Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Going Fundamentalist for Christmas

Typical innit. No sooner had I confined all Beaker Folk to their rooms for worship in the interests of convenience and tailored worship experiences, than the Guardian tells me that I've got it all wrong.

If I want successful worship experiences, I've got to become a literal believer in the Bible. Only in this way will I ensure a growing church - and therefore a decent revenue stream.

Though needless to say it's not that straightforward.  I've listed the signs of growing and non-growing churches below, from the Grauniad, and some notes.
Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches. 
So basically if you think you're in the job of growing new Christians, you'll be more successful at growing new Christians than if you don't. This is not really a literalist / liberal distinction per se. More a statement of the bleeding obvious. If you think it's very important to learn to drive a car, you're more likely to drive a car. If you think that it's important that people who have been let down by the Government's safety net are still fed, you're more likely to give to a food bank. If you're one of the 50% of clergy in declining churches that don't think it's important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians, I do wonder what on earth you think you're doing as a clergy, however
71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches.
Well, yeah. A clergy will read the Bible daily if they think it is worthwhile. And if they think it's worthwhile, they'll probably be in the realm of thinking growing new Christians is a good idea, they might give the impression they think what goes on on a Sunday is worthwhile, and that might make their church a more attractive place. Although what it doesn't do is tell us that the Bible reading is a literalist or non-literalist activity. Plenty of us can read it and believe it in non-literalist ways - especially around Genesis, Revelation, Psalms and what have you.
46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches.
If they're at a growing church they are likely newer, they'll be keener, they'll be generally more wanting to find out the Good News they've just heard of. So causation and correlation could be interesting on this one.
93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches.
As the clergy that read their Bible every day know, if Christ is not raised from the dead then everything else is in vain. You can hold your food banks, preach against racism, welcome people of all genders and none - but if you don't believe Jesus raised why should anyone come to church?
100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.
There's a pattern here. In growing churches, clergy believe more than their followers. In declining churches, clergy believe less. If you believe less than your congregation, I wonder why you're a clergy. But let's  move on.
The study also found that about two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.
Hate to be brutal here, but this is a bit cart and horse isn't it?  ie what is causation and what is correlation. If your congregation has two thirds over the age of 60, then they're going to be dying quicker than they are breeding. And vice versa. The alternative, that being part of a growing church makes you younger, would possibly be the best reason on earth to start going to a growing church.

So my conclusion? Based on the definitions in these questions, I'm a literalist. A bit of a shock, but I suppose the Guardian knows what it's talking about. Though I do wonder why the Beaker Folk aren't growing, in that case. But - if you believe Christ rose, you believe God can work, get on and worship. Preach the Gospel. If necessary use verbs. Don't count the numbers - keep the light alive. That's what you're called to.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. And don't forget it's nearly Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A Litany of Anglican Woe for the New Church of England Website

Woe are we! For the Church of England has changed its website
into a funky new mobile-looking format.
Where now are the links I made?
In vain I search for the Collect for the 3rd Sunday after World Tartan Trousers Day.
For Google is like unto a false prophet
that searcheth only lies.
I google the Eucharistic Prayer B
and end up on the "Join us in Daily Prayer" page.
For "Baptism and Confirmation without Communion."
I end up on the "Join us in Daily Prayer" page.
For the Advent "O" Antiphons I look in vain.
Oh no, that one worked. Well done. As you were.
And for the "Service of the Word"
it sends me to the "Join us in Daily Prayer" page.
Does the C of E suspect we're only taking services on Sunday, and it's trying to persuade us to worship midweek?
For seven whole days, not one in seven, we are supposed to praise Thee.
Or are the C of E really needy
and desperate for us to "Join them in Daily Prayer?"
If so can we suggest a podcast
so commuters whose eyes are tired and worn out
can listen instead of reading
Lest they lose concentration
and return to Twitter.
(Assuming they're on a bus or train. If they're driving they really shouldn't be using an on-screen text-based liturgy.

