Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Linebacker - watch out bunnies



for some reason I still find this funny, and the kids love it. "Jesus rising from the dead and saying 'Booyah' to death!" That just about captures it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It must be Easter, or maybe Christmas

The signs are everywhere, a 'gospel of Jesus wife' which even the promoters admit was written at least 300 years after the life of Jesus, and one person who thinks the Gospel of Luke was written by Mary (well, actually, he doesn't - the Daily Fail thinks this makes a good headline, the GP/bible scholar in question repeats a fairly mainstream view; that Luke gathered evidence from various sources and then put it into a coherent order. Mary, Jesus mother, was one of the sources. That's not the same as saying she wrote the gospel. When you get to looking at what Dr Bradford actually says, there's not much there to fundamentally disagree with).

It must be Easter. Or maybe Christmas.

There's an unofficial publishing season for these stories, which begins roughly 15 days before any major Christian festival, after which nobody really gives a monkeys.

I love the 'facts' in the Mail article - Luke has double the number of feminine words than Mark? Well for a start his gospel is nearly twice as long, and he has more stories about women.

Perhaps we need to add in a Biblical Ignorance Day on the Tuesday before Palm Sunday, when all these things can be paraded, hyped up, the foundations of Christendom can be shaken to the core, and then we can all safely forget about them until the following year.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Latest Church of England Attendance Stats: Making mud seem clear

The latest set of CofE attendance stats has done its job: passed with benign/no headlines, and little quizzing of the facts behind the official press release:

Overall in 2012, on average 1.05m people attended Church of England churches each week showing no significant change over the past decade. Figures for all age average weekly attendance show around 1 in 5 churches growing, and just over this number declining with 57% remaining stable.

In 2012 the Church of England conducted over 356,000 services of baptism, wedding and funerals at an average of about 6,700 each week - almost 1,000 per day - marking the rites of passage in people's lives in communities across the country.


There's plenty to celebrate and be proud of, but lets have a look at the actual stats. Look away now if you're in Lincoln diocese. Here is the Adult Weekly Attendance (the CofE's favoured measure, average number of adults attending a service in any given 7 days) change from 2003-2012. Please read on after the table below before calling for your bishop's resignation....

2003-2012 Adult Weekly Attendance Change
London
1.2%
Liverpool
-13.6%
Southwark
-0.4%
Carlisle
-13.7%
Newcastle
-3.1%
Southwell & Nottingham
-13.7%
Sheffield
-4.7%
Chichester
-13.8%
Europe
-5.4%
Exeter
-13.8%
Coventry
-6.1%
Portsmouth
-13.9%
Birmingham
-7.4%
Oxford
-14.3%
Guildford
-7.5%
Leicester
-14.4%
Manchester
-7.5%
Wakefield
-14.7%
Gloucester
-8.4%
York
-15.0%
Rochester
-9.2%
Salisbury
-16.0%
Chelmsford
-10.0%
Worcester
-17.7%
Bath & Wells
-10.1%
St. Edms & Ipswich
-20.0%
Lichfield
-10.1%
Ripon & Leeds
-20.2%
St. Albans
-10.2%
Sodor & Man
-20.4%
Canterbury
-10.4%
Blackburn
-21.2%
Ely
-10.7%
Peterborough
-21.7%
Durham
-11.2%
Bradford
-22.0%
Chester
-11.6%
Hereford
-23.8%
Total Church of England
-12.3%
Norwich
-24.9%
Winchester
-12.4%
Truro
-27.0%
Derby
-12.6%
Lincoln
-35.8%
Bristol
-13.6%

So far so consistent, compare and contrast with last year, or with the overall picture since 1990

But: the CofE has changed its method of collecting stats for this year, after finding several problems with the data in previous years. That's one thing that explains why it takes 18 months from when this data is collected (October) to when it's published. In brief, we have been overestimating attendance so far. So whilst the 2003 figures for the chart above are in the 'old money', the 2012 figures are more rigorous, and therefore lower. This exaggerates the decline in the figures, but that's not to say the decline isn't still there. 

