Thursday, February 11, 2016


O Lord our God
grant us grace to desire you with our whole heart;
that so desiring, we may seek and find you;
and so finding, may love you;
and so loving, may hate those sins
                from which you have delivered us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord     (St. Anselm, 1109)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Childrens Mental Health treatment: Free, but 55,000 miles to the point of delivery.

You might find the following account hard to believe in the UK in 2016, but it's the real ordeal of a local family, whose teenage daughter developed mental health problems after bullying. They live in Yeovil, but just look at the places where their child ended up for 'care'....
"We've had to section her on seven occasions, the first being in September 2013 - that was at Sevenoaks in Kent, she was there for about eight weeks."
Since her first admission, she has spent periods in mental health hospitals in Southampton, Manchester, Woking, Norwich and finally Orpington in Kent.
She has had to be treated hundreds of miles away from her home because there are no inpatient beds available in Somerset.
Her parents have visited her virtually every weekend as she was battling her illness, spending £25,000 and racking up 55,000 miles of travel just to see her.
"She would get put in different hospitals - from Southampton she was moved to Manchester for a weekend, and then spent four months in Woking. Many of these mental health hospitals are privately owned, they're profit-making organisations. Often it appears they never have enough staff."
Her mother said that it was "heartbreaking" to be separated from their daughter by such huge distances. She said: "I feel as though I've missed out on two and a half years of our daughter growing up. You get a phone-call at night and she's crying her eyes out and you're like 250 miles away and you know there's nothing you can do to help her."
"We've spent £25,000 over the last three years just to see our daughter - that's food, accommodation, petrol, taking her out to places, everything. A lot of other people can't afford to do that. We were told that either the NHS or the county council would reimburse transport costs, but we've heard nothing from either. There's no continuity of care. We've never been back to the same hospital; it's always a different psychiatrist or a different doctor, and it's soul-destroying."
This is scandalous. It's enough of an ordeal to have an ill child, but how on earth is all of that supposed to help the child recover? 
This is not a one-off, it's happening repeatedly to adults as well as children, and school heads are now flagging up mental illness as a major concern. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Sunday Trading: Is It a Consultation If Nobody Listens?

Update: the government has published its response to the consultation. You can hardly see for the smoke and mirrors. It state that a majority of medium and large businesses wanted more Sunday trading (there's a surprise) as did a majority of local authorities (not a surprise, as the Conservatives run a majority of local councils). The words 'majority' don't appear anywhere else, so from that we can infer that a majority of small businesses, other organisations, and individuals, were against the proposals. There's no summary of these stats anywhere of course, the only bits of responses quoted are those supportive of the policy the government already has. There are surveys and statistics which show it has negative economic and social effect, but none of these are mentioned. The response is just as skewed as the initial consultation. CofE official response to the government response here.

Visit this page today, and here's what you see

The Conservative government issued a one-sided consultation document, took feedback, and according to their website, are still analysing it. That would explain why, after one aborted attempt to railroad a change to Sunday trading laws through Parliament, David Cameron is trying again. This time, the change in law is being brought in under a sack through the most obscure back door the government can find:

What do you do when you want to change a law but Parliament won’t allow it? Simple: you smuggle it back as a late amendment to another Bill which has already been debated by the House of Commons and scrutinised by the House of Lords. That way, there’s no prospect of a vote and so no embarrassing defeat.

So the amendment won't be debated in the Lords at all. Democracy, who needs it?

David Cameron made an explicit promise on this on April 20th 2015: “I can assure you that we have no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday, and those who would like to see further restrictions.” 

The Church of Englands response to this latest manoevre points out that the changes will damage family and community life, and lead to a net loss of jobs in the retail sector, mostly in smaller businesses. That probably won't bother the bosses of Next, or the Westfield centre, major donors to the Conservative party, who would be among those who stand to benefit from the changes. If taxation practice is made by deals with the biggest taxpayers, then sadly it wouldn't be a surprise if retail practice is worked out by deals with the biggest retailers.

Here's a number of reasons why the changes are wrong, which I sent in to the consultation. I'm still waiting to hear what the government will do when it has actually analysed our feedback, rather than ignoring it. What is the point of consulting us Mr Cameron? I'd rather you saved everyone the time and were honest. Better still, pull the amendment now. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Church of England Transfer Window News

A lot of managerial change in the latest transfer window:

(Breaking News: freelance cleric Dean Saunders, formerly of Aston Cathedral, has called for spectators to be allowed into matches for free. Following the lead of other historic grounds, the Dean argues that, despite the costs of maintaining the premises and paying team salaries, clubs should rely on the generosity of visitors to meet running costs.)

