic that "the big church down the road" to which Paul refers has its building (a desperately unimaginative former factory unit) sited among the supermarkets and out-of-town facilities with one of its nearest neighbours be a 24 hour Tesco supermarket - kind of meeting the same needs?

I can't help wondering whether some similar questions might apply to much of the "emerging church" when such a phrase is used to describe groups of Christians who have left existing churches (and weakened them as a result) to do their own thing? Does not Paul's highlighted paragraph apply?

I can't help wondering whether in 50 years time Paul's church (in very different form) will still be alive and being God's people in God's world - I wonder whether "the big church down the road" will be nothing but a memory and whether many of the vogue emerging churches might be too?

06 June 2007

Worship by Brian McLaren

Really struck by this video which talks about worship as "art" rather than a "product".

The original link was a "buy" product - which is now a "free" download following various bloggers pointing out the irony.

05 June 2007

Sin

I was searching for a photomontage by Stephen Pfohl this morning when I stumbled up his representation of Sin - see left

Within the Catholic tradition within the Church the definition of sin has always started with love, with law as a "secondary assistant" as one of my catechetical books put it.

Sin is therefore understood as being "that which breaks the relationship of love between the human being and the divine".

I am intrigued how this idea of sin is gaining momentum within Protestant/evangelical traditions, with Scott McKnight being the latest theologian who I have read offering a very similar perspective on sin on his excellent blog Jesus Creed. I think that the third comment which follows establishing a link with "The Kingdom of God" is particularly helpful

The theological nevertheless gets twisted by personal perspectives on homosexual relationships which so dominates this strand of thought and the view of sin which is formed by Trinitarian perspectives begins to challenge some core biblical texts.

04 June 2007

Cafe Church

I have commended George Lings and his team at the Church Army Sheffield Centre for their regular publication Encounters on the Edge which focuses on missional developments in the Church.

The latest issue is the first installment of a review of Cafe Church, which provides two experiences - one which is thriving, and even more helpfully one which after initial numerical success has tailed off.

If you are interested in this much vaunted form of Fresh Expressions of Church there is much to be learnt, and the final chapter of analysis is especially perceptive.

I should make clear that the entire focus is on what might be described as planned cafe Church - ie Church meeting as cafe in a Church building. It is retains an intentionally attractional model of offering Church in a different mode rather than perhaps in a more missional sense (of going where God is at work in cafes) - so it is not like Soulstop or "faith in BRUCCIANIS" so please do not be misled by my endorsement.

I hope later in the year to offer some thoughts about Soul-stop.

02 June 2007

John Macquarrie RIP

A Guide to the Sacraments - John Macquarrie

Discovered yesterday that John Macquarrie had died on Monday at the grand old age of 87.

JM has perhaps been the most influential systematic theologian on my theological education - not least because of his "opening up" of the heavy-weight German theologians such as Bultmann.

He epitomises all that is best about the universal and tolerant nature of what it means to be an Anglican theologian. Having become an Anglican as an adult in the US he then served as a priest within the Episcopal Church USA , the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and the Church of England alongside his academic ministry.

He wrote both majestic academic works such as "Principles of Christian Theology", but I came to value his writing for his more pastoral and ecclessiological writing.

 "A Guide to the Sacraments" is more than a personal favourite, it has become one of my most loaned books - and has helped many an Anglican from the protestant/evangelical tradition appreciate the significance of Anglican understanding of the sacraments.

"Mary for all Christians" revealed the depth of his personal journey from a Protestant Scottish upbringing to the more universal faith of an Anglican.

The Daily Telegraph rightly records how his presence in the academic world of gave confidence to parish clergy that academic theology was retaining it links with the real Church - challenging Archbishop's and being among the first to respond critically to the real text of "Myth of God incarnate"

The Independent offers a more Scottish perspective - and one trusts that JM would have noticed and delighted in his final years in the current Scottish ascendency in British theology.

May we all thank God for his life and influence, and that many may continue to work in this broad strand of Anglican theology which is both academic and practical, systematic but evocative, intellectual but also culturally relevant.

May he rest in peace and delight in love eternal.

01 June 2007

Real communication?

Back in Oakworth and the delights of Pennine Yorkshire after my active retreat in London.

It was an excellent way to start my sabbatical - taking me out of the parish setting to a context which is completely different. Lots of thoughts and experiences to process and some to write about.

One immediate thought is how "technology obsessed" London is - that's not to suggest that technology does not have its benefits and advantages or contribute to the quality of life. But it does appear to become counter-productive.

I have a love-hate relationship with trains - I adore steam trains but hate the modern train carriage where my bulky frame is crammed into a cramped seat space. I find it next to impossible to read or write on trains so travel time has rarely been productive in that sense either.

The saving grace of the latter is of course the "people watching" which I find entertaining in a nosey kind of way and intriguing in a theological kind of way.

So a guy spent most of the journey from London to Doncaster on the mobile phone loudly bewailing his failure to win a cloth order, and berating his suppliers for their inadequacies which had cost him this major order, and every conversation ended with " I '' speak to you in the morning". He arrived at his destination considerably more stressed than he left Kings Cross.

My reflection [given the apparent seriousness of the situation] was that these conversations could have been much more effectively conducted face to face the following day, rather than by the intermittent means of a mobile phone. (service-breaks at every tunnel were accompanied by loud - "can you hear me, "hello", "hello", "hello" to the amusement of 3/4 of the carriage)

At Grantham the seat next to me was taken by a lady who proceeded somewhat laboriously to seek dates and data from a PDA while confirming information for next week with her PA back at the office. Some time later I took out my Filofax to check some notes - and she audibly sighed  and immediately asked whether I had ever used a PDA ( "No"!) - as she was thinking of returning to a paper diary and planner. Above all else she missed the personal element of a paper diary - her PDA could be "anyone's".

My final grumpy git reflection is what on earth do people talk about when the get home in the evening - since every moment of the day or change of plan seems to be immediately updated by mobile or text.

So is communication really helped by technology in these situations - or has urgency replaced intimacy in each context?

Richard Frank is asking some similar questions here

25 May 2007

Missional Church - the stats gone mad . . .

Referrals are strange and unpredictable things - and the number hits are equally unpredictable.

I tend not to bother too much about the number and more interested in the links and who is linking and reading.

Mike and Sue however like to look at trends ( God bless these techy people that keep me on the straight and narrow blogging wise).

So what was behind a sudden surge mid-week - was it the reference to Jerry Falwell as they suspected (no) - perhaps the reference to children in worship which has been picked up on a number of other blogs (no) - maybe even a heading including Typepad (no) 

With a bit of URL-delving it became apparent that many of the links were coming via the States and eventually we tracked it down to this:

see the heading here and then later down in the article

So for some reason a reference to me by a Canadian pastor on the US based inter-denominational Allelon site by Baptist Kiwi Steve Taylor and had led back to an Anglican priest in the Pennines - says something about the worldwide work of the Spirit hey?

20 May 2007

Pentecost on hold please

I been preparing for a act of worship and some written material for later in the week, while all around me it seems like people are willing Pentecost to happen.

In fact I have been quite shocked/angered by how the Spirit of God is highjacked by Pentecost - if you look at some Christian biblical websites there is some remarkably sloppy theology of the Spirit around which could easily lead you to believe that the Holy Spirit

1. was invented at Pentecost
2. only exists in the New Testament
3. can only work were Christians ( preferably saved or biblical ones) are present
4. is somehow a lesser part of God than the real God who is Father and Jesus
5. is less than personal, somekind of mystic wind ( perhaps we have the Holy Ghost title to thank for this)

In the Church's year this period between Ascension Day ( last Thursday) and the Feast of Pentecost (next Sunday) is an important time of waiting - waiting as did the first disciples without the earthly presence of Jesus, waiting for his promise of a gift to be realised

So please keep Pentecost on hold . . .

18 May 2007

Traditional or missional Church

Those (like me) who are committed to a missional future for the Church, but remain committed to the "traditional" Church will find this article challenging.

Ultimately it is unsatisfactory because the new forms of Church which it describes as being missional will before long become institutionalised, and because it fails to understand that the essence of missional is not in the forms of Church, but in the work of God which continues whatever the Church is like.

But its challenge to traditional forms of church is helpful, especially the paragraph about traditional church membership.

16 May 2007

Geese do labyrinth

Last_roll_36Just loved this write-up by Rick Lord of early visitors to their newly-opened labyrinth. From a Church of England perspective I love the phrase " Holy Comforter is fortunate to have a 14 acre campus" - but wonder what a UK parish would do with such an asset - would we really have the confidence to open it to the wider public or would we see it as "our turf". On a much smaller scale I am trying to change attitudes to our churchyard and open it to everyone as a spiritual asset.

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.

08 May 2007

Religious bloggers awards

The Bloggers choice award is up and running again and the religious category gives an insight into what's happening in the world of Godly blogging.

The American and catholic bias is interesting, but there are some great blogs too.

02 May 2007

BNP and local elections

Election day is here tomorrow locally with the mainstream parties attempting to over turn BNP victories in the last elections. Locally as churches we have focused on getting people to vote, since the BNP victories last time were in wards with very low turn outs and wins coming with tiny margins such as 7 votes. One set of the elections is to Bradford Metropolitan Council which sadly has a poor reputation - Bradford is a distant place for most local people and Keighley area tends to lose out in the distribution of resources.

The reality locally is that apathy and non-voting is a vote for the BNP, but their elected representatives have proved poor councillors and their campaign this time is very weak - poor literature and focusing on issues which express their petty prejudices rather than meeting local needs.

I have offered a briefing sheet as follows - and the abusive emails and phone-calls confirm suspicions of attitudes below the surface which voters would not find attractive. - Funny that when I spell checked this post the software changed Revd to Red!

 

HOPE NOT HATE

Don’t let racism win on May 3rd

USE ALL YOUR VOTES

May 3rd will see local elections in our community for both the Bradford and Keighley Councils. For Christians this is an opportunity to vote positively for the values and teaching of Jesus Christ.

1. We should reject the poisonous policies of the British National Party which are not the answer to the issues and problems of our communities. We should highlight the racist attitudes and political pedigrees of the national leaders of the party that lie behind the facade which presents local BNP candidates as “ordinary Yorkshire people”. Ignorance of this reality is no excuse for a “protest vote”

2. We should make plain the Church of England understanding that confirms racist beliefs as inherently “sin” which as the Bishop of Blackburn has put it: “In the Christian community it (sin) is the strongest word we can find. In terms of racism it means something not only off limits to people, but also to God.”

3. We should as Christians exercise our democratic responsibilities by voting. Seats in the elections will be won by very small margins (of perhaps ten votes), it is essential that all Christians use all their votes in favour of any of the parties which are committed to constructive co-operation between people of all races creeds and colours.

4. We should reject all attempts to misrepresent the Christian faith as being “traditionally” the faith of white or “indigenous” British people. We belong to a faith community which is worldwide, diverse and multi-national (and now predominately non-white - as was its founder and Lord!).

