28 January 2008

Consumer Church?

Kathy has written a post - from a US perspective - that raises a lot of questions for me: How the Church is Training Consumers instead of Disciples. This is very interesting in light of my previous post: Reasons for Giving Up Church-Going.

I've just ordered the book that I referred to in the previous post but I haven't read it. However, the suggestion that churches 'multi-plex' strikes me as incredibly consumerist. The review suggested to me that the conclusion of the study were something like: 'I'm only attending church if I get the style of worship / liturgical tradition / kind of teaching that I'm interested in. Otherwise, I'm outta here.'

If people in our society are used to being able to get 'what they want, when they want', how does the church 'compete' with other Sunday activities? Should it compete? I think the dilemma here is: What's the difference between being 'In the world but not of the world' and 'Being in the world as well as of the world'? Many people seem to use the criteria of 'bums on pews' as being a successful indicator of a church that is a good witness for Christ and is making disciples.

It seems to me that the activities that Church is competing with - on Sundays or on other days - aren't activities that are going to help people find the meaning of life or love their neighbour. The activities are largely short-term and pleasure-inducing: sleep, sport, shopping, eating out, country walks; with apologies to those who have to work on Sundays or until 9:00 or 10:00 on weekdays! For church to compete head-to-head with these consumerist or consumerist-led activities, it has to become even more entertaining and gratifying. How does that square with learning to love God and love our neighbour?

I expect that some will see this post as an excuse not to change anything. In fact, I think it's vital that the church change and I agree that discipleship has to have a measure of fun and joy; but I do worry very much about the issues Kathy raises and whether we'll still 'be church' if we pander to all consumer whims.

26 January 2008

Reasons for Giving Up Church-going

This week, both The Methodist Recorder[1] and The Church Times[2] contained articles about a study done by Leslie Francis and Philip Richter on the reasons that British people have given for giving up on church-going. It was infuriatingly frustrating that The Methodist Recorder only reported the existence of the study and gave no indication of its contents.

The reasons cited for leaving add up to more than 100% presumably because individuals were allowed to give more than one reason. The top reason given by a 'high proportion' of church-leavers was 'Church irrelevant'

The second most important reason given for leaving - cited by half of church leavers - won't be surprising to anyone who goes to church but it is rarely cited by people ranting about church decline: about half the church-leavers said they gave up going to church because they were excluded by cliques.

Social exclusion was one of the most important reason people gave up church-going! What a challenge to all congregations. Exclusion is so easily done.

Other reasons included:
  • Churchgoing was part of growing up (40%)
  • Moving to a new area and family commitments (33%)
  • Tensions with work (25%)
  • Church was too feminine for some men, and too difficult for those sexually active outside marriage.
  • Inadequate return for time and money (40%)
  • Disillusionment
  • Hurt by pastoral failure (14%)
  • Disliked change - e.g. of hymns (20%)
  • Worship too formal/informal and teaching too high/low (33%)
  • Church leader too authoritarian (RC) or too unclear (Anglicans) (25%)
  • Church was too conservative (20% to 33%)
  • Lack of boundaries between the Church and the world (25%)
The authors suggest that churches need to 'multiplex' - to meet different needs, but people need to work together.

I wonder where this leaves small churches?

The study is called Gone for Good and is published by Epworth Press. Cost is £19.99.

[1] Does not carry the article online.
[2] Article online for subscribers only.

24 January 2008


A weird sort of brainstorm at 11:00 at night and a question:

In a Christian theology which uses Girardian paradigms, is dualism in and of itself a manifestation of sin?

If human sinful nature is all about creating categories of 'them and us' and about expelling 'them' in order to keep 'the in group' pure.....Isn't this process exactly what dualism is about?

I always thought of dualism as being an overly simplistic analysis which failed to see the complexities of any given situation. But I wonder if it's actually our need to scapegoat others that is at the heart of dualism?

For example, why have UK children's reading abilities dropped down the European league tables? The actual answer is probably quite a complex one with no easy answers. But if we can apply a dualistic formula that 'It's because of lazy teachers' or 'It's because of parents who don't want to spend time with their kids', not only do we have an apparently simple remedy ('they' just need to behave more responsibly), we are also able to say 'It's nothing to do with me'.

It's a scary thought with respect to the media as well; dualism sells.

And, as Christians, how do we guard against this when much of Christianity seems to function in the dualistic categories of 'me good, you bad if you don't think like me'?

