Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Conversation with Big Bible.

Here’s the audio of an interview I did this evening with Bex Lewis from Big Bible. Bex was interested to find out what we are up to in the Diocese of Chelmsford to celebrate Bible Year 2011. As well as talking about the wider initiative I spoke about Beer and Bible and #FavBible. Great to meet Bex in person as I’ve been admiring the work of Big Bible and Bible Fresh over recent months.


Philip beer and bible
Just to be clear, there is a Bible on my Blackberry (NRSV).


Kate was listening to one of her birthday presents the other day, The Proclaimers The Best Of... One of the tracks is called I want to be a Christian, written by Sullivan Pugh. Craig, one of the Scottish balladeers, comments in the track notes:proclaimers
We always loved it… My dad was Church of Scotland when he  was a kid and we had turned against it and when I said ‘I don’t want to go’ he said ‘Just don’t go’. It wasn’t a non-believing house but he was deeply cynical about the church and that’s how we grew up… but the idea of seeking to discover spiritual truth would certainly always be part of what I’ve done. The song says ‘I want to be a Christian’ – it doesn’t say ‘I can totally believe in it’, it says ‘I would like to totally believe in it’.
My young son listened to the song and when he heard the brothers singing ‘Lord I want to be a Christian’ for about the fifth time, he shouted out in frustration ‘Then become one!’. I think he’s on to something. Plenty of people say they want to be a Christian or wish they had the faith to believe, but in the end the only way to discover faith is by beginning to live in the story. As the psalmist says: Taste and see that God is good. Psalm 34:8.

I couldn’t find The Proclaimer’s version of the song on Youtube, which doesn’t really surprise me. However, you can find it on Spotify. Failing that you’ll just have to go out and buy the album, it’s worth it.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A bishop’s vision

Last Saturday’s Installation of +Stephen Cottrell as Bishop of Chelmsford was a wonderful celebration. I managed to fire off a few tweets and pictures during the occasion but as I was sitting directly behind the Bishop of London I decided to go easy on the social media activities.
The service included drumming, dancing, traditional hymns, singing led by an African group, anthems, as well the required legal bits and pieces. +Stephen was welcomed by political and civic representatives, bishops from our partner dioceses in Kenya and Sweden and other ecumenical brothers and sisters in Christ.

The heart of the service, however, was prayer and the ministry of the Word. +Stephen’s theme was 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:
‘When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom; for I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’
The sermon was recorded and I will include the audio once it is available, but for the moment here is the transcript:
Since the Prime Minister’s invitation to be the tenth Bishop of Chelmsford landed on my mat - the last PM (correct spelling) (laughter); and since I went to see the Queen to swear a not-very-ecumenical oath, and then chat about Essex . . . And I can offer, if the media are listening, the following exclusive:

‘Her Majesty likes, and eats, jam from Tiptree, but is not so keen on oysters from Colchester.’ (Laughter)

Though, for the record, I like both (laughter) and I am fishing for an invitation to the big oyster festival I missed this time round!
And since I learned that I do not have to change my name by deed poll - for surely I am the first Bishop of Chelmsford for 48 years who has not taken as his text Luke Chapter1 and verse 63 which, in case you don’t know, is ‘His name shall be John.’ And they were all amazed. (Laughter) . . .

Well, brothers and sisters, the amazement this time round is that you have got a Stephen and since it has been quite a long way to get here, from the arrival of that letter and all the other highfalutin shenanigans right through to this grand carry-on in the Cathedral . . . And, by the way, we clapped the dancers and clapped the singers – I think it’s about time we clapped the Choir! (Applause).

This is all becoming rather un-Anglican!

But since all this has transpired, people keep saying to me, with a mix of concern and consternation in their voice, sucking through their teeth like a builder surveying his predecessor’s work, ‘Chelmsford, eh?’ (Laughter) The good people of Berkshire – and I’m glad some of you are here – have been saying, ‘We thought you did quite a good job as Bishop of Reading. What have you done?’ (Laughter) So let me tell the good people of Essex that I’m glad to be home in God’s own county! (Applause).

People kept saying, ‘It won’t be easy’; ‘I don’t envy you that one,’ (this is the other bishops, of course); ‘How large! How difficult! How complicated!’ As though being a bishop in general and of Chelmsford in particular was like being appointed Captain of the Titanic’; or perhaps you think of the Church of England as the Marie Celeste!

Well, let me start as I mean to go on. I start here and now by saying to you, let us banish all talk of difficulty, of  complication. Yes, of course there will be challenges. Nothing of lasting value ever comes without a cost. But, brothers and sisters, what could be more joyful, more delightful – what greater honour can there be, than to follow in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ and be called to leadership and ministry in God’s Church; to be a custodian and a herald of the precious treasure of the Gospel?

Brothers and sisters, we have been sent with a message of Good News for the world! Therefore how can we be anything but joyful, animated, and eager to share with others all the goodness that we have received? God has called us to build the kingdom of his love where a new humanity is revealed and made available. And, if I can borrow for a moment the phrase of the hour, the ‘Big Society’ was always our idea first! (Laughter)

It is this vision of God’s new community and God’s reordering of the world that brought me into the Church in the first place; and it is this vision that sustains me. And it is this - and this only - that we will joyfully seek and celebrate together while I am your bishop.

