Thursday, July 30, 2015

BBC Dreadful Language Swarm Shock

David Cameron has been in the firing line for using the word 'swarms' as a collective noun for people. How very very dreadful. After all, the BBC wouldn't do that would they?

Oh: it looks like Americans swarm
you can see the vast swarms of people who turned out to see the inauguration.

and so do Christians
The preacher and other members of the crowd swarm around him, and join him in dance

How very very shocking, dreadful, divisive and inflammatory. I feel whipped up against Americans and Christians just as a result of hearing the term used once. But I'm sure all the people having a go at Cameron today are, behind the scenes, working really really hard to find a way to solve the problem, rather than just having an opportunist pop and trying to get people worked up about a non-issue. 

update
and Syrians
and Nigerians

If I didn't know any better I'd venture that 'swarm' was a common way of referring to the behaviour of crowds.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The New Leader of the Opposition Is.....ITV

In the absence of a functioning political system, thank God for journalists who are prepared to do the politicians job. In the days when the Conservatives were as dysfunctional as Labour is now, the official opposition was Bremner, Bird and Fortune. This week ITV has picked up the baton:

It is why on ITV News this week we are running a series of reports on the state of mental health care in Britain. An investigation by ITV News and the charity Young Minds has revealed that in the last year alone £35m has been cut from children and adolescent services, £80m in the past four years.Worse, it is the early intervention services including those provided by local authorities in schools that have been hit hardest. So children with mental health problems are not being dealt with early enough and are ending up in wards – if they are lucky – where their problems worsen.We highlight the case of one teenager suffering from depression who tried to take her own life and who claims there were no appropriate services locally to help her. Eventually she was referred to the child and adolescent mental health service but was placed on a waiting list for months. This cannot be right. We also met a 22-year-old girl with mental health problems forced to spend a night in a police cell because there were no beds available. It is a dire state of affairs and needs urgent attention.
Read the rest of Mark Austins piece here. In the Coalition the Libdems made some good noises about mental health, but this all happened on their watch. Having said that, the health secretary was a Conservative then, and is a Conservative now. A recent survey on people's experience of mental health 'care' found that:
Just one in seven (14%) of the patients surveyed said the care they received provided the right response and helped to resolve their mental health crisis. Another 42% said it had helped a bit. But two in five (40%) said the care they had received was not right and had not helped them resolve their crisis.
We have a National Health Service for physical illness, and a badly resourced imitation for mental health. Following Jeremy Hunt with a sousaphone might be fun, but what he really needs to do is to try to get an appointment at his local mental health unit before Christmas. But maybe the good people at ITV have already set that up.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Reflection


Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Read All About It



Christians need to exercise a healthy scepticism towards the mainstream media, and find alternative sources of news alongside it. That seems to be the lesson of the last 7 days. If you're a newly elected political leader, you can expect more scepticism towards your faith than towards your politics, and if Jesus does play any part in your life, don't bother mentioning it to a journalist because they'll leave that bit out anyway. One high profile BBC broadcaster notes that 'it's almost socially unacceptable to say that you believe in God'

A sensible approach might be to assume, even if it seems unkind, that every worldview is worthy of suspicion and scrutiny, and that it’s not just some chap in the Lib Dems talking to someone who may or may not exist in the sky who should be grilled about his fundamental assumptions, but everyone who expresses an interest in making big decisions on voters’ behalf. Yes, we should be suspicious of Tim Farron’s Christian worldview – but only in so far as we suspect everyone’s funny jumble of beliefs and assumptions.

Reasonable (mostly) words at the Spectator, but just look at the headline it's been given. 

What's the message? Keep quiet about your Christian faith. If you don't, and it's something positive, it won't be reported anyway, either that or we'll use it as a stick to beat you with. Welcome to a 'free' media. 

So, head for the bunkers? No, the suspicion and misunderstanding faced by the first century Christians was several orders of magnitude worse than anything in the UK at the moment. And what is the advice of their main leader? "Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you, but do it with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3) We still need to be PG certificate Christians, Prepared, Gentle, and suitable for a general audience. And meanwhile, pray for Tim Farron, who has suddenly become one of the most high profile Christians in the country. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Knowing Your Helicopters

Westland helicopters is by far the biggest employer in Yeovil, over 3000 work there, plus hundreds at associated businesses in the area. Last week they had a celebration to mark 100 years on the site, including fly-pasts by some rare aeroplanes.

