Monday, 31 October 2011

Church 2.0

Just read Vicky Beeching's latest blog post and found myself drawn very strongly to the idea of 'Church 2.0'.

I have no doubt that 'church' as many of us know it has to change in order to prevent itself slipping further into a mire of tedium and irrelevance. Much of the work that comes under the banner of 'Fresh Expressions' is seeking to effect these changes, to create 'church' that is more appealing to and more able to meet the needs of the great swathe of our country that are 'unchurched' But there is just as much need for forms of 'church' that can hold on to those who are currently part of our fellowships. I, for one, do, on occasions, get frightfully disengaged by what goes on on Sundays.

My major concern (if that's the right word) is how we begin to move away from Church 1.0 in the kind of congregations with whom I minister - to be honest mainly retired and mainly technologically pre-literate. Having a data projector in worship is more than enough for some, let alone interacting with each other or (heaven forfend) thinking about using social media in the service of Christ.

Maybe there's an opportunity for those of us who do make use of it - however clumsily, haltingly or (at times) wrongly (mea maxima culpa) - to seek to demonstrate its use and effectiveness.

All is not lost, though: I have at times been pleasantly surprised when I've, in effect, said at the end of the sermon "What do you think?" and conversations and testimonies have started from what I thought the most unlikely people. Maybe, in the words of Brian McLaren, they are 'more ready than you realise'?

Friday, 28 October 2011


I've often said that nostalgia ain't what it used to be, but it came pretty darn close last night. As a treat, and to escape a pre-Halloween party at home, Judith & I went to see the new Tintin film. Both of us remember fondly the cartoon adaptation of Hergé's original books, so were quite keen to see how the big screen would deal with them.

The film is directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, both renowned for big-screen epics and a prolific use of special effects, and has been made primarily using performance-capture animation - the technique used by Jackson for the character of Gollum in his 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. This technique gave the film a realistic quality, particularly in the many action sequences, whilst allowing the film-makers licence to keep the characters as close to Hergé's original design as possible.

The film stars that acting and vocal talents of Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings), Nick Frost & Simon Pegg, who all put in sterling performances. Without wanting to give away the plot, the film ended in such as way as to leave room for more, and I believe that possibly two sequels are being planned.

On the whole it was a very entertaining evening, and I would highly recommend the film to any, like me, who remember the original cartoons, or the books themselves, and to those of more tender years who, I'm sure, will be captivated afresh by the stories.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Fruitful Field - some initial thoughts

'Fruitful Field' is a paper produced by the Methodist Church's Ministries Committee, looking at the future shape of training in all its aspects within the Methodist Church. Essentially a consultation document, the paper outlines the provision that has been and is being made by the Methodist Church, and looks at possible future directions.

The first thing that struck me about the paper was that it read more as a management document that a theological reflection, which isn't to say that there is no theological reflection within it, nor that a management document is per se a bad thing. But it did grate a bit to read of such 'jargon' concepts as 'hubs' and 'pathways', which seem to be mindless bureau-speak rather than the terminology of normal, everyday thought and conversation.

Once I'd cleared this hurdle, I looked for some concrete proposals in the report, but my search proved in vain. There are proposals towards the end of the report, but I'm yet to be convinced that they are 'concrete', though that may be the intention of the document at this stage. The report states:
  • We should seek to establish high quality, flexible connexional pathways, which can be delivered in a number of different communities and contexts, and which meet the needs of a discipleship movement shaped for mission and the needs of the ministries of the whole people of God.
  • We should seek to establish a single connexional network of skilled and knowledgeable staff, including both regional staff (coordinated and resourced within regional teams) and tutorial staff based in a learning hub.
  • We should seek to establish a single connexional hub on one site.
I have very few issues with the first of these proposals, and on the whole would support them. Contextual training is vital, and in a changing world and a changing church the ways in which we discern the calling of, select and train 'ministers', both lay and ordained, needs to be as flexible as possible whilst retaining a discernible identity (and I would want to say, in these Ecumenical times, a discernible Methodist identity). The high quality of that training goes without saying. The second proposal seems sensible, linking those responsible for the provision of training in all its forms, and it seems right to me that this should be equally well resourced both regionally and connexionally, thus enabling the consistency and contextuality mentioned above.

It's the third proposal that I have the most concern about. The training that is offered currently, particularly in institutional settings, has a necessary and welcome diversity to it, based not only on the content and context of the training being offered but also on the geographical location of the institution. The implication of this proposal would be that the work of Cliff College - a centre of specific lay training in evangelism and related disciplines - would be separated from the site in Derbyshire and located, along with that of Presbyteral & Diaconal formation, in some other place yet to be determined.

