Pray for our British Armed Forces, especially this Remembrance Sunday

Serving soldier looking at material supporting family life - Armed Forces Day of Prayer 2011

It was a Royal Marine funeral last year that profoundly affected my ministry.

Since then I have had the privilege of meeting members of the Armed Forces Christian Union (AFCU) through work on our Mothers’ Union pilot project funding relationship counselling, and of attending this year’s Armed Forces Day of Prayer.

I saw the YouTube video below at a presentation given by the AFCU at Mothers’ Union. Produced last year, it struck me at the time how appropriate it would be to be played this Remembrance Sunday, as an alternative way of conveying the message that as well as remembering the dead, we need to pray for those who still serve.

I hope you will take 4.5 minutes to watch it. Perhaps it may move you to use it, possibly in a church or other service, and my prayer is that encourages others to do what it asks:

Follow these links to find out more about the Armed Forces Christian Union and how we can Pray for our Forces.

As the video says:

Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands.
Protect them as they protect us.
Bless them, and their families,
For the selfless acts they perform for us
in this time of need.

Blogging in the ghetto after #cnmac11

Dr Dixon speaking at Christian New Media Conference 2011 (taken from my rather low spec android phone)

There were many great things about the Christian New Media Conference last weekend.

It will take me weeks to sift through the various things that challenged me, or got me asking questions about my use of social media. I could start with the delight of meeting ‘in the flesh’ various social media illuminaries, but others (like the Vernacular Vicar, Revd Claire and the award winning Lay Anglicana) have already made that point.

The thing that’s been nagging at me most since Saturday means I’m starting my reflections at the end, with some thoughts on Dr Patrick Dixon’s concluding presentation.

Dr Dixon challenged us to ask afresh what our calling is, reminding us that Jesus came to transform the world. How much of what we tweet and blog, he asked, is “ghetto traffic”? How much is relevant to the wider world? If we use the language of our ghetto, he warned, we need to be careful who will see it, as we can be badly mis-understood.

Now, I don’t reckon myself a world changer like Dr Dixon. I don’t want to be – at least not on a global scale. If there is to be any butterfly effect from what I do, it will most likely be from simple acts of encouragement, sharing, being there for people, and hopefully by enabling them to be touched in some small way by God. Those things are most likely to happen through face to face conversations of one form or another.

But for me to be effective in those face to face conversations, sermons, services and other ministerial happenings, I need to be equipped with all the tools and inspiration that God has placed at my disposal. These include (among other things) the Biblical reflections of others (as recommended to us in Reader Training by our DDO), and their thoughts on and experiences of different areas of ministry.

Obviously, there are books, and personal conversations with those more experienced than I to contribute to the sea of wisdom at my disposal, as well as the inspiration of God through the Holy Spirit in quiet moments of reflection; but as the links above suggest, the world of website and blog (accessed increasingly via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader for convenience) are of increasing value for being easily searchable.

Of course, if I am going to count myself a practitioner in these fields, I too may have thoughts of my own to share, that others at various points in their own faith journey or ministry, may wish to dip into. Making my own sermons and service ideas available is therefore part of a reciprocal relationship (the open-sourcing were were encouraged to elsewhere in the conference) – not so much holding them up as virtuous but holding them out before God’s people for critique. It may, and has, led me to be open to mis-understanding, but it would seem selfish to do otherwise.

So, I guess that means I am operating in and expanding the ghetto of Christian bloggers and tweeters, that I took Dr Dixon to be criticising. Yes, I do want to be ‘salt and light’ as the Bible tells us (Matthew 5:13-15) . Yes I do want to show people that God is relevant and can change their world. but for me, at present, that means I need the colegiality of the “ghetto” of blogging Christians to feed the individual face-to-face encounters that fill my ministry in this little corner of the world that Jesus wants my help transforming.

Is that really such a bad thing?

Wanting to trust the local press – a question to take to #cnmac11

I’m being followed.

For someone who seems to spend rather a lot of time on Twitter, and is a member of the Twurch of England (who have a cool new website), this obviously shouldn’t bother me. It doesn’t. Well, normally it doesn’t. So, why should my most recent follower on Twitter be worrying me, everso slightly?

You see, it’s not so much who he is, or what he does, but what he did. That is what has just niggled at my normally quite open social media conscience.

OK, so he’s a local journalist, a gentleman (I hope in all senses) who until this week I’d never heard of, and who I have never knowingly met. I follow the Twitter feed of the religious correspondents of three major daily papers so it’s not like I’m allergic to the press or anything. In my ‘marketing and communications’ capacity for Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester, I’m actually more inclined to be chasing the press for coverage of something, than being worried about them chasing me.

But, you see three days before following me on Twitter this chap had phoned me up (presumably having got my number off the church office answering machine) wanting details of a funeral that he’d heard was taking place at St. Peter’s this week.

Now, as a Christian, I want to trust people. I want to be open about my faith, and I hope by being open about some of the details of my ministry may help in a small way to improve the public image of Christian ministers. In fact, I’m a fairly trusting sort of girl generally – until experience tells me to be careful.

In this case my experience of what he asked me, led me to question whether I could trust him. ‘Funeral chasers’ horrify me. For me, that counts as intrusion by the local press.

Any ministry to the bereaved is normally totally personal and private unless with their permission they want something about their loved one publicised, or a very public funeral or memorial service is appropriate. (I’ve had one of each of these in the last 18 months, so I know about them too!) Why should the press wish to invade someone’s grief just because they might be ‘different’ or ‘interesting’ in some way?