One thing consoles me as I flounder around
Two things comfort me.
That Google, which seeth all things, will sort out its algorithms
And in 6 weeks we'll be moaning about something else entirely.
And that in the meantime I've got no problems finding Morning Prayer in Tradition Language.


(Public service announcement: Law and Religion UK have published a handy set of shortcuts while the SEO gets itself sorted out.)

What some are calling "quite a funny book which would be good for Aunt Ethel for Christmas. She's always writing to the Vicar.
Though she never signs them.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Liturgy of our Deepest Expressions of Self

I've got to say, I've ever seen a well-rounded act of worship as last night's "Liturgy of our Deepest Expressions of Self." In many ways it was the outworking of the vision we had when we set up the Beaker Folk.

In this postmodern world, we know that the deepest expression of  anyone's self is going to be tailored, self-curated, basically deeply individual. So to do this in the context of an act of collective worship - which is by its nature corporate - we had to break up the act of worship into a number of "Me Stations."

The "Rainbow Station," for instance, was a joyous place dedicated to the idea that I don't have to be like you; and I also don't have to be like you. A celebration of diversity, love and difference. Where you don't even need to encounter other people.

While the "Truth Station" was dedicated to the hard Gospel Truth - that everyone has to be like me. Or possibly you. A clever piece of software took the worshipper's face and projected it onto everybody in a virtual congregation, while the worshipper listened to their - or more likely his - favourite piece of Worship music.

The "World Worship Station" led to some confusion.  Some Beaker Folk thought it was about worshipping in the style of the Rend Collective or some Peruvian folk base community. But no. It was pantheism all the way down.

And then the authentic Good Ol' Boy American Midwest-Style station. Who would have thought that shooting at tin cans and handling virtual poisonous snakes while being sneered at by New Yorkers could be such fun?

And it's given me some real pause for thought. If we can provide such immersive worship experiences why does the congregation need to get together? All that co-ordination, compromise and unwanted hugging can he avoided.

So from now on all Beaker worship is being provided via the BeakerWeb. People can stay in their rooms and take part.

And I can flog the Moot House off for redevelopment.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Liturgy for Gun Safety in Church

Archdruid: And so we as we stand in unity with whoever has suffered the most recent mass-shooting we give thanks for those who carry their guns to church, to ensure everyone's safe and nobody gets hurt.

81-year-old Bloke from Tennessee: Indeed, the Lord has given unto me this gun so that I can protect myself and my wife from harm.

The 81-year-old Bloke from Tennessee accidentally discharges his gun, injuring himself and his wife.

Archdruid: And even as we pray that the 81-year-old Bloke from Tennessee and his wife are healed, we cannot help but reflect that irony is not dead.

Local NRA Rep: See if somebody else had had a gun, they could have shot the 81-year-old Bloke from Tennessee's gun out of his hand, before he managed to shoot himself and his wife.

Charlii: Is that realistic?

Local NRA Rep: No, not really. Oh - look! A murderer! Quick! Shoot him!

Archdruid: Put the gun down you idiot. It's just Burton Dasset.

Local NRA Rep: No there!  Look!

Charlii: That's a squirrel.

Local NRA Rep: A murderous squirrel?

Archdruid: And so, as we pray for the United States to overcome its terrible addiction to guns capable of mass slaughter, we reflect that the only thing safer than an American with a gun....

Local NRA Rep: Is a load of Americans with even more guns!

Archdruid: They put people on the moon. You've gotta wonder.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Keep the Sheep

"Time to lose the sheep", says Ted Harrison in a clickbait article in the Church Times. Yeah, I took the bait, didn't I.

Ted Harrison's argument is that we shouldn't use sheep as metaphors any more because lots of people don't see sheep. Which might be fine but, let's face it, it's what Jesus and the Psalmist said. You can't easily drop another metaphor in because it would have to be about some other pastoral caring situation, and the same problem would occur with cows, goats, salmon farms and Aylesbury Ducks. Sheep are as good as anything else. Using some urban analogy like "teacher" or "pub landlord" or "supermarket manager and their staff" just ain't got that sense of interdependency.

