I’m not sure what it is but I’m glad it’s there.


A week ago today a Sunday afternoon and evening off. All together, the four of us. This is rare right now so really welcome.

A day out in Middlesbrough perhaps sounds a bit like ‘the fun I had having my fingernails ripped out’ but I really loved it (perhaps I loved more the feeling of leisure and space). Lunch at Nando’s (at last a chain we all like and which you don’t need to take a coronary care specialist with you) and then a ride on the ‘Middlesbrough Wheel’. I’ve ridden this wheel in York, where it seemed to be for years, and then Manchester….. and now…Middlesbrough. I’ve eventually come to like Middlesbrough but it was a long hard courtship- fantastic views of post-industrial landscape, urban dereliction and the declining steel and chemical industries.

And then to Mima. Whoever it was who chose to put a major modern art gallery in Middlesbrough should take a metaphorical and literal bow. We have a reputation as one of the ten worst places to visit in Britain…yet in the middle of this place is a striking building and art. In the centre of Middlesbrough I have seen stuff by Picasso, Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Chris Ofili and many others. I find this amazing.

Now I don’t much understand art. Often I have wondered around and stifled the urge to say ‘He’s not an artist: he’s a very naughty boy’ or felt my inner Daily Mail say ‘It’s not art- it’s a mess’.

But sometimes I have ‘got it’. And even when I haven’t, I have felt so different being there; stiller, more full of wonder and happier.

I’m not sure what it is, but I’m glad it’s there- I think sometimes people in Britain think the same about church buildings or the sky pilots who hang around them. Leastways I hope so….

A great Friday…

After The Fire - Der Kommissar

Well yesterday was: my youngest son was 6 and I forsook my usual jaunt to the pub (which I so missed) to celebrate and buy goldfish for which he has steadily been accumulating an exotic array of names for (at least one of my children is developing a very welcome surreal gene: ‘I am your father, Luke’).

But the Friday evening before was great in a different way: after the pub and before my carriage was due to turn back into a pumpkin (I am let out at teatime on the understanding I am back for a certain time with or without glass slippers) I went to a friends house and we indulged in a spot of jamming. I am not The Edge just yet (in fact, on a guitar, I sound more like the hedge……ok that was a spectacularly lame ‘joke’), but this was the first time in my life I have done that: I always dreamed of being able to do that one day.

Second thing: I phoned a fellow blogger (http://banksyboy.blogspot.com/) late at night- we had never met, much less spoke and we only stepped into each others worlds through the blogosphere (I don’t feature all the blogs I read on the side bar, mainly as I haven’t yet worked out how to do so. I do have a taste for ‘quirky’ blogs- ones that sometimes tackle big issues, but more often display warped , often self deprecatory humour, are ‘human’ and have a hinterland).

Had a great conversation about mutual stuff and the posts I did about worship. Turns out that this blogger was a mainstay of ‘After the Fire’…. a band who once shared a TV studio with U2 (I am slightly vague on all the details) and of whom U2 said ‘We are glad we met you- you inspired us’….

…..that for me was the Friday night post pub equivalent of meeting say, John the Baptist. Man I was excited when one of the staff in the local Spar went out for a while with Bono’s second cousin…..but here I was in the presence of greatness.

A thoroughly good chap who sent me a CD of worship using Anglican liturgy and rock (but in a good way) plus a double CD of ‘After the Fire’ which I’m steadily getting into.

On a Friday, ply me with beer, give me good conversation, let me play the guitar and give me CDs and I’m a happy man…



More heresy


(From  http://tumblr.tryingtofollow.com/ HT: http://jonnybaker.blogs.com/)

OK- I’m being tongue in cheek-ish. I just loved the above image and there are tons more like that on that blog.

A reminder to me: when trying to be biblical: read the whole thing before ranting….. in fact- think about not ranting and just listening.

And remember, the sternest words in the Bible are often directed at those of us ‘inside’- ‘why did you not show or act on what I gave you?’ rather than those of us ‘outside’. But then again, it is a whole lot more emotionally satisfying throwing bricks than showing grace….

(and I really should not be blogging today- my youngest is 6- this day is all about him)

Maybe the reason I generally don’t like those songs is because of this….