(If you want the details, parishes which had 1 or 2 services a month, with, say 20 attending, were counted as having an AWA of 20, even though the people attending may attend other churches on the weeks with no service at their local. So there's been a lot of double counting, particularly in areas with lots of small churches that meet infrequently, e.g. rural dioceses like Lincoln)

Frustratingly, there are no revised figures available before 2008  - the official stats portal on the CofE site still has the old figures in its handy spreadsheet of diocesan stats. So it's impossible to independently check the statement that there's been 'no significant change over the past decade'. We can't do any fair comparisons for years up to 2007, all that can be said is that any comparison which uses the old data before 2008 will make things look worse than they really are. But that shouldn't be an excuse: only 90% as bad is still bad. 

But we can look at the data for 2008-12. Is the Titanic showing any signs of turning?

No.
 
Adult AWA Change 2008-12
Leicester
10.4%
Rochester
-4.8%
London
4.8%
Guildford
-4.8%
Bristol
4.8%
Salisbury
-5.3%
Sheffield
2.6%
Canterbury
-5.7%
Exeter
2.0%
Portsmouth
-6.0%
Durham
0.0%
Hereford
-6.6%
Newcastle
-0.8%
Europe
-6.6%
Norwich
-1.9%
Birmingham
-6.6%
Derby
-2.0%
Gloucester
-6.8%
Southwell & Nottingham
-2.1%
St. Albans
-7.2%
Carlisle
-2.3%
Southwark
-7.4%
Coventry
-2.3%
Chester
-7.8%
Chichester
-2.5%
Peterborough
-8.8%
Liverpool
-2.7%
Wakefield
-9.2%
Lichfield
-2.7%
York
-9.3%
Oxford
-3.2%
Truro
-9.8%
Worcester
-3.3%
Manchester
-9.9%
Ely
-3.4%
Bradford
-10.0%
Winchester
-3.5%
Sodor & Man
-10.0%
Chelmsford
-3.9%
Blackburn
-11.4%
St. Edms & Ipswich
-4.0%
Ripon & Leeds
-12.5%
Bath & Wells
-4.2%
Lincoln
-20.4%
Total Church of England
-4.2%



Five Dioceses growing, one static, the other 38 declining. And sadly even on the revised stats Lincoln is in trouble. Overall CofE attendance has fallen 37,000 in this 3 year period. That doesn't look like 'no significant change' to me, but maybe I'm working on the wrong definition of 'significant'?  

It's also worth saying that there are no surprises in the top 5. All are intentional about church growth.

Year on year, (2011-12) the stats show growth in a few more Dioceses, but even then it's difficult to draw conclusions. Our Diocese, Bath and Wells, shows a 1500 rise in attendance for 2011-12, yet I know for a fact that reported membership fell in those years in Bath and Wells by 1300 people, 5.6%. So what's going on there? 

The commentary in this years stats is fairly open about how much estimating they've had to do, and the shortcomings in the collection system. There's also an attempt to look at a new measure of membership, joiners and leavers, rather than attendance, though measuring this has problems of its own. 

Until all the silt is cleared out of the system, it's hard to do any proper analysis beyond this: the Church of England stats up to 2012 shows no signs that we are pulling out of the slow nosedive. I really hope that not many people believe the press release on this one: yes there are good signs in the CofE, but we are still in crisis and until we completely understand that, we aren't going to make the radical changes we need to. 

back to the Lent blogging fast. Sorry God....

Monday, March 03, 2014

Lent

Closing down for Lent, there's a good post here from someone who's giving up Facebook for Lent:

This lent I want to challenge you to think about giving up something that sucks your time, something that is bad for you or something that doesn’t actually really matter to you, and put something that you enjoy, something that brings you life in its place.

hope you have a life-giving Lent and a joyful Easter. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jesus died for the Jolly Green Giant

todays Inbox

The Yeovil Town Club Store are running an Easter drawing competition for all children of primary 
school age (and below).

