20 April 2008

Local Elections - May 2008

The Black Country Churches Engaged have issued some useful election guidelines for Christians ahead of the local elections in May. In some areas, candidates are standing from the British National Party.

The Guidelines are as follows:
  • Do you and does the candidate, recognize the innate dignity and equal value of all human persons?
  • Can you be confident that the person you vote for is able to represent, and make judgements on behalf of, all the local community, regardless of their race, colour or faith?
  • Will the person elected work for the common good of all, not just one section of like-minded individuals?
  • Will his/her policies promote harmony, justice and social cohesion, so that no individual or group or faith is marginalized, demonised or treated unjustly?
  • Do his/her policies feed on the fear of one group over another?
  • How will his/her policies promote the rich diversity of cultures living within the community?
  • Do his/her policies serve to promote good race relations, respecting the culture, language and faith of all?
What strikes me, in writing these out is the question: 'How many of our churches would be unelectable if they were a political candidate' on this basis? Do we always 'work for the common good of all, not just one section of like-minded individuals'? Do we always 'promote harmony, justice and social cohesion, so that no individual or group or faith is marginalized, demonised or treated unjustly'? If we were being honest, I think we'd have to say 'no' to both questions.


David said...

I think it would do every church the world of good to spend a month each evening every year - as I do for the Labour Party - knocking on people's doors, seeking their views and attempting to build support.

Incidentally when I have been knocking doors, including for several years in the catchment area of your own Ministry, Christians have turned out to be some of the most open, constructive and pleasant people I have met on the doorstep.

On that basis I think, using your test, I would vote for them.

PamBG said...

At the risk of incurring more of your wrath, I don't think it's right for the minister to organise a particular congregation to campaign for a particular party.

David said...

Sorry perhaps I should have clarified what I mean about the Church on the doorstep. I don't mean canvassing for a political party (though I welcome any who do support civic life in this way).

No I mean that Churches should simply knock on doors once a year in their catchment areas - issue invitations, find out what the local needa are, welcome newcomers to the neighbourhood. I'm not aware of any Methodist Churhes that do so on a regular basis.

We occasionally leaflet the area (and get people coming in) but I was only saying yesterday to a colleague how it may be a useful way of engaging with the local community.

If a dozen members of the local political party can cover several thousand homes in a few weeks, so to could a Church. This could be part of the new thinking we so desperately need. If your church wants to give it a go, I'll happily come over and lend a hand.

PamBG said...

I have some sympathy for what you are saying. I have been positively surprised at the number of people who responded positively whilst canvassing for Christian Aid, for example.

However, I also sometimes wonder if you realise that many people are just too terrified to knock on doors? I think it's actually something of a gift to be able to do it. Perhaps people could learn with training, but I feel - I don't know what the word is - 'hurt' perhaps, when you seem to suggest that people are somehow 'bad people' or 'lazy people' for being frightened of knocking on doors.

Off to evening service now.

Doorman-Priest said...

Now there's a very good sermon idea. Thanks

David said...

"but I feel - I don't know what the word is - 'hurt' perhaps, when you seem to suggest that people are somehow 'bad people' or 'lazy people' for being frightened of knocking on doors."

Thanks Pam. Knocking on doors to canvass isn't for everybody. My own wife is happy to put out Labour leaflets but finds canvassing for votes hard. It certainly isn't a question of being "bad" or "lazy" - we all have different skills and different ministries.

Every election campaign, when I go out and knock the first door for the Labour Party, I have the same tense knot in my stomoch as I do when I go into the pulpit each Sunday! You don't know what is the other side of the door or the response to the sermon. Haven't we all had hostility on the doorstep and misery after we have preached? Well I have anyway!

So perhaps we need simple training. We will certainly need encouragement. We definately need God's grace and we muct simply pray as we knock on each door.

Richard Baxter's success in Kidderminster was as much due to his persisitent visitation as it was to his preaching, great though that was. What happened all those years ago can happen again. Let's re-open the "wells of revival" on our doorstep.

PamBG said...

Now there's a very good sermon idea.


Anonymous said...

I also have sympathy for David's idea. Many in the church simply wait for people to come to us. This is going out and showing that we want to hear about what their needs are.

