We all need a special place to meet with God, to chat, laugh, confess, share, and if necessary, to plead. This is mine. A place to share the fullness of life, to confess mistakes and to dare to dream the impossible which only Christ can make possible. A place where thwarted ambitions and unrealised hopes can be reflected on knowing there is no dress rehearsal for life. A place to work with God to change humanity until there are fewer people living or ending their life empty of joy and hope
Monday, June 29, 2009
Get a (church) life
They were an interesting and interested group and our conversation together ranged from the theology of the empty cross versus the theology of the crucifix, the existence of heaven and hell, the ethics of the lottery, the importance of religious politics, the value of women's ordination through to whether or not Jesus was married.. all in two hours! They were as fascinated by the little communion glasses as they were with the idea of kneeling to receive bread and wine, and puzzled more by the lack of stained glass than the lack of a curate. Their conclusion was that Methodism was a more open tradition because it encouraged you to think through your faith, but that there were real benefits to being raised in a particular tradition like catholicism, not least because it enabled you to 'get a life' : instead of having to think about your religion, you could spend your time on other 'stuff'.
They aren't the first group of people to suggest that religious people need to 'get a life'. There really is more to 'life' than Church - and certainly more to life with God than Church polity and politics.. there is, after all, a future to unfold, a kingdom of justice and peace to work for, issues such as global warming, to be engaged with, souls to be saved - and all this - that our and God's joy might be complete..
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Faith enough to chose life?
The national news recently reported that men were 70 per cent more likely to die from cancers that affect both men and women. Apparently there are "no known biological reason" why men should be more likely to develop cancer and die. The researchers were forced to conclude that "stereotypical" male behaviours, such as down-playing early symptoms and not visiting the doctor, could be to blame. Men would rather risk death, it would seem, than go to the doctor when they are sick.
I wasn't surprised by the news, and not just because I'm married – but because I recognise the symptoms. In my experience, however, this is not a problem which is confined to men. I find that both men and women are, on the whole, reluctant to do something about things that really matter to them – even when they know that they can, that they really should, that there is no reason why they don't... Fear, and apathy with a large dash of insecurity all shaken together make a deadly cocktail, but it's one which most people drink daily. And as a minister, I have to deal daily with people who slip embarrassingly into death, often for no more good reason than that they believe that they are not really worth life. It is the greatest source of grief and frustration that there is.
I am come, says Christ, that you might have life, and have it in abundance.. but we cannot bring ourselves to believe it. Or, if we do, we believe it only refers to life AFTER death, and not to 'real' 24/7 life here on earth. The life that Christ offers is Sunday life, religious life, the Spiritual life, it has nothing whatsoever to do with cancerous life, menopausal life,suicidal life,painful nauseating gut-wrenching bone aching arthritic rheumatic life – now does it.
YES it does... I am come says Christ, that you might have life in all its fullness. And these two stories sandwiched together in Mark's gospel tell us this. There is more going on here than a pair of miracles, there is so much more being said and done than God waving a magic wand and making a chosen few better.. This is an account of HOW life in all its fullness can be seized and it is written to pose one simple question – what will it take for you to seek out God and choose life?
At first glance the answer might seem to be simple
For Jairus, it was love of his daughter, for the woman, relief from her haemorrhage.. but there is much more going on here than this.
