Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Are Christians optimists or pessimists?

Not sure which way to jump on this one:

Every Christian should be a pessimist because the most effective government the world had seen up to that point, and the best religion on the planet, conspired between them to kill the best man who ever walked the face of the earth.

Every Christian should be an optimist because of what happened 2 days later.

Or to put it another way, it's Friday, but Sundays coming.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Do you believe this?"


Resurrection: Rob Bell from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Because Jesus is risen, everything matters, and nothing is hopeless.

Christ is risen!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bent out of shape

Sad to hear that Jonathan Trott is having another break from cricket, after a recurrence of his stress illness:

Stress and anxiety do not discriminate, however, and Trott appears to have decided that the man bent of out shape by cricket is not the man he wants to be. With a young family to consider, he seems to have come to the conclusion that on-field success in no longer worth the sacrifices required.

It's hard enough to come back from a public collapse, without having a running commentary in the media and paparazzi hiding in your bushes. 

The phrase 'bent out of shape' struck me. Public roles do that to people, sometimes your mental or physical health gets bent, sometimes it's your moral compass (politicians?), sometimes it's your judgement under pressure, sometimes it's not you but your family and the shape of their lives. I'm not sure if Trott's 'come to the conclusion that on-field success is no longer worth the sacrifices', or just found that he is no longer personally capable of making them at the moment. 

It sounds all too similar to what's happening to clergy
My husband is becoming bitter and demoralised. He is an incredibly gifted, spiritual man, but the reason he joined the church is becoming less and less clear, to him and to me

It wouldn't take long to name you a reasonable list of clergy (notably, mostly in their 40s and early 50s) who have burnt out, dropped out, been found out, or otherwise found the relentless pressure too much. I heard of a hard working vicar, younger than me, who was recently hospitalised with a suspected heart problem. In recent years a couple of local clergy have dropped out of active parish ministry (getting an undeserved scourging in the tabloids was a major factor in one case). I was in a meeting a few weeks ago, all dog collars, where I was the only one not on anti-depressants: an odd thing to hold against the fact that we have higher rates of job satisfaction than anyone else. 

Elsewhere in the diocese and the CofE some clergy have had to stand down after falling into sin. That's another way that people can respond to pressure. An 'Adam. and Ellie' moment perhaps isn't that far away for some of us. 

This shouldn't be a surprise, Christian faith is about carrying a cross, the world bends Jesus out of shape and it will do the same to us. But we can't simply shove this all in the box of 'suffering with Christ' - Trott has been bent out of shape by a combination of public pressure, his own high standards, and the relentless demands put upon him by international cricket. (Vicars: insert 'parish' for 'cricket') There's a sense that he has lost the joy of the game. It's 'for the joy set before him' that Jesus endures the cross. We need the joy to get through the Good Fridays. But scanning the battlefield around me, I'm now seriously asking the question of how I'll manage another 20 years of this without joining the casualty list at some stage. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The gospel according to Rev: vulnerable or just ineffectual?

If Yes Minister had a political agenda, Rev (which is also a wonderful comedy) appears to have its own theological axes to grind.  Smallbone stands in a long line of comically ineffectual Anglican clergy.  It’s not a coincidence that one of the most memorable villains of the first series was a clergyman with a thriving congregation. In fact, there are barely any positive mentions of anyone with the gifts or inclination to help the church to grow.
All too often, the debates within the Church of England polarise into either an unthinking focus on numerical growth or a curious glorification in decline and impotence (of the kind we see in Rev).  It is all too obvious what is wrong with an uncritical theology of success – as if “bums on seats” were more important than faithfulness and sacrifice.  In some parishes, changing demography may well make numerical growth unrealistic – and yet churches may be “present and engaged” in ways that bear a powerful witness to the Kingdom of God. Numerical growth and Kingdom growth are not always the same thing.
However, we must be equally wary of an uncritical theology of failure – which uses the language of “vulnerability” and “powerlessness” to justify structures and practices which have outlived their usefulness.  We must not confuse Christ-like vulnerability with plain, old-fashioned ineffectiveness.  And we need to remember, whenever “bums on seats” or “the numbers game” are criticised, that behind every number (or, indeed, above every “bum”…) is a life which is hopefully being transformed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
read more here. In the light of Good Friday we have to look very hard at any theology which claims that success and strength are fundamental to being an authentic church. And in the light of Easter Sunday we have to look very hard at any theology which suggests that ineffectually doing a few small but nice things in a corner is what constitutes faithful and authentic ministry. 
there are one or two other analyses of Rev. doing the rounds, which are worth putting alongside the programme itself, for example:
Giles Fraser, wants the 'kindly but inert' vicar to show more backbone
Ian Paul wonders about the missing ingredient, if you can call God an ingredient.
Malcolm Stewart at Cultbox "the Church of England is a group of people united in the knowledge that there is always something to apologise for"
Tim Stanley "Self-laceration is the stock-in-trade of the 1960s liberal Christian tradition, and Rev is its fifth gospel"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter poem

