Closure

I got a text last weekend from someone who I know in North Wales. The details were sparse, but the first church I was sent to, St John’s, Colwyn Bay – now St John’s Uniting- is closing in a couple of months. I was there, 1999-2004 and we held thanksgiving services for our children there.

I have only ever been back to preach once- in 2008 and know little of the debate around this closure.

However, the signs were there with the building: tremendous building put up in 1888 for mixed reasons: to be bigger than the Anglicans and to announce ‘we have arrived’ in that uniquely Victorian way. It struggled initially and was known as ‘Wesley’s Folly’: initially it had 38 members who echoed around the barn. When I arrived, the sandstone that was part of the structure was not mixing well with the sea air. Dealing with it (badly on my part) was truly converting: I do not like property and property schemes- if people want them, fine- just don’t expect the minister to devote anytime to keeping them up. Sadly in the late 80s there was a discussion with a housing association who offered to buy the site and build a newer building. The majority of members opposed this….. be careful about the decisions you take in your own interest.

I know the building is just a building and the church is seperate, but as I type these words, people are coming to life whose faith was nurtured by what went on in that building; christenings, weddings, school assemblies (the public school used it extensively) and funerals.

There is also the recognition of something dying and that is never easy for those who worship there and who look to it as ‘their church; even if they never or rarely go.

It makes me think about ministering in a dying church and finding the courage to look for a future that is nothing like the past. And then I wonder if I have the resources for that future.

Braveheart

One of the joys of freesat is that you can watch the same film over and over again: scarcely a night has gone by when ‘Love Actually’ is on. As an alternative to ‘Love Actually’, some channels have gone onto ‘Braveheart’.

I like watching Braveheart: there is nothing like coming in, late from a meeting and watching meaningless and bloody slaughter. I would recommend it; viewing it prevents you getting an axe/stick/mattock/13th century sword and doing likewise in a meeting….as I wish I had known in the earliest days of my ministry (Note: that is ‘humour’. I occasionally use it on this blog). Puzzlingly, I have never seen the whole film all the way through; just bits of it, glimpsed in the 15-30 minutes late at night, after a meeting. I know almost nothing about the backstory: the real William Wallace.

I have been musing that this is how many/most (?) know the Christian story; editted highlights, extracts and sometimes those being meditated through memory and interpretation. When I hear those highlights recalled I mostly cringed and when people have recalled some of them as reasons why they don’t believe, I have started to say ‘If that was what being a Christian was really like, I wouldn’t be one either.’

One of the really powerful things about following ‘Christianity Explored’ through with people has been not so much the course, but people- often with years in churches- reading scripture for the first time and reacting to it communally. Then beginning to realise the Jesus of childhood, philosophical speculation or the ‘good man/spiritual teacher’ (yuk- I’d far sooner people disbelieve completely than come out with this misread hokum) is different.

And yes….sometime I better watch Braveheart all the way through and look at the backstory as well….

9

photo Ben

‘I don’t know where the time went?’ is a cliche, but like all cliches has a grain of truth in it. My youngest son is 9 today and is beginning to evolve from a child to a tweenager. A happy day for him and a happy day for us, but one with bittersweet tones of time passing.

Benjamin (‘son of my right hand’)- my wife’s choice, Tomos- my choice: the Welsh spelling to remind him of where he was born and with overtones of the disciple who doubted & to whom faith did not come easy & Evan- his brother’s choice: Welsh, but with echoes of one of his great friends.

Apart from school, which for him is unfortunate, it will be a day of loud 8-9 year old friends, junk food, computers & cubs and his unique, left brained take on the world. I love him.

…oh, and a mention on his dad’s blog….

 

 

 

 

Being nice for Monday….

“I suspect the reason why so many leave the ministry or find themselves in such compromised positions in the ministry is due to the unrelieved boredom of facing a lifetime of being `nice’ “. Hauerwas

I read this on an e group I am part of a few weeks back. It stimulated quite a debate; are we ordained too ‘nice’? Does the attempt to maintain a ‘nice’ facade put too much pressure on us?