One of our church, who works there, said how great it was to hear the sound of the engine of the rare planes. I was thrown, my assumption was that the sight would be the striking thing, but for him it was the sound. Many people locally can tell by the engine sound which helicopter or plane is flying overhead. He explained that when you hear the sound several times a day, over time it becomes pretty easy to identify which is which.

Later the same morning, I was chatting to another church member, about God's guidance, and how we work out what God is saying. How do we discern the sound of God's voice from the sound of the crowd, our own wishful thinking, or the received wisdom of our church? The experts on our doorstep at Westlands would say that the discernment comes from regular exposure. The more we read and recieve of scripture and the words of Jesus, the easier it will be to identify the whirring downdraft of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Not in front of the children

I'm sure there's a perfectly sensible proposal behind this report on reforms to CofE communion practice, but how about this for a paragraph:

It comes despite fears from the Church’s most senior liturgical body that children could spill communion wine, which represents the blood of Christ. It would also mean children being invited to distribute alcohol in churches - almost a decade before they could legally drink it in a pub

a) adults can spill communion wine too. I know, I have. Maybe we should refuse to give it to people who have Parkinsons too? 

b) hopefully communion is closer to a family meal than a consumer transaction. I would hope that most children are involved in preparing and serving the food and drink of a meal by the age of 9 at home. So why not in church? 

c) my theology may be a little ropey, but for those who think transubstantiation actually happens, surely the wine is no longer alcoholic in that case? 

we really do tie ourselves in knots over some silly things. God is more offended by children being driven into poverty by welfare reforms than he is by them spilling communion wine. 




Thursday, July 09, 2015

I warn you not to be poor

Does anyone benefit from the budget?

I put in my 'average' family circumstances, age, 2 children etc. to the BBC's budget calculator, and had a play around with some figures

Salary £10,000   lose £1484
Salary £15,000    lose £1182  (this is just roughly what someone working full time on the new 'National Living Wage' would earn, except it's not a living wage)
Salary £25,000    lose £1351
Salary £35,000    better off by £80
Salary £45,000    better off by £141
Salary £55,000    better off by £141

Everyone who benefits from the welcome rise in the minimum wage will be slapped straight back down again by the cuts to tax credits. If you're working 40 hours a week on the minimum wage now (£6.50) you'll earn £13,520 a year. The increased minimum wage raises this to £14,976. 81% of that increase of £1456 wont be seen. That's one heck of a marginal tax rate. Someone earning that level by working part time, at a rate already above £7.20 per hour will simply lose out with no compensating rise in income.

Whilst someone earning over £50k a year could probably find nearly £1500 of savings in their annual budget (cheaper holiday, cancel the Sky subscription, shop around for haircuts), I have no idea how you do that on £10,000 a year.

At the bottom end of the pay scale, this is pretty much a direct swap of pay for tax credits, transferring the financial burden from the state to the employer. Of course the employer has the option to sack the worker, (though the governments welfare assessment programme has been doing its best to duplicate this), which means your annual wage drops to £0. I applaud the attempt to raise the minimum wage to what, by 2020, will be a living wage, but I can't see it happening without a rise in unemployment. Meanwhile for those whose income is just above the higher rate minimum wage, it's just hefty cut to tax credits (though these are still over £6k a year to a couple with 2 children).

If you've a food bank or debt advice charity near you, and you have any spare time or compassion, please ring them up and offer your services. They're going to need you.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Bear Grylls in the Big Issue on Faith, Fear and God

It was around 16 I found my Christian faith. I wasn’t brought up in the church but I had a natural faith when I was a little kid, I always believed in something. Then when I went to school I thought, if there is a God, surely he doesn’t speak Latin and stand in a pulpit? But when I was 16 my godfather, who was like a second father to me, died. I was really upset and I said a very simple prayer up a tree – if you’re still there, will you please just be beside me. And that was the start of something that grew and grew and it’s become the backbone of my life. I’m more convinced than ever, no matter how crazy it sounds, that there is a God and he is love. It’s a very personal relationship, I still don’t go to church very much. But to this day I start every day on my knees praying by my bed, and that’s my grounding for the day.
I see miracles everywhere I look, in mountains and in the jungleBelieving in God definitely makes me less scared in life in general. People say I’m not scared of anything. Well, I am, I’m scared of lots of things. After my sky-diving accident in the military [a fall doctors feared would paralyse him for life], I still have to parachute quite a lot and I find that hard. But having a faith reduces my fear hugely because I’m not alone, I’m fighting these battles with the creator and that’s amazing. My faith definitely plays a part in my love of the outdoors – I see miracles everywhere I look, in mountains and in the jungle. And I think I have less of a fear of death as well because I see it as going home.
read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sanctifying Facebook

The BBC reports on a 'sin free Facebook' (a title given by the Beeb, not by the site itself) set up in Brazil. Bad language and porn are banned, and 'Like' has become 'Amen'.