Rt. Rev Guardiola, a pioneer leader with a great track record, has been made Bishop of Manchester. Once in charge, he'll discover that he can only change the team if players actually ask to leave, and has no control over the formation or playing style. Kit colours can only be changed after consulting with every supporter. Of every club.

Rev. Mourinho is still in post, despite falling out with a churchwarden on the first day of the season, alienating most of the PCC, and a general lack of inspiration at the main gathering each week. A senior and loyal member of the congregation has had his pew removed, and the congregation is tiring of the sermon series on Passive Aggression, which has now been going for 6 years. Bishop Abrahamovic, having personally headhunted Rev. Mourniho from a neighbouring Diocese, is too embarrassed to ask him to leave. The only way to sack a vicar is to go through the cumbersome and costly clergy disciplinary process: thankfully for the Bishop, the churchwarden has initiated proceedings.

Rev Dr Neville, a noted 1990s worship leader and well reputed church growth analyst, has joined the Roman Catholic church. It's early days, but the congregation don't appear to be enjoying the new songs.

Preb Wenger is standing for the 20th time for General Synod. Under his leadership, Emirates Minster has become well known for the quality of its youth choir, the elegant choreography of the worship, and the thoughtful but understated homilies. Older members of the congregation still talk about the mission held in the late 1990s, supported by a team of Dutch evangelists, and wonder if this years generation of interns will ever repeat it.

The Diocese of Leicester has experienced unprecedented church growth this year. However because Bishop Ranieri hadn't seen these kinds of results before, everyone is assuming it is a flash in the pan, and will go away. After all, we've so much experience of failing managers that we know what to do with them, but success is unfamiliar and unsettling. Archdeacon Vardy is being lined up for a role with a national coaching agency.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Broken News: Hey, Media, Leave Them Heads Alone

ITV are dangling some outrage bait this morning with another story based on a school newsletter. This follows a nearby school last week which hit first the local, then the national papers, and a story about pyjama-wearing parents at a school in the North-East. All 3 stories were based on newsletters for parents, sent home with children.

As a parent, communication with the school is key, in both directions. It would be a real problem if the school didn't feel it could talk honestly with me about our children, and the life of the school. Headteachers around the country will be looking at this latest media bandwagon and wondering if it's still possible to communicate with parents, without their words ending up quoted in the Daily Mail and fed to the social media outrage machine.

Parents with an issue over what a school has said need to take it up with the school, not leak it to the press. Using the media to settle scores undermines the parent-school relationship for everyone. School newsletters are for the school community, they are not press releases. If there is a serious problem, then there are proper channels to go through.

Local media have a responsibility here too - in the short term, you might get a bit more web traffic, but at what cost? Not every attention-grabbing headline needs to be published. It clearly suits ITV to sex the story up: head 'demands' - really? 'apparent bid to boost attendance' - nudge nudge! Conflict generates clicks, harmony doesn't. But web traffic and sales data aren't a reliable moral compass.

And for any complaint, Jesus has some good advice: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 'School and Parent work together' won't make any headlines in your local paper (more's the pity), but then that's not the point is it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wonderful Life

Sad to hear that Colin Vearncombe, aka Black, has died after a car accident earlier this month. Thankyou for the beautiful music.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Be like Bill? Be like Jesus.


These have been doing the rounds on Facebook in the last week, with a simple but clever take on social media etiquette. I couldn't think of anything clever to say, and we've just been looking at discipleship, so:
this is Jesus

be like Jesus.

to which a friend replied:

Amen to that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ofsted Sunday School Raids: Disappointing News

Schools inspectors will not be allowed to raid Sunday schools, Scouts' meetings or Christian summer camps, David Cameron has promised MPs. (source)

Awww, what a shame. Imagine the frisson it would add to the average Sunday school if it had the chance of being raided at any moment by besuited people with clipboards. 
Jesus radicalised his disciples: they left everything to follow him, and 10 out of the 12 died as a martyr, one other died in exile, because of Jesus. So I hope any inspector would detect signs of radicalisation, and be able to recognise that being radical comes in more than 1 form. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Repainting Blue Monday

On this supposedly most depressing day of the year (not if you're an England cricket fan), is there anything more we can do but wait for Turquoise Tuesday? Yes, says an upbeat psychologist: 

"Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves."

ouch: reading this felt like hopping barefoot along a bed of nails. A useful checklist to take to your next meeting or family gathering, see how many you can spot. Though the fact that you take it as a checklist probably means you're on it.