5. We should support the rights of all legitimate asylum seekers in the UK, - we have at Christ Church Oakworth supported financially the work of a local community group who work with asylum seekers in their search for secure legal residence, homes, jobs and an education. We believe such people of whatever faith, (far from being a threat or a drain) and when offered a warm welcome can enhance our society with their experience, insights and commitment to family life and community.

6. We should work with all people of other faiths and none to ensure that peace and justice are key features of our society.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Galatians 3:28

Revd Tom Allen (Vicar of Oakworth)

01 May 2007

Anglican theology and unity 2

The discussion about a core faith ( or creed) continues at Sarah's blog. It must have been a little like this when the early Christians were drafting our core creeds

Three points emerge for me:

Firstly the tendency for people to contribute a list of what "I believe" to be true, which is not actually the point of the exercise. Its not to put it simply about saying this is what I personally believe ( any fool can do that and it is in end the source of the problem) - the point of the exercise is to say this is what "we believe" what we hold in common.

Secondly the reasserters movement cannot remain the preserve of the conservatives as many in the States would seek it to be - by definition if we are to reassert something then it must come from a wider base otherwise it remains some sectional private activity.

Thirdly there is a profoundly Anglican contribution to this debate. I have always believed and taught that within Anglicanism we have creeds - statements of faith which act as a unity force within the tradition saying what The Church believes. When Anglicans are asked to affirm the faith they are asked to affirm that this is the belief of The Church.

Whether a particular individual at a particular time and place is able through the Grace of God to believe all that is said in the creed is another matter. My experience as a priest is that any given time there will be people who do not understand or subscribe to particular elements of the creed. So the Church may believe in a physical resurrection, but many in our logical scientific generation may struggle with that and their integrity is to be respected, but the creed is not changed in this generation because of that contemporary scepticism.

This view is born out by my personal experience of faith and belief - I remember struggling desperately with what was meant in the words

"he descended into hell"

Now with a fuller understanding of the true humanity of Jesus Christ it presents no problems and the contemporary translations say

"he descended to the dead"

So our relationship with God as individual is dynamic and our ways of expressing that relationship are also dynamic and Anglican theology offers a generous view of how we subscribe to the core beliefs of the Church.

29 April 2007

Anglican theology and unity

One the of problems of the current debates in the world-wide Church is we tend to focus on the issues which separate us rather than the beliefs we have in common.

Historically this is a profoundly un-Anglican ethos and takes us back the the battles of the 15th and 16th century. I can hear some of our reformation predecessors in the faith saying to us words to the effect of:

"I thought the we had sorted the ethos that to be Anglican is to be tolerant of a breadth of tradition which focuses on what we have in common and allows for a diversity of views on secondary matters"

As in their day, we live in an age when culture and politics influence us more than the ethos of tolerance and diversity. (on both sides of the debate about the nature of homosexuality for example where Africa and American culture is the ultimate motive for theological views and biblical interpretation). In the States it seems the labels of "conservative" or "revisionist" have become terms of abuse.

I was encouraged by Sarah Dylan's suggestion that what is needed is a new breed/trend of "reasserters" ( potentially from both sides of the existing debates) who focus on what we have in common. She offers her initial list:

  • Jesus is Lord.
  • Jesus and the God who created the universe are one.
  • The Old and New Testaments were inspired by God, and are useful for teaching and Christian formation (a la 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical person who was born of Mary, gathered disciples and taught, healed, and confronted evil powers in ministry the first-century Roman province of Palestine, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate's authority.
  • Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ of God.
  • The God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. I know some Christians struggle with this, but I believe this was a bodily resurrection, and the tomb was empty (and John Dominic Crossan never persuaded me that there was no tomb).
  • Jesus' disciples met the risen Jesus -- some had visions, some corporeal encounters (though Jesus' body was different in some ways -- e.g., he didn't seem to need doors to be opened or unlocked to get into a room), but in all cases reported in the New Testament it was Jesus they met.
  • I think the list of canonical books in the New Testament is a good one. There is no non-canonical gospel that I would have liked to see in the canon, and no book currently in the canon that I'd exclude if I could.
  • I believe that the kingdom of God was inaugurated in Jesus' ministry, and that Jesus will come again to realize fully his work among us.
  • I believe that the God of Israel has chosen Jesus, the Christ, as judge of the nations.
  • I believe that Jesus is really present in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
  • I believe that Jesus is really present wherever people gather in his name.

I can't help but wonder as I prepare intercessions for the Communion at the local Methodist Church tonight whether our zeal for unity has been sacrificed by our desire to be proved right - and that God might actually be saying "whatever" about some of the things which we argue about.

26 April 2007

God's plan for me and you

Locally there has been some interesting conversation/debate about God's intentions for us as Christians/human beings.

Some of the scriptures in translations such as Good News and NIV seem to speak of God having a plan for us. The question is what does that mean - does it mean that God knows what is going to happen to us at 2pm tomorrow or whether X's latent vocation to the priesthood will be fulfilled in N years time.

For some plan gives a sense of security, while for others it seems a little too determinist and does not sit easily with the idea of " free will".

In the May parish magazine I have offered the thought that the word "purpose" is a better understanding of what God wants for us than "plan".

My Greek is not up to scratch enough to be able to claim it as a more accurate translation of the actual word. Purpose speaks to me of creativity and vision, and offers the possibility/challenge of willing collaboration with the divine. I think that it was Chris Herbert now Bishop of St Albans who offered me the idea that plan/purpose was a verb rather than a noun. Something developing ongoing, flexible and dynamic rather than pre-determined.

Maggi Dawn has written in similar vein:

This morning I was talking to a student I'm supervising about the theological understanding of God having a "plan" for our lives. "Don't you believe, really, that God has some particular plan, some purpose, for your life?", he asked me, "For instance, didn't you ever have a moment when you felt that God specifically told you you should be a priest?"

"No, I don't," I replied.  I believe, rather, that God the creator has made US creative - in God's image, creative like God is - and given us the gift of life.* God's purpose is that we discover our creativity, get to know ourselves, and despite (or because of) the limits of our choices and circumstances, live lives that fulfil the gifts and possibilities we have. I, for instance, was never going to be an accountant. I could have learned to do that, of course, but I don't have the right set of gifts and personality to be GOOD at being that. But I could have been a graphics artist, an architect, a designer, a theologian, a musician... I could have been a wife and mother... I could have been a priest or minister... I could have been a missionary, or a Traveller, or a novelist... There are a lot of ways I could have realised my potential. The thing that makes for purpose and "plan" is whether or not that fulfilling of life unfolds to the glory of God, and for the benefit of the world, rather than in a fashion that makes it self-serving. Life is a gift. We are creative. God's purpose is that we grow up, take our lives in both hands, and LIVE.

Read her full post here, and some interesting links as well.

25 April 2007

Rowan Williams on the Bible

It never ceases to amaze me how some Christians will assume that Rowan Williams doesn't know and value the Bible - one session at Greenbelt produced a questions from a somewhat over zealous member of the audience which presumed that RW had not read John's Gospel.

Equally it concerns me that whether by accident or design RW seems to be offering his most thoughtful work abroad - is it because he cannot find an audience here in Britain or because it is not as well reported here - or this just touch of jingo-jealousy on my part?

However the two concerns come together in the Larkin Stuart Lecture in Toronto Canada which he has offered on the subject of "The Bible Today: Reading and Hearing".

You can read the full text here, and it everything that you might expect - incredibly complex and far ranging, and challenging but none to easy read.Two passages have really struck me.

The first partly because I am not sure that I understand the argument (or whether it is made in such a way that I could offer it elsewhere), but it is about a passage which offers a challenge at most funeral services which I lead. RW writes

"Two contentious examples. The first of them is, as we shall see, of more than accidental importance in understanding certain things about Scripture as a whole, but I choose it because of its frequent use in modern debates about relations between faith communities. Jesus says in the Farewell Discourses of John's Gospel that 'no-one comes to the Father except by me'. As an isolated text, this is regularly used to insist that salvation depends upon explicit confession of Christ, and so as a refutation of any attempt to create a more inclusive theology of interfaith relations. But the words come at the end of a typically dense and compressed piece of exposition. Jesus has, at the end of ch.13, explained that the disciples cannot follow him now; he goes ahead to prepare a place. Thus, he creates the path to the Father that the disciples must follow; they know the path already in the sense that they know him. And this knowledge of him, expressed in the mutual love that he has made possible (13.34-5), will carry them through the devastation of absence and not-knowing which will follow the crucifixion. Seeing and knowing Jesus as he goes towards his death in the perfection of his 'love for his own' is already in some way a knowing of the Father as that goal towards which the self-giving of Jesus in life and death is directed. The Father is not to be known apart from this knowledge of Jesus.

Now this certainly does not suggest in any direct way a more inclusive approach to other faiths. But the point is that the actual question being asked is not about the fate of non-Christians; it is about how the disciples are to understand the death of Jesus as the necessary clearing of the way which they are to walk. If they are devastated and left desolate by his death, they have not grasped that it is itself the opening of a way which would otherwise remain closed to them. Thus it is part of the theology of the cross that is evolving throughout the later chapters of John, the mapping out of a revelation of glory through self-forgetting and self-offering. The text in question indeed states that there is no way to the Father except in virtue of what Jesus does and suffers; but precisely because that defines the way we must then follow, it is (to say the least) paradoxical if it is used as a simple self-affirmation for the exclusive claim of the Christian institution or the Christian system. There is, in other words, a way of affirming the necessity of Christ's crucified mediation that has the effect of undermining the very way it is supposed to operate. If we ask what the question is that the passage overall poses, or what the change is that needs to be taking place over the time of the passage's narration, it is about the move from desolation in the face of the cross (Jesus' cross and the implicit demand for the disciple to carry the cross also) to confidence that the process is the work of love coming from and leading to the Father."

The second relates to two conversations which I have been having locally about the significance of the Ministry of the Word within the Eucharist - the first with some-one who has a more Protestant background who is discovering the significance of the Eucharist as thanksgiving, the second with a more Catholic background steeped in the Mass but begining to realise that the readings of the Bible are more significant than just stories about Jesus. RW writes:

"But to read Scripture in the context of the Eucharist -- which has been from the beginning of the Church the primary place for it -- is to say that the Word of God that acts in the Bible is a Word directed towards those changes that bring about the Eucharistic community. The summons to the reader/hearer is to involvement in the Body of Christ, the agent of the Kingdom, as we have seen; and that Body is what is constituted and maintained by the breaking of bread and all that this means. For Paul, exploring it in I Corinthians, the celebration of the Lord's Supper is strictly bound up with the central character of the community: what is shown in the Eucharist is a community of interdependence and penitent self-awareness, discovering the dangers of partisan self-assertion or uncritical reproduction of the relations of power and status that prevail in the society around. So if Scripture is to be heard as summons or invitation before all else, this is what it is a summons to. And the reading and understanding of the text must be pursued in this light. We ask what change is envisaged or required in the 'time' of any passage of Scripture; and now we can add that whatever change that is in particular, it must make sense in the context of the formation of this kind of community -- the Eucharistic Body."

