27 September 2007

Searchers and travellers


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".

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?

31 August 2007

Courage with computers!

Some 12 months ago I bought a Wireless router for the study - with a view to offering wireless connections around the house - but having heard so many tales of difficulties in changing over (and being wary of computer experts offers of help and reassurances that all would be "easy") I have since engaged in well reasoned prevarication. There has always been some very good reason for not making the change-over - some commitment for which internet access would be essential.

Its not that the instructions were not clear and straightforward and there was the added incentive of moving to using my much loved portable instead of my increasingly erratic desktop as my main "office computer".Several planned windows of change-over have come and gone with other more pressing tasks superceding.But surely my sabbatical would afford plenty of opportunity - but then music commitments, UCAS results and numerous other things have intervened!!

But this afternoon the faithful old Panrix desktop finally passed away with terminal motherboard faults on the keyboard and mouse connections - so there was nothing left to loose to have a go with the laptop and the router - and would you believe - five minutes later from connection to the BT line bingo the internet was

I am not the only one in the Allen household asking why I did not make the change 12 months ago - and please do not use comments to bewail me with tales of personal computer miseries.

....and yes I am feeling slighty smug because I had back-up all the files last night!!

22 August 2007


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

07 August 2007

Authentically Anglican

Among the excellent stuff which has been blogged in recent weeks is Howard Jameson's series on what it means to be authentically Anglican.

Some thoughtful ideas which deserve some serious responses - I don't have time in the next week or so but you might like to contribute on his blog:


Reformed - which I happen to think will be a real challenge to the new generation of "convenience" evangelicals who have joined (and in some cases been ordained) without ever really understanding why the Church of England should never be wholly evangelical of the narrow Anglican Mainstream type

Ordained Ministry

Creeds and Councils

In addition there is an interesting reflection on the place of blogging on serious topics - which I found really helpful as someone who is being pressed to write more but remains fairly sceptical whether I have the time (or if I am honest the discipline and inclination) to write for the serious book market. Howard's writing journey is different but his thoughts are helpful see here - is there potential for the blog to become a place for more creative writing?

What I think needs the developing is a rationale for blog type writing which gives permission for it to be provisional (in a way that would never be possible in a written book as people like Steve Chalke have discovered to their cost) - something that might offer a "depth" precisely because it is an initial thought - or a thought or idea that is bugging me which might spark something in another person to write further. I think that Allelon and others are pointing the way to different kind of practitioner-based theological writing.

(Oh so I don't get emails on the subject saying that I am already copping out of the 'writing research' as part of my sabbatical - I am continuing on the journey - and it seems more possible now than it did in May - if only because other people have been honest about how hard they find it - and it has been particularly good to meet another dyslexic person who has overcome the "structure" hurdles to write a systematic book )

04 July 2007

Meme and travels

I have received rather too many "meme" requests over the past ten days - perhaps it is the introvert which is Tom Allen which inclines me to feel quite ambivalent about some of the questions.

I have decided that for the time being I will not respond to any of them, so that I can focus on the posts which I wish to make rather than thinking around other peoples agendas - sorry to disappoint.

Similarly to my travels of the next few weeks - I will post about things that happen and people I meet after the event, as seems appropriate, rather than trying to describe in any detail what is planned in advance. For those who have asked the diary is pretty full so I don't intend to add any additional commitments to what is already arranged - even if I happen to be in your area.

29 June 2007

Sabbatical: change of phase

Today marks the end of the first phase of my sabbatical which has been spent on the three Rs - reading (w)riting and research.

Tomorrow sees the begining of a time of travel, music making, meetings and conversations - with thanks in advance to all those generous folk who have offered the forthcoming opportunities and to all those who continue to keep me and mine in their prayers.

So July and early August looks like:

Bridlington, York, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Shrewsbury, Norwich, Manchester, Carlisle, Guildford, London, Greenock Glasgow and last, but certainly not least, family holiday on Lismore and the Cowal Peninsula.

Over the past few weeks I have become even more convinced of the value of sabbaticals to the individual and the Church. Above all else it does enable people to concentrate on particular things - to set aside space and time in a way which is quite impossible as a parish priest with the unpredictability that goes with the role.