(This picture is so wrong and yet so right on so many levels…)

I’m just trying to get the longest post title ever….

I found this a few days ago. I’d read it yonks ago. It is American, it is tongue in cheek, but it explains a lot about me to me.


It is called ‘you might be missional if…..’

1. You talk more about the Kingdom of God than you do your local church.

2. You are more in awe of the radical Jesus than you are the charisma of your pastor/preacher.

3. You feel a greater sense of community in the parking lot than in the pews.

4. You’ve oftened muttered leaving a ‘church service’, “there’s got to be more to it than this”.

5. You’ve often wondered why the church couldn’t meet in the park or Starbucks once in a while.

6. You’ve cringed at the coldness and indifference of church people when someone shows up at our ‘church service’ that looks and smells different.

7. You’ve wondered why Christians only hang-out with Christians when Jesus seemingly never missed an opportunity to party with the riff-raff.

8. You’ve wondered what God does the other six days of the week.

9. You’ve had the urge to spill your guts to the next artificial inquiry, “I’m fine, how are you?”.

10. You’ve had the compelling urge to join the preacher at the podium to present an alternative perspective.

11. You’ve wanted to fall to your knees while everyone stood for another happy-clappy song.

12. You’ve wanted to close a ’service’ by shouting from your pew, “NOW WHAT?”

13. You sometimes find more spiritual depth and authenticity in the lives of those who do not go to church.

Some thoughts raised by songs…5


I think it was England v Pakistan and I think it was 1982 (I have over 50 Wisden cricketer’s almanacs in this study- I should check. Except if I do, I will end up reading for several hours and forget what it is that I started looking for). In a particular test match, England picked 5 medium pacers. Even at 16 with no ability to play cricket, I thought that was misguided. I think that led to the line ‘You can change the bowler, but not the bowling’.

I think that is the same when people gather together to worship. If it is all ‘medium paced’ it becomes monotonous, or as the inevitable U2 intoned on ‘If God will send his angels’, a case of ‘the bland leading the blond’.

I’m sure God can cope with anything (even me singing Psalms first thing in the morning as I badly pick variations of ‘D’ and ‘G’)…. it’s just when people gather for worship (which ain’t the be all and end all- amazing how we make together worship sometimes the be all and end all. It’s important, but only part of a balanced life. I’ve lived through more anger about worship – caused more anger about worship (!) in churches than anger about why we are not serving the poor etc etc)….don’t make it medium paced- mix it up a bit…… vary styles, meters etc….don’t always sing etc.- you get the picture…fill in the blanks etc…….plus I think God has made us amazingly different and beautiful…it is great to be part of communal worship when that happens (if not in one act of worship, over the course of several).

and make it honest…I’d like that….if you are ecstatic admit it- if you are despairing -likewise (although I often find that ‘hushed up’ in many communities as if it is not ‘proper’ or ‘suitably public’).

I’ve said enough- thanks for reading and contributing. You’ve made me think a lot.

Some thoughts raised by songs….4


I guess this is really about Sunday….but it does feature songs.

I led a parade service on Sunday- we get one a year. This is where being a Methodist Minister scores high: we are still ‘established’ enough to be ‘safe’, yet free enough to make space for our guests (being tied to a Eucharist every Sunday can come across to a load of de/unchurched kids as ‘You sit there whilst we eat’….at least this has been my experience). It is always a dilemma to lead things like this- perhaps I go to one extreme- I think it is a rule of thumb that you make every attempt to welcome your guests and make stuff intelligible to them….rather than expect the service to fit around you.

Perhaps I pulled it off; I don’t know (it is never a good idea to ask a leader of worship how it went- we tend to have an inflated view of how we came across)- I do know that I love stuff like this where you have to earn a hearing and where anything can happen as this group (mainly the boys) can react in any way……. and you can’t patronise or talk down.

Re: songs- I used mainly trad or easy to pick up stuff of varying types. I guess I wanted it to be recognisably ‘this is what we do- we will tell you why-you are welcome and join in’.

 ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ to reassure the parents and the congregation that this was ‘proper church’. ‘Seek ye first’- a bit old but easy to join in and do as a round. ‘We are marching in the light of God’ as many know it through the ‘church for people who don’t do church’ that we do once a month- plus it has a beat. ‘O Lord hear my prayer’- dead easy to pick up whilst we watched pictures of Haiti (one 7 year old shouted out loud ‘we should do something’) and ‘Will you come and follow me?’…some Iona stuff comes across to me like a middle class leftie with dangly earrings getting all worthy- but this one was ok and the folk tune helped.

So why am I listing songs- you can read better things on blogs….. just to say that trad-ish songs of varying meters and a beat can connect better in a trad-ish setting with people who generally don’t do church…at least judging from the volume. Perhaps it helps as I like to have fun and participation as well.

I so loved being there- connecting with lots of people before, after and during and the possibility of another taker for something experimental that I want to try and get off the ground in a ‘third space’ sometime soon…

On these rare occasions trad+ fun seems to work better…at least that is my opinion…

Some thoughts raised by songs…3

FRESHOne of the reasons why I started blogging was to force myself to confront and explore stuff in the blogosphere that I could not fully do in ‘realworld’. This is why I am doing this particular series of posts.

So I’m sat there the next day after I went to this service with all of these questions buzzing around my head: ‘Am I in the right place? Should I even be in leadership? If so…is there a place for me?’

I think the Church is God’s…I don’t think walking away for me is a solution (smacks too much of ‘me, the individual’….part of the thing about church is relationships, connecting, showing what the Christian life is like…. and if one starts something new it is started with connection with the old. Leaving any established church/fellowship to plant something independently smacks so much of an independent capitalist mindset…at least it does IMHO).

I then found this- and hoped again….it is written by a pioneer minister-my heart is with stuff like this.

It is the story of a Baptist pioneer minister thrown into working with an Anglican vicar in a gathered collection of parishes ( I love stories where lines are blurred)

After a lot of relationship building, holiday clubs, this happens, which is very similar to stuff I have been involved in building in my last two places:-

So in September 2006, ‘Sunday Club’ was launched with personal invitations for each of the sixty or so children that had been to the holiday club, and adverts in the village magazines and through the schools. It was advertised as a ‘holiday club on a Sunday’ and this meant that there would be video, games, craft, action songs, a creative prayer activity, and a very short talky bit focussed around a memory verse. A number of families from the holiday club joined us at the first event and although a few didn’t return, many continued to come each fourth Sunday.

It was small scale, basic (you don’t need a lot of people to do stuff like this- in fact if you are part of a ‘weak’ church it is probably easier- you can’t hide in programmes and events and often in rural areas, the boundaries are a little more ‘blurred’).

And then, from this, in another attached parish…another possibility came up to start something new (and many original church members wondered why people who came to the first club did not some into church…ditto my experience- church is like a foreign planet to many who are dechristian)….which took on a different direction and began to engage with unchurched people (I don’t like that jargon, but I’ll stick with it).

What really got me about this story (Full article http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/node/334) was that this new community involved no ‘modern songs’ (I really don’t like anything with the word ‘modern’ in it) and seemed much more relational.

Although I have my doubts about the sustainability of anything requiring paid staff (one reason, from time to time, whilst I muse about getting into ‘tentmaking’…ie finding another trade so I can do this stuff). I loved the simplicity of this and the awareness that to plant etc it was not about ‘Right, lets open the box, we need some guitarists, modern worship etc’ as a first course of action.

I did note that towards the end of the article they were seeking a ‘Bishop’s Mission Order’ (don’t know the jargon, but I gather that is a good thing) to employ someone to sustain and develop this work. Hmmm….. defined community, semi rural, relationships, ‘loitering with intent’, working with people who are inside/outside church…..and talk of

‘taking a leading role in organising social events and ‘community blessing’ activities’.

well- if it came up, I’d be tempted…..

 I love the history- the provisionality, the working together and the openess. Excited by planting that does not involve singing stuff all the time.. and the possibility for development and getting stuck into a community….

Now get that order and if you want a conflicted nearly 44 year old- I’m your man…

A Sunday thought and a day’s break from maudlin introspection…


I read this on a comment from ‘naked pastor’ by a guy named Marty a few days back and this really excited me- made me punch the air and say ‘yes’ in a refined British way.

This quote excites me, fires me and helps me explain why I do what I do…. alternatively it may just be the fact that it includes *unchurchy* language that makes my ‘inner naughty schoolboy’ laugh…

“I am so addicted to the verdicts of men. I mean I really am. I think the great temptation for ministers is to talk about our sin in neatly packaged sermon illustrations so I can clean it up and sterilize it to the place where it’s actually a subtle illustration of my victorious application of Jesus rather than a true illustration of the fact that I’m an asshole. I mean, I come into work and I’ve got all this stuff going on and I snap at somebody and I’m just real, live asshole. And grace in that moment, you can’t neatly packaged. It’s somebody throwing their arms around you and saying, ‘I love you, but you really are an asshole.’”


Yes, but you’re my asshole, I envision God saying.
Grace doesn’t deny my assholeness. Grace can’t be amazing until your sin is amazing. You’ve got to get in that place where you can be startled by it, because if you do everything right, you don’t deserve it.”




 (From ‘Sin Boldly’ by Cathleen Falsani)

Some thoughts raised by songs…2



So I’m thinking about songs and music and the difficulty I have right now. I hit ‘internet monk’ (strap line ‘despatches from the post evangelical wilderness’ … that wilderness is a place where I roam about a lot…) and I find this from a contributor where he speaks about his disillusionment with American evangelicalism:-

‘For years, I’d had a growing dissatisfaction with evangelicalism’s lack of tradition, historical perspective, reverence and order in worship. I resisted its programmed approach to spiritual growth, its bourgeois commitments that blatantly disregard the NT emphasis on sacrificial service and inclusion of the poor and disenfranchised, its “temple” mentality that has little sense of serving Christ in daily life and instead revolves around what happens in the institution and its programs’.


(I would recommend the whole article- it is thoughtful and considered- this is written by a guy that is still in church and strugglingam).

Britain is different, but to my ears (note that: this could just be my issue and my prejudices) underneath many of these songs ignore the poor and disenfranchised, questions and seem to have a kind of ‘temple’ mentality implied- build up the institution, success= bigness, ‘outreach’ instead of faithful seeing God where you are and joining in….

I find the evangelicalism of now much more savvy and integrated that the evangelicalism of the 1980s when I became a Christian…… but it almost seems to me that when worship begins it is a case of ‘lets get that stuff out of the way right now’. I’m thinking: but can’t that be part of worship?

…I want to see the hungry fed, the humble lifted high, people following Jesus, the gospel being announced and read into different cultures and I admire the faith and skill of those who write and lead these songs….but I just have so many questions right now…

Some thoughts raised by songs….1


Ok- I’m going through a phase of stuggling to choose songs in worship and also to sing them. It’s not that I can’t find songs to fit…. I can…I just can’t sing them.

The songs I choose have become a kind of liturgy- I don’t stray far from a small canon of them. Mostly it’s 18th century hymns (although I could sing ‘From heaven you came’ forever and never tire of it. I go a whole bundle on ‘Shout to the Lord’ as well…. but these are old) – I find few songs hold joy and pain together so well. Aside from the quaint grammar I think they are truer to life and perhaps more ‘missionally effective’ (ok-that is jargon, but I just don’t feel like explaining it right now).

I went to an act of worship for our circuit (group of Methodist Churches) and it was really well done and well led…..it was not a performance- it was worship. I’m glad that I’m part of a circuit where this happens- I love it how it connects with some people…..

…but the songs didn’t really connect with me- excellently though they were played. I don’t think it would connect well with many of the people I interact with on a day to day basis who are outside the church….I’d much rather move around, touch/taste etc… get a sense of mystery and a bit of depth

….. and it has hit me with a dilemma- where do I go in worship- I want the riches of tradition, but I don’t want to lead a museum piece….and I don’t want to get hung up on gathered worship as if it was the be all and end all…….and I don’t want to diss my brothers and sisters who are moved by this (‘worship wars’- 2 words that should never belong together)…… and I’m listening to music that is not ‘Christian’ and it moves people….and I don’t want to hold back those who grow through worship songs…

…so many questions right now…