En la crucifixión
It had not rained that morning. All was tinder dry,
ready for burning hearts on, and somehow
it made it worse that God had sent the sun to shine
(on a day like this!) so strong and bright,
when nothing, any more, was right.
He was our leader, our brother, our son,
pastor santo, muerto, done.
Perhaps he could not see our ache, our endless pain,
eclipsed as it was by the peerless passion of his own,
shot through the feet, the hands, the throne.
For a moment I even hated him,
the merry dance he’d led us on. So much
for the red carpet. Instead a river of blood,
and all my doubts are washed away by that water:
he’s as mortal as you or I. And then again he caught my eye,
as if to say one last goodbye, and left.
Finally, the sky gained eyelids,
which closed,
and wept.


by Katy Morgan

Easter Linebacker - watch out bunnies



for some reason I still find this funny, and the kids love it. "Jesus rising from the dead and saying 'Booyah' to death!" That just about captures it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It must be Easter, or maybe Christmas

The signs are everywhere, a 'gospel of Jesus wife' which even the promoters admit was written at least 300 years after the life of Jesus, and one person who thinks the Gospel of Luke was written by Mary (well, actually, he doesn't - the Daily Fail thinks this makes a good headline, the GP/bible scholar in question repeats a fairly mainstream view; that Luke gathered evidence from various sources and then put it into a coherent order. Mary, Jesus mother, was one of the sources. That's not the same as saying she wrote the gospel. When you get to looking at what Dr Bradford actually says, there's not much there to fundamentally disagree with).

It must be Easter. Or maybe Christmas.

There's an unofficial publishing season for these stories, which begins roughly 15 days before any major Christian festival, after which nobody really gives a monkeys.

I love the 'facts' in the Mail article - Luke has double the number of feminine words than Mark? Well for a start his gospel is nearly twice as long, and he has more stories about women.

Perhaps we need to add in a Biblical Ignorance Day on the Tuesday before Palm Sunday, when all these things can be paraded, hyped up, the foundations of Christendom can be shaken to the core, and then we can all safely forget about them until the following year.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Latest Church of England Attendance Stats: Making mud seem clear

The latest set of CofE attendance stats has done its job: passed with benign/no headlines, and little quizzing of the facts behind the official press release:

Overall in 2012, on average 1.05m people attended Church of England churches each week showing no significant change over the past decade. Figures for all age average weekly attendance show around 1 in 5 churches growing, and just over this number declining with 57% remaining stable.

In 2012 the Church of England conducted over 356,000 services of baptism, wedding and funerals at an average of about 6,700 each week - almost 1,000 per day - marking the rites of passage in people's lives in communities across the country.


There's plenty to celebrate and be proud of, but lets have a look at the actual stats. Look away now if you're in Lincoln diocese. Here is the Adult Weekly Attendance (the CofE's favoured measure, average number of adults attending a service in any given 7 days) change from 2003-2012. Please read on after the table below before calling for your bishop's resignation....

2003-2012 Adult Weekly Attendance Change
London
1.2%
Liverpool
-13.6%
Southwark
-0.4%
Carlisle
-13.7%
Newcastle
-3.1%
Southwell & Nottingham
-13.7%
Sheffield
-4.7%
Chichester
-13.8%
Europe
-5.4%
Exeter
-13.8%
Coventry
-6.1%
Portsmouth
-13.9%
Birmingham
-7.4%
Oxford
-14.3%
Guildford
-7.5%
Leicester
-14.4%
Manchester
-7.5%
Wakefield
-14.7%
Gloucester
-8.4%
York
-15.0%
Rochester
-9.2%
Salisbury
-16.0%
Chelmsford
-10.0%
Worcester
-17.7%
Bath & Wells
-10.1%
St. Edms & Ipswich
-20.0%
Lichfield
-10.1%
Ripon & Leeds
-20.2%
St. Albans
-10.2%
Sodor & Man
-20.4%
Canterbury
-10.4%
Blackburn
-21.2%
Ely
-10.7%
Peterborough
-21.7%
Durham
-11.2%
Bradford
-22.0%
Chester
-11.6%
Hereford
-23.8%
Total Church of England
-12.3%
Norwich
-24.9%
Winchester
-12.4%
Truro
-27.0%
Derby
-12.6%
Lincoln
-35.8%
Bristol
-13.6%

So far so consistent, compare and contrast with last year, or with the overall picture since 1990

But: the CofE has changed its method of collecting stats for this year, after finding several problems with the data in previous years. That's one thing that explains why it takes 18 months from when this data is collected (October) to when it's published. In brief, we have been overestimating attendance so far. So whilst the 2003 figures for the chart above are in the 'old money', the 2012 figures are more rigorous, and therefore lower. This exaggerates the decline in the figures, but that's not to say the decline isn't still there. 