The winning entrant will be selected by Manager Gary Johnson and will receive a Yeovil Town Easter Egg and signed picture from their favourite player!

To enter, entrants should draw The Jolly Green Giant with an Easter egg. He can be holding the egg, standing by the egg, balancing the egg on his top hat, or whatever you can think of! You're limited only by your imagination!


Yes folks, this is exactly what Jesus had in mind that morning he walked out of the tomb, after wrestling death to an early grave. 

Coldplay vs U2

Behemoth vs Leviathan: both have singles out in anticipation of full albums later in the year. Its fair to say that Coldplays offering has caused more surprises



Coplday fans are used to hearing 1-2 minute bursts of this sort of stuff before the real song starts, or as interludes between the main tracks (several examples on Mylo Xyloto), not extended to 5 minutes of health spa backing music released as a single. It could have done with the lyrics on screen too, as they helpfully did with Atlas, which was great. No doubt it will grow on me, and fair play to them for taking a risk - Leviathan does frolic after all.

(update: we have official lyrics now.)

U2 have stuck a bit closer to form, and if Coldplay are giving up on the stadium singalong songs (to be fair, it was mostly going 'oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh' but at least the lyrics were easy to pick up) then Bono is ready to step up. He's even borrowed Chris Martins dangly lamp from Fix You and stuck a microphone on it:


this one is really growing on me, it's not a radical departure, but when you're as good as U2 you don't need one.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Questions in Genesis

We've spent the last couple of months exploring the early chapters of Genesis (1-4 and 12) at our church, this Sundays sermon is given over to a Q&A on any of the issues that the series has raised. Here are a few of the questions sent in so far:

  1. If Adams family were the only family on earth, how did his sons find women to marry who were not from his own family? It’s curious that Adam didn’t have daughters.
  2. Why did God allow Adam and Eve the choice of good and evil when the world was already perfect?
  3. Why didn’t God make men and women equal (Eve was created to be a helper)?
  4. Why did God choose a rib to form a woman?
  5. What does the Church of England teach about man being a separate creation from the animals?
  6. Why were we not meant to have knowledge if we were made in God’s image?
  7. Why put the tree of knowledge and the tree of life there. You know the consequences of someone eating the fruit of either tree so put them somewhere else that Man isn't going to pick the fruit from them.
  8. If you really wanted to mess with God's creation, why pick the tree of knowledge to point Eve at to pick fruit from. If eating the tree of life would give them a lifespan that, when combined with what they'd gained from the tree of knowledge, would make them like gods, then getting them to eat the fruit from the tree of life would cause lots more problems because if everybody lived extremely long lives then the Earth would reach the point where it couldn't support everybody far too quickly and it would be a horrible place to live. Nobody dying but still having to feed and look after everybody. Think Torchwood Miracle Day
Great, I'll have to watch Torchwood as part of my sermon prep... 

What would you answer? What questions would you ask?

Still can't see the forest for the trees



I believe the sun will shine on you and me, my friend
I have learned to trust the turning of the seasons
Even now the sun is breaking through the clouds again
But I still don't know the causes or the reasons
and I still can't see the forest for the trees.

Lovely acoustic version of a brilliant song, The Choir are one of my all-time favourite bands, still going after 20 years. This is one of a series of acoustic versions of their best tracks, with a bit of commentary on the story behind it. See more here on Facebook, or Youtube

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Food Bank Britain & the Bishops

Good piece in the Guardian yesterday by Jonathan Freedland in response to the discussion prompted by the bishops intervention on welfare cuts earlier this week:

there has been something of a delayed reaction to the rise and rise of genuine hunger in this country. The unkind would call it denial. But it is becoming harder to deny.
This week the nation's most senior clerics told of what they are seeing every day, in the parishes where they and their colleagues live and work. Vincent Nichols, the newly elevated Catholic cardinal, branded the way the welfare system functions "a disgrace", while 27 Anglican bishops and 16 other Christian leaders blamed the government's benefits changes for a "national crisis" of hunger.
Predictably the coalition's defenders told the men of the cloth to back off, telling them they had no business poking their nose into such matters and should stick to "religion". Apparently they interpret the old Alastair Campbell dictum that politicians shouldn't do God to mean that God shouldn't do politics.
Perhaps they think churches exist to tidy up the hymn books and keep flowers in the vestry. In fact, the major faiths see their mission as nothing less than healing the world. So of course if they see people going hungry, they cry out. It is their duty.
It's their right too. Few institutions in our national life are doing more to deal with the return of a problem some might have thought we banished after the Depression, if not the Victorian age. Where do you think many of the more than 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust operate? In church halls....
The Telegraph takes a different tack, pointing to a survey last year that showed that the 'majority' of Anglicans thought the welfare budget too high, and that it should be cut. 
2 brief points for Telegraph readers:
a) Thinking that the welfare budget is too high is not the same as wanting people to be destitute. I'd probably agree that the welfare budget is too high, but there must be ways to tackle it that don't force people to choose between heating and eating.
b) 83% of the Anglicans in the survey aren't active members of any church. Describing yourself as an Anglican isn't the same as being an active, worshipping member of an Anglican church. The Telegraph fails to mention this. 
Maybe they're miffed that the bishops wrote to a left wing rag like the Mirror, if their coverage of the story is anything to go by.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Simple Choices

Choose A or B

A: Wind turbine overlooking the land
B: No land as it's all underwater

A: Tidal power
B: Tidal surge

A: Jumping on a plane to get away from the bad weather
B: Having a home to come back to afterwards

A: Solar panels on the roof
B: Nothing on the roof as all the tiles have blown off

A: Get out of the car and walk
B: Get out of the car and wade

A: Change
B: Climate Change

Monday, February 10, 2014

New Bishop of Bath and Wells "Growth is important...we can't carry on as we are"

The latest 'Manna', the Bath and Wells diocesan magazine, has an interview with our new bishop, Rev. Peter Hancock. Carefully avoiding the subject of bishops housing, here's a few selected quotes which warmed my heart:

"The most important thing is to see flourishing churches at the heart of flourishing communities. We are called to share the love of Christ and to play our part in helping to build, support and transform our communities. A vibrant church can make such an impact."

in answer to 'what makes a vibrant church?'
"Growth is important - growth in terms of numbers, vocations and service. But above all it's a church that is consciously welcoming and hospitable and reaching out with the love of Jesus.

We need to find new ways to draw folk into our life who woulnd't usually come to a church service. So we need pioneering ways of meeting people..."

"We shouldn't become obsessed by our buildings...many churches are now also meeting in different venues... Where we meet is not the most important thing but there needs to be strong links between traditional and Fresh Expressions of churches. The DNA that runs through both has to be the desire to live the mission of Jesus and continue his work in the world today."

"This will need radical thinking, creative thinking and critical thinking. And it needs an honest recognition that we can't carry on as we are....we don't have the resources to continue as we are without making some fundamental changes."

"There are those that say you can't reconcile faith with a scientific view. I think we should stand up and say it is possible.... faith is not just about hearts and feelings, it's also about using our brains to discover the wonders of what God has created"

in answer to a question about the biggest challenges for the church and the diocese:
"We must recover our confidence along with our hope and our joy. We must have confidence in God... In terms of relevance, its about living the mission of Jesus wherever and in whatever way that's needed - a practical demonstration of His love. Not only preaching but doing."

"How can we know what God might be calling us to be and do differently unless we listen to him?"

"I want to undertake my duties as Bishop prayerfully, thoughtfully and with grace. I trust that when God speaks to me I'll have the courage to do what he is asking and if I don't do it well, courage to reflect and seek to do it better. I also want to be intentional about what I do and why I am doing it."

what will be your priorities?
"As a Bishop I am called to lead the diocese in mission, which means passionately, confidently and courageously sharing our faith.... Care for the most vulnerable, support for our young people and concern for the environment and the challenges facing rural communities are three strands of my personal ministry and will be reflected in my priorities..."