The use of St Paul is of course especially helpful to my Protestant friend, who recognises that in the Church of his childhood and teens St Paul was probably more important and influential than Jesus.( Can you imagine the morality focused and narrow kind of teaching he experienced)  For him to see that Paul had a deep and profound theology of the Lord's Supper - and a theology which was not just a memorial of something in the past, but something which continues through the agency of the Holy Spirit to be active and dynamic today.

So when you have some time to read, and re-read and ponder you might want to follow the link to RW's address.  

21 April 2007

John 21:1-19

I have a growing love and admiration for John's Gospel - and regret that it only makes star appearances in the Anglican lectionary alongside the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew Luke and Mark.

We should really have had a four year lectionary with an additional year founded on John - then the full glory and diversity of the Gospel would have been revealed week by week.

Tomorrow's Gospel is a gift: revealing as it does that the Risen Lord made his appearances not in some magical state but in the everyday working environment of the fisherman disciples.

They had not yet understood the demands and implications of the Resurrection, and so had returned to their former occupation. It is there in the nets full with overflowing that the secret of the Resurrection is revealed - Jesus is concerned with all aspects of everyday life, and how people earn their living.

But it is in "Eucharistic" breaking of bread during breakfast that their awareness of Jesus is was fully confirmed.

So too when Christian gather in our age, The Eucharist is not some remote event, disconnected from everyday life, but a sacrament integral to and consistently revealing of everyday life.

When we read and talk of Jesus as "Saviour of the World", he is Saviour of everything about the world including our workplaces.Saviour for Jesus means transforming not escaping from the everyday.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

10 April 2007

Easter week holiday

On Easter day I was struck again that in John's Gospel account it was when Jesus (mistaken for a gardener) addresses Mary by her name (which no self respecting Jewish man would do to a  woman who was not a member of the family) that she realises who he really is.

There is something very profound about what this says about God - the Christian understanding is of the divine being very intimate and personal - it reminds us that God knows each one of us by name. When we realise this then we are able to recognise God when we least expect to do. 

I am off duty throughout Easter week till Monday next - lots of family things to do and catch up on, and a study to re-organise (I am dreading it) in preparation for a musical sabbatical.

More on the sabbatical later in the week . . .

07 April 2007

Holy Saturday thanks

One two Lent retreats for clergy and church leaders which I have led this year, I have challenged the participants to make full use of Holy Saturday (please not Easter Saturday which is the Saturday of next week). 

There is rightly for some a "pause" in between the hard work of Holy Week and the events of tonight and tomorrow, but for many this will be taken up with preparation for a holiday week next week.

I suggested that on the first Holy Saturday the confused, bereaved, and frightened disciples would have fallen back on real friendships and found some support from among their families as well as with those who had shared faith in Jesus. The people who keep us going when things get tough or uncertain are vital.

So my reflective question for today is - Who during the past year has offered you support and inspiration in your ministry and in your faith journey?

1. Who would be that "someone" close who you know personally - and how could you thank them today?

2. Who within the wider Church - perhaps someone not known personally to you - has offered you inspiration?

I was able to offer my personal thanks this morning to the person who comes to mind in answer to question one.

This afternoon ( for question 2) I am writing to George Lings and his colleagues at the Church Army's Sheffield Centre to thank them for their work and specifically for their publication Encounters on the Edge  which has been hugely helpful and inspiring to me over the past year.

It was a close run thing with the Allelon website and movement, but in the end the Sheffield Centre comes out top because it writes in a British context and with a mind to the institutional Church.

But do look at two recent links at Allelon on Mission in the local Church and for "institutionally employed" clergy see Engaging missional imagination in the Traditional Church which is the write up on Steve Taylor's ministry at Opawa Baptist Church in New Zealand.

If you have not yet linked with these two partners in the "Missio Deo" then can I commend them to you.

I think the value of the exercise (which could be done at any time) is that we stop and prayerfully think about where our energy personally and in ministry is coming from at the moment. Who are the God given gifts which empower who we are and what we do. Who is feeding and inspiring those called to take up their cross and give?

Good Friday

Over the years I have been involved in preparing a variety of Good Friday worship - not least what is know as the stations of the Cross

Today what was offered was in some senses very traditional

Reading - silence - prayer - response and a hymn every second station

No reference to the actual stations - no movement - no congregational participation in the narrow sense that is so often applied to liturgy.

But in the end words or wisdom should be superfluous on this day.

The Story is what counts, as recorded in the biblical record of the four gospels.

It was the encounter with The Women ( Luke 23) which struck me this year

27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.

28Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.

29For the time will come when you will say, ' Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'

30Then " ' they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '[d]

31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

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.

28 March 2007

Easter mystery

I have been thinking and praying about Easter 2007 - partly in preparation for sermons/reflections in Holy Week - there is much talk about the Easter mystery - and today I offered a school assembly which focused on the Christian claim that "Jesus rose from the dead".

It is of course by any standard an absurd claim - and yet this is the central claim that the Christian experience of God has been founded on ever since.

Indeed Christians actually claim that all true experience of God is based upon Jesus acknowledged or not.

I remember at University I realised that not every Christian understood " no-one comes to the Father except through me" in the universal way that I had grown to appreciate it - an offer that was open to all people of any faith or none.

This interpretation (the opposite of the exclusive you must become a card carrying Christian or you will go to hell) seems to me to be consistent with what Jesus did after the resurrection.

Be human standards you might have expected him to stride into the Temple shouting " I'm back I've risen from the dead" or to have turned up at Pilate's palace to make him publicly aware that all was well.

Surely the logic would be that no-one would then deny the resurrection - so why didn't he - this is a real Easter mystery.

In fact what happened is that appeared to the few people who had ever shown a real understanding of what he was really about (ie not power or compulsive conversion). So personal experience became the vehicle for divine truth, rather than sensational headline or political compunction.

So the truth that "Jesus Christ is risen" was actually "a rumour among the faithful" as Roger Schultz of Taize described it, rather than an undeniable factual international headline.

25 March 2007

Time to pause

After an unacceptably busy week on a variety of fronts (to do with being an institutional Vicar of parish rather than a priest) it was good to have some time today to catch up on the wealth which is to be found on other peoples blogs - they offer me some perspective which is vital.

Firstly however some words from the Epistle reading set in the Church of England lectionary for today. Paul writes to the Philippians:

"More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake II have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him..."

These words never cease to challenge me about what is essential in my faith , to my vocation as a mission priest and the way that I perform my role as Anglican vicar.

Rob Lord has a post form ECUSA ( I am not happy with their slightly imperialistic new title) about how the American Church will respond to the ultimatum from the wider Anglican Communion - which illustrates the myth that the American response is all liberal politics rather than faithful response.

Paul Fromont reflects upon Bonhoeffers view of "worldly faith" and a quote from Nicholas Nash before offering this summary which seems to link again with St Paul's challenge:

I continue to reflect more and more not about a rational defence of gospel; a rational, propositional defence of faith (it seems to me to be becoming increasingly meaningless in our contemporary post-Christendom context), but instead, to reflect on the importance of a quietly distinctive, humble and alternative embodied expression of “good news”. This is what gospel looks like, feels like, tastes like, sounds like – “taste and see,” “watch and listen,” “see how they love one another…” etc.

 Does not the process of "regarding everything as loss" include our intellectual rational mindset which inhibits us from sharing our faith in new ways for each generation.

And it was a comment from Paul's site which took me to this youth worker blog which many will find interesting and stimulating

Progressive Mission

Jonny Baker identifies interesting connections with "Progressive Christians" from a visit to the States.

As I have suggested in a comment I think that there is much more affinity with this at the anglo catholic end of the Church of England, as there would be within the American episcopal Church but it is a tradition which focuses on practices rather than writing up ideas. as Jonny helpfully suggests links are being made for missional Christianity across historic divides of theology and church tradition.

On further reflection there are even stronger strands within the Scottish Episcopal Church, championed in a previous generation by Richard Holloway among others who is the epitome of an inclusive innovative and informed Anglican bishop - but in a way that brought much criticism from other Christians anxious to define clearer boundaries.

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.

15 March 2007

"We are sure you will agree . . . "

This wonderful phrase always brings as smile to my face whenever I read it as I have several times in the past week. So often it is used to request support for poorly argued and unsubstantiated suggestions with two clauses following - the first which perhaps no reasonable person might disagree with, but which is linked to a second clause which is a non-sequitur of what has proceeded it.

The bizarrely named "Anglican Mainstream" little rant about the SORs is the latest to employ the phrase - after rehearsing its increasingly tiresome examples of the B+B owner and the Christian printers who might be required to offer services to gay people it ends with this paragraph:

"We are sure you will agree that these are matters of concern. If it was the intention of the Government to stifle legitimate and orthodox teaching by a minister of religion – whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim – this is a matter which should be made explicit, and calls for public debate."

Divine Judgement

Over the last month I have found myself pondering and exploring what divine judgement means. Perhaps it is reading Jeremiah as part of the Daily Office.

More deeply it is conversations with other Christians or people searching for faith which have made me realise that their view of God (and God the Father in particular) has at its essence a view of the divine which is frankly vindictive.

This suggests to me that faith cannot be based upon a fear of God, but only on the love and forgiveness of God. But where therefore does judgement fit into the picture?

As I think this through (and I certainly do not want to allow those who have a more judgemental view of God in a sheep and goats type view to have all the rights to "judgement") it seems to me that the judgement which Christian doctrine suggests that it is an divine opportunity which will reveal to us all that is wrong with us as well as all that is good about us, so that we cannot avoid the former, but can rejoice in the latter.

Is judgement therefore essentially an internal matter when ' who we really are' is revealed to us in a way that we cannot avoid and which is supremely subjective - rather than some external objective  exercise by a "god figure" who is looking for the faults? It is about a loving mirror which reveals all, rather than a tally of our faults.

The emphasis may be more on

what gifts we have failed to use, than the more commonly perceived idea of the things which we done wrong

questions of being, attitude and motive as much as about activity

what we have failed to nurture in others as much as about what we have neglected within ourselves

This view seems to accord with the judgement which is described in Jeremiah as well as that which is profitably experienced in this life and in the here and now.

If that is so then judgement becomes something to embrace and perhaps welcome, rather than something to fear or avoid?

13 March 2007

Pastoral visiting

I remember reading these words from Henri Nouwen and finding them to be influential on my pastoral practice - and I may have blogged them before.