Over thirty years ago, when I first started wondering whether God might be calling me to serve as a priest in his Church, I went to see Father Ernie Stroud, sometime Archdeacon of Colchester, now retired – and who I hope may be somewhere in the congregation . . .
He was the vicar of the church of St Margaret’s, Leigh on Sea, where my family and I discovered faith. We talked about the joys and demands of Christian ministry and sent me away with two biographies to read: the Life of Basil Jellicoe, the great slum priest and evangelist, and a life of William Temple, that great Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War. And both these books inspired me and have shaped my thinking about Christian ministry and faith.

I did indeed seek ordination (you will be relieved to hear that) and I thought it was Basil Jellicoe I would try to emulate. As an ordinand in this diocese, I was offered a parish in Loughton. And, with apologies to the good people of Loughton, I never took up the offer - rather pompously turning it down because it was not quite the slum that I was looking for! (Laughter). In fact I’ve already received a letter from the churchwarden of Loughton, wishing me all the best and praying for me, saying ‘I think I’m right in saying you were the person who looked at this parish.’ Goodness me, the churchwardens of the Church of England have very long memories!

And you will have discovered from reading the notes in the service book, while you’ve been waiting rather a long time for this service to commence, that I have travelled all around the country following a call ‘to make Christ known’.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my wife Rebecca and my three boys; because it’s not easy to be married to a bishop and have a bishop as your dad. And we have moved far too often and it’s hard for them. And I want them to know that I am here and we are here because we believe that God is calling us and that He has a purpose for our lives.

So, to my great surprise, the Church – and I hope God – has called me to be a bishop; first in Reading (and I give thanks for six very happy and fruitful years in the diocese of Oxford) and now Chelmsford, East London and Essex; returning to the places where I grew up and that I still think of as home.

And so, more and more, I find it’s William Temple that I turn to for inspiration; not just vision of a Christian society of justice and equity – though we need that vision today – but the way that he approached ministry. When he was enthroned as bishop of Manchester, this is what he said in his inaugural sermon:

‘I come as a learner with no policies; no plans already forged to follow. But I come with one burning desire. It is that, in all our activities sacred and secular, and social, we should fix our eyes on Jesus, making him our only guide.’

He went on:
‘Pray for me that I may never let go the unseen hand of the Lord Jesus and may live in daily fellowship with him.’

Brothers and sisters, I can do no better today than to make these words my own. Likewise, I make my own the words of the apostle Paul that is my text for today: that ‘I may know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’

You see, we do face many challenges. There is dis-ease and conflict in our world. We have forgotten how to live in peace with our neighbours; often we don’t even know our neighbour’s name. We abuse and exploit the natural resources of our planet and stress the equilibrium of its life. We spend vast sums of money on ever more sophisticated ways of killing each other: jealousy, fear and greed invade us, overwhelm us and, in so many cases, poison the well-springs of our hearts.

Meanwhile, thousands of people grow up knowing little or nothing about Christian faith and have no contact with the Christian Church. The values and disciplines of the Christian Church which we share as individuals and communities are left as personal choice where there is supposed to be public truth: Good News for a needy world.

You see, the Gospel is medicine. It meets us at our deepest need. It calms fears, forgives sins, wipes tears away. And this Gospel is not a set of rules or regulations; not a manifesto or a programme. It is a Person.

So fix your eyes upon Jesus. Know him in his death and resurrection. Make him your guide. And if, within the Church, we find ourselves swamped in disagreement on matters of profound importance; and where integrity is not the monopoly of one side or the other – that’s why it’s so painful. And, again, there will be only one way through. We must fix our eyes on the One who has fixed his eyes on us; who loves us with a love stronger than death.

You’ll probably hear me say this hundreds of times over the next few years, but let me say it loud: You can go to the Church of England for a lifetime and nobody gives it to you straight. You are loved. You are precious in God’s sight. He has a purpose for your life.

And, together, our task as God’s people in this great diocese is to know and reveal that love which God has for us in Christ. This is my prayer for myself and for our diocese. That is how I come to you. I do not have a master plan in my back pocket; I have only a prayer in my heart.

So when people say to me, ‘Bishop, what is your vision?’ you’d better get used to hearing me say, ‘I don’t have one. Not yet. Not on a plate. Not on my own.’ Once together, fixing our eyes on Jesus, making him our guide, we will discover – and, in discovery, be surprised, provoked, delighted that God loves his Church and has a purpose for his work.

Pray, therefore, that we, each one of us, may first of all live our lives in community with God. This must be our first priority. And when we live this vocation of prayer and service, within the community we call the Church, God can do great things.

