Sunday, 24 January 2010


Apologies - you will have recieved a couple of blogs by mistake - trying to work on drafts in is a nightmare - if anyone can let me know how to save and edit drafts I would be really grateful. I don;t think the Pope has this problem......

Off to Norwich last week to spend time with the Wedding Project Team. An intiative of the Archbishop's Council - (don't ask what that is and does- even those who are on it don't seem to know!).

Apart from having to suffer travelling with a train company that looks and feels like one that has past its sell by date, and two nights in the wrong Travelodge - the one furthest away from the Cathedral and Session venue, a lousy meal in what must be the worst Cafe R..... on the planet and with the added value of a Bus Station next door - it was a seriously good time.

What made it seriously good? Briefly having a great product to promote. Well put together and presented by a highly motivated and 'professional' Team and some brilliant research by the Henley Centre ( a renowned non- church commercial organisation) about how people out there think about the church and its ministry when it comes to weddings and of course what flows from that.... which is quite a lot. I have a little list.....

What the Weddings project has discovered is that there are plenty of people out there who want to avail themsleves of the services of 'the church' when it comes to key life events. To use the language of Grace Davie there is no longer a sense of 'obligation' to the church (we are now in 'Post Christendom'), as we have now moved into a time shaped by consumerism and personal choice.What was either inherited or for whatever reason imposed now becomes a matter of personal choice as and when needed. This is why the stuff we do 'out there' (while we still can) is probably more important now than ever before. What we have around us I think is a spirituality which responds to acceptance, affirmation, listening, value and relationship. Rather than the Church telling people what they 'need', we are being called to live out in relationships what it means to be Christ Followers in what Pete Ward in his great little book Liquid Church describes as a 'liquid culture'. One that 'relies on networks, communication processes based on hubs (affinity-based gathering beyond a Sunday morning service) and connecting nodes (methods of communication/participation in the network).'

'The 'liquid' believer will see what God is doing in the waters of culture and seek to engage it.' In my book this is what Jesus did. Weddings, Blessings, Funerals, Thanksgivings, Baptisms (Christenings), Christingle, Valentines celebrations, Harvest, Remembrance, All Souls, Chaplaincies etc etc become vital 'life' connections with people where they are.

Does this mean - 'if we do it - they will come?' To be honest I think Pete Ward is right that simply adapting 'solid church' to appear liquid - is a busted flush. (my words not his). We can no longer utilize regular, weekly gatherings as our primary method of communication and community formation.


The people who were interviewed for the Wedding project showed the need for:

Vicars (as in church leader) who are human and accepting
Vicars who like and understand people (and their life situations)
Vicars who will put 'them' first
Vicars who can administrate and communicate
Vicars who don't impose their often very solid agendas
Vicars who will even take time to keep in touch after the event (card, text, e mail etc etc)

Some maybe saying what about the rest of the church. The 'elephant in the room' I think. Many clergy love working with people 'out there' (for various reasons) but unless we are developing a relational spirituality amongst our congregations that is focussed on a church for the 'non - member' in 'Liquid culture' then we are sunk. The list above needs to be extended to the church community but in reality that is, in my experience, a really tough call. It requires deeper and more radical strategic thinking on a regional and national scale than we seem to have at the moment though with the Wedding Project we can at least thank God for the Archbishop's Council!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sab Notes 3 Eastward and onwards.....

This week will see me venturing north eastwards - to Norwich. For why - I hear the nation cry? Well those who are interested anyway - which limits it a bit!
With other members of the Mission and Public Affairs Division (Archbishops' Council) to help launch the 'Wedding Project' with local clergy in that Diocese. I was asked to play the role of 'critical friend' last week as the presentation and other material was worked through in draft form. Very impressive it is too - not just in terms of content but the fact that a lot of research by a quality business organisation and mini - trials with clergy, married couples, people thinking of marriage etc lies behind the finished product.

Bottom line - surprise, surprise - Vicars, (generic term for dog collared people), who like people  and can share bucketfuls of grace, human warmth, acceptance and informed passion without the judgement of religion. Sounds like Jesus in my book....

It also sounds like many clergy I know and love who would rather spend their time 'out there' with people being and sharing Good News but find they are spending most of their quality ministerial time keeping 'church shows' on the road and addressing ineffective and culturally outdated agendas.

Do I sound cynical - well maybe that is why the Wedding Project is so good for me at the moment - a return to what I believe I was called to do as an ordained Christ Follower.

Feel free to discuss.

Maybe a quote from one of the authors who has really shaped me in the past and still does....
'It is vital that our concepts of holiness undergo radical transformation. Holiness has often been equated with separation and moralism. Jesus could be accused of neither. He mixed widely with those who were regarded as 'sinners', to the detriment of his own reputation. And his emphasis was not on clean living, but on the redemptive acceptance and forgiveness of God. Our primary call is to the process of change itself; the will to be transformed for the sake of God's call to life. It remains to be seen whether the church in the West is willing to pay the price of following Christ into a new era.' (Mike Riddell)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sab Notes 2.