Spend any time on Facebook and you can see the attraction. Like the rest of human society, and the internet, it's a mixed bag, to put it kindly. If you don't want to be exposed to violence, sexual content etc. then it's the online equivalent of avoiding most TV channels after 9pm.

But I doubt I'll be joining when the English version appears. Why?
1. It looks a bit too insular. 'Facegloria' and 'Amen' will all tick boxes with certain churchy types, but will be completely lost on anyone who's not in the know. If the intent is to model a different sort of online community that focuses on what is good, true, honest, etc. then at least don't create a language barrier to those who aren't Christians. There may be hordes of people who'd love a FB alternative that isn't going to expose them or their children to distasteful stuff, but cloaking it in 'Kingdom language' will ensure that they never sign up. One of the intentions of Facegloria is to spread Gods word - so make it easy to hear.

2. If it ends up siphoning Christians away from Facebook into their own sanctified little world, thats a problem too. The early church met in the open air, in a place where everyone could see and hear them. We do nobody any favours by putting ourselves behind thick walls, whether made of medieval stone or computer code. Salt and light have to be mixed with food and darkness to do their job.

For many Christians, Facebook is actually a place where we live out our faith: mediating in arguments rather than escalating them, encouraging people rather than whining, putting out content which promotes truth, justice, love, generosity, respect etc. Bailing out on it actually shows a lack of confidence in God, who's capable of redeeming just about anything.

The health check we never get

Prevention is better than cure, at least that what my mother said. This doesn't apply to all aspects of the NHS. We are given cardiac checks, bone density checks, regular dental checks, all sorts of fiendish tubes are inserted into our bodies, and yet, at no time do we have a regular mental health check. As our brains control the functions of our body, would it be sensible to look after the brain first?

It's only when we are experiencing mental illness do we get noticed, and then it's luck of the draw if we actually get speedy and efficient help. Different areas offer varying services. Some are excellent, some are definitely not!

Mental illness can develop slowly or very quickly. At least an annual check up would help. If this was routine, then the stigma of mental illness would soon disappear, and just like popping to the nurse for a blood pressure check, it would be simply part of our lives.

by guest blogger Miriam



Saturday, July 04, 2015

Fresh Expressions of Vicar 4: My Generation*, Your Generation, Regeneration

The CofE cannot continue as it is. The Church that hundreds of Curates are being ordained to serve this weekend will be very different in 20 years time: have we prepared them for the church of the past of the church of the future? Guest blogger Andy Griffiths continues his thoughts on Titus as a model for CofE ordained ministry....

FROM INCUMBENT AS CHAPLAIN TO INCUMBENT AS SPONSOR OF INTERGENERATIONAL DISCIPLESHIP
The final theme I see in Titus is that of the generations.  This is a book all about discipleship – but there is no expectation that Titus will “disciple” the Cretan Christians himself.  Rather, as we see in Titus 2.3-5
The older women … [are to] urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind…
and we can infer a similar dynamic with the older and younger men.

Before Titus leaves Crete, he is to have established the sort of church where the generations interact healthily, for the sake of Christian maturity.  How this can be done is another matter entirely.

The country is filled with churches that prioritise the needs of one, or at most two generations, and then co-opt incumbents to be the chaplain for that age group – this most commonly happens where churches are institutionally age-ist (so music, language and preaching style disenfranchises younger parishioners), but it is by no means unknown for a younger generation to “take over” and exclude their elders.

