Thursday, 30 April 2009

st mellitus college - new courses

Things have been very hectic at St Mellitus College (SMC) over the last eighteen months but the up side is that exciting new developments are beginning to come to fruition.

BEGINNING THEOLOGY is for anyone in the London area who wants to develop a greater understanding of their Christian faith, but it is particularly aimed at those who wish to use it as a basis for developing in Christian ministry and/or undertaking theological study at diploma or degree level. The course has been designed as an Access Course for diploma and degree level courses run by St Mellitus College. Students for whom English is not their first language will be able to take advantage of modules on English for Theological Purposes, delivered by specialist teachers. For further information please contact Revd Eileeen Lockhart .

COURSES IN THEOLOGY are now being offered at the St Paul's Theological Centre (SPTC). Building on the ministerial training programmes already offerd by SMC at North Thames Ministerial Training Course (NTMTC) and SPTC, this programme is open to independent students who can study at certificate, diploma and degree level. Students can opt for accredited or non accredited courses. Full details about the courses can be found here.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Ryan Giggs - P.F.A. Player of the Year

Last night Ryan Giggs O.B.E. received his latest honour by being voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals. It is fitting recognition of the contribution Ryan has made not only to Manchester United and Wales over many years but is also appropriate for someone who is regarded as that rare commodity 'the model professional'.

Here are some of Ryan's achievements in the game so far:
799 Appearances for Manchester Utd
10 Premier League Titles
4 F.A. Cups
3 League Cups
2 EUFA Champions League Titles
1 FIFA Club World Cup
1 EUFA Super Cup
1 Intercontinental Cup
148 Goals
64 Caps for Wales
12 International Goals

Favourite moment: Man Utd v Arsenal F.A. Cup semi-final replay 1999. Giggs intercepts the ball on the half way line, beats most of the Arsenal mid-field and defence, before smashing the ball into the net to win the game for Utd as part of the glorious treble winning season. Giggs then stripped off his shirt and ran down the line waving it above his head to the adulation of the supporters.

Favourite quote: When asked by a reporter why he decided to play for Wales Giggs replied 'Because I'm Welsh.'

Saturday, 25 April 2009

good God, bad God?

Conference on apologetics and theodicy at St Paul's Hammersmith on 9th May. Speakers include Graham Tomlin and Mike Lloyd two of my colleagues at St. Mellitus College and Alister McGrath who is a visiting professor of the college.

Friday, 24 April 2009

worship star

As a former drummer in various Christain bands I found this just a little too close for comfort.

h/t Pete Broadbent

Thursday, 23 April 2009

sign of the times (4)

Flag of St George flying over Chelmsford Cathedral

It's St George's Day and the blogs, tweets, newspapers, politicians, clergy etc. have all been having their say. Some have been calling for a national holiday, others want flags flying and bells ringing and some want a discussion of what it is to be English. Personally, I'm not too bothered about celebrating St. George's Day but if others want to do it then O.K., though I wouldn't mind another day off.

Here's a brief Twitter conversation I had with Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, earlier today.

pete173 It's not necessary to being English to have any kind of day to celebrate it. St Patrick's is different, cos that's how the Irish do it.

philritchie @pete173 The Q is what is necessary to being English?

pete173 @philritchie Nothing much is necessary to being English - just a certain sense of understated superiority and a joy in being different...

I realise that for others this is a more serious matter: The Bishop of Rochester has called for St George's Day celebrations. The Archbishop of York has championed the potential for St George's Day to be a unifying public holiday and The Ugley Vicar has copied out his old school song, as he argues that citizenship is principally about ownership of a story.

What I do take very seriously is the obnoxious work of the British National Party. Ministering in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham for seven years, I had first hand experience of the corrosive and dangerous work of the BNP as they established a foothold and then expanded their work in the borough. My heart would sink each time I heard someone begin a statement with the words 'I'm not racist but...'. I keep in touch with the area and have colleagues and friends living and working there. I know that the fight against the racists and extremists is challenging and I am full of admiration for their determined stand on this issue. Many of the churches, with the rich diversity of their congregations, are modelling something very important to the wider community. Church leaders are taking a public role in standing against the BNP and taking the flack for doing so.

