Encounter Baptism and Thanksgiving – reflections on the first session

At the end of October we had our first ‘Encounter’ session, to which those who had expressed an interest in having children baptised were invited.

I laid out the plan of the day here, and thankfully it pretty much went to plan.

From a practical view-point one of the big successes was the informal lunch with the chance to talk to people – something we can make better use of by using this time to share information about our services and activities for young families, so that can be immediately discussed informally, rather than be drawn into more ‘baptism’ related discussions.

Another good point (other than the popularity of the puppets) was having a couple talk about why they chose to have a Thanksgiving. None of the families actually took up the idea this time, but it was much better having the idea drawn into discussion through the story of real people.

There are various logistical tweeks we need to make, but one of the interesting things about people’s questions was that so many of them revolved around the minutiae of the service, like ‘how many Godparents can there be?’ Perhaps we need to cover more of this information in the preliminary leaflet the families receive when they have enquired and get an invitation to ‘Encounter’, but there is the equal danger that people don’t always read what they’re given anyway!

Encouraging for me though was the response of our (fairly new) vicar to questions about how Baptism (to some extent) and Thanksgiving services (to a greater extent) could be personalised to the ‘story’ of a particular family or birth, whilst still being part of morning worship of some sort. We already make use of songs that are familiar to families who have engaged with our Wayfinder groups and Messy Church, but he has felt able to pick up on a Pentecost healing that enabled one recent birth and later committed to having an infant baptism next Pentecost.

This is the sort of idea that I later found reflected in this excellent reflection on the SPCK blog (where the book that is recommended would be a suitable gift for parents attending ‘Encounter’ if we could afford it). I look forward to seeing how it can be made to work practically, or if this instance will prove something of a minority case. It all depends I suspect on how much people’s experiences of God’s activity in their lives, pre-date their wish to have a child baptised.

The problem I see is that the families that engaged with ‘Encounter’ last month, all had some connection with us as their local church (even if only at an ‘exploring’ stage), and therefore relating the service to their experiences of faith (so far) can be relevant to them. None of the families that had made enquiries about baptism, but weren’t already attending something around our fellowship, accepted our invitation to ‘Encounter’ this time.

Only time will tell whether this pattern is repeated. I hope it isn’t, because for me, encouraging this group of people to engage with the fellowship of the church, as a pre-cursor to engaging with the faith they want their child baptised into, has got to be the key aim of ‘Encounter’.

Why should our parishes have a relationship with their Cathedrals?

Winchester Cathedral 'Make Poverty History' Rally 2005

I received a very unexpected invitation this year, which has made me think about the relationship between the parishes of our Diocese, and the life and worship of it’s ‘mother church’ Winchester Cathedral.

My parish is on the outer fringes of the Diocese of Winchester, so much so that during Reader Training many people started conversations with “where’s Yateley”, or “didn’t know Yateley was in the Diocese of Winchester!”

In the 14 years I’ve lived and worshipped here the only group of parishioners who seem to consistently ‘get involved’ at the Cathedral are our choir (annually), and those who attend to support Readers being licensed, or friends being ordained. Making sure that our parish has it’s six passes to enable people to visit freely produced interesting and instantaneous results recently, which I hope we can build on during the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.

But, I’m sure there should be more, better and regular reasons for going to the Cathedral than once a year for our Christmas shopping!

Now I’ve been invited to contribute to a Cathedral Advisory and Action Group (with the difficult title reference ‘Mother Church and Regional Beacon’), I’m meant to be trying to offer suggestions of ways that the Cathedral and parishes can become more mutually supportive in both worship and the wider mission of the Church, as well as the community.

One of the exisiting connecting points is through the involvement of parish clergy as Cathedral Chaplains, something that Revd Claire has been learning about.  From what Claire says, the role of Cathedral Chaplain  seems to be mainly to rightly, but forcibly, insert prayer and pastoral care into the value of cathedrals as tourist attractions.

It strikes me that if it is right to improve the working relationships between our parishes and our Cathedrals, then it probably needs to be through finding things that ‘add value’ to the ministries of both, rather than risk being purely a greater drain on already frantic clergy diaries.

But before we can find suggested answers to how, I found myself asking “why”. Why should our parishes have a relationship with their ‘Mother Church’?

Then I got worried, because I really don’t know the answer. Some fuzzy warm feelings about the Cathedral being

  • at the centre of Diocesan worship,
  • the ‘seat’ of the Bishop from which he leads the Diocese in the worship of God and our mission to God’s Kingdom,
  • the historicity and atmosphere of buildings soaked in prayer,
  • and a traditional place of pilgrimage and the burial of kings,

don’t seem to be concrete answers enough for the modern context.

