30 November 2008

Naming the Name

I had the privilege of hearing the President of Methodist Conference, Stephen Poxon, speaking to individuals from our District the other day. You can find some of the points that he made in this post.

One of the points that captured my imagination was the idea of 'Naming the Name'. Stephen didn't elaborate a lot on what he meant by that - although it was clear that he meant 'not being afraid to speak the name of Jesus' - so the following reflections are my own views and not his. (In other words, if you don't like what this post is saying, blame me and not him!)

As I understood Stephen, he was saying two things: 1) That Christians (and Methodists) have become shy about speaking the name of Jesus in their everyday conversations and that we have to regain the confidence to be able to do this; 2) That this doesn't mean that we engage in what he called 'bible-bashing' or constantly trying to cajole unwilling listeners to become Christian converts.

How can we confidently speak the 'name of Jesus' in an authentic way without either being shy or overbearing? I think that probably we first need to start learning how to talk to other Christians about these things. I know that the more I learned to talk to other Christians about my faith and God's working in my life, the easier it became to talk to non-Christians. And there really is only one solution for it: practice. I'm not sure it can just be done in Sunday services, either. I expect it requires more small-group involvement that encourages everyone to share what God is doing in their lives.

The other aspect, though, is that I think we also really have to get rid of the idea that
The Church makes converts rather than the Holy Spirit makes converts. If I'm brutally honest with myself, I know that I'm guilty of sometimes hoping this or that person who I've been speaking to will come to church.  And I think that whenever we have this 'side' when we Name the Name, we won't be sharing good news as much as we will be trying to 'market' Christianity.

Maybe the big question is:  do we really think we have good news?

A Morning with The President

On Friday, I had the opportunity to hear this year's President of Methodist Conference, Stephen Poxon as he spoke to a group of us from the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District.

Stephen brought to us ten points for discussion. These are observations from his travels around Methodism since July and were meant to provoke discussion, which they did. I list them here with the caution that I did not have the impression that these are meant to be 'hard and fast recommendations' but rather conversation starters.

1) Listening to different voices. Listening to voices outside the Church, listening to voices from different geographical areas. Listening to God.

2) Rediscovering the grace of a God who gives unconditionally. Let there be no 'side' to our giving - e.g. no expectation of conversion.

3) Time to renew our confidence in God's workings.

4) Celebrating that we are the world church in Britain. E.g. there are more 'ethnic minority' congregations in the London District than 'white British' congregations. This will have implications for theology and practice.

5) Time for the Church to engage with wider society.

6) Learn what it means to be a Christian in a multifaith culture. Neither apologetic for our Christianity nor aggressively proselytising of people of other faiths. 'Name the Name'

7) Learn a different way to be Ecumenical. 'Ecumenism' no longer means 'joining together in one Church'.

8) What are we doing about discipleship in our churches? Do we ask enough of our members by way of discipleship?

9) Leadership of churches, not management of churches. Sometimes 'leadership' requires a willingness to step into the chaos and take risks.

10) Call to a life of holiness - especially from the 'missing generations'. Stephen noted that pursuing a life of holiness is a 'Methodist distinctive'.

Sermon Blogging

Catching up on some sermon blogging again:

Sunday 16 November 2008 - No Buried Treasure

Sunday 23 November 2008 - Sharing our Gospel

I didn't have to preach today as I got to hear the new Bishop of Worcester,
John Inge preach at St. Peter's Church Birchen Coppice. when Foley Park Methodist Church joined with all the churches in the Kidderminster West Parish for a united 'Fifth Sunday Worship' service. Hopefully, more about the Bishop's sermon later in another blog post.

28 November 2008

A Different Sort of Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and I also attended a Thanksgiving Service yesterday but not the American harvest-festival sort of Thanksgiving Service. Rather, it was a service of thanksgiving for a beautiful, godly woman with whom I had the privilege of sharing together in our Christian journey. 

My friend, C, was a wonderful role model for many people, myself included, and sadly died at the age of 53. Her 'testimony' was given both by her husband and by the minister. They both noted that, in the face of her illness, she was content either to continue to live and serve the Lord or to die and to accept and the place that God had prepared to her.  She said that she was in a 'win / win' situation whatever happened.