All too often other pressures mean that I cannot find the time I would like to offer to pastoral visiting but ought not to apologise for this:

It is good to visit people who are sick, dying, shut in,
handicapped, or lonely.  But it is also important not to
feel guilty when our visits have to be short or can only
happen occasionally.  Often we are so apologetic about our
limitations that our apologies prevent us from really being
with the other when we are there.  A short time fully
present to a sick person is much better than a long time
with many explanations of why we are too busy to come more
often.
If we are able to be fully present to our friends when we
are with them, our absence too will bear many fruits.  Our
friends will say:  "He visited me" or "She visited me," and
discover in our absence the lasting grace of our presence.

You can read other daily mediations through this link

12 March 2007

Same sex blessings

I long for the time when same-sex blessings become part of the liturgy of the Church of England, and when my conscience and obedience are in synergy again.

But in the meantime I will have to satisfy myself with knowing that other churches have a greater grasp of the love of God, and offer a glimpse of what might be for the Church of England - see Swedish Church Liturgy

With thanks to Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow, for the link and the inspiration - see his blog here

08 March 2007

The Trinity - cats - and Holiday Inns

I am working up some ideas for a workshop on The Trinity - trying to make into something more than theological discourse (though that will be an important element with any clergy group)

I have quite a repertoire of images and ideas for our Trinitarian God who is ultimately indescribable and undefinable.

What has come to mind is that we tend to "anthropomorphize" the Trinity in the way that we might a beloved cat - we know that the object of our love is not human but we can only interpret their behaviour and characteristics in human terms

One idea floating but not yet defined (that came to me first in Holiday Inn at 2am so the first note is scribbled on a piece of Holiday inn express note paper) is the Trinity and our response as follows:

God the Father as BEING with our response being one of SENSE

God the Son as EXAMPLE with our response being KNOWLEDGE

God the Spirit as AGENT with our response being EXPERIENCE

Incidentally I find myself using Holiday Inn Express more and more - the introvert in me appreciates the anonymity and independence between commitment when travelling - and if you use their leisure prices they are now very reasonable for B+B.

07 March 2007

In the world but not of it?

During a particularly frenetic time personally and within the parish I have been dipping in and out of Stephen Cottrell's book "From the Abundance of the Heart - catholic evangelism for all the Church"

Two things arise from my reading:

Firstly, time and time again, I find great comfort and challenge from people who share an Anglo Catholic background within the Church of England and a commitment to being a missional Christian. I guess that for most of us it is easier to be challenged if we know that the challenge comes from some-one who knows where we ourselves are coming from.

Secondly how important it is to remind myself and others that mission is primarily about God and what the divine is doing in the world and not about how we invite people "to come to the Church".  The Church is the consequence of people discovering God's purpose for their lives and the world - it is place of support and fellowship only to the extent that it prepares to engage with God and the world still more.

One of the great dangers of the Anglo-Catholic tradition is that Church becomes an end in itself. But I also see signs that this danger is affecting other traditions within the Church - particularly conservative evangelicals for whom the Church is a kind of temporary lifeboat until they gain their divine rewards at death.

One of the dilemmas which Stephen highlights is how "churchy" Christians can become. This was bought home to me at a workshop last week when I asked participants to list the groups they were involved with. 

40% could not list a non-Christian or non-workplace group - when I suggested that they needed to do something other than work or be holy they seemed quite disturbed.

Theologically we are empowered to be " in the world but not of it". For some who were present they had never understood this to be an opportunity or a challenge - more a charter to be as much " not of it" and as little " in the world" as was possible.

To put it in anglo-catholic terms (which might resonance with Christians of other traditions) Stephen Cottrell reminds his readers that the climax of the Eucharist is not the receipt of the communion elements of bread and wine but the sending out into the world which ends the Eucharist or Mass. Mass of course has the same root word as mission - so mass and mission share a common purpose rather than being in some uneasy tension.

06 March 2007

Asbo Jesus

Jon Birch (he of many things intriguing and creatively artistic, and altar ego of Jonny Baker in many collaborations) has started a wonderful new blog called asbo Jesus which has already included some superb visuals of which this one really set me chuckling and I am tempted to seek permission to include it in the next parish magazine!

05 March 2007

Scripture and sexuality

Barry Morgan the Anglican Archbishop of Wales has spoken in Cork Cathedral on the issues arising in the Anglican Communion - and it is thoroughly worthwhile read too - that rare mixture on this topic of being intelligent and intelligible - read here

27 February 2007

Live Lent and transfers?

Today is the day in the adult calendar for Live Lent which (according to informal research within the local school and parish) most children are dreading (their turn at this challenge comes next week) 

The generous act for today is:

" have a TV-free day and do something you have meant to do for ages"

When I suggested this in school assembly there was a groan of disbelief, and one-to-one conversations with some Year 3 and Year 4 children revealed that some of them could not even conceive of a TV free day - it would be a major deprivation.

Just so I am not seen to be stereotyping an entire age group on the basis of a small sample, it should be recorded that others said they watched very little telly and didn't see it as a problem.

The worrying element for the TV denying sceptics was not so much giving up telly for a day - but what they would do instead - a couple of lads I spoke to found that really hard and said they watched telly for nearly all the evening on weekdays in the winter.

Anyway just when there was a danger that I might be getting a little pious about TV viewing habits I realised that tonight is my only commitment free evening this week, and that the FA Cup replay between Reading and United ( or their second teams anyway) was live on telly - now there is temptation.

Which leads me to ask whether transfers are possible and could I swap today's commitment with tomorrows? - I would happily miss TV tomorrow and make sure that I "turn off the tap while cleaning my teeth" today.

26 February 2007

Rowan and Widgets

Interested to read Rowan Williams Presidential Address to General Synod - and I am grateful to be able to read it rather than just listen to it since I think it would have been hard work as a speech.

Hard work as it can be I (nearly) always find that the hard work understanding what RW has to say is worthwhile in the end.

By complete contrast I have been recommended personally and somewhat plagued by reminders that I have not yet widgetized my blog - everyone seems to think it a thoroughly good idea - but so far I haven't found an explanation as to what it actually does, or how it works or why I should really bother.

 

The Widgetbox site ( recommended by Typepad) which claims to make all clear, is a classic of the computer world's incestuous self-deception when it comes to explanation. I have read it very carefully and followed every link on the site in search of the answer to the question "why does it do what it claims it does and how?"

So I can readily forgive Rowan's occasional mountains of language which only lead to a steep ascent and fog when I come across explanations such as "Widgetbox widgets can respond to your blog posts and website content." . . .  and . . .

Live Lent suggested today that pilgrims should offer someone an apple - the delivery man was a little surprised but departed The Vicarage graciously not only with his required signature but a good red apple.

23 February 2007

Lent locally

Love Life Live Lent adult version cover imageI have been prompted that I did not provide a link for the Lent packs - it has had an encouraging response locally - people who have never really engaged with Lent before both within our Church membership and much wider catching the vision.

Today adults are invited to give up a place to some-one in a rush . . . and kids are invited to share a treat with someone else.

We have had fun with the local school where the idea of "having a TV free day" was by far the most demanding suggestion!!

Tanzania perspectives

 Perhaps it was too much to hope for the popular press to provide a considered perspective on the outcome in Tanzania, and the Anglican press such as Church of England News and Church Times plainly have their own agendas which inhibit intelligent reflection.

So the overview in The Tablet is all the more welcome for its succinct summary of what was agreed, some clarity about how there was such temporary unanimity which allowed both ends of the debate to sign the communique, and some forward looking perception as to what now faces the Episcopal Church in the States.

Perceptions of Tanzania?

Seems that it is possible to make virtually what you want of the final communique from the Anglican Primates, some suggesting that in the general context of things it is a "liberal triumph" but I doubt that it will been seen that way by many GLB Christians.

Perhaps the best can be said was that the gathering ended without the much feared split - and that at least the next stage in the process will happen within local Provinces.

Sadly outside the Church I think that the other Rowan's analysis will prevail rather than our own Rowan's nuanced descriptions.

Tanzania - questions of Eucharistic fellowship?

The refusal of Peter Akinola and others to share in the Eucharist challenged my understanding of the injunction to make one's peace before sharing in the fellowship of the Eucharist.

I have always understood it to be an injunction to make peace ( however big the disagreement) in order that it is possible to share in the thanksgiving which our Lord commanded - and leaving the matter of judgement to God. ie the Eucharist has a primary place over all other matters.

The Akinola view seems to reverse this injunction to say that you have to be absolutely clear about your judgement of others first, and if that stops you sharing in the Eucharist then so be it. So the emphasis is on human judgement rather than divine fellowship

I cannot help think that if the latter interpretation was right then Jesus might have actually excluded Judas from the Last Supper.

20 February 2007

Synths, faith, and cultures

YAMAHA MM6 SynthesizerRead some interesting material last week about the international market for music equipment, and the importance of getting the marketing culturally relevant for it to be convincing for specific markets. 

Roland in particular are past master of this. There is a relevance of course to sharing the Christian faith in different contexts. Several emails and demo videos have since winged their way across cyberspace with some great examples of inappropriate practice between co-readers.

If you did not know that it was the real thing then this demo video from Yamaha could be mistaken for a spoof - kind of Japanese meets some-one Scandinavian, instead of their professional attempt to promote the superb new MM Synthesizer which brings Motif technology into the £300 price bracket of the UK market! I am sure that it will convince you to get your butt down to your local store being the real funky dude the presenter had in mind.

Lent starts on Wednesday?

Well yes of course Lent starts on Wednesday all good Anglicans agree with the wider Christian tradition unless it seems you happen to be the Archbishops of York and Canterbury .

Here in the local parish we have tried to offer a "Lent for Everyone" not just those who value and understand such things so we have accepted the invitation to join the Archbishops of York and Canterbury in their 2007 approach to Lent

Neat little handbooks for adults and for children have been handed out free and offer suggestions for Lenten generosity.

What foxed the traditionalist among us is that the packs started Lent today - the first I realised that folk were getting into the spirit of Lent two days early was when people started telling me jokes (today's suggestion is make someone laugh!). So the best joke of the day so far:

" What do you get if you put 10 Anglicans into a room?"

"15 different opinions!"

(HT to Roy Aston)

Anyway since it is apparently "official" may you all have a blessed Lent.

03 February 2007

The value of training

If you are currently involved in training either as a student or tutor this time of the academic year is often among the most difficult - when pressures and deadlines seem to impinge and for final year students the end of the year is in sight but not quite there and God willing the next step is already agreed and clear.

Questions might then arise about the value of training - I know they have for me as a student.

I could think of lots of good reasons for training, but in the end I think there is one quite compelling one.

Yesterday I spent a somewhat agonised hour with a long-term friend who is perhaps the most gifted creator of worship that I have ever met or had the pleasure and inspiration to work with.

What makes his creativity all the more remarkable is that he does what he does (and in real sense "is what he is" )without any formal training whatsoever - not even a two-hour introduction to worship.

In short everything he does and enables has been based on inspiration and gifts.