I believe it would be a mistake to concentrate on the separation of the sexes (crucial in first and second century Crete, no longer very relevant in Essex), and should instead ask how incumbents can be sponsors of intergenerational relationships for the good of all.  This is an area where my performance has been poor, though we have sponsored “team-preaching” on six occasions (the sermon being delivered in dialogue by one person in their 40s and one person in their teens)

On Monday, Caroline Gemma and I (aged 47, 51 and 35 but not in that order!) met to plan Holiday Club.  We have about 100 children coming, aged 5-10, about 10 young leaders aged 11-18, and about 6 retired leaders, plus ourselves.  Our discussions focussed on how we could help the event be intergenerational.  We decided that the children would be assigned to groups, each led by 11-18s, who would be the primary storytellers; but each secondary student would be assigned an adult leader to support them, ensure proper safeguarding, encourage them and step in only when needed.  We would love these relationships to continue into the future.

The bottom line is this: when I, like Titus, leave the local church for which I’ve presently been assigned the “cure of souls”, I want there to be a discipling culture so strong that it won’t depend on the next incumbent to underwrite it; and that culture has to be an intergenerational one.  Ask me how this is going in a couple of years.

EPILOGUE: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO TITUS?
Church tradition tells us that once he had spent a few years in Crete, Titus’ next assignment was in Dalmatia (what we would call the Croatian coast).  Such is the lot of the incumbent – unlike the ministry team, who are generally longterm members of the local church, we move on to new assignments, hoping that we have made ourselves dispensable enough for our successors not to have to struggle as hard as we did to be successful at equipping from the margins.

A few years ago, I was given an icon of Titus by a colleague who had just visited Crete.  An elderly Titus is in Crete, reading the scroll of the letter sent to him as a young man.  And if church tradition is right, Titus did indeed, eventually, end up back in Crete – not as a member of an apostolic team, but as an old man, retiring back to the scene of his earlier ministry.  Now finally, the story says, he has the chance to be a part of a local church team as an overseer.

The icon captures the moment that he reaches the part where Paul declares that Jesus’ purpose was
to purify for himself a people that are his very own, zealous to do what is good.

He looks into the middle distance.  Possibly, the icon writer intended that Titus is looking on us, seeing how we are doing with the legacy he left us.

If you’ve read all four of these reflections: respect!  Thank you for your patience.  What do you think?

Andy Griffiths is now an Area Dean (“middle management in the Church of England”) and Vicar in Essex, and has been guest blogging this week about incumbent ministry.  This is the fourth and last post. Follow the Titus Series tag to read the others, or click...
Part 1 - from manager to team member
Part 2 - from do-it-all to enabler on the margins
Part 3 - keeping the main thing the main thing: but what is it?

* The Who's recent gig at Glastonbury 'inspired' the title of this post. 'People try to put us down' takes on a whole new meaning when the band are all in their 70s. If the song was released today, it might be seen as a protest against legalised euthanasia. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Fresh Expressions of Vicar 3: One Message, or 3000 Sermons?

3120 sermons. That's how many sermons a person will hear if they go to church every Sunday for 60 years. More, if they take the God Channel. What do vicars talk about for all that time? What do we really need to talk about? Andy Griffiths continues as guest blogger...

FROM INCUMBENT AS MANAGER TO INCUMBENT AS VOICE OF GRACE
My second post may have given the impression that the incumbent’s job is primarily that of being a manager of volunteers. 

If so, it is perhaps a surprise that Titus’ role is primarily focussed on what he is to say.  He is not to manage every part of church life, but he is to be a voice for what really matters.  “Keeping the main thing the main thing” is going to be crucial, because there will be so many distractions, and his method to keep the main thing the main thing is primarily rhetorical.  At Crete, the “disruptions” (1.11) centre on the promotion of circumcision and the telling of mythical stories (1.10-16); in 3.9 we hear that foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law are unprofitable and useless.

Some people are “divisive” (3.10), and it seems to be Titus’ role, not that of the ministry team, to
warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

When the church needs hard work and generous action”, comments Tom Wright with reference to this passage, “it’s interesting how some people, perhaps as an avoidance technique, suddenly discover that there are all sorts of theological and biblical disputes that they need to hide behind”.  In the face of these disrupting alternative narratives, and of a bent towards Law (whether this is to be understood as Torah-based boundary markers or a more Gentile legalism), Titus is to be a single-minded champion of a message of “grace” followed by “zeal”.  

Here is that message in Titus 2.12-14 and 3.4-8:
Grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, zealous to do what is good.
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.