C was also a Deputy Head Teacher of a Secondary School (in American parlance: Vice Principle of a High School).  The former Head Teacher with whom she worked told the story that, in her leaving speech last year, my friend left the school with some thoughts from John Wesley.  Although not strictly speaking a prayer, it has become the school prayer by virtue of the fact that it is a prayer that can be embraced by pupils of all faiths.
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
These are not just shallow words because C put them into action. Surely that must be the best testimony to a Christian life well lived?

26 November 2008

What I Did on my Silent, Ignatian Retreat

In speaking to people 'In Real Life' recently, I've realised that there is some curiosity as to what goes on during a silent retreat. and even some puzzlement as to why anyone should want to do such a thing.

So I thought I would post here a bit about 'What I did on my silent retreat'.

There are many different places around the country that give silent retreats but I went to
Loyola Hall Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Rainhill near Liverpool.

I arrived at about 4:00 pm on Monday and was greeted by three staff members and then shown to my room. I was told that Mass would be celebrated at 6:00 pm if I wanted to attend and that dinner would be at 6:45 pm. (None of the activities are compulsory) At dinner, I met the people in my group and, as we were still allowed to talk at this stage, we were able to chat and get to know each other.

At 8:00 pm we met with the two women who would be our 'Prayer Companions' and we were each assigned to a Prayer Companion as well as given a few housekeeping notices as to what would happen when. A few bible passages were suggested for us to choose to meditate upon and the silence began.

The basic pattern of my week was:

1) Meditate on a bible story. I tend to use either
Ignatian prayer or Lectio Divina mainly because these ways of 'praying the bible' work well for me.
2) Listen to God in prayer in order to hear and discern where he is leading me.
3) Share the above with my Prayer Companion and agree on the next bible passage, if any.
4) Spend the day in prayer and quiet and attend the daily Mass (service of Holy Communion)

So, did I spend 16 hours a day on my knees praying? No. Although I did spend several hours praying in either 1-hour or 30-minute chunks. Loyola House has quite a number of different rooms and chapels specifically designed for prayer and there are also extensive grounds for walking. I also walked around Rainhall as well as the Loyola grounds. A lot of my listening to God takes place whilst walking. Did I mention that one is not supposed to read during a silent retreat, either? The silence is actually a way of tuning in to your own mind as well as to what God might have to say.

Silent prayer is not supposed to be about contemplating your navel, either. Ignatian prayer is supposed to have what is termed 'an apostolic mission': i.e. the pray-er is meant to discern what God wants them to do as a Christian disciple.  

One last thing. I expect that this way of praying is not for everyone nor is a silent retreat for everyone. God made us all differently and we don't all have to pray in one manner any more than we all have to worship in one manner. One of the most important tenets of prayer is 'Pray as you can, not as you can't'.

21 November 2008

Views from a Retreat

Some Photos from my recent retreat:

Why Does a Methodist Need to be a(n) [Add Modifier]?

My good friend, Dave Warnock over at 42 has been disagreeing with another chap called 'Warnock' (no relation to Dave) who has been making all sorts of claims about 'What an Evangelical has to believe in order to be A Real Evangelical'.

I admit that I'm rather fascinated by the fact that Dave and I often seem to agree on most topics theological but Dave calls himself 'an Evangelical' and I don't. For my own part, I'm pretty sure that this comes from my own personal background and baggage.  The kind of theology that 'the other Warnock' is spouting is stuff that I grew up with and I don't really want to have any part of it.

Now, I'm perfectly capable of believing that there are lots of different 'sorts' of Evangelicals around and that they hold a wide range of different views.  In fact, I know this from my own background and upbringing.

My only question is - 'Why'? Why would a Methodist want to label themself as 'an Evangelical'? Or why would a Methodist want to label themself as a 'liberal' or a 'radical' or a 'whathave you'?