I met with him having heard over the grapevine of fairly high profile worship disaster - and to cut a long story short the flow of inspiration has dried up - "been cut off" in his words.

Suddenly there is nothing in the tank. This is not a crisis of faith, or a lack of the sense of the presence of God or anything like that. He has taken a break since November from being involved in his local worship or any event type worship for which is rightly well-known - but no still nothing comes. He just feels stale with nowhere to turn

In his distress I realise that he has nothing to fall back on - no framework - no understanding of how others have created and understood worship - no wider reading - no tools for analysis and interestingly a very limited network of other worship creators.

It dawned on me and him that one might reasonably expect these to have come from the training that most people in his position (and reputation)would have received prior to commencing their ministry.

So if training seems hard or a bit of waste of time at the moment - try to imagine being in my friends position in years to come when what you are doing now will be invaluable.

30 January 2007

Loyal Radical pt 2

Just to add to my previous post I thought this was really good on the idea of loyal radicals - haven't really thought through whether its a label I would apply to myself yet as others seem to be doing.

29 January 2007

Holocaust Day follow-up

Some thoughts flowing out of Holocaust Day.

1. Can anyone direct me to some written material on the Pharisess written from a Jewish perspective - what was their theology (and how did it differ from the mainstream) what was their social understanding etc - why did they seem to be in conflict with Jesus. ( This is partly to explore the "bogeymen" image of so many Christian sermons and books - I tend to think that if Jesus came today good bounded "Anglicans" would perhaps be the equivalent today!!)

2. I have read/heard somewhere the idea that as a generalisation Jews and Christians have a different primary perspective about The Holocaust which runs along the lines of:

that Jews primarily ask "what" happened seeking to keep alive the living (and dying) personal experience
that Christians primary ask "why" The Holocaust happened - a sense of guilt and distance from the consequences

I am fairly certain it was a Jewish commentator - but now know it was not Lionel Blue who I thought it was Can any one help with a proper quote or source

3. Was interested in this article about defining "anti-semitism" to be found on the Haaretz website

27 January 2007

Candlemas and illness

I identified with Richard's post about being ill (having been down with a bug since Thursday)which has kept me out of circulation within The Parish and played havoc with my writing and preparation schedules.

It is hard to stop (if not to avoid gatherings and meetings for fear of passing the bug on), and I have found myself at the computer screen trying to prepare with things looking distinctly fuzzy, and having read it over today not very coherent either.

We celebrate Candlemas's tomorrow but it has become a relatively minor celebration. In the centuries before it would have been a major event with a determined attempt at a mid-winter celebration. In fact in Anglo-Saxon and celtic areas the Christian simply "Christianised" local mid-winter celebrations.

It is hard for us today to recognise just how tough winter would have been for our predecessors prior to electricity, modern transport, contemporary farming methods and most of all modern medicine.

I remember looking at the burial register for the mid 1800's onwards and the number of deaths during the winter months especially for children was startling. I have three parishioners at the moment "routinely" recovering from illnesses which in that era would have meant death.

The alternative name for Candlemas (The Feast of the Purification) is quietly forgotten in these PC times but is that name which reminds how ordinary Jesus life was - he lived in particular place and time and cultural context - his parents thought it necessary to pray for his survival, and his mother (despite her subsequent elevation by the Church to purity) went to be purified after childbirth.

So let us celebrate mid-winter, all that we enjoy in our lifestyles, and the humanity of Jesus.

 

[PS I had written all the above last week, and just topped it with the first two paragraphs today!]

24 January 2007

Evaluating emerging church - from analysis to experience

I have been engaged in the past few days in some debate via emails and comments on posts about how the "emerging church" (in the broadest sense of the movement of the Holy Spirit that is being experienced across the world)is being assessed and critiqued (see Steve Taylor's post for example here and the comments that follow which lead to Andrew's [Tallskinnykiwi] post on the same subject)

I have reflected that in the US context there does seem to be a particular issue about criticism from an academic/doctrinal rather than experiential perspective - which adapts particularly poorly when a similar approach is applied to the emerging church in the UK which is a much more organic phenomena. (for example see the comments on Theoblog which have stuck in my mind from last October and which ollie rather plaintively points out at 12.39!)

I have been challenged that I do not understand what is happening or what is at stake in the US national context, and that I should read further. Several critiques have offered as examples of constructive criticism which I have followed up on - and it is good to see that not all have followed the likes of Don Carsons critique from ignorance and weakness approach.

However it is nevertheless instructive to read on what basis these insights are offered. Brett Kunkles article for example lists the basis of his critique:

"I have done my best to listen, seek to understand, and to represents ECM views accurately. I submit the following list of qualifications as proof:
1. Face-to-Face Conversations: I have had face-to-face discussions with a number of leaders within the ECM, including Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Mark Oestriecher, and Brian McLaren. Frankly, I have found them to be warm, engaging, enthusiastic, and excellent conversation partners.
2. Attendance at the Emergent Convention: In May of 2005, I attended the Emergent Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, for the express purpose of learning about the ECM and having conversations with those within the movement.
3. Reading of Their Books: I have read their books, many of which can be found in my personal library.
4. Reading of Their Articles: I have read their articles wherever I can find them, be it online or in print.
5. Listened to Their Teaching: I have attended their workshops at the Emergent convention. I have listened to seminar audio recordings from Youth Specialties’ National Youth Worker Conventions.
6. Listened to Their Podcasts: I have downloaded and listened to their podcasts.
7. Attend an Emerging Church: I attend what many consider to be an Emerging Church: Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa, California."

Now to draw an analogy with the Church of England (which shares breadth with the emerging church) if I had met with six bishops (and found them to be nice chaps), attended General Synod, read the books of the Church's leading theologians, assiduously read the Church Times and Church of England News each week, attended Soul Survivor, and the National Youth Work conference, and listened to Choral Evensong on Radio 3, but only actually visited one Parish Church, would that qualify me to publish an informed opinion on the Church of England? I do not feel it would, not least because the people who make up the vast majority of the living life of the Church would have nothing to do with any of the above.

On the day when we celebrated the saints day of Francis De Sales (Bishop in Geneva when Calvin was "reforming" the Church!) is it not essential to remember that whether a movement of the Spirit is true is not based upon the things listed above by Kunkles but whether such things lead people to a new or renewed relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

De Sales in his "Introduction to the Devout life" formed the renewal which sprang from his ministry on opening prayer and meditation to the everyday person in the culture of the day, and sharing the gifts of monaticism with the "laity". Now that seems to have parallels with the emerging church as people are experiencing it, rather more than the external analysis might be suggesting.

23 January 2007

Why I don't go to Church anymore

Brilliant post on the subject here

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Holocaust and Big Brother thoughts

 I haven't been watching it , but have thought that an awful lot of hot air has been generated about Big Brother. Catherine Pepinster however seemed to reach for the core reasons when she spoke on Thought for the Day. about the insights of Rene Girard.

As I work on a vigil on The Holcaust for Holocaust Day ( and I think it should be Holocausts Day) on Saturday then it rings true for how a people collectively can de-humanize themselves and their victims sufficiently to carry out these horrific corporate actions. I am aware in posting the photo that I cannot find anywhere this childs name - she is listed as " a victim"

I remember visting a memorial site in Germany where a poet had written that it had to be called "The Holcaust" for the time being until something worse happened, and that would be the time to decide whether it was "The Nazi Holocaust" or the " The Jewish Holocaust" - but in the meantime we hide behind "The Holocaust".

What has been interesting about connecting Girards insights to Big Brother is that in this case the "perpetrator" within the House, has become the "victim" when she was expelled.

19 January 2007

Clergy Diocesan Conferences

Wow - I wish clergy conferences I have attended in the past got anywhere near tackling this kind of topic which David Chillingworth attempted in his Diocese see here.

13 January 2007

Film and Christianity

Steve Taylor has some excellent reviews and ideas on the interface of film and faith here - while not being a film buff I agree with his assessment that film-makers are asking some important questions of us Christians at the moment.

Brokeback Mountain and the homophobic reactions of a minority of Christians to SOR spring to my mind.

08 January 2007

Epiphany - a season not just a day

This year I am focusing in the parish on the whole of the Epiphany season. What is being revealed to us about Jesus in what can be a downbeat time of the year here in the Pennines when it is dark by 4pm on gloomy days and sometimes get a week of rain when we are all back into routine after the excitment of Christmas and the New Year.

Drawing on the example of the Magi I have offered three reflective questions:

1. Matthew Gospel records that God reaches out and reveals his son through strangers and gentiles from the East - who are the people outside the Church who reveal God to us today ?

2. Matthew Gospel records that the Magi offered Jesus 'homage' - if homage is a 'respectful response to God' that opens up the possibility of a new relationship then what new patterns in my relationship with God am I being invited to today?

3. Matthew's Gospel records that The Magi faced the mystery of the gift of God in the Christ Child and made a response in expensive gifts - what treasures are we being called to offer to God today?

03 January 2007

Daily Office Collect for Epiphany

The Daily Office which I will be using during the season of the Epiphany ends with this wonderful Collect prayer:

 

Almighty God

In Christ you make all things new.

Transform the poverty of our nature

by the riches of your grace

and,

in the renewal of our lives,

make known your heavenly glory

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

I love the structure of collects which address God personally then add a statement of faith, then pray that this may have implications and consequences for how we live our Christian lives.

Direct, simple and profound.

27 December 2006

The Feast of St John Apostle and Evangelist December 27th

One of my favourite days of the year - the day after Boxing Day - the post-Christmas exhaustion is begining to clear - a few days break lies ahead - ordinary food is back on the menu - the family have other things to do -no-one expects me to do anything in particular  . . .

and we celebrate John the man who was perhaps Jesus closest friend - John son of Zebedee (how I used to love that when I was young and thought it cool to have a Dad called Zebedee). John the Apostle and Evangelist - the author of the profoundest of the Gospels - a man of huge insight and imagination - but a man who was "there for" Jesus too - at the Transfiguration - at the Last Supper - in his agony in the Garden - and at the foot of the Cross -and a witness to the empty tomb.

 I love el Greco's painting of him as a young man - as Jesus would have known him - rather than the patriachial old man which is the tradition of other artists. Celebrate John whose Gospel makes faith possible for me and so many others.

21 December 2006

Moby's Christmas message

lightningMoby offers a message for Christmas which he heads as:

i think it is odd/funny when people come to moby.com or mysapce to tell me about christianty

go read here

Blessings

Bless_you I think over the past few months I have begun to appreciate the power of 'formal blessings' as a way of ending all kinds of events and gatherings.

Blessings in this context seem to offer not just 'an ending' ( important though that is) but also an agenda for continuing thought and action.

He's one which has sparked interesting developments.I thinks its power comes from its link between emotions and practical Christian action for justice. The final 'verse' is an insanely but profoundly Christ-like statement of faith in each one of us.

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

I think it is Franciscan in origin but I was first given it at the end of a retreat I led at The Mac on Iona - so it may possibly be from the Iona Community.