Twitter, like a blog (which is presumably how this chap found my Twitter feed) is a public conversation. My Twitter conversation often revolves round my ministry, sometimes the funny side of church life, and often I (like many of the Twurch) will refer to the generality of the pressures of ministry, with references like “Three funerals this week… prayers for strength and sensitivity welcome!” (I made that one up btw.) Especially during our recent vacancy when I was responsible for many things to do with funerals and other ‘occasional offices’ I was tweeting about such things because there is a collegiality to the Twurch community that was incredibly supportive when operating slightly ‘solo’ and needing instant, supportive/helpful answers to sometimes daft ministry questions or statements.

It’s just I don’t want to jeopardise my ministry, nor compromise the Twitter community that contributes to how I learn and share as a minister. I also want to have integrity in both my faith and in my pastoral dealings.

Now, it’s taken me 24 hours to consider this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to trust this chap, and I’ve ‘followed’ him back. You see, I actually believe we’re sort of in related businesses – I hope we’re both trying to build community in my home town. That involves sharing news. I’m just hoping that he has the good sense to realise that ‘news’ doesn’t include the spectacle of someone’s private grief, and that he’ll trust me (and others – after all, I’m not the vicar) to share the details of those things that will help us as a community, rather than hurt it.

But it’s left me with a question which I’m going to take to the Christian New Media Conference in 10 days time is this: How much do we risk compromising our ministry by taking it into the public sphere of social media?

Encounter – Baptism and Thanksgiving Preparation

OK, so this is the first blog post I’ve ever done ‘by request’! It comes out of a Sunday night conversation on Twitter about Baptisms and Baptism preparation.

Baptism preparation was probably the area of ministry in vacancy that became almost impossible to keep up with by simply visiting individual families one by one. I knew I wasn’t being very effective, and was sure that it wasn’t really engaging people with the church, even though I worked hard to show this CPAS video, talk through their reactions to what baptism is really about, show them the liturgy/promises and encourage families to attend services/Wayfinders/Messy. The supporting Deanery clergy were always great too at visiting the families after me, before they got to the ‘dunking’ stage!

There was a constant backlog of families wanting to be ‘done’, and often people upset that the process is slower than they would like. Some of that can’t be changed, but I was sure some of it could be.

But the new vicar arrived with a plan… or at least something that had worked in his last parish that we could adapt. Now he’s in Malawi doing other useful stuff for a fortnight and I’m trying to make the first shot at “Encounter” happen in St Peter’s for when he gets back! The big encouragement has been so many folk from our congregations want to get involved helping, making this a better example of the active, faith-full fellowship share.

The idea is that a whole group of families enquiring about baptism are invited to “Encounter” – that helps with the visiting load immediately.

They are invited to come to our 11.15am service, where because it’s a nice time of morning most of our baptisms take place. (Even though it’s not necessarily the most family orientated of our congregations they are very welcoming and know how much their ministry is needed).

Then we’re going to offer them a light buffet lunch of kid friendly food… St Peter’s does catering really well, and hopefully it’s a chance for some informal chatter about what goes in at church and people’s reactions to having seen a baptism happen.

Next will be a song by our Peter’s Puppets… to break the ice, show them something different and get them sat in ‘church’ again after lunch.

After a brief intro to what’s going to happen, we’ll show them the CPAS First Steps DVD – hopefully via laptop and data-projector on the big screen (it lasts roughly 10 minutes). Then our lovely new vicar will discuss with them for 15 mins-ish some of their reactions to the baptism service they went to earlier, their expectations of baptism, the symbolism in baptism (cross, water, light). He’s been a vicar 20+ years so I guess he knows how to do so much so quickly, though having seen the DVD will help – I shall watch and learn!

Then one of our church families who have chosen to have a Thanksgiving Services for their children will talk for five minutes about why, and what it includes and doesn’t include.

Next up will be two of our children’s leaders talking about Wayfinders (our Bible-based baby/toddler groups), Messy Church (monthly) and other kids groups. This is because increasingly we find families wanting bulk baptisms with the eldest children sometimes being well into school age.

As we get towards the end there will be another song from Peter’s Puppets, before I explain how they can now book a Baptism or Thanksgiving Service if they want to go ahead with the idea. Booking a baptism will be by 1st/2nd/3rd choice of some dates we offer on a form… we will then confirm by phone. For Thanksgivings, these don’t need to be in a morning service, so will be booked direct with the vicar I think. They won’t be able to book at Encounter (so they have a cooling off period, and we don’t get a ‘rugby scrum’ of bidding for dates), but will need to drop the form back to us after they’ve had a ‘cooling off’ period to discuss all they’ve seen and heard!

The vicar will close the session by about 2.15pm with prayer, and we’ll hand out the response/application forms at the door as they leave!

The leaflet I’ve just finished to send out with the invitations is here, but please remember even the vicar hasn’t seen it yet because he’s in Malawi, so I’m expecting him to edit it before our second session of Encounter: Encounter Baptism-Thanksgiving Leaflet Oct11 I’m hoping the new vicar doesn’t mind me sharing all this – it’s his bright idea after all… I’m just doing what I call “the knitting”!

I’m really encouraged by the number of people who have volunteered to “do stuff”, especially the puppet team, our ‘thanksgiving’ family, and our children’s leaders.

So, that’s the plan for October 30th.  Thanks to Revd Simon Cutmore and Revd James Ogley (among others) for encouraging me to blog about it. Feel free to pray for us that day, and I’ll report back at the end of the month on how it went!