I also share Pam's concerns about those of us (and I will include myself in this) who are terrified of 'cold calling' on people in their homes. I would also add a question, Would this make us feel obnoxious? Think of when the best time to call on someone: during the day when no one is home? during the evening when the meal is finished? It often ends up being during tea time. I just get annoyed when this happens. Also, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons tend to be viewed with disdain, and they knock on doors.

I will, of course, listen to any thoughts, though!

David said...

My experience from politics is people are often pleased that you knock on their door - even when knocking doors for a political party I have met little hostility or rudeness.

If they are busy - TV, getting tea, on the phone, putting kids to bed - go armed with a little leflet giving times of service and the very good one available free from MPH, then leave. We are not there to make a nuisance.

Some people will want to talk, others to listen, many will say thanks very much and make it clear that you should move on. It doesn't take long to recognise the signs.

Real gold dust will come when someone says "I used to go to a Methodist Church when I was young" or "I was converted but was discouraged by X, Y or Z", or even "do you have a playgroup" - you'd be surprised how many of those there are around, They are your "near and dear", very quickly wanting to be welcomed home to the Church.

The mistake the JWs and the Mormons make is that they actually don't focus on the local fellowship. Some JWs called the other day and simply wanted to speak about the Bible and gave me a Watchtower. They didn't invite me into their fellowship. That would be the crucial difference from a Methodist doorstep call.

Will and Pam, you have really got me thinking, perhaps I need to get this theory put into practice sometime. There is nothing like a challenge. I'm sure we could get more people into our churches if we just went out onto the doorstep.

PamBG said...

It's all very interesting in light of a session we had at Synod yesterday. The session focussed on 'advertising'. A group of Christians with professional experience in advertising have done some serious research about 'getting the message across'.

One of their conclusions was that the model of 1) First believe in Christ, 2) Second explore faith 3) Third find a fellowship is completely backwards. They found that people will join a community first and learn about the gospel second. This is one reason that I've been sceptical about the idea of door-to-door evangelism. I'm a lot more comfortable with door-to-door invitations.

My only other problem is that with very small congregations who are already stretched to the limit of what they can do, I worry that there isn't much to invite people *to*.

David said...

You are obviously right about small congregations. They need to work out the possible and the impossible. It may be better to focuss on a hundred or so homes rather than thousands.

The advantage is that every person who accepts the invitation will, in due course, be able to share the workload - though avoid the temptation make them Junior Church Superintentdent on their first visit!

I suspect that "Door step evangelism" is a myth. Turning up at someone's home, unannounced, and expecting an instant conversion just won't happen 99.99% of the time (though keep open the possibility, God does move in some remarkable ways).

I think in 21st Century UK we are talking the long haul - from the few brief words you use to describe the advertising team at synod's view I suspect that they have got it right. Even the sophisticated Evangelism of the Billy Graham style works hard on friendship evangelism - very few of those who go forward are complete strangers to the Christians expwerience (though I am aware there are exceptions) most have been prayed for and accompanied by Christian friends to the meeting.

My problem with Methodism is a suspicion that whilst we welcome people into the fellowship, we then shy away from making the challenge that turns interest into commitment.

In my business life I freqently get enquiries about the services I offer and sometimes I meet potential clients. At some point however we have to move from conversation about what we could do, to collaboration about what we will do. The difference to me is simply the ability to issue an invoice, in a church setting it will mean a whole new way of looking at life, death, the world and our neighbours.

PamBG said...

I think in 21st Century UK we are talking the long haul.

I completely agree that we are in it for the long haul. I have to say that I must have totally misunderstood you. For these many months, I've thought that you saw 'being in it for the long haul' and 'trying to build relationships' as some kind of an excuse.

My problem with Methodism is a suspicion that whilst we welcome people into the fellowship, we then shy away from making the challenge that turns interest into commitment.

I don't think that sort of statement can be made accurately about an entire denomination. Having been 'sent out' of a very large congregation, I've seen what you speak of. Having been 'sent to' a number of small congregations, I don't think that people could 'hide' from the gospel for very long - any more than they could hide from eventually being asked to take a duty! But 'hiding' is often why people choose large congregations in the first place.

I have a good friend (Friend A) who lives in London and I overheard some ministers in my district talking about him yesterday; they know him as an acquaintance and said that he was not a person with a committed faith. Yet two weeks ago a mutual friend who has spent the last 7 years working with Friend A, referred to him as a person of faith who makes all his decisions after considered prayer. Perhaps we should only make judgements about people and about situations that we know well.

