Welcome to Church

The Church of England has recently published a guide to the “Top Ten Facts About Christenings“. It is a starter for ten for people making enquiries about their local church and “getting little Timmy ‘done'”.It seems to have picked the same scab that The Weddings Project picked for a lot of vicars….. it educates people about their rights (something vicars don’t like to admit people have) and their responsibilities (something many vicars insist people should be born with pre installed like iOS6).

I am not a cradle Anglican. I may have mentioned this once or twice. I wasn’t even a churchgoer. I grew up with the belief that The Church TM didn’t have anything to do with ‘people like me’. In all honesty, the church treated me like a pariah when I was a teenager with a Helloween patch on the back of my denim jacket – I managed to attend for 5 weeks. When I arrived at university this is what I told Ruth: The church does not want people like me in it. The David Mitchell portrayal of the Evil Vicar isn’t just a cultural stereotype, it is often the real lived experience of a first time enquirer.

“Hello, are you the vicar? I am just ringing to ask about booking a venue…..”

There are two responses to this phone call:

a) [a brusk] It isn’t as simple as that! You are not simply booking a venue…
b) Congratulations. That’s great. Let’s have a chat about how we can help you celebrate the gift of a new child/celebrate the love you have for each other as you come together in holy matrimony…

I have sat in a room and watched both of these happen. I know which one I picked up as good practice.

The Church TM is a daunting experience for those of us you refer to as ‘unbelievers’. Walking through that door for the first time is a real challenge. If your first instinct is to trip someone up on their way in for the first time you will probably never see them again and neither will anyone else.

There is a massive theological issue at stake here. Jesus is the incarnate God who had a table ministry. He welcomed everyone in. Regardless of their religious literacy. Regardless of their knowledge of canon law or the parish system. Regardless of whether they had the language to ask for a service rather than a booking.

20130724-175659.jpg

“I didn’t realise we could get married in church vicar”. Happy to help.
“Can we have Timmy done?” Why don’t you meet me and the church wardens on Sunday and we’ll help you along the way?
“Will I be able to bring my son with me, he’s got Asperger’s so he may not be the most well behaved.” That’s fine, everyone is welcome here. If we can cope with a noisy vicar like me I’m sure we can cope with a little noise. After all, some famous guy said ‘let the little children come to me’.

Lord Truro and the “Undeserving Poor”

Once more all decent folk found themselves under attack from the ever hungry and multiheaded mythological beast. Fortunately Lord Freud was able to defend us all once more from the onslaught of the “undeserving poor”.

20130703-074824.jpgThe daemonisation of the poor is a well documented phenomenon and a tool that is being used to drive ideological political change. “Why don’t they help themselves out of poverty?” We have a situation in the UK where food bank use has trebled in the past year. Lord Freud seems to be of the opinion that food banks are one of the many choices that people mmakes when planning their weekly shop. “We can get some cold cuts from the farmers market, they do that lovely Brussels Pâté. We need to make sure we get to Waitrose on the way home for the loo roll and dishwasher tablets. Ooooo, and we’d best stop at the Food Bank and get some beans for the kids”.

The Bishop of Truro challenged Lord Freud on his statements to The Lords. Church Action on Poverty challenged these ideological beliefs five weeks ago. Oxfam challenge this ideological belief daily. Everyone who works with people in poverty challenges this blame culture, designed to shift the focus of blame for the current global economic climate to the most vulnerable in our society. The people who aren’t challenging this are those who are using the myth to drive ideological political change.

The growth in food aid demonstrates that the social safety net Is failing in its basic duty to ensure that families have access to sufficient income to feed themselves adequately. The exponential rise in the creation of food banks reflects a growing problem and only delivers mitigation. Food banks provide a vital emergency service to the people they support but they do not address the underlying structural causes for the growth of food poverty. – Walking the Breadline

Silent Night

I spotted this guy outside Covent Garden begging/busking.  He’s found a traffic cone and he is playing all of the Christmas Classics on it.  He was very good.

Of course this photo doesn’t exist because we don’t have any poor people in the UK.

The Bible and the English Language

The Open University have produced some great potted history videos with famous people doing a quick run down of a topic.  My favourite is David Mitchell’s look at Schrödinger’s Cat.  This one is probably more use to the readers of this blog though…

Rousay

Rousay

Originally uploaded by The Muffin Man

From my trip to Orkney.

Britistics

Julz has given me a link to Britistics.  It is a brilliant visualisation of British life in 2011, cutting through the drivel.  Who am I kidding, Julz has a much better way with words.