The BNP has chosen to run a particularly offensive campaign in the run up to the European Elections in June. Their posters carry a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross and quote part of a verse from John's Gospel (John 15:20) in which Jesus says: "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you". So they use a poster featuring the words of someone they would not allow to be a member of their party because he would not meet their ethnic grouping membership criteria. Jesus was not an 'Indigenous Caucasian'. If you want to help oppose the BNP then check out Hope Not Hate.

A final episcopal Tweet on St George's Day from Bishop Alan Wilson :

@alantlwilson Happy St George's Day. Wrap self in flag, drink 8 tins of Carling, pop down station & vomit over ticket collector? Too early in morning...

The only other St. George's Day celebration I saw in Chelmsford today.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

emmaus - rowan williams

First the sun, then the shadow
so that I screw my eyes to see
my friend's face, and its lines seem
different, and the voice shakes in the hot air.
Out of the rising white dust, feet
tread a shape, and, out of step,
another flat sound, stamped between voice
and ears, dancing in the gaps, and dodging
where words and feet do not fall.
When our eyes meet, I see bewilderment
(like mine); we cannot learn
the rhythm we are asked to walk,
and what we hear is not each other.
Between us is filled up, the silence
is filled up, lines of our hands
and faces pushed into shape
by the solid stranger, and the static
breaks up our waves like dropped stones.
So it is necessary to carry him with us,
cupped between hands and profiles,
so that the table is filled up, and as
the food is set and the first wine splashes,
a solid thumb and finger tear the thunderous
grey bread. Now it is cold, even indoors,
and the light falls sharply on our bones;
the rain breathes out hard, dust blackens,
and our released voices shine with water.

© Rowan Douglas Williams 2004

h/t Peter Carey

Friday, 17 April 2009

Thursday, 16 April 2009

hit the ground kneeling (4)

One of the most striking features of the banking crisis of the last year and more is the fact that so many organisations lost sight of their primary purpose. Building Societies demutualised, chased the high dividends of risky investments and made disastrous acquisitions. They forgot that they were established as mutual societies offering savings and loans to the local communities where they were located. Sadly those same local communities have borne a great deal of the pain of failure in massive redundancies. These companies were betrayed by the hubris of the leaders entrusted with their management who lost focus on what the businesses were all about.

Stating The Obvious is the fourth chapter in Stephen Cottrell’s book Hit the Ground Kneeling:
It is not necessarily the dazzling brilliant insight that marks out the best leaders, but the ability to do the very thing that so many people wearily tell us we mustn’t do: state the obvious.

It is the task of leadership to articulate vision and endlessly recall the community or organisation to its fundamental purpose and values.

A simple test for a Parochial Church Council is to ask it to draw up a mission statement. That sounds like the sort of management speak that Cottrell seeks to debunk, but if a church can’t have a mission statement then we really are in trouble. What is the vision for which the local church exists and how do the activities and practices of the church serve that vision? Does the way the worship space is laid out communicate what the church is about? Does the budget reflect the church’s priorities and values? Would an outsider encountering the church, both building and people, know what the purpose of the church is? The role of the Christian leader is to raise these questions and to work with the church in discovering or recovering its vision. And to work with others in identifying the appropriate ways forwards in order to realise that vision.

Values are also crucial for Cottrell and again the leader has a key role to play:
These values, which define and shape how we do our business, are principles that the community needs to discern together, so that they are truly a shared manifesto. The job of the leader is to articulate and embody both the vision and the values so that they are transparent in the life that person leads and are also the foundation of everything else that happens.

There is a great deal of cynicism about those serving as leaders in public life. People are rightly suspicious of those who purport to espouse certain values and ideals but who seem to be prepared to employ some pretty disreputable methods in order to achieve their goals. I happen to think that most of our leaders serving in public office and those seeking public office genuinely do so for the right reasons, but sometimes their actions contradict their lofty ideals; they don’t embody their values and therefore their statements are in danger of coming across as mere propaganda.