Now, of course, the Church has many failings, and it is my sad duty to report that this bishop shares many of them. But if we fix our eyes on Jesus; if he is our guide, then from the wellsprings of our hearts, now cleansed by the Spirit of the living God, we will find joy in living and proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

So do not bang on about how difficult and complicated it all is. Put away all cynicism, gossip, prejudice and lack of love Stop taking yourself so seriously and, instead, join me in the great adventure of the Christian journey.

And, finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus says that his Church must be ‘salt’ and ‘light’.
And let me remind you that here salt does not mean you are supposed to be like the little sprinkling over your chips to make them taste a bit nicer. It is preservative. This is what Jesus means; like a piece of salted cod - you stop it from rotting. This is what Jesus longs his Church to be: a household of peace and joy where true and lasting values are held, taught and celebrated.

And light. We are supposed to be light; light that shines in the darkness. Light that reveals the way. Light that dispels fear. Jesus says that we, his people, are supposed to be ‘a city set on a hill’ receiving and radiating the light of Christ.

So, brothers and sisters, who are we - gathered in the midst of this Cathedral today; this motley band of muddled and broken humanity? We are the inheritors of a great vocation. We are the ones who are called to share the light of Christ today and shine with that light in our own lives.

This is what Basil Jellicoe did in the slums of London. This is what William Temple taught. This is what countless Christian people are doing every day in the diocese. And it is to this that we recommit ourselves: nothing less than the beauty of the Gospel and the building of God’s kingdom here.

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday, the beginning of the Christian Year. Let us begin again, inviting God into our hearts, letting his Gospel shape our lives. And let us know nothing other than Jesus Christ and him crucified. We have great Good News to live and share. Brothers and sisters, go back to your parishes - and prepare for government! Amen. [Applause]

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Friday, 26 November 2010

The perils of Twitter

This made me smile. With thanks to Sue Diplock.

But for a more serious reflection check out this from Dave Walker.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Oaths & allegiance

I’m an almost cradle Anglican who grew up in a vicarage and was ordained a Church of England priest over twenty years ago. To be honest it’s all I’ve really known, though I did have a brief and important dalliance with a home group of the Baptist church down the road during my teens. There are many things I admire about the Church of England and Anglicanism, but if I’m honest there was ever only going to be one denomination where I’d end up a minister, as much out of familiarity as out of firm conviction.

I never really had to think that hard about what being ordained into the established church involved. I can’t remember a single lecture at vicar school about the oaths I was going to take before the bishop at my ordination. When I had to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, it was with the same roll of the eyes that some colleagues reserved for awkward things like the historic formularies of the Church of England. I never had a problem with the 39 Articles but I’ve always struggled with the monarchy bit. I don’t know what it is really, probably just some quaint notions about what I think democracy is.
Nevertheless, I was content to swear the Oath of Allegiance and say:
I, David Philip Ritchie, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.
I didn’t even have to cross my fingers, although my dad, who was present at the time,  glared at me as I let out a little sigh.

Then on Tuesday I found myself in discussion with a friend over the tribulations of the Bishop of Willesden. +Pete Broadbent had made some unguarded comments on Facebook about the Royal Family in general and the forthcoming  wedding of William and Kate in particular. He also revealed his republican sympathies. The main target of his comments, however, were the media and their coverage of the issue and not surprisingly the Daily Mail took it upon itself to splash all this across its pages in righteous (sic) indignation. Some asked how +Pete could be a bishop and keep the Oath of Allegiance if he was a republican. Despite a full and, I thought, gracious apology from +Pete, the Bishop of London felt he had to ask +Pete  to withdraw from public ministry, though no one seems sure what that means.

I confess I didn’t see what the big deal was and felt the responses to +Pete’s ill judged comments were completely out of proportion to the offence. Yet, for my friend it was a big deal because the Oath of Allegiance does really mean what it says it means. My friend had been an ordained minister in a non-conformist church and when he became an Anglican and considered ordination in the Church of England he had to think through very carefully whether he was prepared to make the oaths required of him. It wasn’t just a switch of denomination, there were ecclesial, theological and political consequences to the decision. Consequences my friend had to wrestle with long and hard before offering for ordination.

The way my friend put it was this: If the English Civil War were taking place today, those who have sworn the Oath of Allegiance are saying they are with the Crown and not Cromwell. Put like that it does seem a much bigger deal. Of course we aren’t facing that situation but it does highlight issues that I never considered to be important as a young ordinand back in the 1980s. So I’m going to have to do a bit more thinking on this one.

One last comment. I have tremendous respect for most of the bishops I have known and under whose ministry I have served. They have been Godly people striving tirelessly, often at great personal cost, for the Gospel. Some commentators have pointed out that other bishops have said things much more contentious than +Pete and not been disciplined in any way. I have to say the examples of bishops and comments they cite do seem rather selective and may reflect something of the commentators’ own position on controversial issues. How come these lists don’t include those bishops who have made a career out of denying just about  every line in the Creeds? What about the hypocrisy of those bishops who hold one position in public on matters of ethics and morality, while embracing or endorsing a contradictory position in private? What about those who have demonstrated high levels of incompetence in office, with very damaging consequences for those in their charge? As far as I am aware, not one of them was required to withdraw from public ministry and some were preferred for higher office. The lesson to me seems clear; you can say and do just about anything but disrespect the Royal Family and you are toast.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

#favbible: what’s your favourite Bible & why?