Awesome british statical infographic – everything from time spent arguing to whether we believe more in reincarnation than aliens.

Personally I’m voting for aliens!

A Dead Church?

It isn’t often that I stick my head up and make comment on something like the synod of The Church of England but here goes. There was a report that prompted Dr Ruth and I to talk for a couple of hours this afternoon about the nature of God, The Church ™ and our place within it.

“The Church of England will cease to exist in 20 years as the current generation of elderly worshippers dies, Anglican leaders warned yesterday.”

This is a truism. For my beloved Church of England to continue witnessing into the future there needs to be a recognition of the changing world in which we minister. In the rhetoric that has been reported there have been some unfortunate soundbytes such as the need for a “recruitment drive”. There has also been the use of business model type language to describe the impending fall or rise of the good old CofE. This type of discussion has prompted me to a key theological question:

What is the role that The Church of England is called to within the missio dei?

To see our primary motivation to mission as merely “perpetuating The Church of England” as a goal in itself then we have missed the point. God is on a mission and invites us to be involved with it. We need to reexamine the true nature of our call as a church to go into the world as followers of the way. Along the way we need to keep pointing to our destination and call others to join us on the road. If we believe we need a “recruitment drive” then we may as well pack up the shop and go home now. We need to empower people to live out their baptism call corporately as the body of Christ.

How can i try to paint a picture of the problem as i see it? Lets imagine that The Church of England is transported to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. When Luke landed on Degoba he met with a little muppet called Yoda. Yoda did not turn to Luke and say “welcome to Degoba, you’ll love it here. Pull up a rock by the swamp, please stay”. Why would he stay in a place that is completely alien to him? Where is the desert he knows knows so well from his homeworld? And once he has crash landed here he meets someone who is completely alien to him. Yoda doesn’t speak the same kind of language as him, the lifestyle is completely alien to him. Luke almost walks away and fails to recognise that Yoda’s advancing years have given him an ancient wisdom. Ironically, Yoda tries to dismiss Luke for being too impetuous, youthful and “not the right kind of person to be one of us”.

When Yoda was talked around by Obi Wan he did not point to all of these differences and the settings around him. What he did was point towards something much more significant than himself or the place where he found himself. He pointed to something much more profound and something much deeper than Luke could imagine. He prepared Luke for the journey that he was on and eventually sent him off to fulfil that journey.

How can we as a church get beyond trying to recruit people to man the jumble sale and become more like Yoda?

Or as @emptybelly tweeted a couple of days ago:

If the 21st century church took Jesus as seriously as the 1st century church, this world would again be turned upside down for God’s kingdom

The Future of Religious Education in the United Kingdom

When my blog first moved here from myspace in 2007 I was not a priest in the church of England, I was part way through my ordination training and temporarily back in my previous role as an RE teacher.  I graduated from Newcastle University in 2000 with a degree in Religious Studies, looking at religion from a phenomenological point of view.  I went on to do a PGCE at Durham University and in 2001 headed into West Yorkshire to teach Religious Education in a multicultural context as part of a state school.

There are many things that secular humanists and atheists would like to accuse RE teachers of doing.  Most of these tend to bear no relation to the reality of the schools in which I taught.  Many of these are based upon the perceptions of generations gone by and anecdotal evidence of grandparents gone by.  At parents evening there would be older people who would say “in my day we learned what to believe in RI [Religious Instruction]”.  As the conversation progressed it would invariably come to light that the person I was talking to had no particular belief system to which they adhered.  Ironically, I am not old enough to remember the world of which they speak.

We must remember that Religious Instruction came about as a result of the 1944 education act when the country was concerned that the Nazi’s would invade and the people of Britain needed a strong moral compass with which to resist Fascism.  As can be gleaned from the name RI, classes were a lot different to the Religious Education of today.  To put this in context, these were the days in which a classroom teacher could turn up to their classroom and rule over their own little kingdom and teach pretty much whatever they wanted.  The government wanted to instil a moral framework for society in the face of invasion.  The decision was made during war time with all of the pressures that this entails.

Fortunately the legislation was vague and defined itself in terms of “religion” rather than “Christianity”.  In the 1970’s this resulted in a situation where academics looked to the phenomenological study of religion without any need for personal conviction.  This resulted in the disappearance of RI  and the dawn of RE (religious education).  In the school in which I taught, we actually called it Religious Studies to emphasise the need to be educated about the society in which we live.  Today the study is of the six major world faiths without the necessary need for adherance.