I would have to say ‘yes’: it does…and the struggle is to become more real and more human. Still it is something that afflicts us all: I remember someone saying years ago that most Christians are far nicer than God is…

Here is to a week of being less ‘nice’ and more loving….

Sin and Hell

(Oh dear: I think I may have overdosed on irony. Still it illustrates how ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ have got into our vocab)

This Sunday I have to preach on ‘Sin’ & ‘Hell’. I have never preached on ‘sin’ and ‘hell’ before but something that we are following as a church means I have to.

I don’t want to; I am minded of arrogant, bigotted loud men thumping the pulpit, their faces contorted & spitting out ‘God is love’. But these are tricky areas, I guess & so much unhelpful, medieval & cultural imagery has grown up around them.

I thought: ‘I live in a nice village, with nice people- this looks like a kind of ‘7 impossible things to believe before breakfast’ theology’. You know- answering questions that no one is asking. Then I yawned and turned over my nice ‘rich but leftie’ Observer and saw page after page of, well ‘sin’- humanity knows the good it should do, but doesn’t & we are a part of that. So maybe it is not possible to answer the paradox of humanity without realising we are both incredibly beautiful and made in God’s image and at the same time flawed.

But ‘hell’? Heck- I have never preached on ‘heaven’; not least because of the cultural ideas of chubby cheeked angels and a nice place where I will see my dead puppy are so strong. Our ideas of ‘heaven’ owe more to Platonism anyway.

I also think the force of scripture, whilst acknowledging a destination and a judgement, seems to be much more about living counter intuitively and openly. To take a football analogy- play as best you can with the help you can- there is a referee, so play to the whistle. The referee is always right; don’t waste your time disputing his call. Even my limited football abilities tell me about being more concerned about playing well for the full 90 minutes than focussing on the decor and location of the dressing room….

So we shall see…… This was helpful in deconstructing some of the mythologyhttp://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/01/23/hell-from-james-to-john/ (and follow the links).

nb: Last week, due to my recurring insomnia, I did not sleep on Saturday night. I got up to preach, so tired I could barely see my script. I sat down, having overshot my time and felt dreadful and what I had said. I now hear that people thought it was by far I have ever preached…so no pressure there then….

A proper blokes day out….

Today we have but one god and his name is Tony….

So, this morning is the cubs regional 5 aside football tournament. My older son did two years in this tournament and now it is my younger son’s turn. He has an advantage: for a couple of years now, friends have been organising Saturday football training (heck: I am even known as a ‘coach’- I can now shout football gobbledegook and express indignation at anything that moves) and one of our number has had a proper professional career (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Butler_(footballer_born_1964)).

Then, this afternoon, the mighty Boro play Aldershot in the 4th round of the FA cup. It had gradually grown from a casual idea to a Proper Blokes Day Out- mass ticket booking (about 50 of us together), negotiation with pub to do bacon butties & beer (for the children) and now a coach has been hired.

My wife cannot understand our excitement at the prospect: freezing to death in a half empty stadium, bacon, beer and blokes. O, it is paradise…

Friday Music

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A few weeks ago in Durham, I did my usual trawl of 2nd hand shops. This time in Oxfam I came up trumps: a pair of Tom Waits albums- ‘Blood Money’ and ‘Alice’.

It is only in the last couple of years or so that I have ‘got’ Tom Waits. Or rather, not ‘got’, but ‘getting’; he is difficult to explain or categorise and is rarely accessible. I do not think I would have begun to appreciate him in my 20s or 30s-  his voice is bruised, broken and sometimes harsh. Each album is rich and multi layered.

These two cds have been by companions as I have attempted to navigate the post Christmas January drear. I hope they will be my companions for a very long time. This particular song is simply beautiful.

 

 

On silence…

This is a terribly ironic post to put on a blog that updates daily….

