Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Five Smooth Stones & Statistics for Mission

The Church of England has released its latest Statistics for Mission, and Norman Ivison has an excellent analysis. The good news is that CofE worshipping communities are not collapsing as some might expect. The bad news is that what many of us hoped was a the bottom of a curve seems instead to be a gentle decline.

So here are my immediate thoughts:
  1. It is clear that a huge number of Anglicans are older, and that what has kept that generation in church has not worked for their children or their grandchildren. Anglicans regularly reminisce about how many children used to be in church through various events, links with uniform organisations and schools. However these models clearly failed in introducing young people to a life long, life changing encounter with the living God. We should ensure that we do not repeat these mistakes.
  2. With the huge number of older people in the church, there is bound to be a natural shrinkage. A church which sees 5 new families come to faith each year (or a greater number of individuals) may still be classified as  'shrinking' due to older members leaving or moving into residential care. We still need to identify and celebrate this as growth.
  3. There is not a single missing generation as Norman suggests in passing, but several. The generation which abandoned faith in the 1960's and 1970's is now coming face to face with the reality of their own mortality. The Church needs to be intentional about mission with those coming into retirement, the Boomer generation, as well as the generations that have followed them.
  4. The evidence of 74% transfer growth to cathedrals is important. It is something I have suspected anecdotally for some time, and speaking as an anglo-catholic drives another nail in the coffin of the choral liturgical tradition in parish churches - we just cannot compete. However over time we may see similar transfer growth within other expressions, as smaller churches cannot compete with the quality of larger worship band lead congregations. It's not pretty but we need to be aware.
  5. There is growth in the Church of England. We need to support and encourage those lay or ordained who are seeing people find Jesus. This needs to move beyond boundaries of tradition, parish or fresh expression. The whole church lay and ordained needs confidence that God is moving among us in this nation. As a priest I have learned about mission from practitioners, not theorists and 'big name' speakers. The national church needs to embrace this philosophy.
At our recent diocesan conference we were asked what the church needed for the future. I wrote
  • Renewal of engagement with the Seven Sacraments 
  • Prayer on the Streets.
I stand by that eclectic mix. Because people come to a life long, life changing faith through encounter with the living God.

Nothing else will do.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Mail Order Penguins

Something about the new Christmas John Lewis advert just seems a bit off.

We have a lonely penguin - Calvin and Hobbes style. The gender of the penguin is not explored. However it is a lonely penguin. But don't worry John lewis have the answer. A mail order bride/groom to bring happiness to the saddest Spheniscidae (yeah I had to look that up).

And of course it is a match made in heaven.

And to me my gut reaction, following the anthropomorphism in regards to the lonely penguin, was:

'ewww, that is really creepy'

Okay I understand that it is just a stuffed penguin. That's the reveal. But the penguin was human enough for us to identify with its feathered feelings.

And with issues of human trafficking in many peoples minds at the moment  John Lewis have made me if anything a Little Blue.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Anglo-Catholic Future: Liturgy is Messy

I was unable to attend the recent Anglo-Catholic Future event, but  Prof. Alison Milbank’s keynote is now available on-line. It is worth reading, and much of it I agree with. With Prof. Milbank I acknowledge both the strangeness and beauty of the catholic tradition. But where we may differ is our experience of what is beautiful. I truly believe that liturgy is messy, that this is beautiful, and that we need not fear mess.

My first experience of the catholic tradition was as a child in a mission parish on an estate in Gravesend. Holy Family still looks pretty much the same today as it did back then. I remember the richness of the experience, the images and colour - but a cathedral it is not.

I re-entered the catholic tradition through suffering. After my mother died I found myself, by accident, in a church where suffering was not packaged away but hung messily from every crucifix. Catholic spirituality embraces the reality of pain and suffering in the world as well as seeking supernatural healing.

I have been nourished in the catholic tradition through spiritual encounter. Catholic worship and practice is essentially ecstatic: an inability to move from adoration of the sacrament, a glimpse of Christ through palm branches, a strangeness of a statue of Our Lady. These and other supernatural experiences have shaped my relationship with God, even during those seasons when I have struggled to believe in God.

I have persevered in the catholic tradition through the sacrifice of the mass. The disruptiveness of the sacrifice offered corporately on the altar even when God may seem distant to the individual. Christ present in bread and wine, broken and blessed at the heart of a wider sacramental life. I long for a renewal of our shared intention at the altar in the catholic movement.

I have been renewed in the catholic tradition by walking with the apostolic teachers of an early missionary church. Seeking to engage in mission within a diverse and fractured culture around us. A plain reading of those who knew the apostles makes little space for obsessive aesthetics.

Mess does not mean disorder. Mess can have shape and form. But none the less embracing suffering is messy, the charismatic and ecstatic is messy, the disruptive sacrifice is messy, mission is messy. I believe that catholic worship and community lives and thrives when space is made for mess, for contemporary worship, for creative prayers, for prayer ministry and charismatic gifts, for flags waved and hands lifted high, for risky evangelisation and invitation.

I cannot help but return to Augustine:
Then, indeed, such a shout of wonder rose from men and women together, that the exclamations and the tears seemed like never to come to an end. ... They shouted God’s praises without words, but with such a noise that our ears could scarcely bear it. What was there in the hearts of these exultant people but the faith of Christ, for which Stephen had shed his blood?
Messy yes, and profoundly catholic. As it was then so may it be in our anglo-catholic future.

Friday, 29 August 2014


This Blog follows on from asking questions about Changes at Greenbelt and about the lack of UK Emergent Speakers.

Part of the reason that we have fewer UK 'Name' speakers is that emergent movements in UK Christianity have tended to follow the pattern of Symposia - either communicating through worship or short talks. This does not naturally produce single name speakers.

For the Rural Fresh Expressions events we did book a couple of named speakers, but they were not the focus of the conferences. The idea was that all who attended were contributors and practitioners. Everyone who wanted to come to the conference was invited to submit some background and part of their (communities) story. This was distributed to everyone before the conference, so we all knew something of one another. The conference was open to non-practitioners too (although they had a lower booking priority), but they too had to share what they were interested in learning and sharing.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Where are all the UK based Emergent Speakers?

So @vahva asks - where are all the Brit speakers? To which Tim responds:
So where are we now? Surely some of us who came through post-evangelicalism and alt-worship 20 years ago have or had something to say. After all this website has been running since July 2003 - have a look. And what happened 10 years before this website still exists on WorshipCafe. It all looks very familiar if you dig through it. Over the years I have shared these ideas with others - mostly through symposia and forums and actual worship. None of us have become Christian celebrities.

Whilst drifting off to sleep at Greenbelt this year I overheard a conversation on the path: the words 'Power Mad Bishops' hung in the night air - which made me smile at an event so focussed on Christian celebrity. Because Bishop's have very little actual power, and are seldom listened to. UK Emergents have taken the same path. Where are we?