20 December 2006

Diocese of Virginia + Covenants

My PhotoWhile the press and blogs are full of the issues of schism within the Diocese it is good to read another perspective from Rick Lord at Holy Comforter - these are words of great faith and wisdom which might be summed up by:

No matter what one reads or hears in the press about "looming schism" in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the truth of the matter is, I have always been supported and affirmed in my passion for the Gospel by the congregations and Bishops with whom I have served. I have served almost half of those years in the Diocese of Virginia under Bishop Peter Lee who has been an extraordinary mentor and friend. Yes, there are evangelical priests who love the Episcopal Church and who remain faithful to its doctrine, discipline, and worship.  I'm one of them.  Yes, there are matters in our family over which I am deeply vexed.  But for me, relational unity precedes doctrinal unity, a conviction grounded in the writings of St. Paul (see 1 Corinthians, chapter 12).

As Rick celebrates 25 years of priestly parish ministry within the Anglican Communion, I wish some of those who are the forefront of some of the 'Covenant' divisions within the Church of England would speak and pronounce how the Church of England "should be" with this kind of long-term commitment and experience of parish ministry.

19 December 2006

Small begining's - Church for under 5s

The Encounters on the Edge series of publications The Sheffield Centre has always been one of my regular readings sources about missional Church. Under the editorship of George Lings it has some of the most creative and best researched wisdom of where God wants the Church to be.

Earlier this year they produced issue No 30 "Discernment in Mission" which offers aids to discerning the way for the missional Church - directional rather than prescriptive advice. I have used it in various contexts without ever failing to stimulate thoughtful debate.

The latest edition Small Beginings written by Claire Dalpra (a recent mum) is about how Church might be developed with the under 5s. As well as exploring existing models it contains some important insights from young mums, as well as some reassuring and yet challenge research ( mid-week Toddler type groups hardly ever lead to a Sunday commitment is one of the findings)

I reckon all leaders involved in or considering this ministry should have a read of this pamphlet . . . I shall be circulating one around the Play and Praise team here in Oakworth.

14 December 2006

Advent thoughts

Amid

a plethora of building developments here in the parish which should equip our building for its missional task

and nuturing into real life a Ministry Development Team which enables a much wider group of people to use their skills and to encourage others,

and several requests for help and consultancy with Mission Action plans or to review deanery strategies etc etc etc

and a Advent season which seems a week shorter than usual because of Christmas Day being on a Monday

and all the pressures which make up the lead up to Christmas

I have found it helpful during Advent to be reminded by this prayer of Oscar Romero:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.romero04.jpg
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Amen.

Update:  Thanks to Paul Walker at out of the cocoon for the graphic which accompanied his link to this post. His blog has interesting reflections about emerging church and its links and tensions with the institutional Church - go read.

Emerging Emergent and Denominations in the US

It is interesting to see how emerging Church in the US has developed into a definite new quasi-denominational label (called Emergent) which views itself as distinctive from other Churches.

I have watched the debate with the evangelical churches with interest - not least because of the latters failure to understand what is emerging within this strand of the universal Church.

More interesting and subtle is the tensions between Emergent and the mainstream denominations which is summed up in the current Emergent C mailing by Troy Bronsink as follows:

"Isn’t mixing Mainline and Emergence like mixing oil and water? Well, granted, it’s hard to explain to folks in well ordered denominations such as Presbyterians or Episcopalians how Emergent events like the Gathering in Glorietta take place: 150 people self-organizing generating new music, theological invention, and sustainable recyclable food habits –among other things. And many who rely upon and bless institutions rooted in doctrinal distinctiveness such as Lutherans and Baptists, wonder how a group like the Emergent Village can exist without a written doctrinal statement. And then our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Mennonite sisters and brothers wonder if the “Emergent Church” is yet one more Americanization of late Christendom. And most Methodist I have met argue that Emergent is not doing anything new (If you’re Methodist and think otherwise, I’m open for correction). So, no matter what your stripe/tribe/lineage/flavor... (if your institution has not been stereotyped here, you are more than welcome to do so now) there is at least a little dissonance between your own institutional precedents and the emergence happening in your congregations and the organizations that under-gird them. Meanwhile, many churches that once identified themselves as post-evangelical and/or post-denominational have pioneered the very Emergent conversation that we benefit from. So, what gives? Is there not a dream for God’s creation which the Spirit is using to tug us all (affiliated and not-affiliated) into a more generous future?"

Now I suspect that the reality is a little more nuanced than is presented here - certainly in terms of how the Episcopal Church view emerging Church initiatives since the list of speakers for an associated conference includes Karen Ward who has clear links with the episcopal Church in a way that mirrors emerging church developments in the UK. There is an interesting train of comments here

It is interesting to see some familiar names appearing at this Episcopal Conference which Rick Lord records here and the numbers of Episcopal clergy attending.

10 December 2006

You sound like . . .

There is only one thing odder than a personal comparison with someone you love and respect (I guess that many of us find that both flattering and helpful) and so some months back I was unsure about comparisons with Chris Moyles without really knowing that much about him, (but it caused much amusement among friends and those who know me).

More recently in various non-parochial settings three people have asked whether I had been influenced by Rob Bell, because the kind of things that i was suggesting sounded just like him. I had to confess that I did not know who he was or what he stood for, so he de facto he was not an influence.

Gradually he has appeared on my horizons , not least in recent weeks with his UK visit. Now there are obvious differences in attitude and size between the respective churches in which we serve, but I find some affinity with his views on mission and was interested to hear him speak in this interview.

09 December 2006

Mary's Pregnant - scandal

But this time the Christian right in the US are concerned about another Mary

05 December 2006

Advent stories

Archbishop of York Rt Rev John SentamuSee the Church of England's official on-line Advent Calender here.

Love John Sentamu's advents themes "wake up, clean up, grow up, serve up." - might use them next year.

28 November 2006

Tele-evangelists and healing

I am more than ever convinced that we need to take the important healing role of US telly evangelists more seriously in the UK - we need to get behind the cultural barriers and lay aside our innate cynicism.

After a fairly miserable past week struggling with a stinky cold and sore throat when I haven't laughed too much, this  video has really cheered me - which goes to prove how the good Lord's healing really does work through his faithful servants.

HT to Matt Stone at Eclectic Etchings - a really great blog worth adding to your favourites.

04 November 2006

Enthusiasm

I will always cherish my early years among the youth of the New Jerusalem community in Cincinnati .

If we were nothing else we were enthusiastic! There was belief, there was trust, there was positive energy - everything was not immediately critiqued, analyzed and called into question. I always said, "let's be free to say yes before we say no." Over the years my appreciation for how profound that truth is has deepened. The AA saying that "analysis is paralysis" indicates a learned pattern that many educated people need to unlearn. Most of us are not free to say yes before we say no. Our first response is normally "no": "I don't trust that. I don't like that. I don't agree with that."

The word `enthusiasm' (en-theos in Greek) means `filled with God'. I'm not encouraging mindless enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm that is based on intelligence and wisdom and that great gift of hope. Hope is a participation in the very life of God."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've added the bold highlight!

30 October 2006

Highdays, holidays and Mondays

This Monday morning is just like most Monday mornings for me (despite knowing about the theology of Sunday as the first day of the week) its the first few hours of a new week . . . 

 - a time to review, plan diary, catch up on admin, and look at the ever-growing To Do list and add to "the-must-do- today notes" - to think and pray for the people I will meet and share with in the coming week.

What is different are nearly a week's break from the priestly task during 1/2 term is my perspective on the task

TODAY it looks an interesting challenge - it speaks of progress made - of people learning new skills and discovering new vocations - of responding to new requests - of people searching for faith while remaining sceptical of The Church

WHEREAS I remember a week-last-Monday thinking somewhat panicky about how all this was going to be done and where it was all leading.

Of course the task is greater for being away for a week . . .

Of course I am being over-ambitious about what can be achieved in the hours that God gives to me . .

So in one sense nothing has changed

But I want to Thank God for holidays that are really holydays . . . restoring a sense of wholeness and balance and purpose and for those who make holidays possible for me

17 October 2006

The Veil

Zaiba Malik is one of the most imaginative women journalists around, and being a Muslim enables her to provide an interesting perspective in today's Guardian when she adopts the niqab veil, wears it for an ordinary day in her life, and then records peoples reactions to it. Her thoughts are an interesting mix of how it "felt" to her, and more importantly how other people, including other Muslim women, reacted to her.

Read here here

15 October 2006

Moby interview pt2

The Moby interview from Jim Wallis site continues here with Moby reflecting on how he mixes celebrity with Christianity . . .

13 October 2006

Tom Wright's ' Simply Christian'

Tom Wright's book Simply Christian which I have commended on this blog is given a favourable and more thorough review here at Faith and Theology

I would want to add is that from the limited experience of the past few weeks of sharing the book around that it does seem to have that "aha" gift of making what is obvious to a Christian (and therefore conversely more difficult to explain?) more transparent to the genuine seeker or theologically interested offering that "aha moment" or "so that's why" experience.

Go read . . .

John Stott interviewed

John Stott (the Pope of evangelical Anglicans!) and one of my Christian heroes is interviewed here by Christianity Today. It was always suggested to me that great and wise Christians become more 'universal' and less 'partisan' in old age, and I think this is illustrated in this interview.

11 October 2006

Moby

_moby_1 Something about Moby has always appealed to me
- his music which is a charming combination of the really simple with the elegant
- his excellent blog which can be read here
- and now an interview on the Jim Wallis blog here

and above all his integrity seems to be unaffected by wealth and fame . . .

09 October 2006

Blogger days revisited: Death and children

I am offering some of my posts from the Blogger days of Bigbulkyanglican - here's one which produced 39 comments first time round both for and against the main idea and there is a really helpful advice page from the Hospice movement here

 

Not in front of the children? Keep death simple!

Yet again today I found myself dealing with family's plans for a funeral and what they would do with the children ( aged 7 and 9 in this case). We Brits have this folklore lodged in our history from Victorian times ( at least in the middle classes) that children shouldn't go to funerals.

For me my personal experience has guided my pastoral advice. I remember my Grandfathers funeral as a kid, when the adults disappeared to something, came back looking sad but stiff upperlip and feeling that I had missed out on something - especially a chance to say goodbye.

Since I have been a priest I have always encouraged parents to give kids the chance to go. Explain in simple direct language what will happen - explain that people including adults might be upset but that's OK - if there is more than one of them emphasise that it is a personal individual choice and they don't have to go because a brother or sister is not going - and then give them time to think and make a choice. Don't decide that so and so is too sensitive, likely to get too upset etc etc.

I remember one family for whom the kids going to the funeral was OK but the committal at the crem was a step too far. I urged them to give them the option and both girls decided they wanted to go. I knew the family well through church and saw the girls at school before the funeral. They seemed quite excited about going to say thank-you for grandad, asking God to take care of him, and saying bye bye. Mum assured me that they had explained everything very simply.