A Good Time Away

Well, I had a good time away. I won't call it a 'retreat' because we talked and talked and talked. Including me. To the blogger who suggested I go around saying 'I thought this was a silent retreat!?!' that would probably get me another year studying Methodist history and practice! ;-)

What was different this year from last year? First of the the space. It was mainly because we were at a place where there were lots of rooms for spreading out and having quiet conversations. We were at a hotel last year; I won't mention it's name because it was a good hotel and everything was excellent but hotels' public spaces don't really lend themselves to the kind of conversational space that we had at The Ammerdown Conference and Retreat Centre. We filled all the residential rooms but there were plenty of peaceful break-out rooms where you could go for conversation with a few other people. The food was truly the best food I've ever at at any retreat centre and the grounds were lovely for walking. Highly recommended.

Secondly, I simply went on this expecting that it would be a 'talking thing', so I wasn't disappointed. To be fair, we didn't have to join in any of the discussions, but who could resist?

21 January 2008

Can't we Shut Up and Listen?

OK, I think it's a bad idea to complain about 'real life' things on one's blog, but I'm going to take a small risk here as this isn't really the end of the world.

I'm going off on a retreat for Probationer Ministers over the next few days. Last year it was a total talk-fest and I came back absolutely shattered, totally drained and feeling grouchy and out of sorts.

You understand that I hope that by posting this, I'll have to report to you at the end of the week that actually everything was utterly wonderful and that I'm totally refreshed.

But what is the deal with Methodists and talking? Why do we think that if we talk, talk, talk, talk that somehow we'll have fellowship with God? What gets me is that we seem to have absolutely no respect whatsoever for theology ('God talk') as a way to encounter God, but we think that if we get together we have to talk our heads off. Why? I just don't get it.

I'm not that introverted. I'm actually barely introverted on the Myers-Briggs scale, but I do have a need for a bit of quiet and a bit of space to 'just be'. Why do we seem to think that listening to God instead of telling him what to do all the time is next to demonic?

I'll let you know how things turn out. I hope to come back with egg on my face reporting that we had lots of quiet time and space to encounter God. Chance would be a fine thing.

Buy Less, Live More

The Methodist Church has launched a campaign for Lent entitled ‘Buy Less: Live More’ and this campaign has got me thinking.

Here’s how it works. You get a pink credit-card shaped card and, rather than being embossed with a credit-card number, it’s embossed with the scriptural reference: ‘Mark 10:17-27,’ the story often entitled ‘The Rich Young Man’. The idea is that you place this card in your wallet in front of your credit cards and that during Lent you think twice before buying any unnecessary item.

In my view, this is campaign is a good idea but I think that there are two big issues about money from a Christian perspective that could be communicated in a stronger way.

The first issue is that of the growing use of credit cards and of consumer debt. If you work in retail, it’s a common sight to see young people buying luxury items on credit. Increasingly in our society, borrowing and credit cards are seen as ‘a right’ and retailers often encourage consumers to borrow money for non-essential purchases. For many people, there seems to be no idea of saving to buy something in the future and we are constantly bombarded with advertisements for expensive loans and advertisements to buy now and pay later.

The ‘Buy Less, Live More’ campaign wants to encourage Christians to opt out of the consumer culture and that can only be a good thing. But I believe that Christians can also help people to understand the consequences of borrowing money and the heavy financial burdens that this can place on families. It may very well be that borrowing on credit is to our generation what excess consumption of alcohol was to earlier generations. One of the issues surrounding alcohol consumption in the past was the effect it had on the family finances; credit abuse may be equally harmful to the family purse!

The other issue that could be more strongly communicated is the economic divide between rich countries and poor countries. Unlike cutting back on borrowing which we have direct control over, this might seem a more difficult issue for individuals to tackle. But there are things we can do. We can continue to support Fair Trade and work for its expansion. We can continue to support ‘Drop the Debt’ campaigns. We can write to our MPs and oppose international trade initiatives that favour heavily-subsidised imports from rich countries over self-sufficiency in the developing world. And, of course, we can continue to pray for trade justice.

The story of the ‘Rich Young Man’ often gets spiritualised in Christian circles, but I think that Jesus did mean to say something about riches, even if his comments were made in a somewhat overstated way. The message that we can ‘Live More’ if we ‘Buy Less’ is certainly a message that has become counter-cultural, but it seems to be one that Jesus would have agreed with.

Information on the ‘Live More, Buy Less’ campaign can be found on: www.buylesslivemore.co.uk. The cards can be ordered free from Methodist Publishing House in packs of ten with a £1.50 fee for postage and handling (Methodist Publishing House, 4 John Wesley Road, Werrington, Peterborough PE4 6ZP; or at www.mph.org.uk)

Prayers for Christian Unity

I love our week of Prayers for Christian Unity. A service is held in five churches in the town over the week and each service has a visiting preacher, so no one preaches in his or her own church. Four of these services are lunch-time services and we all share a simple meal afterwards.