Lesslie Newbigin in his brilliant book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society warns of the problem the church faces in people being suspicious of anyone speaking public truth; people treating what is said as little more than propaganda. We must ensure that the values that we declare and live out really do accord with our vision. Newbigin calls this The Congregation as the Hermeneutic of the Gospel:
I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

hillsborough remembered

I had a very brief foretaste of the Hillsborough disaster at a football match in January 1988. I went with some friends, including my now wife Kate, to watch QPR at Loftus Road and we bought tickets at the ground on the day. Having gone into one end of the stadium we found ourselves in the midst of a large crowd, crushed by too many fans entering from the back of the stand. For a short while I was completely trapped with arms by my side, unable to control my movements and being pushed forward and then back. The pressure increased and I became more anxious, trying to stay on my feet, looking round to check my friends were O.K. and wondering how many more were going to try and enter the stand. Fortunately, there was only a low wall bordering the playing surface and eventually people began to make their way onto the pitch, made of Astroturf in those days, and the game was briefly suspended. Supporters were escorted to other parts of the stadium and also sat on the ground in front of the walls and then the match continued.

I can’t remember who QPR were playing that day or what the result was but I can still remember the rising sense of helplessness and panic and the relief when the problem was sorted out. A minor incident experienced by football fans across the country week after week over many years. But what if there had been barriers protecting the pitch and hemming in the fans? Well we discovered what might happen a year later at Hillsborough. I was playing in a hockey tournament that day and wandered in to the bar between matches to catch up on the FA Cup semi finals only to be confronted by the awful pictures which have since become so familiar. The full horror of the tragedy was still unfolding later in the afternoon as commentators tried to make sense of what they were witnessing and then gradually the rising count of dead and critically injured began to emerge.

The BBC commentator Alan Green gave a very powerful personal account of the Hillsborough tragedy on Radio 4 this morning. The sense of frustration and anger at what took place that day is still clearly discernable in the tone and content of what he said. Green can sometimes go over the top, and isn’t the most popular guest at Old Trafford, but I thought his piece struck the right balance on the Today programme.

There are several aspects of the tragedy that remain as running sores for the people of Liverpool. The first is that the full truth of what happened at Hillsborough has never been told and suspicions and accusations remain about who was responsible; the police, football authorities, Sheffield Wednesday and football supporters have all been blamed. The second is the scandalous way in which the reputations of the dead, the injured and other fans were trashed in briefings from the police that were then published by the press. +Nick Baines, Scouser and Liverpool fan, gives an insight into the burning resentment still felt by many in the city at the way The Sun in particular reported events. These slurs are raked up every now and again, Boris Johnson now Mayor of London is one such offender, and unfortunately they will persist until a full authoritative account is given of that terrible day.

A lot is said and written about the animosity between Manchester Utd and Liverpool fans but this Man Utd fan would like to take the opportunity afforded by the commemorations today to remember those who were killed, injured and bereaved.

Monday, 13 April 2009

easter 2009

Very enjoyable Easter weekend with family in Devon. Visited Killerton on Good Friday and the gardens are beginning to come into their own though the snow damage to some plants was evident.

Saturday on the edge of Dartmoor and a lovely walk in Lydford Gorge taking in the White Lady waterfall and the Devil's Cauldron.

Easter Day and glorious sunshine. Kristin and Daniel rode their scooters to Upottery church for the service. They won the Easter garden competition having created a minimalist garden with a desert motif.

Easter Monday and off to Branscombe for another day of sunshine. Down to the beach for the traditional spot of stone throwing at the waves before the first Bar-B-Q of the year at Gull beach cabin courtesy of Clare and Dave. Pleased to see that the salvage of the wreck of the Napoli is almost complete and the bay is nearly restored to its former glory. The owners of the Napoli have given the village one of the anchors from the ship (13500kg), pity it didn't do a better job when on the ship.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

spring harvest (3)