The day came and we had a wonderful funeral - the kids were moved but content. I went ahead to the local crem, and was waiting when they arrived. The girls got out and came and stood next to me in a uninhibited way talking quietly to each other as the coffin was lifted from the car.

Then the older one pulled my robe and whispered to me " Tom is Grandad's body already in heaven?" I replied that it was in the coffin. The reply came back " Mummy said that too - but what's a coffin". When I said it was the long box in front of them she smiled and turned to her younger sister and said in a superior voice ( a little too loud for comfort) " Grandad's body in the box - but its about to take off soon"

So give them the choice - keep the explanations simple - don't worry about how they will react - it can be a vital lesson (especially for boys) that it is OK for adults to be sad, upset and to cry.

15 September 2006

Clergy Training

Two people who share in the ministry of my local Church in Oakworth represent something of the diversity of people who are training for the ordained ministry within the Church of England.

Nigel is training on the Northern Ordination course for the non-stipendary ministry, and is beginning his final year - his excellent blog  offers some insights into what the training process has been like - as you will read he has spent the summer in NZ with Steve Taylor and the folks at Opawa Baptist Church as part of his placement training.

Nigel's vocation as a priest is to the weekday world of work where he spends most of his time as an accountant. This for me represents a missional vocation into one the most interest mission contexts, and I watch with interest to see how the formal Church copes with this vocation rather than seeing him simply as another pair of hands to fill the gaps caused by the reduction in the number of paid clergy.

June is beginning her training on the Carlisle and Blackburn Diocesan Training Course ( the course where I trained) on Saturday and comes to this new challenge with lots of gifted experience of pastoral ministry within a range of churches, and a hugely valued personal ministry within the parish here. After two years training she will share in the ministry here at Oakworth as an ordained person.

Above all I recognise with Nigel, June and others that I am both hugely encouraged that such gifted people are offering to engage with this ministry within the Church and it is really exciting - but also as their parish priest/ spiritual director/friend I see something of the cost involved as they become the people that God is calling them to be.

Just another thought - I heard recently that Blackburn Diocese which covers most of Lancashire now has more ordained priests than at any time in its history . . .

So its a time of change and challenge within the Church - responding to a priestly vocation is never an easy choice - but God is calling people to be priests in new ways and in new contexts - for which we should offer our thanks.

14 September 2006

Clergy Training

Trainers, academics and emergents - new allies?    

Back in 2004 I offered this post in response to a blog discussion which Maggi Dawn and Jonny Baker had initiated. Although I would want to de-link it from that discussion several people have asked to me to offer the post again to increase awareness of how people are trained today.

In the post below here you can follow a link to Steve's  blog where he refers to a new route to train which will offer a specialised route which is in the process of being developed nationally, though it is being pioneered in certain regional locations. This post however refers to the existing methods.

Click on continuation to read post

Continue reading "Clergy Training" »

12 September 2006

Me? Ordained?

Just loved this post from Steve  about the issues surrounding vocations and ordination 

I fell into some conversations, like you do. Before I knew it I was looking up and seeing some very obvious things staring me in the face. Conversations looped around the fact that there was a new way to be ordained that recognised the stuff you were already doing. For the first time it made sense. Maybe it is a feeling of being stronger and having something to offer. Supported and being understood helps the process.

 This is a maybe – perhaps – if - kinda feeling, but it feels like the start of something weird and special. I guess at the very least the journey will be interesting. 

Just need to swallow hard, get over the feeling of selling my soul. Listen not speak. Hear what they are really saying. Consider the idea of being part of something while still being able to hang around on the edges.

 

Que Sera Sera

II t is very tempting to say " I know the feeling", but I have learnt over the last ten years (from both sides of the fence) that that is profoundly unhelpful.

For one of the hardest things about this process is learning that, while others have been their before us and can share their experience, it is absoulutely vital to pursuing a priestly vocationwith integrity to understand that it will be a one-off and unique experience.

Particularly at the Catholic end of the Church too often people appear to be replicating the vocation of influential priests and setting off in vain pursuit of some unattainable priesthood, rather than saying "this is me what does God want?".

God calls real people, not clones who meet certain requirements or standards.

All that God asks of an individual is that we are honest with ourselves and with others charged with seeing us through the discernment and selection and training process.

So God bless you Steve, and Mary, Colin, Sara, Nigel  and June among others that I know who at different points on this amazing journey at the moment.

09 September 2006

Taize in the headlines

Taize is in headlines for two reasons:
1. A UK CD of Taize music recorded by Marageret Rizza and Co has made it to the top of several of the classic music charts and is being prominently displayed in WH Smith among other retailers. The cover contains a good explanation of the origin of the music and the life of the Community.
Brother_roger 2. Brother Roger was "a covert Catholic" or a " Catholic convert" is the story which several of the papers here and on the continent are trying to spin. See here in The Independent and of course some attempt by The Taize community to correct press speculation here   and a wholly accepting account of Roger's faith from the French Protestant Federation here  and explanation from the local Catholic Bishop as to what really happened in 1972  here . UK readers should be clear that the stirring of this issue came from an extremely conservative Catholic lobby group designed to discredit the Catholic Bishops, and regularise Roger's Funeral Mass. The debate about this ( such as it is) is not between Catholic and Protestant, but between the vast majority of Catholics including most Bishops and a small sect within their Church.

Some personal reflections are below.

Continue reading "Taize in the headlines" »

03 September 2006

Myers Briggs Prayer

For all you good Christian folk who are into Myers Briggs one or other of these prayers might come in handy:

ISTJ: Lord help me to relax about insignificant details beginning  tomorrow at 11:41.23 am e.s.t.
ISTP: God help me to consider people's feelings, even if most of them  ARE hypersensitive.
ESTP: God help me to take responsibility for my own actions, even  though they're usually NOT my fault.
ESTJ: God, help me to not try to RUN everything. But, if You need some  help, just ask.
ISFJ: Lord, help me to be more laid back and help me to do it EXACTLY  right.
ISFP: Lord, help me to stand up for my rights (if you don't mind my  asking).
ESFP: God help me to take things more seriously, especially parties  and dancing.
ESFJ: God give me patience, and I mean right NOW.
INFJ: Lord help me not be a perfectionist. (did I spell that  correctly?)
INFP: God, help me to finish everything I sta
ENFP: God,help me to keep my mind on one th-Look a bird-ing at a  time.
ENFJ: God help me to do only what I can and trust you for the rest. Do  you mind putting that in writing?
INTJ: Lord keep me open to others' ideas, WRONG though they may  be.
INTP: Lord help me be less independent, but let me do it my way.
ENTP: Lord help me follow established procedures today. On second  thought, I'll settle for a few minutes.
ENTJ: Lord, help me slow downandnotrushthroughwatIdo.
Amen.

I wonder whether you can guess my profile if I say that although I find MB quite interesting I have never been wholly convinced by it!

HT to the author here

31 August 2006

Greenbelt 5 -acting your age

I guess that one of things that has worried me in recent years about Greenbelt is whether I would simply grow out of it and this has added to the sense of it being for other people. This year I think I found the answer and faced up to a few demons:

I guess I found the answer in deliberately treating Greenbelt as a "selfish pilgrimage" - ie being there for myself rather than other people - and receving affirmation from people to do just that. I am not suggesting that I will have to do this every year, but it was important and worked this year

It was good to sense that other contemporaries were facing similar issues - but actually living Greenbelt as a fortysomething or soon to fifty something - and to see some of the contributers still finding a role which did not hark back to former days )

Snippets of humour which say "well its not just me"

- such as Andy Thornton struggling with the controls on his electro-acoustic guitar without his glasses -( I need two pairs of glasses to change a string now!)

Steve Butler (Lies Dammed Lies) rather wistful comment that "now that they are all in the late forties they tend to write songs which have waltz rythmns" -

Steve Butler again facing the dilemna of "musician priesthood" which led him to spontaneously say to the late night audience/congregation " The Lord be with you" provoking the amused but instant and unselfconcious response of " and also with you"

So affirmation that I don't have to be young and I think I can go to Greenbelt 2007  as a fifty something.

24 August 2006

Almost Greenbelt time

Just a few things to tidy up and set in motion before I can prepare for and travel to Greenbelt (if you are going there are some important travel instructions on the Greenbelt site for Cheltenham about road works which you will save yourself a lot of aggro if you follow).

Having missed Greenbelt last year [combination of local pressures and somewhat (I thought) bland programme]I am looking foward to this years event. Unlike most previous years I am going by myself and for myself (using my Diocesan clergy training budget to cover the cost of B+B accomodation) and hope to focus on the programme particularly the speakers.

Ldl

As for musical tips whatever you do don't miss:
Courtney Pine ( Saturday Centaur) - but please leave plenty of room for a Bulky Anglican
Reem Kelani ( Sunday mainstage) - just amazing voice for arab music
Lies Dammed Lies ( Sunday cabaret) - it just wouldn't been Greenbelt without Scotland's best,
Elliot Jack ( Monday performance cafe)  a delightful mix of electronica and acoustic instruments which produces the most evocative music
The Ukele Orchestra of Great Britain ( Sunday mainstage) - who are stunningly good and entertaining in a way that most people would never imagine given their instruments

It will be good not have any responsibility, and could I ask that those of you who read this blog through spiritual direction links to bear with me if you ask to talk and I suggest that we meet after the weekend.

There will be lots of people who read BBA regularly who will not have much idea what Greenbelt is about and you might like to read this which makes a brave effort to describe the indescribable.

For the many other bloggers who are going to Greenbelt have a wonderful festival and it would be great to say hello to the many I know only online.

Having reclaimed some of the missing posts from the summer (thanks to Typepad - a model of good support) some posts will continue while I am away.

20 August 2006

Jesus the best thing since sliced bread?

Jesusmirror_detail Today's Gospel reading led me to preach on Jesus claim to be "The Bread of Life" and asked folk to focus on what bread means to us and its consequences for our understanding of Jesus if we take his claim seriously.

I guess the key questions was " what is your favourite bread" - and I invited the congregation to imagine in silence what it would smell and taste like - and perhaps what they would put on it - and then what does that say about our understanding and experience of Jesus.

I think I offered the consequence that we all like different sorts of bread and that therefore (rightly) that we should welcome our different experiences of Jesus.

Warburtons My challenge was that just like we tend to eat pre-packaged plain white sliced bread for convenience (known generically as Warbies in the Allen household after our local mass baker called Warburtons), and that while this is great for certain things (morning toast on a working morning, and bacon sandwiches when you want to focus on the taste of the bacon rather than the bread) do we expect the same of our relationship with Jesus - do we prefer Jesus bland and predictable?

The most exciting thing today was how our older congregation members (brought up on a very different tradition of preaching) engage with this interactive activity and learning.