Some of you may be aware that Steve Chalke, Baptist minister, Songs of Praise etc put up a post/statement last week about why he felt that same sex partnerships and equal marriage could be Biblically justified. The statement is here http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/sexuality/stevechalke.aspx and it is worth reading. It is also worth clicking on the fuller statement.

Within a day, the Evangelical Alliance put up 3 statements critiquing this. See http://www.eauk.org/church/stories/the-bible-and-homosexuality.cfm  http://www.eauk.org/church/stories/not-radical-enough.cfm & http://www.eauk.org/church/stories/homosexuality-and-hermeneutics.cfm

Understanding of marriage/sexuality is an important issue: Christian faith is holistic- ‘body’ and ‘mind’ are never seperated. But….. but….

….if someone makes a statement like this, I am thinking that there is a place for silence. A place for thought, reading, contemplation and prayer whilst you really listen to what the other person is saying. I wonder if at least 2 weeks or longer should pass in cyberspace before you even begin to issue a response. And when you issue a response, season it with Grace and do not include phrases like:-

 ‘Steve’s approach to biblical interpretation allows for a god in the likeness of 21st century Western-European mindsets’.

Within theology, that is like playing the man and not the ball; all of us are culturally conditioned- some of us are blind to that.

I remember the furore a year or so back about the American writer Rob Bell. He had published a book called ‘Love Wins’- go google. It seemed to challenge much traditional evangelical thinking. People began to send angry tweets to ‘Rob Bell’- except the Rob Bell they sent them to was an English electrician by the same name. At the time, he was suprised and hurt by the anger & I am sure he said something like he was not a Christian and after receiving the tweets did not want to be if this was how they treated each other.

And you will know they are Christians by their haste and bile…..

(There is a really good post on this by one of my friends http://www.dyfedwynroberts.org.uk/index/steve-chalke-and-evangelical-fear)

Why you should never search for a ‘good’ church part 2.

I was speaking to someone on Sunday. They had once been part of another church in another area of Britain. They said something like they left as they realised that when they were praying for the area that the church building was situated in it was miles away from the community where they were living. The way they spoke it was like they had woken up to their local area and realised that community and worship had to be together- they could not be seperated.

Society/community will become more disparate and fragmented in the next few years: it has been happening for some time. Christendom will continue to collapse; those who follow the way of Jesus will face some stark choices (which we have always faced)- how far do we mirror this and how far do we resist it? Do we continue to commute large ‘safe’ gatherings where our ‘needs’ will be met Sunday by Sunday or do we find/start small scale local gatherings where we seek to bless and serve before primarily looking to our own needs/those of our family?

It is tricky- it is hard: my heart knows which way has the most integrity….

Christianity Explored

Last week we started ‘Christianity Explored’ at church. I admit it: I am not a fan of ‘out of the box’ courses and prefer something a little more contextual. Maybe it is not fully where I am theologically (and who knows where that is?) but it was really exciting.

Exciting? Well, we are rarely intentional about anything evangelistic these days. Even the word ‘evangelistic’ sounds bad: for me it has connotations of people with no social skills, sensitivity or hinterland. Perhaps ‘evangelistic’ is a poor term and the Roman Catholic idea of ‘evangelisation’ is better as it carries connotations of learning and growth. Being kind of ‘post’ I tend to shy away from invitational stuff like this- to my cost.

But a group of people gathering to ‘field test’ over 6 weeks something new is exciting. Everyone knows why they have come: to learn, to remind ourselves, to grow and to evaluate. Please note: I did not put the number of people down- I loathe churches doing that: it often comes across as boastful and ‘look at us/me’.

What was most lovely is that a disparate group put in a warm room with a clear purpose began to talk about things they had never really talked about openly for ages. At points I thought ‘Take off your shoes, for you are on holy ground’- so open were people and so heart rending were many of the questions. It really helped as someone else (a 10 min DVD) did the talking & the framework was ‘you can say anything and no one will be shocked and butt in’.

I don’t know where this one will go or what will be the ‘result’ but I enjoyed it so much…. maybe there is scope for more of this. If so, other things will have to go. But I am excited….