We re told that Jairus was one of the leaders of the synagogue – these are the same people who will shortly condemn Jesus to death. He would have had to risk scorn, ridicule and perhaps even censure for coming and asking Jesus for help leave alone falling at his feet and begging for it.. but even more spectacular is the person he wants healing for – a 12 year old daughter - In today's touchy feely world, we see nothing wrong in a father's deep love for a daughter, but in the time of Christ a daughter was of lower value even than a slave (which is probably why the other gospel writers re-wrote this story so that it is a centurion's slave rather than a synagogue leader's daughter who is raised from the dead)
The very idea that a leader of the synagogue would go begging for help from a street healer, a dissenting rabbi for the sake of 12 year old daughter was laughable.. remarkable.. revolutionary and revelatory.. Here was someone seeking Jesus, for the sake of a person of less worth to him and society than a field slave.. but someone who, by virtue of their age and their gender, carried within them the potential for new life. I doubt he would have ever sought help for himself, but Jairus was prepared to Jesus for the sake of someone else.. Though it was odd for the time, though it undoubtedly baffled everyone, including the later gospel writers, Jairus evidently believed enough in the worth of another human being, in their potential, to overcome his own pride, social conditioning, fear and apathy, to seek out Jesus and to chose life.
And what of the woman whose story is sandwiched in the middle of this greater narrative? Even in these days of sanitary towels and tampon adverts on the TV, the truth is we are still uncomfortable for the most part with the very idea of periods, or women's troubles being mentioned from a pulpit. There are some things that are just not talked about in polite society, even though the silence that we build up around them kills hundreds and thousands of women each year.. this woman was not just ill, she was made outcast from society and from the community of faith by this complaint. She was not allowed in the temple to worship, she was in the Jewish tradition – unclean – and so as good as dead to her family and faith. Yet, she had enough belief in her own intrinsic worth to risk reaching out. She knew she could be stoned for touching a man, a rabbi even she knew she was risking death by seeking life – and so reasoned with herself - “If I but touch his clothes”.. for her – life in all its fullness was worth the risk of being found out.. She believed in her own worth – even when her society didn't. And her faith, her belief that she had value, that God made her for life not death, gave her the life that she sought. Daughter your faith has made you well.. go in peace.
Her faith and the faith of Jairus was not faith in Jesus as a miracle worker – it was faith in the value of life over death, it was faith in the worth of all humanity in the eyes of God, regardless of what society or even religion says.
They believed enough that God offers life – to seek it out and touch it, or be touched by it.
But what of us.
God chooses Life – time and time and time again – for everyone – regardless of whether society or religion says they are worth it. Jesus did not demand that either Jairus or the woman confess their sins before life was given, all he asked was for Jairus to believe in life, and to have no fear. Jesus did not give life based on his judgement of whether or not Jairus was a good man, or the woman a just woman, for 'God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world.' and the gospel is not about judging people and persuading them that they are not worthy. For God so loved the world – that he came to give them life – life in all its fullness, that God's joy might be complete.
Christ walks our world today in the skill of the surgeon, in the care and compassion of the nurse, and the hospital staff, in the love and listening commitment of the counsellor, the grace and compassion of the minister and the love and fellowship of the neighbour. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, in the name of life of love and of hope, Christ is present, and tries to remind us 'lo I am with you always'. Repeatedly he tells us cast your cares on me, for I am gentle and humble in heart says Christ and in me you will find rest for your souls. Seek out God and choose life.
Through Christ we can find enough faith in God's love and purpose for us to know that life is meant as a gift not a punishment, that it is meant to be enjoyed, not lived out as a death sentence. In Christ we can find enough faith in our own intrinsic self-worth to act when we need to, to seek help when we should - to look for miracles and expect them, from family, friends, from God, from doctors and nurses.
Christ is calling us and saying
You are a child of God – you are worth ten minutes of a doctors time
You are a child of God – you are worth a phone call to the consultant
YOU are a child of God – you are worth the support of a friend in times of need
God values life above death, hope above fear, action above apathy and you above all else. That is the message that Christ came to share – that is the truth of the Gospel – to each and everyone of us God says - you ARE worthy – for you Christ died and rose again so that you would know that you are to have life now, not just after you have died – your life with God doesn't begin when you are dead, but when you are born -
All this for you – because yes – you ARE worth it.
So I ask again – what more will it take for us to seek out God – and choose life?
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Being free to minister..