Aren't these labels that come from outside Methodism in order to set oneself over and against others who are not liberals or not Evangelicals or whatever?  The problem with all these labels, it seems to me, is that when someone says 'I'm a liberal', they seem to want to communicate 'I'm not an Evangelical'. And when they say 'I'm an Evangelical', they seem to want to communicate 'I'm not a liberal.'

I'm a Methodist because Methodism believes that God offers his love to everyone (i.e. it is 'catholic').  I'm a Methodist because Methodism believes that the Gospel is such good news, that we are just bursting to tell others (i.e. it is 'evangelical').  I'm a Methodist because Methodism has historically been inclusive (i.e. it is 'liberal').  I want to be all these things.  I want to be a Methodist.

I really like the subtitle of Brian D. McLaren's book,
A Generous Orthodoxy: 'Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian'.

Why would I want to be just a liberal?  Or just an evangelical?

With due apologies to Dave, who has a great sense of humour and who will, I'm sure, engage this post with the goodwill with which it is intended.

16 November 2008

Protesting for Gay Marriage

Yesterday in the US there were protests all around the country in favour of gay civil marriage. This is the in wake of the recent passage of propositions in several States that outlaw gay marriage, including California which had allowed gay people to marry in June of this year.  I think about 16,000 gay people married in California since then.  I'm not sure what their legal status will be now;  perhaps a reader can inform me?

Andrew Sullivan's blog captures a number of photos and comments from events around the country.

Meanwhile LutheranChik records:
Live Blogging on the 15th: Our Normal, Boring Gay Lives.

13 November 2008

Fit for Purpose

At our ministerial synod today, we were privileged to hear Martyn Atkins speak. Martyn is the new General Secretary of The Methodist Church in Great Britain. He is also a former President of Conference and former Principal of Cliff College. Apparently, this was the first time Martyn has given a presentation to a group since his Presidential year ended in July of this year.

Martyn asked the question whether the Methodist Church is currently 'fit for purpose' and he believes that we are. One of our main purposes is the purpose for which the Methodist Church was born: mission and evangelism.

During his Presidential year, Martyn asked Methodists all over the country what they think characterises the Methodist Church. They answered:
* Warm-hearted
* Inclusive and inviting
* Connected and committed
* Engaged and involved
* Often with the marginalized

Martyn asked the question: 'Do any of these things suggest a group of people who cannot cope with today's culture?' He thinks that all of the above values are ones that are in tune with society today.

But one of the things that Martyn wants to change is Methodism's 'narrative'. We've been telling ourselves for the last 30 years that we are a dying denomination and Martyn would like this to stop and he would like to change our narrative to a more visionary one.
However, he also believes that we will need some radical change.

For me, there was one interesting point that came out in our question-and-answer session. Martyn asked the question 'Why do I meet in my travels many people ministering in movements like New Frontiers, in 'fresh expressions of church' and even in the Baptist Union who came to faith in the Methodist Church but who didn't want to remain in Methodism?'

His answer was an interesting one: that most of our services are 'lead from the front' but that, generally speaking, people under 40 don't have a sense of belonging unless they are active participants in worship. He reckons that movements like New Frontiers, etc., are structured so as to use the talents of the people who join. Martyn also observed that many people over 50 will normally expect to be passive participants in church and that many of them will not want to participate in worship, unlike the under 40s.

He reckons that we can't try to force people who want non-participative worship into a participative model and that we need to have a 'multiplex' mode of operation if we are going to attract young people. He suggested that the circuit system could be used to accommodate different communities with divergent narratives. Lots of food for thought and a thoroughly exciting ministerial synod!

Edited on 14 November:  I feel that I may not have communicated very well about 'participative worship'.  I don't think Martyn meant 'OK, everyone, now at this point in the service, we are all going to....'.  I got the impression that he meant that, as new people join the church, they offer their own gifts for the use of the church and that these are gladly taken up and used.  Rather than, 'Well, we really don't need someone who plays the diggery-do' we say 'Thank you for offering to play the diggery-do to the glory of God, let's find a way to use it in our service.'

07 November 2008

Witnessing as Human 'SPAM'

Here is a fantastic article entitled How to Actually Talk to Atheists (If You're a Christian).