(If you want the details, parishes which had 1 or 2 services a month, with, say 20 attending, were counted as having an AWA of 20, even though the people attending may attend other churches on the weeks with no service at their local. So there's been a lot of double counting, particularly in areas with lots of small churches that meet infrequently, e.g. rural dioceses like Lincoln)

Frustratingly, there are no revised figures available before 2008  - the official stats portal on the CofE site still has the old figures in its handy spreadsheet of diocesan stats. So it's impossible to independently check the statement that there's been 'no significant change over the past decade'. We can't do any fair comparisons for years up to 2007, all that can be said is that any comparison which uses the old data before 2008 will make things look worse than they really are. But that shouldn't be an excuse: only 90% as bad is still bad. 

But we can look at the data for 2008-12. Is the Titanic showing any signs of turning?

No.
 
Adult AWA Change 2008-12
Leicester
10.4%
Rochester
-4.8%
London
4.8%
Guildford
-4.8%
Bristol
4.8%
Salisbury
-5.3%
Sheffield
2.6%
Canterbury
-5.7%
Exeter
2.0%
Portsmouth
-6.0%
Durham
0.0%
Hereford
-6.6%
Newcastle
-0.8%
Europe
-6.6%
Norwich
-1.9%
Birmingham
-6.6%
Derby
-2.0%
Gloucester
-6.8%
Southwell & Nottingham
-2.1%
St. Albans
-7.2%
Carlisle
-2.3%
Southwark
-7.4%
Coventry
-2.3%
Chester
-7.8%
Chichester
-2.5%
Peterborough
-8.8%
Liverpool
-2.7%
Wakefield
-9.2%
Lichfield
-2.7%
York
-9.3%
Oxford
-3.2%
Truro
-9.8%
Worcester
-3.3%
Manchester
-9.9%
Ely
-3.4%
Bradford
-10.0%
Winchester
-3.5%
Sodor & Man
-10.0%
Chelmsford
-3.9%
Blackburn
-11.4%
St. Edms & Ipswich
-4.0%
Ripon & Leeds
-12.5%
Bath & Wells
-4.2%
Lincoln
-20.4%
Total Church of England
-4.2%



Five Dioceses growing, one static, the other 38 declining. And sadly even on the revised stats Lincoln is in trouble. Overall CofE attendance has fallen 37,000 in this 3 year period. That doesn't look like 'no significant change' to me, but maybe I'm working on the wrong definition of 'significant'?  

It's also worth saying that there are no surprises in the top 5. All are intentional about church growth.

Year on year, (2011-12) the stats show growth in a few more Dioceses, but even then it's difficult to draw conclusions. Our Diocese, Bath and Wells, shows a 1500 rise in attendance for 2011-12, yet I know for a fact that reported membership fell in those years in Bath and Wells by 1300 people, 5.6%. So what's going on there? 

The commentary in this years stats is fairly open about how much estimating they've had to do, and the shortcomings in the collection system. There's also an attempt to look at a new measure of membership, joiners and leavers, rather than attendance, though measuring this has problems of its own. 

Until all the silt is cleared out of the system, it's hard to do any proper analysis beyond this: the Church of England stats up to 2012 shows no signs that we are pulling out of the slow nosedive. I really hope that not many people believe the press release on this one: yes there are good signs in the CofE, but we are still in crisis and until we completely understand that, we aren't going to make the radical changes we need to. 

back to the Lent blogging fast. Sorry God....

Monday, March 03, 2014

Lent

Closing down for Lent, there's a good post here from someone who's giving up Facebook for Lent:

This lent I want to challenge you to think about giving up something that sucks your time, something that is bad for you or something that doesn’t actually really matter to you, and put something that you enjoy, something that brings you life in its place.

hope you have a life-giving Lent and a joyful Easter. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jesus died for the Jolly Green Giant

todays Inbox

The Yeovil Town Club Store are running an Easter drawing competition for all children of primary 
school age (and below).

The winning entrant will be selected by Manager Gary Johnson and will receive a Yeovil Town Easter Egg and signed picture from their favourite player!

To enter, entrants should draw The Jolly Green Giant with an Easter egg. He can be holding the egg, standing by the egg, balancing the egg on his top hat, or whatever you can think of! You're limited only by your imagination!


Yes folks, this is exactly what Jesus had in mind that morning he walked out of the tomb, after wrestling death to an early grave. 