Carrying on our conversation from yesterday, you've had me thinking about the way in which church members may need to dissent from their own, and sometimes their minister's understanding of ministry in order to be able to be Church. It's sad really how quickly we can slip into blind obedience to unwritten expectations which make ministry more like wading through mud than liberating the soul.
Do you recall that one brilliant ministerial student asking me in utter panic when she had just been stationed - ' but what will I DO all day?' She was so concerned that she didn't know how she would be expected to spend her time (the same soul was later repeatedly told that she was a workaholic!)
The mistake we make, I think God. is assuming that ministry is like any other 'job'. It isn't a 'job' it is a vocation, a way of being, and as such it can't be broken down into a set of achievable outcomes or tasks. I think you have taught me over the years that ministry is simply a way of being with your people such that they know your presence and can be led into your truth by the power of your holy Spirit.
Of course, there are certain set times which we try and set aside by to be with you and with the minster in order that together we might delight in 'being' Your people, might offer you our thanks and praise, and seek to learn how to be more like you. These are times which may be 'planned', and which may well end up in a diary but which are sadly all too often squeezed or crowded out by a whole host of other things which actually have nothing to do with the ministry or the ministerial vocation.
They are, if we are honest, often more about power-plays than about people, more about status and systems than about the Spirit , and more about ego's and feathers than souls and salvation. And these things cripple the work you have called us to do God.
So before September starts, and a whole new round of ministerial expectations set in - here are a few suggestions which I think you would endorse God, for members of those Circuits which have asked on their circuit profile for a pioneer minister or a minister with experience of Fresh Expressions.
Suggestion number one : Let the minister you have asked for - be the minister you have asked for.
Take a GOOD look at the diary you are busy creating for them - and for every meeting that is already in it which CPD does not require a minister to Chair - try and find someone else to chair it. (for reference - the minister is only required to attend Church Council meetings, the General Church meeting, the Pastoral Committee Meeting and the Circuit meeting. and the Worship consultation meeting if one exists) Learn to ask - WHY do we need the MINISTER to chair this meeting - what will they bring to the meeting which nobody else can. If (as is so often the case) the only answer is to know whether or not the minister is free to attend another meeting/event/occassion - then ask the minister for some date BEFORE the meeting - and agree to one of those.
Suggestion Number Two: Expect the unexpected.
If you have asked for a pioneer or a fresh expression practitioner do not expect them to be the same-old-samo. They will not BE in the office every Monday, or pastoral visiting every Tuesday, at lunch club every Wednesday, Mother's and Toddler's and writing sermons every Thursday, doing hospital visits every Friday, hosting coffee mornings every Saturday and leading Church Services every Sunday.
They are more likely to be in schools, in pubs, in restaurants, in gyms, in the street, on the buses, in the sanctuary, in the cafe's, They are more likely to talking to a bunch of prostitutes than to the Woman's meeting, leading a street healing service on a park bench than leading a guild meeting in the Church hall, and being a pub philosopher/theologian than being in the vestry for a fixed hour once a week. They will be wherever those who do not know God are, and will create a different form of Church with them which may, but probably will not, lead to greater Sunday attendance.
Suggestion number three: SHARE in the work of God.
We have become frighteningly dependent on the clergy in our Churches over the last three decades, and I really think that this more than anything, stifles the ministry of the Whole People of God. Experience teaches us that its only when we begin to share in ministry that we begin to grow ourselves and discover the joy of our own calling. Here are a few obvious things that Church members can begin to reclaim a shared responsibility for: Class leadership, pastoral visiting, Baptismal and wedding preparation classes, leading WORSHIP, leading fellowship, PRAYING.. When these are part of a shared ministry, the Church is a vibrant, Spirit filled community which can't help but grow in grace and holiness.
I'm really thankful that in Methodism, the laity really can have a shared ministry - if they want it; a ministry which is not confined to attending meetings, stewarding or handing out bibles (important as these things are)
A Methodist lay person can be enabled to:
1) Take extended communion to the housebound
4) Lead worship
5) Lead Bible Study and Fellowship
YES of course, training is needed - these things are important - but the first step is realising that this ministry is not only possible - but is essential to the future life of the Church.