Final day of Spring Harvest and a chance to reflect on how things have gone this year. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post the Bible Reading each morning has had a different feel to past years. There is a focus on general themes arising from the passages rather than a close reading, verse by verse, exposition. The passages this year have been taken from Acts covering Pentecost (Acts 2), the fall out from the encounter between Peter and Cornelius (Acts 11), the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and Paul in Athens (Acts 17). The overall theme has been the Holy Spirit leading the church to push boundaries, creating discomfort and leading to growth. The speaker, Dave Steell, has been very engaging with plenty of insight and challenge, though the stories and illustrations have tended to overshadow the expository content. I do wonder whether the readings have shifted too far away from exposition to the point that they aren’t actually Bible readings and more like the evening Big Top talks or lengthy sermons. This is a shame as there is room for both and some of the Bible readings in the past have been excellent expositions while leaving space and time for application and reflection. I still remember, for example, Jeff Lucas on Jonah from several years ago.

The most memorable and challenging moment in the Bible readings was an audio visual presentation; a series of slides featuring a diverse group of people to the soundtrack of Paul Field’s God of the Moon and Stars. The pictures included young neo Nazis, prostitutes, drug addicts, gay couples, aids sufferers, lepers and others and we were invited to consider who we empathised with and who we felt evoked our prejudices. The speaker recounted an encounter with a woman who lived next to his church. When he asked why she didn’t come along to the church she replied ‘You hate people like me’. The woman was living with another woman and her perception of the church was of a community that hated her and people like her. He concluded his point by commenting that when he faced God it was unlikely God would say to him ‘Dave, you just weren’t judgemental enough’.

The other sessions I’ve been attending have been in the Theorist Learning Zone led by +Nick Baines and Viv Thomas. For me this is where the real meat of the teaching on the week has been found and this year has been some of the best I have experienced on Spring Harvest; in depth Biblical and theological examination of the theme of the day, drawing on a wide range of theologians with acute and at times acerbic personal observations and reflections (the two speakers came from Liverpool so Scouse humour was very much in evidence). On day 3 for example, which looked at the messiness of the spiritual life, the material covered Plato, Augustine, Luther, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Buber, Niemoller, Bonhoeffer amongst others. There have been plenty of memorable points to reflect upon. I tend to jot down striking phrases and comments to take away and mull over and these included:

  • God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope. Moltmann.
  • We are called to a confident humility.
  • Instant gratification has affected our view of spirituality – we have forgotten to learn how to wait. We want strawberries all year round rather than in the right season.
  • We need to cultivate a Water Buffalo theology – drawn from Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God.
  • The Spirit often leads us into dry places to grow. In the desert we have to slow down.
  • There is a difference between whining and lament.
  • We are made to oscillate between solitude and community.
  • We are called to create space in which people can find that they have been found by God.

If I have a criticism of these sessions it is this. The session on day 4 finished with listening to the words of Bruce Cockburn’s Lord of the Starfields. It might have been better to listen to the song perhaps with some appropriate visuals rather than have the words read out but I guess that isn’t very theorist. The problem with the theorist sessions was there was a huge amount of great input crammed in with little space to reflect and tease out the significance and implications, for example, there was hardly any time for questions and I think this was a mistake. Any learning event needs to incorporate a variety of learning styles even if one is the preferred style. I wonder whether this reflects a more general misunderstanding of the principles behind Honey and Mumford’s learning styles approach and it will be interesting to see how Spring Harvest develops this in future. But this is a minor quibble.

So that’s some initial reflections on Spring Harvest 2009. Overall an enjoyable five days with family and friends; plenty of space and time to relax over meals and a glass or three of wine. Lots to be challenged by, think about, pray over and follow up with further reading and study.

Quote of the week: The glory of God is a human being fully alive. Irenaeus.

Monday, 6 April 2009

spring harvest (2)

First full day and straight into the Bible Reading series on Acts led by Dave Steell. There can be a danger that those leading these sessions try and cram too much in by seeking to do a close reading of every verse in the passage. Dave went for a more broad brush overview exploring some themes about the work of the Holy Spirit in the growth of the early church. There was a good flow to his talk and it was helpfully illustrated, though I would have preferred more variety in the form of presentation.

One of the things I will be observing is how the learning preferences agenda plays out in sessions like the Bible reading. In adult education circles we talk about espoused theory and theory in practice and my concern is that, though there may be a great deal of talk about learning styles etc., in practice many speakers and workshop leaders revert to their own preferred style.