Today, I preached at the town-centre Anglican church. I was totally chuffed that two members of the Anglican parish in my neighbourhood turned up to the service saying 'We came here to show our support for you.' Lovely. Ecumenism at the ground level.

Here is my sermon.

Oh, and on the subject of singing hymns that everyone knows, when we came to sing the last hymn, someone raised his hand and said 'Would you like organ accompaniment with that?' I joked that it never occurred to me to think that there would be an organist in the congregation.


Catching up on sermon blogging again. One sermon for The Baptism of Jesus and one non-lectionary sermon on the subject of persistent prayer.

The Baptism of Jesus

Persistent Prayer

15 January 2008

Suggest-a-hymn / song

Just a bit of a fun experiment since I've got until Monday to come up with something!

I'm leading a short lunch-time prayer service next week at one of the Anglican Churches in our 'Prayers for Christian Unity week'. The theme of the day will be 'pray always'.

I usually try to include two songs or hymns since singing is such a part of Methodist tradition, but they will be sung without any instrumental accompaniment. Past experience suggests that once I've plucked up my courage to start the song (I'm a servicable, but not fantastic, choral singer) that there are enough good singers to carry the tune.

But I need songs that are easy to sing unaccompanied and which I can be sure everyone from all Christian denominations will know.

I've chosen 'Abba Father' for the first song. Anyone out there have any other suggestions? Well known, easy to sing, possibly a vague reference to prayer.

Answers on a postcard - er, blog reply - please!

The United States and the United Kingdom - two nations divided by different hymn tunes! :-)

14 January 2008

Who Said Communication is Easy?

After the UK Methodists Bloggers Meeting, I arrived home to find another wonderful cartoon by Dave Walker showing the heady and united world of Anglican blogging:

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

So, I'm thinking to myself: 'Wonderful Husband draws great cartoons. Maybe he can do a cartoon for the Methodist Bloggers!'

And then the following conversation ensued (or I thought it did anyway):

PBG: Could you draw a cartoon depicting Methodist Bloggers?

WH: Sure, what would it look like?

PBG: Here's a funny cartoon Dave Walker did, but Methodists don't wear long robes.

WH: Well, how would we identify Methodist bloggers then?

PBG: I think maybe they might have a hymn book in one hand and a computer in another.

WH: OK, I'll work on it.

Here we have the outcome:

PBG: What's this, then?

WH: You said you wanted hymn books connected by wires.

Who Said Communication is Easy?

In Praise of the Covenant Service

Wow! Who would have thunk it? A really positive article in The Guardian entitled In Praise of…….the covenant service. That starts the week off right for me. :-)

From the article (bolding is mine):
The heart of the occasion is a passage that includes the words: "Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you." It should not be misinterpreted as a sort of fatalism, for many Methodists have held eminent positions, espoused radical politics, and gone to prison for opposing injustice and war. Its nobility is the recognition of the accretion of great good through small deeds.

13 January 2008

For the Record

Methodist Preacher has stated that he's ’tried hard to reason with me but to no avail’.

As he's deleted my posts, this could certainly leave the impression that I've been truly foul.

Therefore, this post is simply to note that I have the text of the conversation that he's deleted and that I will be saving it in the event of being charged with unbecoming conduct or language.

12 January 2008


Well, at least something made me laugh today: Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?. I think my favourites are:
GEORGE W. BUSH : We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.


DR SEUSS : Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.
I shall not make the obvious sarcastic addition.

Crabbit Old Woman

A few days ago I came across a blog post (I think it was a blog post; I can't actually remember) about the poem entitled Crabbit Old Woman which was apparently read on 'Women's Hour' not too long ago.

This poem also resonates with me and it expresses my feelings about why the church can't simply ignore older people or consider them to be of finite worth. I hope that as Christians we will always try to find the 'me' in everyone (see last line of the poem).

What do you see, what do you see?
Are you thinking, when you look at me- A
crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, I do wish you'd try.
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is loosing a stocking or shoe.
Who, unresisting or not; lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding the long day is fill.
Is that what you're thinking, Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you're looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still!
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of 10 with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who loved one another-
A young girl of 16 with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet,
A bride soon at 20- my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At 25 now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure happy home;
A woman of 30, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last;
At 40, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man's beside me to see I don't mourn;
At 50 once more babies play around my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own.
And I think of the years and the love that I've known;
I'm an old woman now and nature is cruel-
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart,
But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells,
I remember the joy, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years all too few- gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last-
So open your eyes, nurse, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer- See Me.