Bible Year 2011 is launched on December 5th in the Diocese of Chelmsford. As part of the launch the members of Bishop’s Staff were asked ‘what’s your favourite Bible and why?’ and you can see their answers here.

My #favbible is a leather bound RSV my parents gave me when I left home to play drums in a band. Annotated from using Search the Scriptures.

I thought it would be interesting to find out how others would answer the question and asked friends on Twitter to respond using the #favbible hashtag. Here are some of the responses:

@edrescherphd: I'm really liking the Green Bible (NSRV) from HarperOne these days #favbible

@Elizaphanian: I'm enjoying the NLT at the moment - very refreshing #favbible

@Twurchsteward: #favbible is The Stewardship Bible (NIV) tons of resources not just money related.

@funkydoofamily: #favbible is Cover to Cover for personal and trusty NIV for reading from.

@popies: I'm very happy with my NLT study bible, accessible text and great supporting notes #favbible

@artsyhonker: Don't currently have a #favbible, keep NRSV and KJV in the house, grew up with NIV (I think...).

@crimperman: my NCV. It's just the right size and has a green cover. #favbible

@popies: my kids are enjoying the International Childrens Bible - first proper bible! Study with Topz daily notes #favbible

@GerrardusA: the little NIV I bought when a new Christian. What a sense of strangeness that was. #favbible

@riggwelter: #favbible is any decent translation (my pref: TNIV or NRSV) and no extra guff. Matched with Greek/Hebrew texts.

@6Eight: I've got a smallish NKJV which just fits in the back pocket of my fav jeans. Where I goes it goes #favbible

@pmphillips: An old battered inclusive NIV is my companion! And huge Thomson Chain Ref leather NIV - so good! #favbible

@margaretkiaora: #favbible RSV with Alan Sorrell illustrations, loved the pictures first , then started reading the Bible.

@HellsJBells: Life Application Study NIV Bible is my #favbible - tons of notes relevant to everyday life as a Christian

@PeterOuld: #favbible - ESV - great literal rendering for study purposes; NLT for contemplation.

@thechurchmouse: My #favbible is the NEB I was given by my God Father at my baptism. I neglected it for over 20 years, now I cling to it and thank God for it.

@Mac_Wood: the Message Bible - breathes new life into familiar verses #favbible

@willscookson: My #favbible was my Good News Bible New Testament. Given it when I first explored Christianity as a teenager. Lent it and never got it back.

@rohitmr: #favbible Good News Bible - iPhone app ( www.goodnewsbible.com) Beautifully designed and a joy to read.

@faulksguy: My #favbible is the ESV for its textual accuracy.

@MrCatOLick: J B Phillips #favbible

@kouya: My #favbible is the Kouya New Testament http://bit.ly/diTgLv (if you want an English one, I tend to use the NLT)

@dave42w: #favbible (s) 1st TNIV then Message or CEV (esp 4 worship) with NRSV 4 study. The Source as helpful alt rendering.

@drbexl: My #favbible @ the mo is "The Message" - gain overview of meaning. Love @youversion, NIV is solid vers. #bigbible #biblefresh
@deiknuo: My #favbible is my ESV Study Bible. I have a love-hate relationship with GNB (pew Bible in church)
@thevicarswife: My #favbible is my ESV journalling bible- good literal & poetic translation, space to write in the margins, strap to keep notes in.
@butlerjd: My #favbible is ESV & mixing that with The Message. #bigbible #biblefresh - great vid for ESV http://is.gd/huOgs

@Rhapsody42: #favbible Softcover NIV:small enough to fit in my bag but with enough space for writing notes.Looks a bit tatty but then it's well travelled

@Nick_Payne: #favbible Olive Tree App on iPhone...

@Trinitynewsblog: Our church has the Good News Bible #favbible but we use many different translations at various times: NIV; Message;King James;(StreetBible)

@jevens: have a battered & much underlined NIV but current fave is the Message #favbible

@fionabuddonline: My #favbible is the NLT: it gets under my skin. Use NRSV for study and NIV to preach. Luxuries. Heads up for @wycliffeuk @biblesociety
@john_nornirn: My #favbible (#biblefresh) is the one through which God speaks clearly to every person in the world in their heart language #wycliffeuk

@ramtopsrac: #favbible Thompson Chain NIV bought as student with added tags for lousy memory, and post-it's for recurring passages - TNIV more inclusive

@butlerjd: My #favbible is ESV & mixing that with The Message. #bigbible #biblefresh - great vid for ESV http://is.gd/huOgs

@Mac_Wood: @biblefresh the Message Bible - breathes new life into familiar verses #favbible
So, what’s your favourite Bible and why?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Time to show God’s love

Here’s why I’m looking forward to Stephen Cottrell’s installation as Bishop of Chelmsford on 27th November.

If you would like to hear more from Bishop Stephen then check out Do Nothing to Change Your Life recorded by Richard Peat earlier this year.