What do you think God - would it work - could we do it?
Could we set our ministers free to minister and begin to share in the ministry of the whole people of God ourselves?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Venture FX, Dissidents and Malcontents
Good morning God,
another sleepless night, but thank you for the thoughts which have kept me company - I want to see if I can capture the essence of them here..
The gospel breeds dissidents - which should not be mistaken for malcontents so two definitions borrowed from Wikipedia before we go any further:
‘A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution’. Whereas, ‘the most important thing about the malcontent, is that he is malcontent—unhappy, unsettled, displeased with the world as he sees it—not at ease with the world of the play in which he finds himself, eager to change it somehow, or to dispute with it. He is an objective or quasi-objective voice that comments on the concerns of the play and comments as though he is somehow above or beyond them’
The difference between the two is important because the malcontent never leaves the world they are displeased with, why should they? they already believe themselves to be somehow above it, or separate from it. The dissident, however, if they really do dissent, is usually given no choice.
Jesus was not a Jewish malcontent, displeased with the people of Israel, disputing with its leaders, as though he were somehow above or beyond them – by choice, the word became flesh and Jesus ‘came to his own people’.
Jesus was a dissenter from the institutional religion of the day. He challenged its hypocrisy and grieved for its destiny, even whilst submitting to its authority. He dissented from the religious and political policies which promoted and tolerated injustice and exclusion by daring to touch the untouchables, converse openly with women about matters of faith, and socialize with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. And above all this, Jesus dissented from those doctrines that turned God’s gifts of law and grace into unholy, impossible demands, insisting that the Sabbath was made for humanity, and teaching that our sins are forgiven.
What he practiced, he also taught to his disciples. So, inspired by your Spirit, the early disciples also became Gospel dissidents, something the Acts of the Apostles delights in recounting. The extent of their dissent led ultimately to the separation of Christianity from Judaism. The story didn’t stop there of course. The gospel breeds dissidents not malcontents, but that doesn’t mean that the history of the world and the Church isn’t littered with the remnants of institutions, policies and doctrines which have been fractured or torn apart by dissent.
You have caused me to wonder, God, how Caiaphas felt as he watched everything he had tried to do to ensure the survival of Judaism in spite of Roman occupation, being undone by the passion and enthusiasm of a band of dissident Galileans..
Matthias Stom, Christ Before Caiaphas
Caiaphas was a man of faith, doing what he believed to be right for your people, he studied your word, prayed and proclaimed your law.. tried to safeguard your people.. did he plead with you about these Galileans? And what of the Pope and the Bishops who called Luther to account at the Diet of Worms? Or the Anglican priests and Bishops who were so threatened by Wesley’s connexion of societies and his doctrine of grace? History seldom records the names of those who built the institutions, defended the policies and determine the doctrines dissented against, but behind the faceless ‘they’ are men and women who have, in all faith and sincerity, with full integrity committed their whole lives to those very things. And you hear their prayers too…
Which is I think, what makes Emergent Church, Venture FX, Pioneer ministry and Fresh Expressions of Church so crucial.
I think, what you might be trying to say God, is that this movement of your spirit may be a way of holding on to gospel dissidents – so that the whole body of Christ can be revitalized by their energy, passion and enthusiasm, instead of being shattered or hurt by it. If we have the courage, if we can actually hear the voice of dissent rather than silence it, and if we can allow it to be expressed in new forms of worship, proclamation, sacrament and ways of being Church then, maybe, both sets of prayers could be answered and the mixed economy Church become a reality.
Somehow we have to let go of our desperate insistence on that conformity which masquerades as unity and learn to trust instead on an interdependence of non-conformity which will allow us to truly celebrate our unity in diversity.