The pattern repeats several times in these verses: the Saviour delivers by grace, and that grace, given quite apart from any worth in our actions, leads us to devotion, zeal, doing good, saying no to ungodliness, etc.  John Stott expresses the message of these verses with customary thoroughness: “Salvation’s need is our sin, guilt and slavery; its source is God’s gracious loving kindness; its ground is not our merit but God’s mercy in the cross; its means is the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit, signified in baptism; its goal is our final inheritance of eternal life; and its evidence is our diligent practice of good works… The past is justification and regeneration.  The present is a new life of good works in the power of the Spirit.  The future is the inheritance of eternal life.”  

This goes beyond a Reformation commitment to sola gratia (by grace alone) – it may suggest sola gratitudine (living by gratitude alone), in which a life eager to do good is motivated not by pride (you’re better than this), threat (you’d better do this) or guilt (if only you’d done this) but simply by unforced, confident, cheerful gratitude.  If your zeal for good works is slipping, don’t look to the law, look to the grace of salvation.

The incumbent is to be a voice for grace that leads to zeal to do good.  “The dominant theme in Titus is good works for the sake of outsiders”, says Gordon Fee, but the way to stimulate these is to help church members appreciate the wonder of salvation.  Without such a voice, a church will slip into legalism and distraction, and ironically the end result will be not only a depressed, defeated church, but a demotivated church not engaged in active love.  

This rings true to my experience – lay preaching teams seem to have a tendency to need bringing back to the rhythm of grace that leads to action for the community.  The answer to this natural slippage is not for the incumbent to once again take on the mantle of “the preacher”, delivering all the sermons and leading all the midweek groups, but for her to use every rhetorical advice at her disposal to help the ministry team exemplify this rhythm – and if necessary to make sure legalists and distractors do not have a microphone at their disposal. 

And if we can move incumbents to the margins of the church, there is some hope that they will be able to bring grace to bear on the structures of the community, pioneer new projects, and be active in creative evangelism.  Of course, this is not guaranteed.  But if incumbents are still having to chair the PCCs, pacify the flower-arrangers, raise money for the spire and visit two housebound church members a day, the scope for this fruitful, grace-voicing marginal ministry is almost nil.


The final reflection will be posted here tomorrow

Andy Griffiths is a dad, a husband, a Vicar in Essex and the “Warden of Ministers” of a Mission and Ministry Unit Team – he’s talked about the appointment process for this in his earlier posts,  I've invited Andy to guest blog four posts about incumbent ministry, originally written for the church of Essex. Because it's the only way. This is the third post – in his first two posts he spoke of incumbents as team members and enablers. Follow the Titus Series link below for the other posts. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fresh Expressions of Vicar 2: How to get the Vicar out of the Way

In a bid to save the vicars of the future from guilt, burnout and untimely death, Andy Griffiths continues his guest blogs on Titus and ordained ministry in the CofE. 

FROM INCUMBENT AS FOCUS OF UNITY TO INCUMBENT AS ENABLER ON THE MARGINS

The team sent Titus to Crete to appoint a ministry leadership team and let them (not him) be central to church life.  And then he was to leave them to it, and move on to a new assignment.   So Titus 1.5-9 describe the qualities to be looked for in this local team:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  An elder must be blameless and faithful to their spouse; if they have children, they should be believers not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, they must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, they must be hospitable, loving what is good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  They must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that they can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The criteria for the ministry team members are clear: faithful in their families (v6), faithful in self-management (v7), faithful in relation to outsiders (v8).  Incumbents oversee the selection, empowerment, training and encouragement of ministry teams.  This is a better use of their time than acting as Vicars.

“Vicar” is an oddly apposite word for what incumbents have often found themselves doing – they are substitutes, standing in for others.  They sometimes stand in for the parishioners by having a prayer life so other people don’t have to (“Say one for me, Vicar”) and they sometimes stand in for those in the pews and chairs who would be more than able to lead worship, preach sermons, care for one another and run the church if only the Vicars got out of their way.  (I was present at a diocesan consultation day where we were asked for a word that gave us the most hope for new life and growth in their parishes – every single layperson in my group chose “interregnum”).  

We incumbents may try to justify this in terms of us being the “focus of unity” (how did this choice of words enter the conversation?  Isn’t it meant to refer to bishops?), but in fact I wonder if we are simply resisting a call to move towards the margins and let others be centre-stage. (I was deeply unsettled to meet a priest who had discouraged a congregation member from seeking ordination with local deployment, because that would have compromised his position as “Eucharistic Focus”).  