Please pray for +Stephen and his family as he prepares to take up his ministry in the Diocese of Chelmsford.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Authentic Gospels

Thanks in part to popular works like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code there is a wide spread impression that the four canonical gospels of the New Testament are not the real deal. The conspiracy theorists suggest that there are lots of documents now available which give a more accurate picture of the historical Jesus. The canonical gospels are dismissed as later products produced by the church to boost its power and standing and the conclusion drawn is that the whole Christian enterprise is based on error.

Tyndale House has produced a new DVD based course for small groups and individuals exploring the validity of the canonical Gospels. Rather than describe what The Authentic Gospels is about I’ll let those behind the project speak for themselves.

Interesting, though I’ll have to have a closer look at the material to assess the level at which it is pitched and how accessible it would be for the average home / bible study group.

There is an excellent booklet by Tom Wright called Decoding Da Vinci which explores some of the myths around Christian origins and the gospels and offers a robust response.

You can order The Authentic Gospels from here or direct from Elevation.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

9 lessons and carols for the Godless… again

This is the third year of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People so it’s becoming a bit of an institution. The brainchild of Robin Ince, previous shows have included such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Dara O Briain and Ben Goldacre. The aim is to provide a rational celebration of Christmas featuring talks about the wonders of science and the universe, with atheists seeking to demonstrate that they can enjoy Christmas but without the God bit.

Explaining the idea behind the original celebration in 2008 Ince wrote in the New Humanist:
Last year I was invited on a show to talk about whether Britain was becoming more secular, but by the 10_Nine-Lessons-brighton_wetime I arrived it had changed to “Who’s taking the Christ out of Christmas?” I got increasingly furious as Nick Ferrari and Vanessa Feltz passed off half-truths – and full-blown lies – about the way councils up and down the country were abandoning Christmas.
I said, “Actually I think Christmas is good, it’s nice to have some time for reflection,” and Stephen Green, who was in the audience, sat there saying, “I don’t think he does like Christmas, I don’t think he is happy with there being Christmas.”
So that was why I decided I would get together a 20-piece orchestra and a choir, and assorted atheist and agnostic comedians like Ricky Gervais and Phill Jupitus, and some scientists like Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh and Richard Dawkins.
Already people are annoyed, saying, “Oh, typical, you’re just having a go at Christians.” Well we’re not. When we say we’re having a Godless celebration, that means no god at all, from any religion.
Not one. It’s not about having a go at religion – it’s going to be a proper celebration; of the Big Bang, of evolution theory and of comedy. We will be visited by spirits, of course, through the help of a medium. The spirit will be the late great science broadcaster Carl Sagan, and the medium will be a DVD player.
This year’s repeat of the celebration has already sold out several nights at the Bloomsbury Theatre with a show in Brighton also on offer and the line up includes many of the old regulars. Procedes will go to the Rationalist Association.

I hope they have a good time, though I seem to remember reviewers of previous events suggesting that three hours of unremitting humanism was hard going for all but the most committed.

I would just make one observation. It isn’t really a surprise that these events are sold out. If you look at the line up, many of the acts sell out their own shows across the country and so one would expect them to attract a big audience when gathered together.

Now it is true that over Christmas Christians will also be putting on big celebrations featuring well known artists and musicians. There are also the more traditional big draws like Carols from Kings broadcast on television and radio as well as the Midnight Mass and other Christmas services. But many people will not be going to these great events to listen to well known celebrities. They will be going to their local parish church to gather with family, friends and neighbours. They will sing well known carols, listen to familiar readings from the scriptures and spend time offering praise, thanksgiving and prayers. And at the centre of the worship will be the miraculous truth which secular humanists find so difficult to understand; that the Creator of the Universe, the one behind all the wonder which rationalists rightly marvel at, loved us so much that he embraced our humanity in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Seek the Welfare of the City

welfare of the city

We live within conditions of globalisation where over half the world’s population now live in cities. The urban context is thus the primary arena for Christian mission and ministry; yet the existing patterns of mission and ministry seem dominated by either rural or monastic models of practice. There is a real hunger to learn from imaginative, prophetic and resilient examples of faithful urban mission and ministry and generative, hopeful frameworks of understanding that can help seed innovative and inspiring work. The Seek the Welfare of the City conference is designed to meet this hunger.

This important two day conference takes place at Holy Trinity Brompton on 25th November and St Paul’s Hammersmith on 26th November. The conference is earthed in practice which provides the context for more broad-ranging discussions. Case studies of cutting edge examples of urban mission and ministry set within a broad overview of relevant issues and developments begin each session. These generate broader discussions in a plenary setting facilitated by someone who integrates academic research with on-the-ground experience. The conference ‘journey’ overall is from practice to theory, with the groundbreaking examples of actual ministries providing the context (primarily on the second day) for identifying generic frameworks to enable participants to reflect more rigorously and relevantly about urban mission and ministry.