If we can find a way of NOT expelling the dissident voice, of not crucifying, ridiculing, imprisoning, ex-communicating or constructively dismissing those of our young people, ministers and preachers, teachers and leaders who dissent from our institutionalism, policies and doctrines, then we might actually begin to soar where your Spirit takes us..
BUT – can we?
Can we ever find a way of overcoming all that prevents us from hearing one another and working together, so that we could find a way of living with and perhaps even welcoming the genuinely dissident critique of the systems, structures, hierarchies and particularities which are precious to us?
That Lord, is the question which kept me awake all night.
I’m still praying for an answer.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Being in full Connexion
Because I am a Methodist, the word minister does not mean ordained. As a Methodist I believe in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, in the full equality before God and in the service of God of both lay and ordained. I am also persuaded that nowhere is this doctrine more powerfully expressed than in the gift of Connexionalism. I use the English way of writing it because it still serves as a reminder that Connexionalism is not just about being connected one to another, it is about being connected through Christ. There is a cross at the heart of our conneXion which binds us one to another and which motivates us to work together to fulfill our calling.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Enough already - Presidential leadership to balance our Secretariat please!
- 2000 Conference received a memorial from the South Wales synod calling for a review of the roles of the President and Vice-President to be brought to the Conference of 2001
- 2001 Interim report pleaded too much to do - promised full report in 2002
- 2002 Council brings a report to the Conference which argues for a continuing one year presidency 'Because we feel it is important to get the position of the General Secretary right' in spite of the fact that the MAJORITY of those who responded to the consultation wanted a longer term presidency.
- 2003 First General Secretary appointed for 5 years
- 2005 Review of Conference report asks whether or not the roles of the President, Vice President and Warden of the Diaconal Order should be longer-term appointments
- 2007 The attempt in the report on Senior Leadership in the Methodist Church to reduce the role of the president and vice president to a ministry of visitation was overturned by various Notices of Motion from the Conference floor resulting in
- the affirmation of the President of Conference as the leader of the whole (Methodist) Church
- the establishment of a working party to examine and report to Conference on all aspects of the roles of the President and Vice-President and how they work together and relate to the senior leadership of the Church. This should include
- how the roles might be further developed;
- how they might work more closely with the General Secretary of the Church/Secretary of the Conference to present a shared vision and to energise the Church
- the length of office of each;
- the title of the Vice-President
- A Presidency which is empowered to do what Conference has affirmed its desire for it to do - lead the Whole Church
- A commitment to teach 'those things which are distinctive to Methodists' to the Methodist people before we lose forever this gift of grace from God.
- A determination to be a MOVEMENT for the reformation of the Church and society
- A visionary, prophetic church which values Spiritual insight and Discipleship AS MUCH if not more than management and governance in its leadership skills.
- Above all - a people who are no ashamed or afraid to speak of what God has done, and is doing still in the lives of the people called Methodist.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Still more ways to talk of God
2. dnt wrshp pix/idols
3. no omg's
4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)
5. pos ok - ur m&d r cool
6. dnt kill ppl
7. :-X only w/ m8
8. dnt steal
9. dnt lie re: bf
10. dnt ogle ur bf's m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.
M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.
God is with us
God loves us
We are His
No ill can touch us
When we know these facts are true
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Time to talk of God
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I'm sorry I haven't a clue
For which of our new posts on the Connexional team is it considered essential to have experience of
Researching information from many sources, including the internet
For which post is it also essential for the candidate to be:
Strategic, highly numerate and analytical with creative flair
This is not true of all the posts, but for which one(!) is it desirable for the candidate to have knowledge of
An understanding of the Methodist Church
And last but not least, for which post is it essential for the candidate to be able to demonstrate the
Ability to think through, develop and clearly articulate key policy issues
Having done that - now try and match those with a of the key task taken from the same range of adverts:
facilitating effective consultation practices and convening ministerial stakeholders forums (a new name for synod perhaps?) and practitioners forums (conclave?)