"the most important relationship is our relationship with God. If we don't attend to that through prayer, through listening, through thanksgiving, through celebration, we won't become the people God wants us to be."

"I'm striving to be the best husband, father, friend and bishop I can be. That's the journey I'm on but I don't walk it on my own. God inspires, leads and accompanies me on it."

I'm delighted that we have a new bishop who sees mission as central to his role. This hasn't always been so. We face a lot of challenges, not least a rapidly shrinking Diocese: for every 9 members in 2008, we had lost 1 of those 9 by 2011 (according to the latest official stats from the CofE).

In turn there's an increasing burden on those who remain. One of our 2 churches has grown in menbership by 32% during 2006-14. At the same time our Parish Share (amount paid to the diocese to support ministry across the county) has risen by 92%. Even if you add in inflation for the period (26%), parish share payments have still risen around 50% faster than ability to pay. That's not sustainable. Milking growing parishes and amalgamating shrinking parishes has an inbuilt slow self-destruct.

So yes we'll need, courage, confidence, and prayer. It's a while before we welcome Bishop Peter, but I'm encouraged that perhaps God has supplied the kind of diocesan bishop we need for the challenges ahead.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

'To keep the show on the road, the show will have to change'

Ultimately, what the figures reveal is the end of a decade of respite for the Church of England - thanks to Anglicans' offering to minister without pay. This is a decade in which the Church could have been planning for the predictable changes that are now in train.
Put simply, the Church of England is soon going to have to operate with far fewer ministers, both stipendiary and non-stipendiary. Women's ordination has helped a little, but women continue to be disproportionately represented in unpaid, part-time, and low-status jobs in the Church. It is unlikely that this situation can be sustained - even if conscience allowed it.
To put it bluntly, there are no longer enough troupers left to keep the show on the road, and the show will have to change.
from this article by Linda Woodhead in the Church Times this week. I blogged a while back on how the CofE is looking at a long-term full time workforce of 5,000 in parish ministry, compared to the 12,500+ the current system is based on. It's encouraging to whiff the aroma of smelt coffee getting as far as the Church Times. The CofE is understandably reluctant to close down churches or parishes, but that leaves us in a bit of a pickle if there's an ever reducing clergy workforce. As the Church Growth Research report notes, amalgamating parishes is a good way to accelerate decline, but with parishes outnumbering clergy by 2.5 to 1, there isn't really another option under the current system
The show will have to change. There must be a combination of fewer parishes (or a smarter way of running multi-parish benefices), or more authorised local lay leadership, or a fundamental reconfiguration of parishes, churches and the clergy role. Or a blend of all 3. Trouble is, a declining church is going to struggle with finding that lay leadership, we should have been doing this a generation ago. 
Ultimately it's God's gospel and God's church. It did pretty well in the early days without vicars and medieval buildings, and maybe it will again. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Time to Talk

Every night I would check my alarm clock 10, 15 times to make sure that I'd set it to 'on'. Every morning I'd wake with a feeling of dread about the walk to work, and I'd get on my knees to ask for strength. Relief that the working day was over would quickly be overtaken by anxiety about the next day waiting round the corner. Once on the way back from work I stopped in at the local co-op corner shop for some food. I just stood there, unable to choose what to take off the shelves, overwhelmed by the choice. I put the basket down and left without buying anything.

A few years later I sat in the corner of our front room in tears, trying to explain to the kids why daddy was sad. It took a couple of other work colleagues to notice I was looking rough and to sit me down for coffee and help me to talk about why I wasn't my usual self.

I'm blessed, I've not had any deep or longstanding issues with depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness. I've had the mental equivalent of bruising or a small crack. But I know that talking to people about what was going on was a massive part of helping me to get through it.

Today is Time to Talk day, 24 hours in which to start conversations about mental health, raise awareness and share the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it.

Is there someone you know who's been looking more down and upset lately. Who's taken to avoiding church, the school playground, their usual circle of friends. Who struggles with the greeting 'how are you'? Maybe they could do with a coffee too. 

Because mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something we don't talk about enough.