Each day begins with an inspirational presentation that synthesises theology and practice. Day one opens with Bishop Doug Miles sharing his testimony of 40 years experience of growing large churches in the extremely tough context of Baltimore and his extensive social and political engagements. Day two opens with Bishop John Inge setting out a framework for understanding what it means to be a local church in a globalised world and how a sense of place can nourish urban mission and ministry. The conference closes with a discussion of Luke Bretherton’s book Christianity & Contemporary Politics by leading theologians. Bretherton’s book addresses, on the one hand, the intersection between Christianity, place and identity, and on the other, the relationship between church, civil society, the market and the state. Through a series of case studies, the book sets out a vision of what faithful witness within the contemporary, predominantly urban context involves.

Come share you own experience and be inspired, provoked and nourished.

Further details about the Seek the Welfare of the City conference and booking fees and arrangements can be found here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Vampires on the Alpha Course

There is a an interesting truth behind this video. I have several friends who became Christians at university having initially gone to the Christian Union because they fancied someone who happened to be a Christian. They set out looking for a relationship and ended up with more than they had bargained for.

I'm a big fan of Alpha. If you’d like to know what Alpha is all about, check out the new Alpha website.

h/t Tim Goodbody

Sunday, 14 November 2010


One photograph dominated the front page of the newspapers last Thursday morning. The picture of a protester kicking in a glass window on Wednesday’s student demonstration in London.


The picture is a powerful image and encapsulates events on the demonstration as reported by most of the media. No excuse for the violence and vandalism. Dismay amongst the many peaceful marchers whose arguments were undermined. Student leaders scrambling to condemn and explain that they weren’t responsible, apart from a few attention seekers hawking themselves round the television and radio studios claiming the law breaking was justified.

But is this the whole picture? In this case, quite literally, it is not. Here is the scene from a slightly wider angle.


What we see is not massed ranks of students egging on the protester, but a horde of photographers jostling for the best shot. I am not saying this excuses the vandalism, however, it does demonstrate the different perspective given by the bigger picture. To what extent did the presence of so many photographers act as an encouragement to the vandalism? Why aren’t the police, visible behind the photographers, stepping in to stop a criminal act?

Sometimes when we are close in on the action we get a distorted impression or see only part of the picture. We need to step back a bit, see the wider view and get things in perspective in order to make more informed judgements and draw more considered conclusions.

Perhaps this is true for us as Christians. We can be so caught up in, or focused on, a particular issue or situation that we lose sight of the wider view. We fail to see the fuller purposes of God from our limited perspective and occasionally we need to step back and see God’s bigger picture.

(Jonathan Jones in The Guardian has some interesting reflections on why this particular image was so popular amongst the media.)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

First fifteen music meme

1) Turn on your MP3 player or music player on your computer.
2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode.
3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up–song title and artist–NO editing/cheating, please.
  1. They Dance Alone – Sting (Nothing Like the Sun)
  2. I’m Scared – Duffy (Rockferry)
  3. Safe – Chris Squire (Fish out of Water)
  4. Soul Survivor – The Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street)
  5. Sister Morphine – The Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers)
  6. Fire – U2 (October)
  7. Hymn To Her – The Pretenders (The Singles)
  8. Lovers in Japan – Coldplay (Viva La Vida)
  9. Fever – Starsailor (Love is Here)
  10. Falling off the Face of the Earth – Neil Young (Prairie Wind)
  11. Single Handed Sailor – Dire Straits (Communique)
  12. Sit Yourself Down – Stephen Stills (Stephen Stills)
  13. Might Tell You Tonight – Scissor Sisters (Ta-Dah!)
  14. Brandenberg Concerto #3 in G – J.S. Bach
  15. Frozen Rivers – After The Fire (Der Kommissar)
Glad a bit of culture crept in there (14) and was getting worried when the Stones appeared two in a row (4 & 5). Some stuff here I haven’t listened to for ages (3 & 11) and a couple of favourites (6 & 12). No real embarrassments and yes, I do like the Scissor Sisters (13). (12) comes from one of my all time favourite albums.

Tagged by Paul Trathen with this music meme originally posted by Alice Smith.

Since Peter Banks’ band came in at (15) I tag him along with Jonathan Evens, Maggi Dawn, Simon Robinson and GerrardusA.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Sorting the Covenant

There’s been a lot said and written about the Anglican Covenant over the last few days. I do wonder what this looks like to the average punter in the pew, let alone people out on the streets? It does strike me that if we put as much passion into proclaiming the Good News as we do into fighting our corner and setting up groups for or against particular issues then our churches would be full.