After a quick cup of truly revolting coffee courtesy of Burger King (they’ve stopped serving chocolate because of lack of demand which I find hard to believe) I headed off to the first Learning Zone session. I’ve opted for the Theorist zone led by +Nick Baines and Viv Thomas. This was high quality stuff with input drawing on Miroslav Volf and Walter Brueggemann as well as the speakers’ own teaching, observations and reflections. I particularly found Volf’s exploration of the stages of an embrace, applied to Jesus’ choosing and naming of the disciples, opened up familiar material in a fresh way:

  • Open arms – invitation
  • Waiting – vulnerability
  • Closing arms – hospitality
  • Opening arms – release to go

There were also some interesting reflections on how the disciple learns and grows from Nick Baines covering:

  • Openness and curiosity
  • Honesty and simplicity
  • Questioning and imagining
  • Living with provisionality
  • Regrind the lens behind the eye – to begin seeing as God sees

Went for a swim in the afternoon with the kids. My son persuaded me to take him on the Master Blaster (a raft ride version of a roller coaster). This is the first year he is tall enough so I have many more of these rides to come – deep joy! Recovered in the sport’s bar with a pint and watched Man Utd v Aston Villa; another roller coaster ride. Cracking match with a fantastic finish. Every time I decide Ronaldo doesn’t look interested and perhaps it’s time for him to be sold, he pops up and scores a crucial goal. But the real star was a 17 year old Italian called Macheda who came on as a sub and scored a sumptuous winner in the second minute of injury time.

Evening session, which I watched from the chalet while looking after the kids who were too tired for their group, included a challenging talk by +Mike Hill entitled ‘You need to get out more’ based on Matthew 10:1-33. The focus of the talk was on the fears which prevent us living as disciples with an invitation to ‘change gear to overcome fear.’ It is always difficult to gauge the impact of these talks when watched on T.V. rather than live in the Big Tent but the general feedback I’ve picked up was very positive.

Quote of the day came not from a bishop or Spring Harvest ‘mega speaker’ but from my children.
The past is history. The future is a mystery. Today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the present.
Source: Kung Fu Panda.

Not sure how many more blogs I’ll be posting from Spring Harvest because the WiFi connection rates are extortionate but I hope to put some more material up by the end of the week. Also suffering from Twitter withdrawal symptoms!

spring harvest (1)

The Apprentice is the theme of this year’s Spring Harvest. I’ve been detecting a gradual change in this annual Christian holiday/festival/conference and this year is no exception. The usual suspects are on parade in the speaking line up, the Jeff Lucas groupies will not be disappointed, but there are more Anglicans, not least from the house of bishops. Pete Broadbent (Wilsden) has been a regular for many years, though he is up at Skegness and I am in Minehead, and this year Nick Baines (Croydon) and Mike Hill (Bristol) are also on the team.

Another significant change is that the adult programme has been redesigned around the classic Honey and Mumford adult learning styles. In the past people selected groups on the basis of which radio station they listened to or type of newspaper they read (they never did offer the Daily Sport), however, this year people are encouraged to attend groups based on their preferred learning style. A learning style questionnaire was handed out on the first evening to help people determine which group they might feel most comfortable in. I use these questionnaires all the time in my work and know I am an activist/pragmatist. Rather than focus on my preferences, I try to go for things which take me outside my comfort zone and this has often proved the most fruitful area of growth. I will be interested to see how this plays out over the next few days, but I suspect that many people will select their learning zone according to the speaker rather than their learning style. So I’ll be heading off to the Theorist zone and practice sitting on my hands and keeping my gob shut.

The event kicked off on the first night with the Big Top celebration and the speaker was the aforementioned Jeff Lucas. Jeff is always entertaining and tells a good story, though I felt that his talk was a bit light on content. Focussing on the calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13) he picked up on the theme of The Apprentice and his main point was ‘You’re hired’ reflecting on our call to discipleship. I welcomed his comment that being a disciple is not about inviting Jesus into your life but answering his call to ‘follow me’. This is a valuable corrective to the occasional self-centred feel of some of the worship where there can be a danger of singing ‘It’s all about me, Jesus’ rather than ‘It’s all about you, Jesus’.