As a former student of Cliff - twice-over: as a 'certificate' student in the 1980s and as a Postgraduate student in the early 2000s - I may be seen to have something of a vested interest, but those who have been associated with Cliff know the importance of the College as a place of learning, discipleship and pilgrimage for many thousands of people over its 100+-year history. The work is so closely associated with the location that it would, I believe, change the whole nature of the establishment to separate the two.

What particularly worries me about the report and the final proposal is an underlying concern that this is driven as much by the financial constraints that the Methodist Church finds itself in as by the (I believe genuine) desire to provide the best training possible for the Methodist people. Establishing 'a single connexional hub on one site' would free up much valuable real estate across the Connexion, as has already been done through the closure of Wesley College Bristol. I hope that this is just my cynical mind at work, and not the primary factor in bringing these proposals.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Steph's Baptism

Yesterday was a day of firsts for me, which at 50 isn't a bad thing!

During the morning service at Wesley Hall I conducted my first baptism by total immersion. It's not the first adult baptism I've conducted - I've done four previously (two in this circuit) - but on all the previous occasions they've opted for sprinkling rather than 'dunking'. This time, though, it was the real deal, and to add an extra 'frisson' I was baptising my younger son's girlfriend - so almost family.

We'd borrowed a pool from a local church (Thank you Greenhill Methodist) and had decided to set it up the night before. Due to a concert in the church we couldn't start the set-up until about 9:00 p.m. and by 10:30 we'd got the pool together and about 3" of water in. I decided to come in early on Sunday morning to fill the pool and put the heater on, which I duly did.

By 09:30 Sunday morning the pool was knee-deep, but the water was about as warm as the sea at Scarborough in April. As we prepared to start the service, the Steward praying with us asked God that the service would go 'swimmingly' - and then realised what she'd said!
First time those shorts have appeared in worship!

Don't drop her!
Oh, how the congregation laughed as we climbed into the pool and Steph let out an audible shriek! For the baptism I was assisted by James, my son, and thankfully we didn't drop her and we managed to get her completely under the water (my two main worries).

Right under!

All in all, the occasion was extremely moving, and I'm sure I'm not the only one there who found it a most profound spiritual experience. Later in the service we confirmed Steph, along with another young lady, Beth, and Beth's partner Tim was welcomed as a member of the church too. A great day for us all, I think!

The other 'first' was later that afternoon, when I shared in a communion service at a Retirement Village - Loxley Park - and we shared bread and wine by intinction (for those who don't know, that's where you dip the wafer in the wine). As someone commented later on Facebook - "lots of liturgical dipping then!"

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Ye Servants of God

Over the last 3 months we have seen in Britain the passing of three of our most insightful theologians. The Church Militant has benefited greatly from their thoughts and their words, and now the Church Triumphant is blessed by their presence.

John Stott was an Anglican Evangelical Church leader who helped the Church throughout the world to grasp a fuller understanding of the nature of the Christian gospel. As one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant in the 1970s he helped the evangelical wing of the church to see that salvation wasn't just about the soul of the individual believer, but about social caring and the struggle for justice. Many thousands of new Christians were grounded in their faith through reading 'Basic Christianity'; many more came to a fuller understanding of the Cross through reading 'The Cross of Christ'; and yet more were helped in their discipleship in an increasingly pluralistic society and through the decline of Christendom through his work with the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and books such as 'Issues Facing Christians Today' and 'The Contemporary Christian'. Stott was instrumental in guiding Evangelicals out from the margins of the church and into a position where they now have considerable influence.

Kingsley Barrett was one of the leading New Testament scholars of the 20th Century. His commentaries on John's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's letters to the Romans & Corinthians have become seminal works in Biblical Studies. But Barrett is remembered just as much by some for his passionate commitment to the Methodist people. He was a strong critic of the stalled unity scheme with the Church of England in the 1960s, and quickly became the unofficial spokesman for the 'Voice of Methodism' that grew up as a reaction to the unity talks. But what impressed me most about him was his willingness - indeed his love - of preaching not in the 'big' University pulpits of Durham but in the small mining village chapels, where he preached in down-to-earth language about the Jesus he not only studied but whom he loved and served.

Angela Shier-Jones may not be as well-known in the wider church as the two above, but she was no less of a great scholar and theologian. Angela cared deeply about her Methodist heritage, and longed for people to understand and live out the inherent inclusivity of Wesleyan Arminian theology. Her writings demonstrate her passion, and her desire to make that heritage relevant to contemporary discipleship. Angela was, at times, the grit in the oyster of Methodism, irritating (in the positive sense) to produce pearls of great wisdom and insight. Her blog 'The Kneeler' was a vehicle for her to vent some of her frustration and anger with her beloved Methodist Church, but always with a loving and prophetic edge.

The Church today is the richer for the wisdom and devotion of these saints and servants of Christ. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.