I taught in a West Yorkshire secondary school within a multicultural community.  It was a community that was divided largely upon race or cultural lines.  Social cohesion was fractious.  Different cultural groups lived in self segregated areas with little understanding of each other.  Teaching RE in state schools is not about “bringing people to faith” it is about generating social cohesion and understanding between communities.  My head of department was an atheist.  In my part as a person of faith, I had the same response when asked the question “what do you believe” by a pupil.  “It doesn’t matter what I believe, I can’t possibly tell you what I believe and expect you to think I have the same respect for each of the subjects I am teaching”.  RE is about living in a society that fosters within us an understanding of the people around us.  During my time at the school we lived through local race riots because of the segregated and fractured society in which we lived.  This highlighted the need to persevere in our task of promoting social cohesion.

If you will notice the banner at the top of this page you will see that I have something to promote, the RE:Act campaign.  They put their case forward as this:

In January 2011, the coalition government introduced the English Baccalaureate curriculum to secondary schools in England. GCSE Religious Education was deliberately excluded from this new Gold standard programme despite it’s popularity, academic rigour and ability to teach young people about a range of faiths and beliefs. We need your support to ensure GCSE RE is included in this crucial new curriculum and ultimately, put back in its rightful place – at the heart of humanities.

The Bishop of Oxford stresses the need for RE for social cohesion when he says:

RE is a crucial subject at a time of global disharmony over religious matters. Religious illiteracy is a major problem both in our society and all over the world. Moreover, RE is the only subject which allows students to work out their own framework of values and beliefs in order to shape their life long character.

We live in a world that so sadly lacks understanding or empathy with the other people we share this planet with.  This is not a Christian issue, a Muslim issue, a Humanist issue….or any other group’s issue.  This issue of RE crosses all divides and calls us to educate ourselves out of a world where this type of view is commonplace. That is why The Church Mouse calls us to be involved regardless of religious belief, disbelief or none.  I can understand why this may be difficult to do when there is an overt religious call to prayer on the site itself.

Please stand up for RE.  Don’t do it because I am a Christian asking you or because I am a priest, do it because you are part of a society that needs to become cohesive.  This can only be done through education, understanding of and empathy with our neighbours. 

[As an addendum, what I say is not to be confused with a collective act of worship.  This is a separate issue.  In my years of teaching in state schools I have never witnessed one.]

1984

I made the mistake of jokingly saying “I can’t wait for them to just put an implant in my brain that does all of that” in front of my wife yesterday.  I am a typical tech geek.  I have an iPhone 4 that does everything.  People say to me “you’re never off facebook” and my reply is usually, “I’m never on facebook, I am on the bus”.  I connect to people all the time and it rarely impacts upon daily life as it happens whilst I commute, walk or eat my lunch.  Yesterday my mother in law mentioned that she had lost her phone (old fashioned nokia) and asked me to text it to ask anyone who may have found it to contact her.  I said “if I lost my iPhone I could go to your computer and find it on a map.  I could send a message to it, lock it down and wipe it’s memory.  At this point wife had a small fit and said “Are you mad?  You are half way through reading 1984!!”

She has a very good point.  Technology is able to set us free, connect us with those we love and enable us to network with others… but it could also be used to perpetuate a regime.  I have a mobile device in my pocket that identifies me and my movements.  Some people even use it to publish where they are via facebook or foursquare. 

There is of course more to this interaction between husband and wife yesterday and the conversation progressed.  I recalled that a couple of weeks ago we went to a friend’s house and they have a new Xbox Kinect.  I didn’t play but I did watch people jumping around their living room looking foolish (I suspect this is better than playing).  Yesterday afternoon I mentioned that it was “cool” and speculated that I would possibly like to have one in the future if I ever had the money.  Wife again had a small fit and said she wouldn’t have one in the house.  She had noticed something else about the experience.  When the three-year old child walked past the screen it said “hello Toby”.

I’m not a particularly paranoid person but when wife said “can you imagine if they put one of those on every street corner?” I was left with an icy chill running down my spine.  Will I one day be hiding from the Xbox and iPhone and writing by hand using a contraband journal and pen?

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
– George Orwell, 1984

Rock Mass

If you are anywhere near the North of England it would be great if you would come to The Rock Mass in St Michael’s Wakefield.  It is an evening eucharist and will have a full rock band playing with lighting, smoke and the full works. This will be a culturally authentic experience as we come together to worship in a way that feels natural as we come before God as we are. There will be a combination of music from the charts/kerrang/scuzz and other music that could be!

Please come along and bring your friends. Spread the word!  There is a facebook event here.  If you need anymore info, please ask.