Source: PsychCentral.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Spirit-Filled Church

"All of us here need a body that is mutually supportive, that loves one another, that stoops to lift the fallen and kneels to bind the wounds of the injured. Without each other we are deeply weakened, because we have a mission that is only sustainable when we conform to the image of Christ, which is first to love one another.
The idea is often put forward that truth and unity are in conflict, or in tension. That is not true. Disunity presents to the world an untrue image of Jesus Christ. Lack of truth corrodes and destroys unity. They are bound together, but the binding is love. 
In a world of war, of rapid communications, of instant hearing and misunderstanding where the response is only hatred and separation, the Holy Spirit whose creative and sustaining gifting of the church is done in diversity, demands that diversity of history, culture, gift, vision be expressed in a unity of love. That is what a Spirit filled church looks like." (Justin Welby)
Or as George Bebawi, tutor at my theological college once put it 'if I disagree with you, I have to love you more'. Sounds great, but so, so challenging and hard.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Church of England Attendance - Downs and Ups

Earlier this week the CofE released its latest set of attendance figures. The general downward trend was picked up by the press, and the official press release marked a welcome departure from the standard positive spin, dealing directly with the fact that membership has fallen 12% in 10 years as part of a longer-term pattern of decline. However it rightly points out that within the overall picture, there are signs of growth, and plenty of good things going on.

Here are the figures by Diocese for the last 5 years

The North-East leads the way: given that I left Durham Diocese in 2006, perhaps Bath and Wells will show the same pattern to 2020 if I hand in my notice now. 9 dioceses are growing, out of 43, and the overall pattern is still a drop of 1% a year. That's a slight improvement on the longer trends, but often what happens is that Dioceses will report better numbers over a short time frame, (Durham saw a big jump 2013-14). 16 Dioceses reported higher adult weekly attendance for the year 2013-14. But longer term these tend not to be sustained. You can see this volatility in the Diocesan charts on p44 onwards in the main report.  Also a concern is the big slowdown in growth in London.

Here's the picture in the 2 decades prior to 2020. 

 perhaps the rate of decline is slowing, but not by much. There are pockets of growth, and there's a welcome focus on the factors which make for a healthy, growing church. It will take time for this to get round, and even longer for it to be adopted. We don't have very long but at least we are now talking about this and addressing it, rather than hoping it will all go away if we do Evensong really well.

Meanwhile the ageing of the church continues to be a big issue. The CofE is failing in a key area where it needs to engage. We are seeing fewer children than ever - the table below is for Sunday attendance, if you include midweek services (which you'd expect to be better, given that adult attendance is moving towards weekdays), the drop is a staggering 29% (in the last 2 years services exclusively for schools have been excluded, which is the main reason for the drop. It takes over 100,000 off the headline figure). On the positive side, this gives the lie to anyone who claims that CofE schools indoctrinate children into the Christian faith. But that's clutching at straws.

Thinking Anglicans links to a few other pieces of commentary and analysis.Crunching the numbers (and every number is a person, but crunching people sounds like the bad giants in the BFG) in our own Diocese, there were 15-20 churches which had shown some sustained and significant growth at some stage in the last 10 years. What came as more of a surprise was that it was mainly the finance department who used the figures. We collect 'statistics for misson' but don't really look at them through mission eyes. The CofE is becoming more socially engaged - food banks, debt advice etc., but we still plough so much time, energy and effort into maintaining the buildings and the system that many small churches are too snowed under to engage well. A few other snippets from the stats: - the church continues to age, with children dropping from 16 to 14% of Sunday attenders. 29% of us are over 70.  - the 'average church' has 69 regulars, 171 people through the doors at Christmas, and carries out 10 funerals, 9 baptisms and 3 marriages a year. But hardly any churches are average - the smallest 5% have 8 members or fewer.   - about 15% of the stats are estimated, because not all the info has been collected from the 16000 churches involved - 84,000 people joined an Anglican church in 2014. 1/3 of these were worshipping for the first time, a further 1/3 had moved from another area. 15% had moved from another church (roughly the same as those who gave this reason for leaving), and 16% had returned to church after not being members for some time.  - there's been some attempt to break down the age profile of the worshipping community. In my own Diocese, over 40% of our members are aged 70+. Blackburn has the highest proportion of children (nearly 30%), London the most under-70s. With death and illness being the main factor in shrinking attendance, it's clear which Dioceses are going to face challenges in the near future. Sorry Lincoln, but it's not going to get any better.  - There's a breakdown of Christmas services - 2 1/4m people came to 'congregation and community' services, a further 2 1/2m to 'civic and school' services. - in general more rural/elderly Dioceses had higher proportions of the local population involved in church: places like Hereford, Gloucester, Bath and Wells and Carlisle. These are also the places where a higher proportion of people have church funerals, baptisms etc. London has the lowest proportion of population having a church wedding, baptism or funeral. - there's some data on relative sizes: the largest 5%  average 41 children and 178 adults involved, the smallest 5% average 8 adults and no children. Not a surprise, but neither is it an encouragement. The Church of England is at last changing, we are starting to learn from each other what makes for a thriving church, and we are starting to listen more to our communities, rather than assume folk will come to church when they work out what's good for them. That's not working for pubs - they are closing at a faster rate than churches - the way we meet and mix as a society is changing. We have to listen to that and adapt to it. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I've got that Joy, Joy, Joy: Where? Feelings, Catharsis and a Monk