2. First real week of 'sab'. No Sunday Church. Black mark ... it was snowing, we were tired and The Archers was on. Did I miss it (church that is) - the quick answer is no. The real answer is YES - but why? - what did I miss? I am tempted to make a list but I think it would become more about what I 'should' miss (certainly as a paid cleric) rather than as a Christ Follower albeit with a leadership ministry in 2010. Maybe this could be an opportunity for others (including the ordained) to tell me what...... Please do.

This week has been less about snow and more about Haiti. It took me to my colleague Bob Eckhard's web site: tough and the issue that a course in tough questions might be a better and more spiritually integral way of introducing the Christian Faith to people. If we begin with what people should believe we give them no real ability to relate to the world (including their world) as it really is. (Some reading this may remember the old Y course we did in Woking)

I began this week with the Mission Team at Church House. What a great time it was. To see a group of people who do have a mission and passion to see the Gospel be just that in people's lives where they are, is a real tonic. Weddings, (however that is seen now and will be interpreted in the future), is about people in love and relationship and that is surely the most vital point in life as God is love. To spread that message around more effectively and humanely must surely be right. (Simple soul that I am)

'Haiti cries... and we cry with them.'

Books I have known and loved: This week I found myself reading 'The Gagging of God' (Gavin Reid 1969 !). One of the first books I read as a Christian - borrowed from Christ Church Cheltenham Library and still with the stamp - gasp, shock, horror - stolen goods. O wretched man that I am.... Apart from the obvious cultural context (male, pre - Computer, internet and digital, nostaglic Christendom, etc etc) it still retains its prophetic edge - for me at least.

My Dad was a 'born again atheist' and for him the church, in terms of its cultural expresssion was bad news - I think he had been badly hurt by the internal politics of a local church. However he did keep saying that he had time for Jesus but not for the church. Reid's book tapped into that for me then and still does now - 'the medium is the message', the heart of communication. For many years this became more about the means and methods of being 'contemporary'. I still think a cultural heritage shaped in past generations (including hierarchical structures, 'theology in procession', clapped out buildings, robes, bureacracy etc) of the CofE are a mega hindrance and the attachement to them by many clergy and members is a terminal death sentence. But if we are called to be a church for the nation then that means more about becoming a movement rather than an institution or 'successful church'. Steve Croft and Brain McClaren both address this in their writings. My vision is still to see church communities that could have given my Dad a real choice.

l am reminded of Howard Snyder's comment that church people worry that the world might seek to change the church, Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

The jury is out as far as I am concerned. The hardest thing is still to get people out of their precious buildings and out into thier wider communities, culures and networks making connections that are open to leading.

Malcolm’s Sab Notes

1. The journey so far…..
January 7, 2010
Last Monday I started a 3 month sabbatical. It is 1994 since my last one and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. We left Woking, after 16 years as Vicar of a busy town centre church, and moved to Wiltshire as I had been appointed Director of Ordinand’s and Curate Training for the Diocese of Bristol. A fascinating, creative and privileged role yet also at times the obvious frustrations for people like me. (answers on a postcard…)
Related to all this was a personal coming to terms with a deep sense of loss having left our ‘community’ and family in Woking and the subsequent change in leadership role. In all this I became more aware of how far short of ‘wholeness’ I really am, and of the amazing, unlimited yet not ‘cheap’ grace of God and the love he’s given me in family and friendship.
In future blogs I will seek to share with you my journey over these coming weeks. Time being spent with people whose life and call is to encourage the C of E – the whole ‘laos’ as it were – to focus on our core calling as church to be engaged in contextually sensitive mission. I will also share some of the reasons I believe that my experiences as Vicar of three churches in West London, in probably one of the most culturally diverse areas in the UK, has led me to consider that there may-be systemic reasons why the Church of England is inhibited in this regard. (He said humbly.....)
The big issue, as we all know, is how we as church are engaging and being Good News with people whatever lifestyle choices they make, sexual orientation they are or cultural context they inhabit. This, I think is more about me not ‘them’. As a Christ follower will I take the risk of being seen to compromise and to focus on ‘tabernacling with’ others. Like Peter am I expecting the Lord to reshape my cultural (including ‘churchworld’) assumptions and with Paul even contemplate surrendering the freedom I have so that others may be blessed with the grace of God in Jesus.
Just to bore readers even more I am seeking to visit some old friends in terms of books that I have known and loved over the years and see if they still push the buttons as it were. Ward, McClaren, Croft,Reid, Smail, Yancey, Nouwen, Hybels, Bosch, Ortberg, Lewis, Willard, Frost and Hirsch etc etc Any other suggestions gratefully received as are your contributions to this blog.