Tonight I was kindly given a gift of a wonderful white home-made loaf  - thanks to Roy and Pam

So what is your favourite bread - and what does that suggest about who Jesus is to you?

24 July 2006

The ministry of the earnest

I have come to the conclusion that there is no-one more wearing or ultimately debilitating than some-one so convinced of their own view of faith ( be it evangelical or highest anglo-catholic) that every question or every suggestion they make is loaded by a desire to get you to move closer to where they are.

_40314897_guidedog_203 Part of the problem is of course is that they are so convinced of where they are, that they never really listen to where you are - so the process of conversion gets off  a dodgy footing from the outset.

It reminds me of referee who has missed an offside, but can't off course go back to check

God free us from the earnest believer.

23 June 2006

Diocesan Clergy Quiet Day

Priorypresent Thursday was spent in part at Bolton Priory which for those who don't know the North is wonderfully sited in the Yorkshire Dales the remnant of a dissolved Dominican monastery and a fantastic location for a quiet day.

David Ison Dean of Bradford offered some wonderful reflections on Luke 7 - with a inspiring dose of imagination which has been rare at Bradford Diocesan things which tend to have a more didactic approach - and where even a so called "vision" are actually manifesto or blue print which i subsequently discover I expected to implement.

After a very busy period it was good to be given that opportunity to be quiet and to be with God - and David was gently assertive about where and when to be quiet - and I shall forgive the clergy clowns who arrived late and missed the instructions and chattered and answered mobile phones in designated quiet places - there is something about Yorkshire "low" clergy which means that they don't seem to understand the value of silence or the spiritual discipline required.

One unknown retired clergyman( resplendent in formal black) was heard to mutter something about associating blue shirted clergy with a particular sort of business which ignores the importance of clergy just "being" - I can think of very honourable exceptions but it has enough truth to make it kind of ring true - but it lightened the sense of irritation and avoided a more unpleasent response to the culprits insenitivity.

From one very familiar hymn (All people that on earth do dwell) this verse sprung to my attention

For why the Lord our God is good
His mercy is forever sure
His truth at all times firmly stood
and shall from age to age endure.

In place where daily worship has been offered for 800 years - and since I moved onto a cafe gathering about new forms of Church it seemed to provide a link.Cafe

18 June 2006

On prayer and dying

Not sure that I am keeping Father's Day - is it not another yuccy US invention - and the family haven't noticed - but others clearly are using it to good purpose

"What happens when the words run out"
Wonderful post Father's day post  here ( but its not a permalink so you may need to move down the page from Sam about the death of his Father - go read

02 June 2006

Preparing for Pentecost

With the feast of Pentecost comes the responsibility to avoid the "ecclesiastical" captivity of the Holy Spirit:
1. To avoid the temptation to think (and indeed act) as if the Church is necessary for the Spirit to live  - rather than the reverse
2. To remind people that Pentecost is AN example of the Spirit being given as a gift - it is neither the first or the only example.
3. To gently remind those of charismatic experience that they do not have a perogative on things of the Spirit - and that the still small voice is as much an experience of the Spirit as the rushing wind.
4. To remind people that The Holy Spirit was in at the creation of the world - and was not invented by God the Father after the Resurrection as a follow-up act to Jesus earthly ministry.

and for some wonderful words about Pentecost please read Rick Lord's post. I have always loved the dedication of his Parish " The Church of the Holy Comforter" - a powerful image of the Spirit's ministry.

15 May 2006

Top Gear

_top_gear Watching television seems to a rare event these days - I have to pick specific things and fit them in. Even rarer is the whole of the family sitting down together to watch TV.

Now that The Apprentice has been decided for another year the only programme that seems to demand attention from all the family is Top Gear which is at the liturgically akward time of 8pm on a Sunday - so it tend to be a videod version for me. Last night (being a free night) I watched it with the family and was brilliantly and irreverantly entertained. The very un PCness of the whole concept of the programme has a tremendous appeal - even my Beloved who knows nothing about cars ( other than it is red or blue) gets caught up in the general hilarity. The attempt by the team to run a local radio programme is just the latest gungho failure.

A conversation this morning with one parishioner offered me the startling question about why "Church" could not be more like Top Gear - I think the suggestion is not particular the format but the attitudes and sense of fun. Which set me thinking about what a Top Gear version of alternative worship might be like- and whether a Top Gear approach could suggest any enlightening amendments to tomorrow's PCC meeting?

Feast of St Matthias

_matthias Today is the Feast Day of St Matthias - surely one of the most enigmatic of  Saints - about the only thing we now historically about him is that he was chosen as Judas successor as a replacement Apostle, and that he died a martyr probabably in Gallilee.
The biblical account ( Acts 1 12ff) emphasises that he was chosen "to be a witness", and that he had been part of the wider group of followers of Jesus from the earliest days of Jesus ministry (how many others were there in this group?) - and we need to avoid a cultural transfer trap in being suprised that he was chosed by "chance" - by casting lots. For the disciples this is was clearly a way of sensing God's will - rather than a lottery as we might associate with it.

Legend has it that Constantine's wife some 200 year later found Matthias' remains and moved them to Rome/Jerusalem in his honour. Others have suggested that the absence of any clear account of his ministry suggests that he was a failure.

This morning at School Assembly we reflected upon what makes a "good" team/group member, and what it must have felt like to Matthias to have joined an existing group of people - and after assembly what Joseph who was the other unsuccessful candidate for the role must have felt like.

28 April 2006

Graves for children

_picbenjaminpoem I am sure that issues around children's graves and decoration ( what one of my priestly colleagues called Teddy Bear Syndrome) are difficult across the whole country. Our local authority has recently had a crackdown in local cemeteries ( much needed) but with the inevitable anguished outcry from families. I spent part of yesterday trying to mediate in a dispute.

A more creative response can be found here with the organisation Memorials be artists and their work to provide quality responses to families need to mark a child's grave in a special way.

Their book Memorials for young people, children, and babies is a great resource of ideas which could well be shared with bereaved families at an early stage when those delicate conversations need to had about the "restrictions" in graveyards and before the issues of taste and what other grave families think arise.

15 April 2006

Manchester Passion

_passion Saw part of the Manchester Passion last night and overall have to say what a great achievement - with the potential for all that could go wrong technically and the sheer scale of what was planned and achieved 10/10!

More personally reflections are that by an large it avoided the cheesyness which can accumalate around BBC religious broadcasting - the acting bit and the mass participation seems to have worked well. There was some disconnection between the needs of broadcasting and the needs of the event story - like when the real copper rushes out to stop some lad shouting abuse at the passing procession - who not really accept it as part of the drama of street performances.

Sadly the only really bit that did not work was the music which was dire to say the least. Now I accept that someone like myself who was bought up on some of the original music and have huge respect for the integrity of the original writers and artists ( sinners all as the Guardian points out).

But oh dear did the musical editor really have to reduce such great music to such a bland lowest common denominator - and Mary in particular seemed to have the greatest difficulty singing in tune - it really was a "Stars in your Eyes" kind of production or a kind of church music group let loose with an orchestra - cheesy is not the word.

However the best was the impact on the city which at the very least such have reminded people the real story and reason behind Easter - Alleluia!

05 April 2006

Overdoing Process or Damascus?

There has been much written in recent years about the difference between process and damascus faith development - mianly it has to be said by those wanting to advocate a more considered process type approach to faith development. But I have been wondering recently whether we haven't rather over-played the difference between say Peter and Paul's faith journey.

In a conversation today with two priests who I greatly respect I realised that they both had a view of Jesus faith development which was "damascus" orientated - ie that Jesus led an ordinary life until he was thirty or so, and then bang a new ministry suddenly started from nowwhere ( or perhaps from his baptism or his mother'e urging at the wedding at Cana). I realised that once again this need to define what kind of faith journey people have as either or has coloured perceptions of Jesus life.

I actually believe that the Gospels say something quite different in a few short passages. We read that Jesus grew in strength, was filled with wisdom, and that God's favour was on him. Luke 2:40 which is reinforced later in 2:52 which is preceded in 2:51 with Jesus returning from his meeting with the treachers in the temple with his parents and was obedient to them.

To ignore how much his upbringing his experience of everday working life gave to his subsequent ministry is to encourage a kind of dualism which totally ignores the value of the everday and work place experience in learning about God. It was surely that he was a normal working human being that made it so hard for his neighbours to accept him when he returns to preach in the synagoue in Nazareth?

21 March 2006

Lent +

This year I have conciously encouraged three people who I am offering spirtual accompaniment to to explore what Lent might mean for them - so although the life and worship of the Church is not something which helps at the moment, the season of Lent and its challenges have been apositive experience.

I have called their Lenten disciplines "Lent +", cos rather than giving something up for Lent, I have suggested that they do something positive for Lent. One person in particular is using the time that she allocates to walking the dog each day to using the Jesus Prayer model of prayer - each day she chooses a simple Christian prayer and repeats it as the she walks.

I have been impressed with the commitment they have shown, and in each case this has led to a greater sense of the presence of God in their lives. Above all it seems to have given them a sense that this God business is "possible" for them- in two instances after years of experience of the Church without ever having a sense of the presence of God.

06 March 2006

Scargill Treats

ScargillThe Scargill Community has another wonderful programme planned for the Summer and Autumn with particular highlights being:
Does the Shoe fit? Dilly Baker the Community Leader offers a reflective break for women ministers 19 -21 Sept - from feeback from last years event it should be brilliant
Hopeful Glimmers - Jonny Baker and Ben Edson offer a typical alternative look at glimmers of hope on the edge of the Church. 3-5th October

Encountering the Other - Ken Leech 10-12 October offers his personal perspectives on the Christian faith in real contexts.

Beautiful location and interesting people offer different perspectives from the everyday
Details can be found here  -

30 January 2006

Family Tradition

1dsc00796jpg_3 The Church of England use to have a great tradition of families who produced generations of priests and Bishops. While I would never want to return to the days when people kind of expected clergy sons ( and now of course daughters) to follow in their parents footsteps their is something both special and perhaps currently undervalued about multi- generational priesthood. I warmed to this post on one of my favourite USA anglican blogs World of your Making

23 February 2005

PR Disaster

Was travelling in the car this morning when Today covered the dismal business of the cancer Charity Maggie's Centre refusing to accept a donation from Jerry Springer the Opera after "advice" from "Christian Voice".

Stephen Green the spokesman for Christian Voice not only slickly swept aside the suggestion that their actions (including picketing Cancer clinics if they accepted the donations) amounted to blackmail - but went onto to suggest that their "advice" had "saved" the charity from a "PR disaster".

Couldn't help thinking that Maggie's Centre might have missed a PR disaster but that Christian Voice had succesfully served up yet another PR disaster for the Christian gospel. 

I for one will be making a donation to Maggies Centre if only to demonstrate that not all Christians put this kind of insidiuos McCarthy type action before the health of people. Our faith and Our Lord do not need these kind of defenders.       

If you wish to join me in making a donation on line you can do so here