So, do you think that parishes should have a relationship with their Cathedrals, and if so why?

Who’s going to miss the party? A sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

We all have to live with the consequences of our decisions, which is why I didn’t go to a firework display this year, and why five virgins didn’t get to go the bridegrooms banquet in Matthew 25.

We are all waiting for God’s ultimate party, aren’t we? We’re all prepared for it with our party hats, our streamers and the champagne?

My sermon last Sunday focused on the need for us to be prepared for Jesus to come again in glory, for the Kingdom of God to be fully revealed to us.

After much prayer and thought, I did talk about the fact that Matthew’s Gospel seems to suggest that there will be a point of judgement, where God’s grace may no longer be his dominant characteristic.

Since the passage comes in the lectionary as part of our post-Trinity preparations for Advent, I also suggested that when we approach the manger this Christmas we should not do so alone. We should bring our friends with us.

We must not judge whether God will welcome either us or our friends into his Kingdom, but if none of us are waiting, and if we haven’t brought our friends, then none of us are prepared to welcome Jesus the bridegroom.

The full text of this sermon is here: Sermon Matt 25v1-13 (10 virgins) (and yes I really did take a bottle of champagne to church!)

To post, or not to post, a sermon? #cnmac11

One of the challenges I received through the Christian New Media Conference last month was from Bishop Alan.

Bishop Alan suggested it wasn’t necessarily wise or useful to post sermons online.

He also said that if we do, we should shrink the general point of the sermon to an abstract of 150 words or less, and remember that sermons are a live encounter with God – what people remember when they hear it preached it is what is important.

I can see his points, definitely preach to a specific community or congregation, and who am I to argue with a Bishop!… Except that a few thoughts have been niggling at me over the weeks since:

  • I can post a sermon on the blog faster than our techie team can edit the recording and post it on the church website, where there is no current way of having a discussion about it among members of the church;
  • By blogging it, I can then post the link on Facebook where a large group of my friends are church members. In the past there have been a few occasions where this has provoked further discussion of the an idea. It also opens up the sermon to those who may not have been able attend that particular service but are following say, a sermon series.
  • Similarly in the past I’ve had absent colleagues preaching in a sermon series checking up on me to see where I got a ‘story’ or idea to, either to debate a point or before taking it on the next week themselves!
  • If anyone else finds a sermon I’ve posted useful, either for their own walk with God, or to inspire them in their own preaching, then that is as it were, a grace-full bonus and up to them, and God. That’s how The Text This Week has built up a following (a resource promoted by our Reader Training/DDO tutor).

So I think I’ve decided that posting sermons is not a complete waste of time. All I need to learn to do is take that little bit of extra time that is required to write an abstract of it – which is probably not an unhealthy exercise for any preacher who wants to check their message is clear!

Oh, and having created original illustration for this post – another of Bishop Alan’s great key points – I better go and photograph the bottle of champagne I used as a sermon illustration for the sermon (see photo) I preached yesterday! 






Does God’s grace stop at the parousia? #lectionary

Cartoon by MUF

This is just a quick chuck out thought as I grapple with the Lectionary Gospel for this week – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

The question that’s bugging me is this: does God’s grace stop when Jesus returns in glory (what some posh folk call the parousia)?

Last week my friend was preaching on Jesus as the vine (John 15:1-17) and raised the tension in the Bible between the doctrine of God’s abundant grace and the idea that those who do not remain connected to Jesus the vine, will not only wither but be collected together and burnt. It’s almost like no second chance is offered – which is not what grace says. He didn’t find a resolution to the question.

We’re now turning from a sermon series through the “I am” sayings to the lectionary as we start to turn towards the Advent season. And here I am looking at the young ladies waiting for the bridegroom in Matthew 25, and struggling with the same sort of issue because of course those that were unprepared are left shut out by the bridegroom from the wedding feast.

Here’s what I think, please tell me if you disagree or can teach me more:

God’s grace and forgiveness are unlimited in the world as we now experience it – a place where God’s Kingdom is breaking through but not complete. We constantly have the opportunity to seek Jesus, to turn to God for forgiveness and to receive his love because of that beautiful word GRACE.

But, there will come the point where this will no longer be true, because when Jesus comes in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1) those who have not prepared themselves by playing their part in the breaking through of that Kingdom, will find themselves shut out. They will no longer have a chance to change their minds, seek forgiveness, or go off an make suitable preparations by accepting Jesus as their Saviour.

So, does this line of thinking hold theological water?

[More of MUFs cartoon are here]