Anyway, I am most grateful to Harry Hill who has proposed a way of resolving the arguments over the Covenant and all the other debates raging in the good old Anglican Communion.

h/t my good friend Paul Trathen.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

All FX’d Up

Well let’s be fair, at least Giles Fraser says what he thinks even if it is complete tosh. In his weekly Church Times column last week Canon Fraser wrote the following:
the whole Fresh Expressions movement is nothing less than a threat to the integrity of the parish structure of the Church of England.
In the article Giles gives fresh expression to his prejudices:
I have always disliked the cringe-making trendiness of Fresh Expres­sions. It feels like the teacher wanting to get down with the kids. There is nothing so humiliating and embar­rass­ing as the attempt by older people to communicate in the com­plex grammar of youth culture; still worse, when it comes from ecclesi­astical civil servants working in Church House — which, I believe, is the true spiritual home of Fresh Expressions.
Why has Giles suddenly had the courage to put into print these long held opinions? He tells us that a new book has been published which backs up what he has always thought. The book is  For the Parish: A critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM, 2010) by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank. I’m delighted he’s found a book that backs up his gut reactions amongst the plethora of books which are much more positive on the subject. However, it does strike me that Giles is turning into a caricature, not unlike the Christian who hunts through the scriptures to find the one passage that seems to support their argument while rejecting everything else in the Bible.

Giles sees Fresh Expressions as an attack on the parish church model and rejects the fresh expressions ecclesiology because:
The Church must never be a series of special-interest groups that we might choose to join, as we might choose a club or gym. This is ecclesiology that has been mugged by the choice-is-everything ethos of late capitalism...
Well, excuse me if I don’t want to dress up in these trendy new fabrics. It is time to stick up for the traditional parish model.
The first thing I want to say about both the book and Giles’ article is that I welcome them. They show that Fresh Expressions is being taken seriously. The Fresh Expressions approach does need to be tested rigorously, its ecclesiological and theological foundations carefully examined and the practical outworking scrutinised. If Fresh Expressions is of the Holy Spirit then it should be robust enough to withstand both academic scrutiny and the lazy sneering of the uninformed.

However, I have always thought that a good scholar takes time to study and explore their subject before passing judgement. Giles tells us:
“Fresh Expressions encourages new forms of church for a fast-changing world,” it says on its website. “It is a way of describing the planting of new congregations which are different in ethos and style from the church which planted them.” The examples given are a surfer church on Polzeath beach, a eucharist for Goths in Cambridge, and a youth congregation based in a skate park.
This seems to be the extent of Giles’ research on the subject. I wonder how he would feel if I trotted out a critique of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher Giles has studied in great depth, on the basis of a quick glance at Wikipedia. Has Giles actually bothered to visit these congregations, speak with their ministers, listen to the way in which lives have been transformed?

At the heart of Giles’ article is a disingenuous false premise; that Fresh Expressions is a threat to the traditional parish church model.  Citing the book he comments:
This book presents the choice before us thus: we either “embrace the historic mission to evangelize and serve the whole people of this country, or [we] decline into a sect”.
Anyone who has taken the briefest amount of time to read about Fresh Expressions knows that this is just not true. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, has spoken of the need for a ‘mixed economy’ to refer to fresh expressions and 'inherited' forms of church existing alongside each other, within the same denomination, in relationships of mutual respect and support.

As the quote selected by Giles from the website makes clear, many Fresh Expressions congregations have been planted by the local parish church. Has he spoken to the parish church clergy who had the missional vision and desire to reach out to those in their parishes who have been left untouched by ‘traditional’ church? These are people who take seriously their commitment to all in their parish, not just those who feel comfortable with a particular style of worship or model of being church.

Is Giles’ saying that to be part of the church all are required to buy into the particular cultural expressions of church that so many of our ‘traditional’ churches reflect? If the traditional parish church model is doing so well then why aren’t our churches packed out every Sunday? He accuses Fresh Expressions of being an ecclesiology ‘mugged by the choice-is-everything ethos of late capitalism’, but Giles seems to be recommending the command economy approach where everyone is forced to accept the one size fits all provision of the politburo.

There is another false assumption made in Giles’ article and it’s worth quoting again:
There is nothing so humiliating and embar­rass­ing as the attempt by older people to communicate in the com­plex grammar of youth culture.
Fresh Expressions is not just about youth. There are some very interesting developments amongst a whole range of age groups. The people who meet in a pub for a pint and Bible study, the elderly weight-watchers group that meets to ‘weigh and pray’ and the church that meets in the farmers market in Walthamstow. Giles criticises people trying to be trendy with the kids, he is in danger of coming across as the bar room bore pontificating about matters he neither knows nor understands.

I could go on but will finish with the official definition of Fresh Expressions:
A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.
It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.
It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.
What’s wrong with that Giles?

Update: Some interesting resources on this subject from Andy Goodliff h/t @maggidawn
This response to the Church Times article from practitioner Jeremy Fletcher

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Muslims - compare and contrast

I was appalled at the attack on MP Stephen Timms by Roshonara Choudhry during a constituency surgery earlier this year. This week Ms Choudhry was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years. timmsMr Timms is MP for East Ham in the Chelmsford Diocese and is well known for his Christian faith as well as being a hard working MP and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last Labour government.

I’ve followed the events around the stabbing and subsequent trial with interest, not least because of the sensitive issues the case touches on with regard to faith and community relations in East London. Many of my friends and colleagues work very hard as ministers to foster good relations and positive dialogue against a backdrop of incessant rabble rousing by the BNP and other extremist groups. They are not naive about the problems associated with the radicalisation of young Muslims, however, they are greatly disturbed by the stereotyping and scape-goating that would characterise Muslims as the cause of all the ills facing local communities.