Monday, June 15, 2009
It may be good management - but is it God's ministry..?
Those of us who have been following reshaping of the Connexional team of the British Methodist Church can't help but be aware of the extent to which the UK Methodist Church is into 'management' in a big way. Leaving aside the cute in-speak of greens and reds.. of clusters and cores, the bottom line is that the Church has now fully embraced the concepts of governance, management and leadership (in spite of the fact that the report from which this 1980's business jargon was plundered was NOT adopted by the Methodist Conference of 2005)
So what...? Who cares..? What's to get excited about?
Well - nothing really - as long as we expect the British Methodist Church to be just another institution with a mission statement in the same way that BP or IBM is. If that were the case I would join the ranks of the delighted professionals and celebrate the fact that there is now approaching something vaguely professional about our Church leadership..
The trouble is, in my heart of hearts, I DO expect something different from my Church something - well - at least vaguely spiritual, or religious or even – dare I say it METHODIST - as well as professional.
BUT If I can't have both - well then I'd settle for an holy but Godly mess over and above a sterile professional heart to the Church every time.
As an example of what I mean - taking the latest advert to come out of the Connexional team - we are now looking for a
Policy Development Officer (Ministries)
I'm tempted at this stage to ask for answers on a postcard as to what we think this job is all about - but hold fire until you have read the main tasks of this fixed 12 month contract..
1. To support the development of ministerial policy and programmes by:
1.1. Assisting in evaluating existing practices and structures, and exploring alternative models;
1.2. clarifying and presenting options in defined areas, and indentifying the implications of particular proposals or decisions;
1.3. facilitating effective consultation practices and convening ministerial stakeholders forums and practitioners forums
1.4. assisting in shaping policy recommendations for Connexional decision making bodies
2. Interacting with partner organisations by consulting and sharing relevant research outputs to enable mutual learning and assistance
3. Assisting the Strategic Development Officer or the Head of Discipleship & Ministries in ensuring that work within the Team which relates to Ordained and Authorised Ministries is co-ordinated with the work of the Cluster
4. Any other reasonable duties as requested by the Strategic Development Officer or the Head of Discipleship & Ministries
The post does comes with some excellent learning opportunities.. to quote again from the advert:
Learning and training opportunities:
This post offers a good opportunity for anyone to develop a career in the charitable sector. You will receive insight into strategic issues facing one of Britain’s largest Churches, many of which have parallels in other organisations. In particular you will gain experience and knowledge of:
- Dealing with Senior Officers in this and partner organisations
- Some strategy development and policy formulation
- Problem solving
- Team working and using office systems
- Working flexibly and collaboratively within the Connexional Team
- Improved communication skills (oral and written)
- Working in a fast moving environment
- Time management skills and the capacity to meet deadlines
This is obviously a post which could have a profoundly significant spiritual impact on the future life of our Church if it really is intended to help shape and inform the future ministerial policy of the Church (lay and ordained I presume) Yet - it is not considered either essential or desirable for the post holder to:
Believe in God
Have any experience of the practice of Church ministry (either lay or ordained)
Have any knowledge of Methodist theology - in particular the Priesthood of all believers.
It IS essential however, for them to have good IT skills in particular in Outlook, Word and Excel - and best of all - to have 'At least three to five years experience of working in a policy writing and development role or within a professional church context'
In all fairness, whoever applies does need to be 'In sympathy with the aims of The Methodist Church'
Who are we trying to kid?
Given that of the newly configured team only 2/5 are Methodist 2/5 are members of another Christian denomination and 1/5th of no particular faith - I would be astonished if anyone can tell me what these are anymore.
Am I alone in being deeply troubled by this absence of God language in our Church? By the over-emphasis on management and lack of an evidence of interest in or concern for our tradition, beliefs and practices? Is this bureaucracy gone mad? These adverts might make for good management - but will they really help us to build a Godly ministry?