And most people, at some stage, do see sheep. Even if it's from a car window or out of a train - there they are, all over the countryside, looking sheepish. It's what they do.

But then, if you lose the sheep, then Jesus's links to Passover are lost. And if you try to take the lamb out of Passover, you've got an inter-faith incident on your hands.

And if not sheep and shepherds what good are "fishers of men/women?" Barely anybody ever meets a fisherperson - probably even fewer than see sheep. How would you render Jesus' comment that even the Pharisees would untie their animal and lead it to water on the Sabbath? "Even you would drive your car to the Tesco filling station on a Sunday morning?"

Ted Harrison closes with the comment that it's unpalatable to refer to sheep because, after they've been cared for by the shepherd, they will be slaughtered in anger and eaten with mint sauce. Well, guess what? Same in Jesus' day. In the 1st Century people understood that metaphors have limits - that analogies break down. Why does Ted Harrison think we don't? Just how down would we be have to be dumbed for this to happen?

Basically, it's about incarnation, innit. Jesus was born and went about this earth at a certain time and a certain place. He encountered sheep, shepherds, fishers, Pharisees, Zealots and tax collectors. Replacing them with cars, traffic wardens, opinion pollsters, grumpy Archdruids, members of ISIS and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs will not help. Because Jesus wasn't born in 1986. He was born a few years BC. Live with it, work with it, and understand it. Cos anything you do with it will be well-meaning, hippy-dippy, modernist and - let's be honest - rubbish.

The Perfect Reading for PCC Members (advertorial)

After two months on sale, "Writes of the Church" has found itself an "Often Bought With" buddy on Amazon. 

But it's quite a strange one. I know that algorithms can be odd, so I'll share the screen shot in case you get something else.

See, I'd expect that "Writes of the Church" would often be bought along with something from Dave Walker's fine selection of cartoon books. And indeed sometimes that is exactly what happens.

But the perfect buddy for "Writes of the Church?"

That's right. "The PCC Member's Essential Guide."

Now, strictly speaking this title is wrong. I can confirm that no guide is actually essential to being a PCC member. You can just turn up and say the last vicar was better, without any training at all. But I think the link marketing here is really key.

If you are on a PCC, buy "Writes of the Church." If nothing else, it will give you something to read during the meeting.

Friday, 17 November 2017


Getting my thoughts together on the Parable of the Talents.

And the often-excellent Roots on the Web site is focusing on the ideas of risk-taking. What is it worth risking, what is the reward? The question we all ask ourselves all the time - albeit quite often with very poor analysis. Take voting "Yes" to Brexit. The risk - is - trashing the economy and upsetting all our natural allies, leaving ourselves friendless in a world that increasingly is dominated by big players like the US, China, India. The reward was sticking fingers up to all the career politicians running the country, and all the establishment businesses - thus seeing us run by a different bunch of career politicians, while the establishment businesses head abroad taking jobs and taxes with them. You can see why it was attractive.

But then we do it in other areas. We know that driving is more dangerous than staying at home. But think the reward of getting to work is greater than that of starving to death. Statistically, cycling everywhere is safer than driving everywhere. But we think about the danger of an "accident*" and get in the Prius.

And in Church?

There's always a safe option. Get those talents nice and safe. Stick to what we do. Maybe tweak what we do, better to accommodate those who already do what we do. Clean the monuments, buff up the woodwork. Keep everything tidy, ready for when the church is ready to be just visited as if it were a museum, looked after by a trust and never open on Sunday. Nice and safe. But it's the route to death.

The alternatives can be - alternative. Maybe you need to do what you do, but better? Though you might upset those who always liked it as it was. Not too challenging. Not too much change. Excellence is awful.

Or maybe the right thing to do would be completely to change. Get rid of the Latin Mass and replace it with Messy Church. Or vice-versa. Depends on the locale, dunnit? Chuck out, or bring in, the electric guitars. Introduce long, disturbing times of silence. May  not attract the crowds- but maybe some people will be closer to God than they were when it was all words, words, words.