Today the papers and blogs are full of details and comments about the case and the content is all too predictable. To highlight the problem here are two examples of blogs commenting on the case and how it has been handled.

Cranmer has been clear about his reading of both the trial and the behaviour of Ms Choudhry and her supporters. Here is a flavour of his comments:
At the sentencing of Roshonara Choudhry, the trainee teacher who attempted to murder Stephen Timms MP, the public gallery erupted with cries of 'Allahu akbar' ('God is great'), 'British go to hell' and 'Curse the judge'.

Quite why they were not immediately arrested for contempt of court is unknown.

Praising their God in a court of law?
Just about acceptable.

Passing opinion on the limited soteriological options of the British?
Well, it might be ‘racist’, but we’ll call it ‘freedom of expression’.
But ‘Curse the judge’? How did that pass without immediate intervention by the Judge?

Miss Choudhry appeared by video-link because she 'refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court'. Why was this permitted? Are all ‘citizens’ of the UK granted this option? Are we not all subjects of Her Majesty, and therefore all subject to the Crown in Court, on whose behalf the Judge presides and dispenses the Queen’s Justice for the maintenance of the Queen's Peace? More 

Contrast Cranmer’s account with that of Minority Thought commenting on press coverage of the same events:
The front page and main story of today's Daily Express is a clear and unsubtle attempt at maintaining the "us and them" mentality which is so often levelled by that paper against Muslims:


The headline refers to the shouts from "a group of men" (according to the Mail) who were sitting in the public gallery during the trial of Roshonara Choudhry, the woman convicted of stabbing Stephen Timms MP earlier this year.
Rather than leading with the story at hand, the sentencing of Choudhry to "life" imprisonment, the Express has chosen to focus on the deranged rantings of a few nutcases in a courtroom instead. Both the Daily Mail and The Sun have also gone with this angle, but neither has chosen to put it across in as brazen a way as the Express.
That there are Muslim extremists who say such things is beyond a doubt. However, the Express' decision to make this the key focus of the story, along with the language used in the headline, is an attempt to imply that these shouts are in some way an expression of what every Muslims thinks about the British.
Can you imagine, for example, what the Express would have done if the men who broke into shouts of "Go to hell, Britain" were Christians? Would the Express have replaced "Muslims" with "Christians" in the headline? Would they even have mentioned it so prominently in the first place? More
Now I am not for a moment dismissing or diminishing the real problems of extremism, violence and terrorism. My family come from Belfast; I grew up there in the mid 1960s and regularly visited family there throughout the troubles. Yet, despite the generalised picture created by media coverage of blood splattered streets, I learnt from personal experience that not all Catholics were out to murder me in my bed and not all Protestants were frothing at the mouth preachers of hate.

What concerns me is the narrative slant that commentators choose to give to particular stories concerning matters of great sensitivity like the Choudhry case. What is it that these commentators are hoping to achieve? What attitudes are they seeking to foster in their readers? What reaction are they hoping to elicit? What values underpin the choice of their words and presentation of the story?

In recent years we have run a course in the diocese as part of our Lent and Eastertide Schools. Living With Other Faiths helps people explore why we should engage with other faith communities and how we can go about doing so. The course objectives are to identify biblical principles for engaging with other faith communities; to develop an understanding of the beliefs and sensitivity to the practises of other faiths; to consider a range of ways of engaging with other faith communities and to identify particular approaches appropriate to participants’ situations.

Approaches like Living With Other Faiths may be dismissed by some, sadly including some Christians, as a typical P.C. response to the issues raised by our multi-faith society. I prefer to see it as just one of many positive responses to our calling as Christians to seek the common good.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

And it’s… – sign of the times (11)

Woolworths bit the dust back in January 2009, closing the doors on the final 200 stores and making over 27,000 people redundant. So I’ve been waiting to see what would come to occupy the prime site in Chelmsford High Street. Well the shiny new business has finally been unveiled and it’s… another bank!

It is somewhat ironic that the only businesses that seem to be booming at the moment, making huge profits and paying out massive bonuses, are the very companies that helped land us in a recession. So while hospital wards are closed; businesses struggle to get loans and investment; families plead for mortgages; teachers are laid off; welfare benefits slashed; tuition fees hiked; never mind because money continues to make money.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Box of delights

This evening I’ll be helping my son fill a decorated shoebox with gifts for another little boy in support of Operation Christmas Child. It’s one of those things connected with Christmas that we are happy to be involved with even though we haven’t yet set off the fireworks.

Operation Christmas Child is organised by Samaritan’s Purse – a Christian relief and development organisation which works through local churches to proclaim and demonstrate the love of God to children and families in need across Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Where appropriate, local partners will also distribute a booklet of Bible stories, including the story of the birth of Jesus, to children receiving the shoeboxes. The charity also encourages donors to pray for the child receiving their shoebox.

If you want to know what it means for a child to receive one of these boxes then check out this video clip.