By contrast, Titus was not a vicar but an enabler, appointing and enabling the elders/overseers to do their tasks as a team.  I have made this move very imperfectly – I still sometimes wake in the night, concerned about Galleywood, which implies that I may still somehow see myself as indispensable to it.  But here are two anecdotes that give some impression of how I have tried to be less vicarious and more like Titus.

First: back around the year 2008, we were starting to set up a pastoral care team.  But I was hearing complaints from some of the elderly and housebound people we would visit: when a couple of laypeople from the pastoral care team dropped in, it felt as if “that didn’t count” or “the church hadn’t been”.  After the death of one elderly parishioner, the son complained that in her whole last six months, the church hadn’t been to see her at all.  “I’m so sorry”, I said, “I’d understood that Elva and Edith were regular visitors.”  “O yes, they were often round, I don’t know what mum would have done without them – but they’re not the church, they’re normal people!”  

So I made a decision: for a year, I wouldn’t visit anyone, ever, in their homes for pastoral reasons.

By the end of the year, it was a common subject around the village that the Vicar didn’t visit.  But it was also commonly known that there was a pastoral care team, and Rosemary (a lay person) led it, and it was really good. Make no mistake, a parish’s felt need to have the incumbent at the centre of everything is often at least as strong as the incumbent’s felt need to be there – but we must engage in the struggle to extricate ourselves and get back to the margins where we belong.  

Not long ago I covered a service in a parish I didn’t know.  I asked what their expectations were (is someone doing the intercessions?  Is someone reading the epistle?  that sort of thing) and was told that in that church, the members didn’t get involved in saying things at the communion.  Imagine my surprise to discover that “not getting involved” included not even saying the words in bold print in the service booklet – including not only the sanctus and Gloria, but even the Lord’s Prayer and the amens!  I guess that would have felt unanglican.  Brothers and sisters, we took a wrong turn somewhere.  . 

A second story: in 2010 there was a sense at St Michael’s that a member of the clergy (myself or my colleague the curate) “ought” to be in church every week.  It wasn’t that anyone resented there being lay leadership or laypeople preaching – but “it just didn’t feel right” for there not to be a vicar in the building.  

So we decided that at least once a month, we’d make sure neither of us were in church on Sunday morning.  

We were not service-providers for a set of consumers, but encouragers of a people with a purpose.  Three years later, all the churches in the Unit have incumbent presence exactly 50% of the time on Sunday mornings, and another important step has been taken towards breaking the curse of dependence on incumbents.  Please note: since this goes alongside the development of ministry teams including locally deployed priests, this does not in the medium or long term mean anyone is deprived of communion – less incumbents need not mean less priests.  

What’s absolutely clear is that for me to spend my Sunday morning driving from church to church, celebrating communion and then getting straight into the car to get to the next eucharist, would not be sane for me or missionally helpful for God’s people.  St Michael’s Galleywood has become a Church of Teams – an evangelism team, a pastoral care team, a leadership team, a preachers’ team, and so on.  Most days, I’m glad.  Some days, it feels like being at the margins instead of the centre is a good place to be, giving me a chance to get involved in mission to those not part of the church community.


Frankly, we have to do something.  I met with an ordained colleague this morning, and the subject turned to whether any of us knew any incumbents who work full-time (that is, 40 hours a week approx.) but no more.  We came to the conclusion that neither of us did know anyone like this, and we feared that if an incumbent did work like this they’d be in danger of ending up guilty in themselves, bullied by their congregations and suspect to their Area Deans.  

Which means that the post of incumbent is closed to all but a select few able to sustain this kind of rhythm, week in week out.  

It is probably closed to anyone with small children and a spouse in inflexible full-time work.  I write as (most of the time) a happy incumbent – even one whose ministry gives him some satisfaction most of the time.  But I am determined, if only as a model for others, to do better at not being indispensable.  I’m nobody’s hero, and I just don’t have the energy to be Jesus any more. 

Andy Griffiths is a Vicar in Essex, an enthusiast for the Moravian tradition and a member of a small new-monastic “mini-order” but his main claim to fame is that he went to college with the Opinionated Vicar (who at that stage wasn't a vicar, but the other bit was true).  So that’s why he’s “guest blogging” four posts about incumbent ministry.  Last time, he presented a model of incumbency where incumbents serve in something a bit like the “apostolic teams” of the New Testament. This is the second post, follow these links or the 'Titus Series' tag for the others. 

Update: the CofE comms blog has What's It Really Like to be a Vicar?