The kids have their own activities programme (though I'm not sure calling it Firestarters was a good idea) and now they are a bit older they can go to the evening sessions which creates a bit more space for Kate and I to attend other evening events. I have to confess that my participation in evening sessions is determined by the football calendar so Sunday night and Tuesday night are already sorted.

Friday, 3 April 2009

hit the ground kneeling (3)

Letting the grass grow under your feet. Actually I’m pretty good at this as my wife will testify. Around this time of year the patch of grass I dare to call a lawn is in need of a cut and I find all sorts of excuses to avoid the trip to the garage to dust down the mower. It’s a sit down job and should be a pleasure but the battery needs charging, the tyres pumped up yada, yada, yada…

Letting the grass grow under your feet is the third chapter of +Stephen Cottrell’s book, Hit The Ground Kneeling, in which he calls for the Christian leader to create space and time for prayer and what he calls 'reconnecting with the vision'. This is done in daily prayer and in a regular pattern of days set aside for the purpose. It doesn’t need saying that this should be a priority, a discipline and commitment, but it does need saying because I find it so hard to do. This is not about doing nothing, although the phrase may give that impression; it demands an effort of will to be still and to rest in God’s presence and it reaps dividends.

'The wonderful thing about this sort of prayer is that it is gloriously affirming; I rest in the presence of God and know myself to be a precious part of God’s creation, but not its centre.'

For +Stephen a monthly away day can be a way of getting back in touch with first love. Reflecting on John’s words to the church in Ephesus Revelation 2:2-5 he comments:

'Whenever I read these words I feel as if they are addressed to me. For I know that I do work hard. I know that I endure and sometimes I even do it patiently! But the real complaint is this: “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” It is returning to this love that will be the seedbed for renewal and change in the future. And all I need to do is find time to remember.'

The secret I’m discovering, or I should say recovering, at the heart of this little book is not inaction, but discerning and prioritising the right sort of action. In order to exercise any kind of fruitful, transforming and enabling leadership, the first foundation stone we lay must be space and time.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

sign of the times (3)

Credit Crunch Lunch: I spotted this sign in Chelmsford and I've seen similar signs going up all over the place as pubs and restaurants compete for business in these straitened times. Even before the current economic downturn over 25 pubs a month were closing and more than 100 restaurants closed in January 2009 according to an article in The Independent.

The sign above was in the window of a pub I have known since I was a teenager. In those days the pub was called The Golden Fleece but these days it is simply called The Fleece (below); now that's a real sign of the times.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

sign of the times (2)

I came across this interesting installation in the foyer of Chelmsford Library yesterday. Don’t know why it is there or who created it so I Googled the phrase ‘leave your anxiety at the door’. 8 out of the 10 listings on the first page were about separation anxiety in dogs! Now that really is a sign of the times.

A colleague of mine attended the Mind, Body, Soul exhibition in Essex at the weekend and one of the most advertised sessions was for animal healing. The blurb invited people to bring their pets along and my favourite phrase in the programme was this:

‘On this occasion due to health and safety reasons please leave horses/farm animals at home. We will be able to offer distant healing instead.’

On a more serious note I am told the place was packed out and in the past I guess it’s the sort of event that Christians would have campaigned against rather than attended. However, Christians ran a stand at the exhibition as an opportunity to speak about Jesus using something called The Jesus Deck. The deck of cards is made up of four suits corresponding to the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. People are invited to explore their reaction to the cards depicting events from the life of Christ and to engage with the Good News of Jesus. The cards look like tarot cards (originally people used tarot cards and the Jesus Deck was developed as an alternative), however, it is made very clear to those participating that it is in no way connected with fortune telling but is about the life of Jesus. The popularity of the stand meant that an appointments system had to be put in place.

The Jesus Deck stand was organised by Journey into Wholeness and supported by churches from the local area.

Anyway, to return to the theme of anxiety, Google may not have been much help but Jesus said:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:28f