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" »

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

29 May 2007

London active retreat

The Sacred Exhibition at the British Libray is a quite remarkable focus on the sacred texts of the three great Abrahamic religions - I was particularly struck by the sheer beauty of the Samaritan Pentateuch - anyone who could create a font from such caligraphy would be onto a winner.

The visual explanations and displays about current practice however were less intelligent giving a somewhat stereotypical view of contemporary faith in Britain.

It surely is not good enough to only display Orthordox Jewish practice (ignoring Liberal and Reformed traditions)- or indeed to represent the diverstity of Christian worship in Britain by continuously looping an Easter Day High Anglican Eucharist at an English Cathedral. The curators were either short of cash or imagination.

Had a treat later this morning by joining a bunch of prospective buyers for the new flats at St Pancras Station which at £400,000 strarting price are a bit beyond the means - but Michael's tip about getting to see the internal architect was certainly right. How wonderful it is to see this long neglected building being restored.

21 May 2007

Sabbatical music work

For the directed learning part of my sabbatical music study I have had to nominate several works (neo-classical academic music department jargon for CDs).

The requirement is that it is material which I have not previously owned or heard and in the following categories:

1. "4 contemporary works across a range of genre"

2. "3 works from one artist/group whose other work I am familiar with and love."

Section 1 was a doddle and I have chosen.

The Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
The National: Boxer ( cheated slightly on this one in the pre-listening stakes)
4hero: Play the changes
Feist: The Reminder

But I found section 2 really heard.

Ma FleurThe problem was finding an artist who I love who had "three works" that I was not familiar with - I have at least heard (if don't actually own) nearly all the back catalogue of my favourite artists.

Then a Jonny Baker post on Cinematic Orchestra triggered a train of thought and bingo Jason Swinscoe and Co are my Section 2 choice and the TCO three works.

Ma Fleur (their latest CD)
Motion ( which I have somehow missed)
Remixes ( which I did not know existed)

The intriguing bit is that we are now invited to listen to this music over the next two weeks - but we don't know what follows in terms of study!

Pre-sabbatical limbo

 In the final week before my sabbatical starts and in a planned state of limbo of a handover week when the Ministry Team take over responsibility for the Parish and I am around working on handover meetings and admin - it is really good for the first time ever to have a declining "to do" list.

I have realised that the reason why some clergy "decline" sabbaticals is that they cannot conceive how the Parish will run without them. I am in the very fortunate position of having a strong Ministry Team who will deal with whatever arises with a competence which challenges any illusions of indispensability.

06 May 2007

Sabbatical time funnel

(As I had been warned) I am now in that peculiar point in my sabbatical build-up when people realise that I am not going to be around for June, July and August and the contact pressure is seriously on, amid an array of conflicting expectations:

From the ridiculous ( could you tell me the times of Christmas Eve services cos we will want to plan our family Christmas meal while you are away)

to the sublime (I wanted to say that while I realise I won't be able to meet with you while you are away, I will pray for you)

to the generous (a new digital portastudio, loan of the Narnia books, and a CD voucher)

to the panicky ( so "who" will be in charge - my daughter will want to fix her wedding for 2009 while you are away) 

to the wistful ( I really need one but turned it down cos I was too busy)

to the sceptical (so what will you actually be doing?)

to the parochially minded (so how is it going to help Christ Church?)

to the agenda setter (so when you come back are you going to do more music?)

Well with next Sunday 20th over (Confirmation and Rogation Sunday services) it really does mark the begining of my roles handover to the Ministry Development Team.

02 April 2007

Admin Monday am

Monday morning is my admin morning, when people know that they can usually speak to me on the phone about all those practical things which I refused discuss at Sunday worship, or which they have been trying to speak to me about all last week without finding a time when I was able to answer the phone.

It is an especially busy time at the moment with

  • building project at key moment with lots of negotiations and funding questions
  • holy week coming up
  • Vicar going away on holiday after Easter ( or even worse on sabbatical in two months time) - time to panic and " just check" that he has remembered " this" - yes he has its on a long "things to do list" with lots of other things which aren't yet urgent.
  • people looking into 2008 wanting to "book you before the sabbatical starts" and I lay aside the role for three months

I still think that 17 answer-phone messages on a Thursday morning is a little excessive - and no I haven't responded to all of them yet