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.

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“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’.

Enchantment in Worship

I’m spending a day locked in a retreat house reading for the research I’m doing into liturgy and culture. A decade ago Keith F Pecklers SJ gave a call to greater liturgical formation for the ‘future of Christianity’ as he looked at worshipping in a postmodern world.

Liturgy in the postmodern world must aim for enchantment, not entertainment… If presiders are to be effective instruments in the enchantment of their congregations gathered together in holy assembly, the churches will need to recognise the fact that presiding is a craft to be learnt; it does not come with the grace of ordination. (p199 Worship)

I wonder what delights I will discover at the ‘Worship Transforming Communities’ conference next week. I’m looking forward to continuing the discussions I’ve been having with colleagues about liturgical formation. #worship2013

Welfare Reform in Today’s Political Agenda

A society which allows large numbers of its citizens to live in poverty is unlikely to be sustainable. We have seen, since the 1980s, how whole communities hit by economic contraction can sink into a kind of collective depression from which some, especially young men, seek to emerge through violence, gangs and other destructive (and self destructive) ways of life.

Nick Morgan linked to the Church of England’s report on Welfare Reform on The Book of Face. It is a long read but has some good insights into the current UK government’s policy and how it relates to our faith.

I think the key phrase in the above quote is “since the 1980s” as it is telling about the current trajectory of the UKs economic policy. This report doesn’t quite give a bloody nose in the way that Faith in the City did to Mrs Thatcher’s government, but it does point out many of the failings of the current regime.

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What Would Young Adults Say to The Wider Church?

I’m about to have a bishop arrive at my house to discuss how we engage with young adults 20-40 as church.  I just clicked on this link as I was going through my overflowing inbox.

Young Adults Leaving ChurchI am struck by the humility of everyone speaking to camera.  I’m also struck by the apologetic nature of the comments.  How do we as The Church ™ continue to instill an atmosphere that whether explicit or implicit makes younger people feel that they are interlopers?  The image says ‘leaving’ but I suspect that ‘leaving’ is a million miles down a road not traveled.

Last night I was asked how I ended up as part of the church.  As I told my story I recounted that at 18 years old I thought that I wasn’t allowed in church.  People like me are not acceptable in church.  We’re not good enough.

Is this the lived experience of most young people or is it the prevailing media narrative as told through film, sitcoms and newspapers?

I’d better dig out the hoover before the bishop arrives.

Myers Briggs and The Bible

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Last night @charityhamilton sent me this as a text message.  So @thebassplayeruk had a rant in her capacity as Resident Psychologist.  Then @unshaunsheep made this and the floodgates were opened.  “Pseudo science” may have been said.  “Why is the Church of England spending my money on this nonsense” may have been said.

It’s a hard life when your vicarage has a resident psychologist and your church likes to do Myers Briggs to everybody.

Apparently I’m Esther, a clever visionary.  I’ll take compliments wherever I can get them @thebassplayeruk 😛

Organising a Baptism

Ever organised a baptism? Watch the first minute of this clip!

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Trinity Video

Trinity

Worship Idea – Pentecost Popcorn

Fr Simon Rundell published one of the best idea for Pentecost on his blog whilst I was on holiday. I found myself in a bar in Rhodes looking up popcorn machines on eBay. When the day of Pentecost had arrived, we were gathered in Holy Nativity Church with the scouts and a load of visitors when there was the sound of a violent air powered popcorn machine and the pop of corn all over the altar.

I hate watching videos of myself. If you want to see it done well, check out Simon doing it himself. He didn’t accuse the first followers of being small and round!

The Place of Honour

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As we sit in the Square of the Jewish Martyrs in the Old Town at Rhodes the whole world has slowed down. We laze in the late afternoon sun in a small cafe with a glass of beer shaped like a Wellington boot. Over in the corner of the square at the entrance to this cafe there is a Cockatoo on an elaborate wooden stand. There he sits all day living the life as he sits before his adoring public upon his throne.

Here the life is idyllic as he sits within medieval surroundings: fabulous archways and ancient columns are bathed in glorious golden sunshine. His day is taken as a regular stream of onlookers come over to see him, to be near him, to have their photograph taken with him. Like all cockatoos he has wonderful plumage on his head that he can extend to create a majestic crown. He loves being picked up and having his photo taken with an onlooker as he proudly display his plumage.

This is a great life! The people fawn over him as he is surrounded by more food than he can eat. The owners of the bar are forever fussing over him as they attend his stand. They extend a finger and stroke him under the beak or on top of the head as he nuzzles them. We watch as he gets down from his perch and sits in the lap of the bar’s owner like a kitten. They clearly love each other as he nuzzles into her lap being stroked. Life is good!