David said...

Congregations (and their Ministers) have to have the courage to accept people where they are. You are right that big congregations give people the room to "hide" (lovely word) - not all us can march down the central aisle proclaiming our faith. That is one of the best arguments for growing our Churches I have heard in a long time!

One example I can think of is in our Church when it was larger - we had an unwritten rule that if a mother arrived without a husband or partner we wouldn't pester her for an explanation. If she wanted to tell us, in her own time, we would know. If not, it wasn't any of our business. It was when that unwritten rule was breached that we realised how valuable it was.

I think all these situations demonstrate the value of a good pastoral system that used to be the hallmark of Methodism - yes Wesley had his dramatic conversiosn, but there was a lot of patient work that went on in the background in the "classes" and "bands".

I'm sorry that you overheard negative comments about your friend A. I absolutely love it when I find that I have neagtively misjudged a fellow Christian's commitment - it keeps me in my place and acts as a reminder that God works through all sorts of people, even those I don't like or agree with! Sometimes we should delight in our misconceptions that have been put right.

PamBG said...

Yes. I am 'in favour' of pastoral visiting which is why I put a system in place. I'm 'in favour' of small groups which is why we are trying to figure out how to get these in place. The on-going problem is trying to get people to participate and lead them.

I don't really know what else to say. I've been trying to get these things in place it's been frustrating and not always easy and I've tried to be patient and faithful and prayed and prayed and prayed. Contrary to the picture of ministers being autocrats who don't want to facilitate lay leadership, who don't want to do the things that will help their congregations grow and who don't believe in the Holy Spirit or prayer.

Olive Morgan said...

We are moving away from door-to-door canvassing to ecumenical street evangelism. We aim to ask people what they think of the local churches, ask them if they have any problems with which we can help or if they would like to pray with someone. The (black) New Testament Church of god, which is situated next door to the Library and opposite the supermarkets and parade of shops, will be open for cups of tea and for prayer support. It will be interesting to see how successful this is.

David said...

Pam prayer is obviously the key - some of my friends accuse me of being to ready to plough into a situation without enough prayer preparation. So prayer is a good start.If you want to do a door-to-door visitation I'd happily join you some time (though after the elections).

Olive has pointed to an alternative - street stalls or open days. One thing I notice when I am working on the front of the Church is the number of passers by who just start chatting. Just standing outside the church with leaflets and an invitation to go in for free tea or coffee (why not also offer a guided tour - you'd be surprised how many people have passed your church without ever having seen inside). Members sometimes feel more confident in those situations because they have the actual church building as a "back-up" and don't feel so exposed.

The other danger is that we expect too much too soon. When we started rebuilding our local labour Party I stood in outside the local supermarket for about a year before we began recruiting people - but we met a lot of passers by, some of whom had links from the past and rejoined. Not as drastic as turning up at Church each weekend but a pointer.

PamBG said...

I'm getting more enthusiastic about the idea of going door to door, but I'd need to think about how to go about it and what the approach would be. Olive's ideas about approaches are interesting.

The problem, I feel, is that I do keep getting 'big church solutions' or at least 'medium sized church solutions'. When I say that I don't have people to do things, I mean it. I don't mean I'm too shy to ask. I mean that I have about 10 people who are both able-bodied enough and willing to do things. Between them, they are maintaining the building on no money and running 2 youth groups for 50 children, a fellowship for the elderly, pastoral care for the housebound and a choir. Which I think is pretty darn good, really, when you think about it.

On a completely different note, my main computer died totally this morning and without warning and i'm working on a back-up system, so I'll probably not be posting too much for awhile.

Olive Morgan said...

Pam - The reason for planning our street evangelism -not stalls, David, just talking to people in the street - is because on our own we wouldn't be able to find enough volunteers. We also have a policy of 'never to do anything on our own that would be better done ecumenically'. Our church does not have many people walking past it, since it is in a residential suburb. The front of the church is on the very busy road from Reading to Oxford, so we use frequently changed LARGE banners to advertise events, services, etc. There is a bus stop outside our side entrance (on a side road), so we have a glas-fronted noticeboard there to tell people about all our activities.