Friday, 13 March 2015

The Good Ship CofE

I came across this image on Facebook earlier today. The context was global inequality. The picture is by no means perfect. Everyone is a man for a start. But take a look.

And now think about the church.

There is a shift in thinking in the church that is long overdue. Rather than focussing on how well things are going at one end of the church (or multiple ends if you like) we are beginning to recognise that we are a single ship that will sink or float together. 

Of course in the church the people sitting pretty in the church are not just relaxing - they are working hard. As are the folks bailing out the end with the holes in. But the folks at the top end may not have the solutions - they may not even be able to see the real problems. Throwing money and resources at the successful end of the church does not fix the problems elsewhere. Equally those bailing like crazy may struggle to see the holes too. 

What is beginning to happen is the folks at the top end are willing to come down and help out in, work together with, those contexts and expressions that are struggling. There is a recognition too that those bailing have actually been keeping the boat afloat.

I will leave you with that to reflect upon. To ask where you see yourself and your expression of church in the picture. To think about how we can offer and accept help and support. To work with others to find the holes that threaten to sink us and get them fixed.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

What would you do with your Twenty Percent?

Our understanding of what helps congregations grow may need to be turned on its head.

According to the Telegraph, the clergy are under-worked and overpaid. Hang on scratch that, we are over-worked and underpaid!

But then Joey Barton (a footballer?) suggests in the Independent that if he were Prime Minister:
"I would cease to subsidise the livelihoods of Church of England bishops and priests.”
Which rather suggests that we are living in luxury using state owned buildings for our worship.

Which would be nice.

Of course clergy probably are subsidised by the state, like lots of other lower income professionals. Clergy do not earn the packages that enable the upper middle classes to afford independent education and private healthcare. We rely on the state to educate and care for our families supported through taxation. We live in a variety of neighbourhoods, so good state services contribute to our quality of life in an indirect way too. It's easy to argue against a link between social deprivation and crime if it isn't next door.

But the Church of England as a whole receives next to nothing from the state. Our charitable status may grind some people's gears, but they probably wouldn't relish paying for the care of disused medieval buildings if we really tightened our belts. Equally those same church buildings and halls are frequently used for a variety of community functions at well below commercial rates, not to mention all the other stuff the church does.

So what of the other perspective?

The problem with blanket statements about the church and clergy is that every single context and parish is different. Some rural posts are hugely demanding, as are some urban posts. Community and congregation expectations vary, which soon comes to the fore when clergy start discussing these issues. In one post you might be expected to be part of the weekly life of a number of schools, attend every community activity, take every funeral, lead worship 3 or 4 times on a Sunday and visit everyone. In another post you might find yourself banging on the doors of schools, community groups and undertakers seeking a way in, have less demand on a Sunday, and be greeted with surprise when you knock on a door.

The distinctions between posts may have nothing to do with rural or urban context, population size, congregation size or worshipping tradition of the congregations. These varying demands don't just effect clergy, they have implications for the whole church, especially lay volunteers.

I also suspect they have a significant implications on growth.

Google at its most creative has a 20% time policy, common in the booming technology sector. Employees (in discussion with managers) have the freedom to pursue creative projects and ideas for one day in five. Some of the most successful Google products started out as 20% projects, like Gmail.

Where a whole parish or team (not just the clergy) is operating up to its eyeballs there is no room for growth. Dioceses have various formulas for working out if a parish or team is a heavy or a light load, but we need to take into account the actual lay and ordained workload which is far more difficult.

But I would suggest that a key indicator that the balance isn't right is a lack of growth.

Rather than making the assumption that someone isn't working we need to look at how to create that 20% time in the life of the whole church. The solution isn't particular programmes that the church needs to do to grow, but rather cutting back what we do do to give us that 20% to respond creatively to the context and hunger around us.

So what would you do with your Twenty Percent?

Friday, 27 February 2015

700 Words on the 7 Minute Sermon

(From the Archives)

Kirsh Kandiah asks for advice for new preachers. My response – never go over 7 minutes.

Now I admit that I regularly preach for more than 7 minutes and in certain contexts can preach for many times that length, but often those longer sermons are based on a 7 minute core.

Context is important. The typical 7 minute sermon would be shared in the context of liturgical worship, principally a service of Holy Communion. Although the liturgy should be seen as a whole it can be divided into two parts, that of Word and Sacrament. The 7 minute sermon fits into that first part of the service.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Word

John 1.1-14 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Words are strange things. They can have multiple meanings in different contexts. They can mean different things to different people. So what does it mean for Jesus to be the Word?

The Word in Greek is Logos. Like other words it has a variety of different meanings. It can mean word, but also it can mean discourse, or The Argument. For the stoic philosophers it was identified with the divine animating principle pervading the universe. John wasn’t the only Jewish writer to use the term Logos . Philo used the term writing “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated”. Philo was building on Hebrew ideas. Further back in the Jewish tradition we have the testimony of Wisdom found in the Jewish Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek. Wisdom in active in creation from the beginning, and throughout the Old Testament is referred to as She.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2015 the 3M's

Missional, Managerial or Maintenance?

As much of the church continues to decline in the UK, especially the Church of England we will continue to struggle with what models will reverse this trend. 

The maintenance model of carrying on with what we do well and hope people return to faith is only working for larger churches who do what we have always done really well. Transfer growth in Cathedrals is a clear example of this. 

Locally I see smaller evangelical churches struggling as much as liturgical congregations - indeed if anything in evangelical circles this tendency is more advanced. Unfortunately maintenance thinking can lead to lossy successes - if 10 small congregations of 60 are replaced with by a single congregation of 500 then it looks and feels successful but we have shrunk numerically and lost community engagement. 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Awards 2014

So the thing is you pick people who have influenced you over the year, inspired you, encouraged you, made you think. And of course these lists are most useful if they are people who may not be known in the the circles you move in.

And are not your bessie m's.

So here are three:

Broderick Greer

seminarian | Beyoncé | liberation | politics | theology | 3/5 | pop culture | bow ties | slavery | liturgy | justice
Broderick is completing an M.Div Virginia Theological Seminary, and writes with theological, personal and spiritual insight. His work can be found on Huff Post.
"And on the heels of their jubilation, I walked to the site of Michael's death. There, leading up to our Golgotha, was a line of dead roses, telling signs of a life lost prematurely. And I stood there -- I stand here -- with a tumultuous stream of questions: read more

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Green Report

If you haven't read the Green Report you have probably read something about it. The report suggests a more focused approach to senior appointments, including a talent pool of 150 bright sparks who will be given extra management & leadership training.

The response from clergy has hardly been overwhelmingly positive. I want to look at the bigger picture.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mary: Graced, Gate, Lens, Ark & Mother

This post is from the Archives. 
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the Virgin Mary — rejoice!
The time of grace has come—
This that we have desired,
Verses of joy
Let us devoutly return.
God has become man,
To the wonderment of Nature,
The world has been renewed
By the reigning Christ.
The closed gate of Ezekiel
Is passed through,
Whence the light is born,
Salvation is found.
Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.
Gaudete C16th
As our Advent journey draws to a close, as we come to the cusp of the Christ Mass, our thoughts turn to Mary. The ark of the new covenant, mother to beloved disciples, mother of God, queen of heaven, or simply the greatest Christian who ever lived. The language Christians us to speak of this remarkable young teenage girl who carried God incarnate within herself, magnifying the lord in her very flesh, has varied through the centuries.