Saturday, 26 June 2010

Compromise in the Name of Jesus

Reading Graham Robb's book on Discovering France (holiday approacheth!). Great read and found this:

'The beloved village priest, the staple figure of romantic fiction, was a very rare breed. In most people's minds he was supposed to be useful, like a snake doctor or witch. The Cure of Ars is the only priest who managed to make his parishioners give up drinking and dancing. Most other priests who won the hearts of their pagan parishioners did so by reaching a quiet compromise with the pagan world. Since most of them were sons of artisans and peasants they shared the fears and visions of their flock.'

Put this alongside Graham Cray's comment about Fresh Expressions:

Ideally fresh expressions are planted following a process of prayerful listening, and making relationships through acts of service. But if the initial point of contact is a worship event it can only be one which it is hoped the relevant people will like, rather than one which they are involved in shaping, or which we can shape for them with greater care, because we know them.

The first comment comes out of a mega Christendom context (18th century 'catholic' France though I don't think disimilar from 'protestant' UK). The second from a Post Christendom context (21st century UK).

There is something in me that resonates with the concept of the Christian leader and community coming from the real world and having a healthy concept of compromise in the name of Jesus.  'He sits and eats with sinners etc'  Jesus was prepared to pay the ultimate for being misunderstood and compromising.

GC's comments just remind me that whereas Church As We Know It tends to start with a modified version of CAWKI ('Let's invite them in to what they think they would like, becuase we do really...'), maybe to work with the 'quiet compromise' issue and be with people for a while where they are, is God's way forward as we enter a Post Mixed Economy era.  'Presence is such a delicious word.'

Saturday, 19 June 2010

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” Audrey Hepburn

It's been a tough old week on number of fronts. I shan't bore you with details - we all have our personal issues to work through.

The lovely Audrey Hepburn said: “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”  Reminds me that without good friends and loving relationships - life becomes just a struggle. Yesterday I met up with friends from Bristol days and immediately felt a bit better. Another friend has just phoned and again I feel more hopeful. Sheryl is very grateful that others supplement the love, understanding and care she pours into my life. Thank God for the hugs, smiles, listening ears and an understanding spirit. These friends ask me 'what can we do?' I could give them a wish list but for me it is enough to know that people are there and care enough to take time out of really busy schedules to spend a couple of hours every now and then to listen to and sit with 'poor old me'.

I also want to thank God for Facebook, Skype and all the other means by which people can receive love, encouragement, prayer and share it with others. An enhancement to community for some but for others I am sure the closest they may get to it.

The pictures used on this blog were taken in and around Turville - Dibley - to many people. Quotes come to mind like: "Wouldn't it be lovely if some kittens were born with pink fur and you didn't actually have to paint them yourself?" 'Things have to change. Look at traffic lights.'

Yes - it was a show about the church - but to be honest its continuing popularity rests in it being about diverse, (and then some), people in community taking precedence over the institution. More often than not the Vicar is the one who goes out on a limb to underline the fact that community matters more than tradition and building.

Why do I write all this? Simply because I believe that the institutional church will cease to have any real meaning for people, (whether members or non-members), unless it enables and releases its leaders and 'members' to focus on building and enbaling 'community' without having to spend more and more time keeping various 'shows on the road'. The stories I hear from leaders who struggle with this and feel more and more disillusioned are getting more frequent. Like other leaders I know the personal struggle here in Hounslow is not that there aren't people who want to focus on building a sustainable Christ Centred Mission Community, but there are those - both within and 'on high' who seem to feel that other 'things' are more important.

It is a real spiritual battle and often personally demanding. It is the battle for the soul of a national church that declares its aspiration to be a church for the non-member and has as its strap line 'a Christian presence in every community'.

Presence is such a delicious word!

Friday, 11 June 2010

World Cup Spirituality

Many thanks to all those who commented on my last blog. I found your comments and thoughts both moving and challenging. Let's keep sharing..

I am indebted to my friend and colleague in Bristol days - Bishop Lee of Swindon. He made a comment on his blog about the clash of Diocesan meetings with World Cup matches and that they had noticed a rise in apologies for absence.
My reaction is --- 'well done' all those who have put the World Cup first. And well done to the Diocese of Bristol for changing dates accordingly. (maybe having Bishops who love the beautiful game helps). It shows me that there are leaders somewhere who don't just see things like the World Cup as something to give Christ Followers 'trips of the guilties' about (what matters most... 'our meetings or the game' - yeah right) or even see them as evangelistic opportunities (which they are - he said quickly) but see these life events as simply that - being normal and being human. Now if we can cancel any meetings we have that coincide with World Cup meetings and maybe spend the time watching with friends or at the pub - well maybe we're going some way to address the issues I have been talking about in previous blogs. But I bet as church we won't!