We sit and watch as the afternoon sun sinks behind a Byzantine fortification as we keep watch upon this place of honour he loves so dearly. And as he stretches his wings we see the price he paid for such an honoured pace with so rich a throne. The few feathers he has been left are there merely to keep his majestic looks. With a purely ceremonial function his wings no longer carry the plumage with which to fly. Never will he know what it is to soar higher and higher over the ancient city as the sun sinks into the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Nor will he be able to look down on the medieval archways nor glide over the golden beaches and rugged cliff faces.

He does still have his place of honour where all his needs are met. Onlookers still come to look at his ceremonial crown and gaze in adoration. The peanut supply is never ending and he is regularly stroked as he displays his glorious crown before the world.

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Personal Identity 3: The Call to Authenticity

Part three of my musings on identity.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

I am not a cradle Christian. I’ve been a follower of the way for a little over 15 years since I arrived at university. In those first days at university I made a lot of friends who listened to heavy metal, wore black and drank beer. One of the other things I discovered about a considerable number of them was that they went to church. Come Sunday evening at 6pm (we were all students) they would all pile into church before going to the pub.

This led to some pretty interesting conversations about personal identity. As a nonchurchy Metalhead, I asked the same sorts of questions I outlined in my last blog post: “But you can’t be a Christian because you are a goth”. Christians were supposed to be nice, mild mannered, middle class people with shiny shoes; more Harold Bishop than Ozzy Osbourne. The evidence I discovered at university was to the contrary: goths, metalheads, hippies and freaks, my friends, were Christians and welcomed within their communities. And my Christian journey began. I could have life and have it abundantly.

As I began my journey as a disciple there was a discrepancy between the description of Christianity as I was told it and the practice. “Jesus came for the whole of humanity” is a claim to which most Christians will assent. The reality is that most local churches have a pervading culture within them. The nonconformist church that I attended at university had a distinctive culture, sadly one that I was unable to be part of. For men to fit in to this culture of fifteen years ago, brown shoes, blue jeans and a checked shirt tucked in at the waist and tied off with a brown belt were the order of the day. “I have come that you may have a middle class smart casual life in all its abundance”. The same was true of the Christian Union that met 200 yards from our student flat. To ‘progress in leadership’ you must fit yourself into the cultural mould. Despite being a short walk from a Christian community we soon disappeared from the meetings.

This isn’t really about the specific places I’ve been but the places that we currently shape through our interactions week in, week out. The same types of culture still exist in most churches as people seek out other like minded people. There is a pervading culture that is seen to be the “way to get on” in a church; if it were not so, there would be no jokes about vicars driving Vauxhall Astras with wives in Laura Ashley dresses to be made. For some this culture is the black shiny shoes and suit akin to Fr Ted and for others it is the rugged smart casual of Pastor Mark.

Yesterday I said that it is a difficult task to stand before the world and say that Jesus is God. This is especially true when you begin that journey and set your first foot upon the path. It is a journey that usually comes with a steep learning curve; sixty-six books of ancient wisdom guide us towards the transcendent as we peer through a glass dimly. It is hard enough to make sense of the way God wants us to live our lives without the added complication of the way a pervading church culture wants us to “fit in”.

Authenticity

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
– 1 Corinthians 12

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What does it mean for Jesus to bring life that you may have it abundantly? I don’t believe he meant for you to become a nice middle class clone. He came that you may have your life abundantly, not someone else’s! This means that you are to be the best version of you that you can be. The version of you that God made you to be! You are called to be the authentic version of you.

The all knowing God knows who you are. There is no pretending to be the guy with the acoustic guitar who stands at the front. Don’t go and buy a Laura Ashley dress because it will make you a better Christian! Go and be the very best version of you that there can be! Be the person God originally called to His path, and keep following the way! Sadly that does mean changing. It does mean growing. It means leaving behind the things you do that are not of God and taking up things that are. But that is going to be much more rewarding than giving up things that are not of a particular church’s culture and taking up things that “fit in”.

What is God asking of us as a church? To be an authentic people following in the path of Jesus: Grans and grandads; parents and children; men and women; goths, chavs, punks, jocks, hipsters; the whole plethora of society living together and following in his footsteps. God calls us to be the wonderfully diverse body of Christ.

Ruth and I have some close friends who are in their seventies. We’ve been friends now for more than a decade. We play cards together, eat dinner together, drink wine together, pray together and talk about our spiritual journeys together. Culturally we have very little in common and yet through our friendship and our faith we have so much in common. We are companions on the road. We share our spiritual journey with one another. To Ruth and I they are spiritual grandparents; “Elders” if you like. They have been walking this path for many years longer than we have. They bring great insight having lived through many more experiences than us; sometimes about the hardships and sometimes about the joys. There is something both comforting and challenging for instance about a couple who will tell you they have been married 47 years and it hasn’t always been easy. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ, holding each other on the road as we form diverse communities together.

Ruth has just informed me that she has something to add so you can expect a blog from her later. She’s a psychologist so it will probably be from a slightly different perspective than me. Tomorrow I’m going to look at different Christian identities. I have a Venn diagram or two to share.