Or have an art exhibition, a drop-in centre, a food bank, a place where people can just sit about. They may bring their problems. They may fail - some things do. But you're offering a place of connection. A hope. A use of your talents, whatever they may be.

Or maybe just throw it all up in the air and go and tell people what Jesus means to you. That, regardless of what smug positivists (who were debunked by the people who invented their stupid philosophy) may say, there's reality in God. That you can touch the divine if you take the time and set aside the space and just bloody look for something beyond the mundane. That if you get past everything reductionist, there's something that embraces the universe waiting for you.

They're high risk strategies. But I'd compare them to cycling. Statistically, cycling improves your life expectancy. Sure, if you take a chance, you run the risk of getting run over. But then what's the alternative? Sit there. Sit there safe. Don't do anything too much. And let yourself run gently down. Run gently down. Run gently down.

And die.

* act of stupidity by a motorist

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Comfortable Ecumenical Service

Thanks to all the various groups that attended our non-offensive ecumenical service this afternoon. We were really keen, at the planning stage, that we should not include anything that could cause anyone to take offence or be uncomfortable. So we put together a really comprehensive service and then allowed people to say if they had any concerns.

The Lord's Prayer had to go, as we couldn't agree which version. The Nicene Creed because we divided into three groups - "Filioque", "Non-filioque" and "Compromise Nobody Likes." All the other creeds were rejected as not containing enough theology to be worth agreeing on.

"Onward Christian Soldiers", given we're just past Remembrance, had been kicked out by half of them because it was too militaristic, and by the other half to avoid offending any that didn't identify as Christians.

The actual legal form of "In Christ Alone" caused discussion because of the lines that preach substitutionary atonement:

"The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid"

So the alternative "the love of God was magnified" because how can you magnify something that is already infinite? Three weeks of mathematics went into that debate. While the alternative "the love of God was ratified" was rejected because nobody else could work out what it meant.

A confession was a no-go. Because one of the priests of Catholic persuasion wanted to pronounce an absolution and the Plymouth Brethren wanted to know why he thought God would let him have that right.

Then all responsive liturgy was rejected by non liturgical churches. Written prayers by the Methodists. Ex Tempore prayers by everyone else. And there was no way even the Sermon on the Mount would get past that vetting committee uncut.

So anyway. The service ended up being quite short. Just the Grace. Sure, the Christadelphians walked out over the Trinitarian formulation. But it didn't matter, as everyone else was heading out for coffee.

"Complaint about Remembrance of the Year" Competition Winners

And so we reach the end of that blessed time when good patriots have an excuse to do what only Labour politicians and student radicals do the rest of the year - complain other people are doing everything wrong.

Some of the complaints below were really made.

Some of them may have been.

And some of them, you can feel free to use next year.

You're welcome.

1. "I timed the Silence and it was only 1 minute 47."

2. "Her poppy leaf was at half past 10, not 11 o'clock."

3. "If the Queen could not get herself down to the Cenotaph she should be charged with treason."

4. "One of the Scouts clearly had a woggle askew."

5. "A baby cried all the way through. He should have more respect."

6. "There were Polish people there. What do they know about the War?"

7. I stood on the M1 at 11am trying to get the traffic to stop and would they?"

8. "Michael Foot didn't even bother to attend this year."

9. "I saw some people still wearing poppies on the day after Remembrance Sunday. Do they have no respect?"

10. "Marks and Spencer had Christmas advertising up. A tableau of the Somme would be far more appropriate."

11. "Despite in being Remembrance Sunday, the Vicar still insisted on preaching about a "Prince of Peace." What sort of traitor is she?

12. "Silence started 4 seconds early. They should have used my Atomic Clock."

13. "I wear my poppy from Michaelmas onwards. Why does everybody else have such a slack attitude?"

14. "I insist the BBC present nothing but poppy-based programming for the whole of November."

15. "Don't Beavers learn to drill these days? Those 6 year olds were terribly sloppy on parade.

16. "Not only did we not sing "Onward Christian Soldiers." We didn't even get "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans."