3 May 2015

The Albion Group

Confidential Memo from the Bishop to members of the Talent Pool.

Applications are invited for the post of Rector of the Albion Group (with Norn Iron).

The team consists of four different churches and a number of smaller fellowship groups who are seeking a dynamic and exciting direction for the future after a number of difficult years.

St Charles' (K&M) is an established congregation which values its traditional matins service. It
has substantial reserves and strong links with local business and farming families. However concern has been expressed in recent years over its commitment to the needs of the wider community. Pew rents are still in force. With a falling ER of 137 the congregation is no longer able to have the same influence it enjoyed in the past and lead the group.

St. Blake's is a lively liberal catholic congregation in the new estate (built 1945). There is a strong emphasis on social action. Relations with the congregation of St. Charles' have been strained over the years although a number of innovations from the parish such as the Parish Nursing Scheme have been more widely accepted. Over the years St. Blake's congregation have moved from instant to real coffee and changed the seating arrangements several times.  The ER of St. Blake's has recently dropped to 135 with the growth of Trews Community Church.

St. Salad's history is complex, but most recently has been working closely with St. Charles' on the united PCC - although the parishes form of worship shares much with St. Blake's. In the past St. Salad's has attracted worshippers from both St. Blake's and St. Charles' congregations. However since introducing increased fees for it's young adults group, and with its closer association with St. Charles' its ER has dropped to 14.

Trews Community Church is a Fresh Expression of Church which is seeing significant growth to the North of the benefice. A number of regular worshippers at St. Blake's have been attracted to TCC in recent years, and the two churches share much in common. However it has been noted by senior staff that TCC does not see itself as part of the Albion Team Ministry and would prefer to be an independent entity . The ER of Trews Community Church is 28.

Information about smaller home groups and the community of Norn Iron are included in an appendix.

The new Rector will need to be able to win support of members of the electoral roll and form a group PCC which is able to make majority decisions on growth, financial management and community engagement, whilst maintaining the unity of the group and protecting the local sub-mariners association.

This is a half time post combined with the role of Diocesan Sound Bite Officer.

2 Apr 2015

I don’t just believe in God, I met with him ...

From the Archives - June 2012, and a follow up to the post 'Table Church'

Adrian Warnock has blogged about Spiritual Experiences and how we don’t like to talk about it. He is right, one of things I discovered once I had been ordained was how many people have spiritual experiences and don’t talk about them except very occasionally to a priest. Sometimes not even their priest but to a random minister!

On the one hand we feel nervous about seeming a little bit off the wall to our peers, and on the other hand we are cautious of making experience the centre rather than Christ. For the pastorally minded we can also be cautious as we recognise that not everyone has spiritual experiences in an emotionally affecting way. Much of what we describe as spiritual experience is as much the emotional or human response to God as the direct action of God - the image of wind and waves comes to mind.

We must also be broad in our understanding of spiritual experience, and I have no doubt that for many, myself included, the work of theology, preaching and the sacraments are spiritual experience. Reading the scriptures, the apostolic fathers or the liturgy centres and grounds us in the Spirit of God.

But I admit that my faith is enriched by spiritual experiences, in worship, in study, in service, in relationships. In recent years as I have embraced the idea of spiritual experience without centring on them they have deepened and broadened. The experience I want to share is a follow on from that explored in my post – The Table Church.

This year on Maundy Thursday I watched with the sacrament as I do every year. There was no easy peace – I find sitting for long periods uncomfortable and silence leads to my mind wandering. I read, I reflected, I prayed, an act of will and spiritual discipline rather than one of ecstatic devotion. Finally the church bell tolled midnight. The church I had kept the watch in did not have a garden, so I had decorated the side altar with palm fronds used on the previous Sunday. As a gathered them from the altar, clearing the church for the bareness of Good Friday I turned and through the leaves I saw Him.

It was only a glimpse for a moment, as if I had been at the back of the crowd at Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

As if I had been running from the garden at Jesus’ arrest and turned back for one last look at my Lord.

But He was there for a moment as surely as he was in the bread and wine of the altar. With the glimpse followed a deep sense of Christ’s love, tinged with the sadness and self-sacrifice of Holy Week. Different from the centeredness of offering the eucharist , or the lift of raised hands in worship. Deeper, reflective, still.

Perhaps I was tired, perhaps I was in a heightened state of expectation, but it sustained me through the busyness of the following days and was completely unexpected.

And I am left with the word, the reminder, that in the Garden we would have behaved no differently than the disciples, we too would have given up Jesus to be crucified for us and His response is a free offering of His love.

The Table Church

From the Archive.

“The church is not an institution, the church is not a building, the church is not a programme, the church is people”.

It is often said in various forms, in different contexts, with different intentions. People however are a problem, a problem for which Christ is the solution, but that solution is very much a work in progress.

My own faith journey could be read in a number of ways. Baptised in secret as a baby (something I discovered in my twenties), grew up in a non-practising home but in English Christian Schools where we prayed and worshipped every day, a vocational call at 13 (although I had no idea then what it meant), commitment and adult baptism at 16, five years in a Reformed Charismatic congregation, then a few more in something more Pentecostal.

And then people happened. I had seen it before, the church I was part of in my teens had a break down in relationships between the eldership, but by then I wasn’t involved enough to be hurt by it. In my mid-twenties it was different, I was involved. What happened isn’t so important, the why maybe more so.

I suspect that often in church we get caught up in an unhealthy Parentalism. Expectations are placed on those in positions of responsibility that are unrealistic and in turn unrealistic demands are placed on others by those in positions of responsibility. Relationships become parent-infant, and when one party falls short the relationship can become toxic. Children rage at their pastors, parents emotionally discipline their congregation, pastoral colleagues fight over the children’s love. Sadly I have had folks tell me they want to be treated like children at church, I have heard ministers describe their flock as children, and I have seen congregations mercilessly turn on pastors when they admitted their mistakes – breaking the illusion of parental perfection.

I wish I could say that it was a problem only in churches with strong leadership, a charismatic spirituality, or an evangelical theology, yet although more hierarchical church groups can sometimes be insulated against it, they are not exempt. Jesus confidently said to his disciples ‘I have called you friends’, we find these words a far greater challenge.

So in my twenties I found myself hurting and cast adrift from the church that had sustained me for years. I wandered into somewhere very different, an ancient building, one with pews, robes, bells, smoke, standing and sitting, ritual and liturgy. I slowly fell in love with the richness of ancient shapes and forms of worship. At the time I hadn’t read the early Fathers of the Church hadn’t had the change of perception to see the liturgy of the ancient church crying out in the pages of the New Testament, and I hadn’t come to any theological conclusions. It was very much a shift of experience.

The table was at the centre of this new experience, this new way of worshipping. Holy Communion, the Offering, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, call it what you will. It was Jesus’ table that he shared with his friends. The depth of this was brought home to me one night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the garden of betrayal and pain.

Every Holy Week, the 7 days before Easter, the journey of Christ’s Passion was shared. On Maundy Thursday evening we celebrated the Last Supper as if we were there with the disciples, the ministers washed people’s feet and we shared Christ’s presence in bread and wine. Then with Christ we would go to the garden. The garden was just a side chapel, a table with a few flowers and plants. The bread and the wine blessed at communion were placed here and we were invited to watch and pray, just as Jesus had asked his friends to do. In John’s Gospel the Last Supper is described starting with the bread shared with the disciples and ending with the blood and water pouring from Jesus’ side on the cross, the last cup. So the bread and wine set aside in the garden, the body and blood of Christ, would be shared again on Good Friday as we gathered around the cross.

The strangeness of this practise for one whose experience of worship had been worship songs and uplifted hands was significant. But in a spirit of exploration, I gave it a go. I sat in the garden that Maundy Thursday night. ‘Just one hour’ I thought. At the end of the hour I intended to leave.

Over the years I had been in some fairly remarkable meetings. I had seen the Toronto or Father’s Blessing break like waves over the British church. I had experienced laughter, floor time and tears. I had expounded that this was a bursting forth of the Fruit of the Spirit, Love, Joy & Peace. But like others I had also grown suspicious, noticing the similarities between the supposed manifestations of the Spirit and the work of skilled hypnotists, unsure of the evidence of transformed lives. Faith may be emotional, even ecstatic, but we must never confuse a human experience with the Holy Spirit.

There in the garden there was no space for laughter, for shaking, for lying on the floor. There was no-one to blow on us, to lay hands and pray, to cry ‘more Lord’. There was just the table, the bread and the wine, Christ present. After the hour I went to get up and I could not, I am unsure if I could even move. The sense of the intimate presence of Christ was overwhelming in a way I had never touched upon in even the most charismatic of meetings. But it was also simple, free of hype, judgement or expectation. Whilst others came and went, Jesus had me wait and watch.

This was not the end of the story; eventually I was ordained in this small corner of the global church, the Church of England. Here too I have seen people hurt as I saw before, seen people struggle with faith and I almost lost my own. I am still in the Garden of Gethsemane; where we let one another down, betray one another, and tears of blood are wept. Yet at the centre is not building, institution, not even people as we have sometimes understood it, but rather the table.

The table were Jesus met with his friends and shared his body and blood, the table where he meets with us still and shares his body and blood when we gather around Him.