(Hat tip to
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian)

The article makes one really important observation, I think. I've never thought about traditional techniques of witnessing as 'human SPAM', but I think that's exactly what they are and why I object to them so much.  Joe, the author of the article, uses the more technical term of 'interruption marketing'.

He writes:
Again, try to put yourself outside of your own perspective and into the shoes of your intended audience. You're interrupting their time and space to bring them a message you feel is important. And sure, you have the right to choose your faith and the right to free speech, but as GK Chesteron said, to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it. And ultimately, "You need to hear this because I need to say it" is the ultimate in self-serving causes... And if you're serving yourself, you certainly aren't serving God.
Well worth a read.  And, by the way, Joe's suggestion to Christians for how to witness to him is 'Be the Prototype'.  

06 November 2008

Love has not been served

Yesterday's elections in the US were marred by the passing of Proposition 8 in California which changes that State's constitution to ban gay marriages. Since June of this year, California has been performing gay marriages and one wonders what the legal status will be of those who have been married since then?

Both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and the Roman Catholic Church funded a rigourous campaign in favour of the Proposition. Whatever you think about 'mixing religion and politics' this basically means that tax-exempt dollars have been thrown at a proposition
designed to make sure that gay couples don't have the same legal rights as straight couples. Wouldn't it be interesting if, in order to fund these campaigns, Churches had to ask specifically for donations earmarked for them? And wouldn't it be interesting if only money collected within a State were allowed to be spent on passing propositions designed to change State laws?

For those who doubt the power of Advertising and Public Relations the campaign in favour of Proposition 8 didn't mention
denying rights to gay people. The whole slant was 'Vote for Proposition 8 in order to protect marriage and family.'

The funny thing is that this Proposition wasn't actually about giving or even maintaining anyone's rights. It was about making sure that the same people who have been discriminated against in law continue to be discriminated against. 

Cecilia made a good point in her blog: How has love been served by the passing of Proposition 8? How as love been made to grow?

The 4-variable IQ Test

I wonder if this is why I sometimes feel like I don't have anything to say and why I think a 5-minute sermon is often better than a 20-minute sermon?


Your result for The 4-Variable IQ Test...


30% interpersonal, 25% visual, 20% verbal and 25% mathematical!

Your strongest type of intelligence is Interpersonal. You thrive when thinking about people, social situations, and human interaction. That's very touching. You are very likely to be empathetic, sympathetic, and in general, less pathetic, than most other test takers.

Your specific scores follow. On any axis, a score above 25% means you use that kind of thinking more than average, and a score below 25% means you use it less. It says nothing about cognitive skills, just your interest.

Your brain is roughly:

30% Interpersonal




Matching Summary: Each of us has different tastes. Still, I offer the following advice to the world.

1. Don't date someone if your interpersonal percentages differ by more than 20%.

2. Don't be friends with someone if your verbal percentages differ by more than 25%.

3. Don't have sex with someone if their math percentage is over 50%.

Take The 4-Variable IQ Test at HelloQuizzy

05 November 2008

President-Elect Obama

I'm very pleased at the result of the election, but I have no wise words.  I think Barak Obama has a very, very tough job ahead of him and he and the leadership of the United States will continue to be in my prayers.

I don't think I was surprised at the outcome of the election - the Republicans had a very, very tough environment in which to campaign and the choice of Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate was spectacularly ill-conceived given the legacy that the party had to overcome.

What has surprised me, though, is the reaction of the rest of the world.  It's interesting, isn't it, that Kenya has declared a national holiday?  And Desmond Tutu comparing Obama's election to that of Nelson Mandela? 

It does feel like an historic moment.  My own personal hope - and one I pray sometimes out loud in worship services - is that America will now understand the effect that she has, willingly or unwillingly on the rest of the world.  It's one thing to say 'The US government should serve the needs of US citizens first and not worry about others' but the fact is that when America is self-serving, it's the rest of the world that ends up beaten, bruised and poorer.

God bless America and pray for Obama's safety and for wise leadership.