Putting One's Hope in the The Word Made Flesh

Below is an excerpt from a Letter to the Editor from this week's edition of The Church Times entitled 'Putting One's Hope in The Word Made Flesh' written by Jeremy Craddock of Huntingdon.

I'm posting this excerpt mainly because it resonated with me, but I think that there are also connections to two entirely separate conversations I've been having in the blogosphere about: 1) The Fall; 2) The place of 'death and dying' in Christian theology. To me, there seem to be shades of WH Vanstone's theology in this letter.

'Mr. H' wrote a letter the previous week articulating the age-old objection to faith that 'bad things happen every day'.

Mr. H says that, in addition to all our good qualities, God also made cruelty, cancer, and tsunamis. But suppose that God did not design the world directly and in detail. If he did, then there would be no freedom of choice, and he would be some kind of monster. Suppose instead that he made the world make itself. If that were so, then he would be suffering as creatures preyed on one another, and species died out to make room for others.

Now suppose that God's act as creator is really that he sustains the world that makes itself, moment by moment, at a cost to himself. That is, he stands by creatures who suffer from cruelty, cancer, and tsunamis. Indeed, he suffers with them; but we might want - accepting that human words fail to describe the unknowable God - to say that he suffers with his creation because he observes its suffering at first hand.

But the idea of incarnation goes a stage further. Of course Jesus was fully human. Be the incarnation suggests that, in Jesus, God knew by experience, not just observation, what it was to be rejected, and hunted down; and by experience, to know the ultimate horror of being God-forsaken. The reason I can't cope with a love such as that is not just that I want to think of Jesus as no more than a godly man; it is that I can't bear it.

11 January 2008

Christian Ministers and Real Life Experience

As someone who is still a new minister, I'm musing today on the concept of the vocation of Christian ministry and 'real life experience'. Somewhere else, there was some comment on whether or not ministers have 'real life experience' and whether or not this was a good or necessary thing.

Up until becoming a minister, my life experience was probably what I'd call 'age appropriate'. I was doing the same things as many people in their late 40s were doing. We married late and didn't have children, so I wasn't seeing them off to university, but we were both working at jobs where we had some years of experience and we were trying to pay off our mortgage, etc., etc.

Now that I'm a minister, I've had a different set of experiences. I've sat with a dead body. I've visited someone a day before their death. I regularly visit nursing homes where it's difficult to communicate with people because of the illnesses they have (either physical or mental incapacity). People show me their surgery scars, their leg-ulcers and tell me about their incontinence. Many people share the hurts of their lives, their worries, their disappointments, their anger and their rage. Somehow, these 'negative' feelings tend to outweigh the 'positive' ones in quantity, but I'd like to think that it's because people feel safe telling me this sort of thing; still, it's not always easy to listen to large quantities of peoples' problems.

My short experience as a minister has made me even more aware of the fagility of human life and the love and grace of God.

I'm genuinely at a loss to believe that what I've experienced so far as a minister is not 'Real Life'. In fact, I suspect it's more 'Real Life' than my previous experience.

Common Worship 'Times and Seasons'

For those who have not seen it, there are free, downloadable files available giving texts from Common Worship Times and Seasons which I have found useful, even as a non-Anglican.

The website doesn't yet contain all the text of Times and Seasons but it seems to have more than the last time I looked and is now running through to Pentecost in the Church calendar.

The same URL also offers downloads from Common Worship itself (again, not absolutely everything), Common Worship Daily Prayer and New Patterns for Worship.

10 January 2008

Kenya: Urgent Prayer Call

Olive Morgan has posted an Urgent Prayer Call for Kenya.

Continue to pray for the entire nation.

09 January 2008

Fear of the Other

I'm linking to two posts at other blogs on the general subject of 'fear of the other'.

There is something that is very easy and very wrong about scapegoatting those who are different from us. Richard's post about the deported Ghanaian woman who is terminally ill is making me sick to my stomach at the moment. Writing to our MPs seems an excellent suggestion.

Richard Hall's post on:
Deporting the Dying

Doorman-Priest's post on:
A Little Matter of Islamophobia

06 January 2008

Thoughts on Extempore (Extemporaneous) Worship

I hope fellow Methoblogger, Richard Hall, of Connexions won't be embarrassed if I say that he presided at a very fine extempore (that's 'extemporaneous' if you're American) service of communion at the Methodist Bloggers' Meet.

Richard commented at the time that he used to like written liturgy but that he's grown into an appreciation of Methodism's tradition of extempore praying.