Coldplay vs U2

Behemoth vs Leviathan: both have singles out in anticipation of full albums later in the year. Its fair to say that Coldplays offering has caused more surprises



Coplday fans are used to hearing 1-2 minute bursts of this sort of stuff before the real song starts, or as interludes between the main tracks (several examples on Mylo Xyloto), not extended to 5 minutes of health spa backing music released as a single. It could have done with the lyrics on screen too, as they helpfully did with Atlas, which was great. No doubt it will grow on me, and fair play to them for taking a risk - Leviathan does frolic after all.

(update: we have official lyrics now.)

U2 have stuck a bit closer to form, and if Coldplay are giving up on the stadium singalong songs (to be fair, it was mostly going 'oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh' but at least the lyrics were easy to pick up) then Bono is ready to step up. He's even borrowed Chris Martins dangly lamp from Fix You and stuck a microphone on it:


this one is really growing on me, it's not a radical departure, but when you're as good as U2 you don't need one.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Questions in Genesis

We've spent the last couple of months exploring the early chapters of Genesis (1-4 and 12) at our church, this Sundays sermon is given over to a Q&A on any of the issues that the series has raised. Here are a few of the questions sent in so far:

  1. If Adams family were the only family on earth, how did his sons find women to marry who were not from his own family? It’s curious that Adam didn’t have daughters.
  2. Why did God allow Adam and Eve the choice of good and evil when the world was already perfect?
  3. Why didn’t God make men and women equal (Eve was created to be a helper)?
  4. Why did God choose a rib to form a woman?
  5. What does the Church of England teach about man being a separate creation from the animals?
  6. Why were we not meant to have knowledge if we were made in God’s image?
  7. Why put the tree of knowledge and the tree of life there. You know the consequences of someone eating the fruit of either tree so put them somewhere else that Man isn't going to pick the fruit from them.
  8. If you really wanted to mess with God's creation, why pick the tree of knowledge to point Eve at to pick fruit from. If eating the tree of life would give them a lifespan that, when combined with what they'd gained from the tree of knowledge, would make them like gods, then getting them to eat the fruit from the tree of life would cause lots more problems because if everybody lived extremely long lives then the Earth would reach the point where it couldn't support everybody far too quickly and it would be a horrible place to live. Nobody dying but still having to feed and look after everybody. Think Torchwood Miracle Day
Great, I'll have to watch Torchwood as part of my sermon prep... 

What would you answer? What questions would you ask?

Still can't see the forest for the trees



I believe the sun will shine on you and me, my friend
I have learned to trust the turning of the seasons
Even now the sun is breaking through the clouds again
But I still don't know the causes or the reasons
and I still can't see the forest for the trees.

Lovely acoustic version of a brilliant song, The Choir are one of my all-time favourite bands, still going after 20 years. This is one of a series of acoustic versions of their best tracks, with a bit of commentary on the story behind it. See more here on Facebook, or Youtube

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Food Bank Britain & the Bishops

Good piece in the Guardian yesterday by Jonathan Freedland in response to the discussion prompted by the bishops intervention on welfare cuts earlier this week:

there has been something of a delayed reaction to the rise and rise of genuine hunger in this country. The unkind would call it denial. But it is becoming harder to deny.
This week the nation's most senior clerics told of what they are seeing every day, in the parishes where they and their colleagues live and work. Vincent Nichols, the newly elevated Catholic cardinal, branded the way the welfare system functions "a disgrace", while 27 Anglican bishops and 16 other Christian leaders blamed the government's benefits changes for a "national crisis" of hunger.
Predictably the coalition's defenders told the men of the cloth to back off, telling them they had no business poking their nose into such matters and should stick to "religion". Apparently they interpret the old Alastair Campbell dictum that politicians shouldn't do God to mean that God shouldn't do politics.
Perhaps they think churches exist to tidy up the hymn books and keep flowers in the vestry. In fact, the major faiths see their mission as nothing less than healing the world. So of course if they see people going hungry, they cry out. It is their duty.
It's their right too. Few institutions in our national life are doing more to deal with the return of a problem some might have thought we banished after the Depression, if not the Victorian age. Where do you think many of the more than 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust operate? In church halls....
The Telegraph takes a different tack, pointing to a survey last year that showed that the 'majority' of Anglicans thought the welfare budget too high, and that it should be cut. 
2 brief points for Telegraph readers:
a) Thinking that the welfare budget is too high is not the same as wanting people to be destitute. I'd probably agree that the welfare budget is too high, but there must be ways to tackle it that don't force people to choose between heating and eating.
b) 83% of the Anglicans in the survey aren't active members of any church. Describing yourself as an Anglican isn't the same as being an active, worshipping member of an Anglican church. The Telegraph fails to mention this. 
Maybe they're miffed that the bishops wrote to a left wing rag like the Mirror, if their coverage of the story is anything to go by.