My comment to Bishop Lee on his blog was this:

One of the most memorable occasions for me in Bristol was leading a Readers Retreat which coincided with that Rugby match. We all stopped and had a glorious few hours watching and celebrating – myself and the Reader from Kington Langley doing a dance at the famous kick. The Retreat went like a dream after that….

I can also remember an ordination retreat during the last World Cup where we all gathered with Bishop Mike and watched a key match. Some of the ordinands went and did other things and some had their toe nails painted ... it was a highly spiritual few days enhanced by normal human relational activity. Surely a vital Christian principle. (Any Bishops and DDO's reading please take note).

You never know even 'church as we know it' might flow a bit better if we became more normal.....

Monday, 7 June 2010

Rambles on the Railway.

Writing this having just got on a train. I followed the driver who had just brought it in as he walked up to the other end of the platform to take us to Paddington. As he did so he greeted staff members who reciprocated warmly as if they were greeting a long lost friend. A friend and warm colleague he obviously is - everyone wanted to shake the guy's hand.

My experience with the Weddings Project shows that what people 'out there' want in 'Vicars' (as all church leaders, whatever their denomination or ordination status, are called) above everything else is a warm and inclusive human being. Someone who likes people beyond the church door and enjoys being with them. I have said all this before as you know, but what has made me say it again is receiving responses from quite a number of people to my last blog. It all resonates with me. The church agenda - especially an agenda that is confused, unrealistic and multi- expectational - will simply crowd out the time a 'Vicar' needs to work on the fringe that comes with their God given role in the wider community.

A stalwart MU member of a group of rural parishes in Worcestershire remarked to me that although she wanted her Vicar to spend more time beyond the church door, she was sceptical whether other church members would welcome it. Some churches make it clear that they do not want the leaders time being spent outside the church. This can get disguised and theologised into phrases like 'developing every member ministry' or 'having a heart for pastoral ministry'. Nothing wrong with what those phrases stand for but Church leaders do need space to model and practice God's call in Jesus to hang around with the 'non - member'. Many church people have simply lost the art and are unable to connect faith even with those they live and work with. People need to be led out rather than to be cajoled into bringing people in all the time. We don't need more courses but opportunity to develop more confidence in being in God with people.The Jesus 'trick' as I call it.  In many cases it is simply the weight of internal agendas and expectations often related to buildings and general 'keeping the show on the road stuff that keeps us apart. 

I am waiting for the clergy job profile that says as a key value - 'prefers to spend time with non- members where they are, loves hanging out and partying with sinners, would prefer to spend Sunday in the sports centre/coffee shop than in church etc etc;'

This would really be post mixed economy church... and church that really believes in being one for the non- member.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Presence is such a delicious word....

'Presence is such a delicious word' says Gordon Fee, someone I believe, who has probably done more than most to explore what that word means in terms of Biblical theology. God's presence in what we consider to be 'place' is key to understanding the Biblical narrative. 'The Word became a human being and moved into the neighbourhood...' is how Eugene Peterson expresses John 1: 14 - probably the most important verse in the Bible from the Christian perspective.
I am an Anglican type Christian because I believe the presence of God in the neighbourhood - is something that matters to us.

As I write this the news is unfolding about 12 people being killed by a gunman in West Cumbria. Apart from key people like Police officers, local leaders and GP's, others being interviewed are local clergy. At times like this the Church is seen as an organisation that belongs to the community and can express the deep feelings of local people. These sort of occasions remind us that in some parts of the country our call as church to be connected to people in place and culture is still recognised and welcomed.

The C of E is still an organisation that wants to connect with local communities (however that is defined) but is unsure how to continue to do this. This call to 'Contextually sensitive mission' (Dan Hardy) is I think under threat. Externally the world has changed which means we have a very real issue relating to sustainability and growth. Internally we don't have the courage and vision where it is needed to make tough decisions which will tackle this issue. If you cannot the sustain the mission and grow it, then you have to look to your structure, staffing and your buildings.

The church because it is an incarnational organisation, so we keep saying to ourselves, means more about people and a presence in the neighbourhoodd than buildings. I am not saying close all the buildings but let the call to mission presence shape decisions about what buildings and structures we need and can afford.

The present mantra of 'Mixed economy' seems to be expressed in terms of 'please keep our buildings and traditions goings - and by the way - make us grow, attract children and youth, make more money to pay our Diocesan share and develop a fresh expression or three' etc

This is not a 'whinge' and I am sorry to sound a tad cynical. I say this because for various reaosns I have seen a number of job profiles recently for both Diocesan and Parish roles. I just want to see a rational and sensible discussion about sustainability and growth. The sort of discussion I have in another sector in which I am involved. In that sector we will not be allowed to keep things as they are. Change is not an option.

Do I think that the C of E is in danger of losing the vision of church as community for the 'non- member'. I am not sure - maybe you can help me with this. If we think we can keep buildings and structures as they are we are seriously deluding ourselves.

Please Cof E grasp this nettle - it is about who we are called to be. Presence is such a delicious word.