I joked during the 24 hours that all of us were together at the bloggers' meet about how I miss my Lutheran liturgical background. This experience of liturgy was fuelled by participating in post Vatican II Roman Catholic liturgy where I saw the fixed form and shape of the written liturgy expressed in a very 'local' way that was meaningful to the congregation. I guess I learned then that written liturgy can be done 'freely' and 'meaningfuly' and that added a whole new dimension to something that I already loved.

Although I have oodles less experience in Methodism and as a minister than Richard, I too am beginning to appreciate the extempore tradition. And, in my opinion, anyone who had participated in the 'bloggers' communion' on Saturday could not have failed to apprecaiate the riches of this tradition.

What's my sometimes gripe with the extempore tradition? I've often seen it done badly. Badly in a way that suggests that someone in back in 1850 didn't quite understand the shape of worship and they started some bad practice and this bad practice has been passed down for four or five generations. Prayers that didn't know whether they were confessions or intercessions or thanksgivings which sometimes resulted in lots of confession and prayers of intercession for ill people in the congregation and not much else. Prayers that don't reflect the entirety of salvation history but which are very locally focussed (totally inappropriate for a 'great prayer of thanksgiving' before communion, for example).

What we had yesterday wasn't anything like that and I've seen other good examples of extempore worship in my time as well as the bad examples. Extempore worship can be wonderful when the worship leader(s) understand the shape and function of different aspects of the liturgy. I'll get to Richard's stage with a lot more practice; there are a few elements of the liturgy I could do extempore now - probably most of the prayers outside of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving - but I reckon that extempore liturgy takes a lot of experience as well as knowledge. I'm definitely not confident enough to do an extempore sermon yet! (I heard a story the other day of a very experienced minister who forgot the entire service at home and had to do the whole thing extempore. Yikes!)

Catching Up on Sermon Blog

I've been catching up on posting my sermons. Links to the last three are given below:

Advent 4:
When We Cannot Save Ourselves

Covenant Prayer Sunday:
Covenant. New School

Epiphany Story

05 January 2008

UK Methodist Bloggers' Meeting

I arrived home from the UK Methodist Bloggers’ Meeting to find that I had no internet connection (or should that be 'connexion'?). Ironic, innint?

We covered a number of topics but, for me, the most important thing about the meeting was actually meeting a number of people face-to-face. I already knew Dave of
of ‘42’ fame from theology college, but I'd never met any of the other bloggers. I think meeting people face-to-face can be really important. It's how we remember that we are dealing with real people and not just with 'them out there'.

During the course of the meeting, we talked about whether we were 'Methodist bloggers' or 'bloggers who happen to be Methodist.' I think I prefer the latter category. There are a number of thoughts I have on this:

1) Whilst I certainly do not want to bring the Methodist Church into disrepute, I also do not want to blog 'officially' for the Methodist Church (not that I could do anyway). My disclaimer makes that clear.

2) Whilst I see blogging as a recreational activity, I am also aware that it's a public thing. Someone I know refers to this as 'my journal'; it's not my journal as there are things I'd not write here because of it being public space.

Anyway, I think that 'a good time was had by all'.

01 January 2008

Differing Gifts

Thinking about The Holy Spirit, I loved the following idea from this post over at Ship of Fools:
There is 'hot' ecstasy and there is 'cool' ecstasy. Often those who are into 'cool' despise what they see as the hysterical, over-emotional expressions of the 'hot' and those who are into 'hot' despise what they see as the insipidness and tepidness of the 'cool'. It's sad. Why should we need to judge other people in these ways?
There is universal truth about the Christian life in that statement. How many times have I heard one side or the other denigrating the practice that wasn't theirs? For me, one of the good things about Methodism is that by and large the 'hot' and the 'cool' people do manage to see Christ in each other and to hold each other as brothers and sisters. Each of us has our own gifts; this is biblical truth.

The Methodist Church - Suppressing the Holy Spirit???

Over at The Methodist Preacher, the author asks the question on this post:
I wonder if "spirituality" is being promoted as a counterpoint to the work of the Pentecostal groups in drawing our attention to this person of the Trinity, often ignored or even suppressed by the mainstream denominations?
The blog site suggests that the Methodist Church section on spirituality contains
Lots of semi-pagan or "new age" ideas about prayer, but absolutely nothing about the person, character and activity of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
I'm posting the question here because I think that someone in a position to answer this question might see it: Is the Methodist Church intending to promote semi-pagan Spirituality? Is the Methodist Church ignoring or suppressing the Holy Spirit?

(For the record, I don't personally believe that Methodism is doing these things.)