'Inside Out' takes us inside the head of an 11 year old girl, and the 5 emotions which direct her responses to the world. 'Joy' is in charge inside the girls head, but anger, fear, disgust and sadness all chip in.

One of the best things about the film is that 'Sadness' goes from being a marginal, misunderstood feeling to one that's indispensable, and there's a sense that maturity involves a more complicated mix of feelings than just being joyful all the time.

However there's also a missing ingredient: alongside the 5 emotions there's no role for reason, conscience, soul, or will. Character emerges from the interaction of the emotions. The emotions moderate each other, but the 'train of thought' only visits occasionally to take things into long-term memory, and 'abstract thought' is a hazardous and destructive zone hidden at the back of the mind.

On Sunday we used a clip from the movie in our cafe service, the following day I stumbled across this:

"there are seven principal affections that rise by turns form the one affective disposition of the soul: hope and fear, joy and grief, hatred, love and shame. All these can be ordered at one time, and disordered at another."

'Ordered' means directed towards the right thing - hating justice would be disordered, as would fear of something harmless. The writer? Richard of St. Victor a 12th century monk and theologian. Fear, joy, hatred (anger), shame (disgust) and grief (sadness). Together in Inside Out, the 5 characters all 'love our girl', so hope is the only one missing.

Richard writes of virtue being a state where our emotions are rightly ordered, and rightly moderated. I.e. directed towards the right thing, with the right intensity.

"one ought to keep cautious watch over all the virtues so that they are not only ordered but also moderated. For excessive fear often falls into despair; excessive grief into bitterness; immoderate hope into presumption; overabundant love into flattery; unnecessary joy into dissolution; intemperate anger into fury. And so in this way virtues are turned into vices if they are not moderated by discretion"

This makes a lot of sense, but can sound a bit uptight. I'm put in mind of the imam in Rev who occasionally declares 'too much humour'. Don't we need to let it all out at times? Digital Nun has this to say on the death of David Bowie:

A public figure many feel they knew personally, and who had attained some sort of iconic status, is publicly mourned in a way that may truly be called cathartic.
It is some time since I last read Aristotle’s Poetics, but I remember thinking how interesting it was that his notion of the purging of the emotions of pity and fear should be linked to the Greek word for purity, katharos. We are cleansed by the safe release of potentially destructive emotions. Isn’t that what we are seeing in the reaction to David Bowie’s death? Our own death and the feelings we have about it are somehow tied up with his. Add to that the power of the media to make us feel we have a personal connection with someone; its ability to scatter stardust over even the most ordinary activity or event; above all, the way in which it invites a sense of immediate engagement, all these contribute to the extraordinary scenes we have witnessed.
The counterpoint to this catharsis is that Bowie kept his illness a secret, something private, in one one commentator calls a revolutionary  avoidance of the private sphere in an age where more and more is done in public. Bowie himself predicted of the internet in 2000   "I think the potential of what the Internet is going to do to society both good and bad is unimaginable. I think we're on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying." In the few years I've been blogging, blogging itself has taken a back seat to the more immediate social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We've moved from sharing our thoughts to sharing our lives. The more immediate the media, the more immediate the catharsis. 
What would Richard of St. Victor make of all this? What is the place of catharsis, and moderation? If we are a generation that 'hears with our eyes and thinks with our feelings', how do we make sure we become more emotionally intelligent, not just more emotional? Or am I overthinking this?