Whose voice are we listening to? John 10:11-18

My sermon this week, reflects the nature of our calling as Christians to listen to Jesus, and those who live, love and speak truth in his name, even, perhaps especially, when it’s counter to what is peddled by political leaders and news-mongers. 

This afternoon at the St. George’s Day Parade service, I’m going to (and did) briefly touch on the fact that St. George – the real one, no dragons here – had a Greek father, and a mother who was a Christian from the large Roman province of Syria Palestine. He lived out his soldiering career as a Christian, possibly protecting and releasing those who were falsely imprisoned, neither of which would have made him popular. He was martyred for his unwillingness to denounce his Christian faith. The thought-provoking irony of having a Christian Syrian Palestinian soldier as our Patron Saint should not be lost on us in the next few days.

There is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church in Aleppo, called Ghassan Ward.

“[His] bishop was kidnapped in April 2013, [his] church was destroyed, and [his] house was bombed. [His] two sons left the country, [his] wife died of cancer and [he] lost two… close family members because of the bombings.” But despite all this, Ghassan chose to stay in Syria, and care for his hurting community. “Many of my parish were rich before, now they are poor. They have no work, no income and all the savings are spent during the years of war,” he says. “The role of the church is not only having the services – we welcome the people and we try to help solve their problems. God gave us the love. It’s not easy to do this… The needs of the people are very big; we’re trying to meet their needs… We also help non-Christians. They are our neighbours, we live with them, and we cannot neglect a person who is hungry. When we give them a loaf of bread, the love of Christ is written on it.”

This story was told this week by the Open Doors charity, that serves and supports persecuted Christians. I have had it verified directly via one of the clergy and peers travelling in Syria this week, as typical of the work churches in the region are undertaking.

So what have these two people, St. George and a contemporary Syrian clergyman, got to do with this morning’s very famous, and deceptively simple parable?

Jesus is making some important points about who he is, but also about us. They are based round a claim that he fulfills the Old Testament prophesy of Ezekiel 34, where the Lord says he will rescue sheep “from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness” (Ezek 34:12) and that he will “place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.”

Why it is that Jesus is in the position to be both the Lord God and King David, and thus the Good Shepherd of all God’s sheep, is one of those things that this parable seeks to explain, and leads up to at the end of John 10. There Jesus declares “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Everything Jesus says and does, is based on, and returns to, his relationship with his Father; that is the means by which he has the willingness, love and authority to both lay down his life, and take it up again.

Jesus is also reminding his listeners, Jews like himself, children of God’s covenant with Moses, that God has always been interested in bringing more than just them into a relationship with him. This is being fulfilled in him, because it is through his death and resurrection that God reaches beyond the old covenant to the rest of the sheep in the world, a world that 3-4 centuries later would boast a Christian martyred soldier of Greek and Syrian heritage, and today includes a beleaguered Syrian priest with nothing left but his faith, funding from Open Doors, a team of like-minded survivors, and his desire to love all those in his community. Jesus came to create one single universal flock of people who know and love God, and have the freedom to do so.

The bond between the sheep and the shepherd, as well as the Father and the Son, is one of trust and love. When he styles himself as the “Good” Shepherd, there’s a lot more depth to the meaning than the bland little English word “good” suggests. It is more emphasising that the trust and love that Jesus offers people is attractive – it is what motivates people like Ghassan to be risking their lives in places like Aleppo. We, and more importantly those who’ve not encountered Jesus before, should see something beautiful, inspiring and ultimately counter-cultural in who he is revealed to be, and through what he calls us to do. When Jesus says, ‘My own know me… [and] listen to my voice’ (John 10:14 and 16), he is demanding our willingness to trust and love him, as he did his Father, and at the very least, to be willing to be obedient to the example that he sets us, through the inspiration of his voice, in this parable as among many others he told.

This was completely revolutionary and counter cultural to Jesus’ world, filled as it was with hatred and suspicion, violence and counter-violence… a world that perhaps sounds all too similar to our own?! In the context of his conversation with and in front of the Pharisees, Jesus is saying, stop listening only to your traditions, your senior religious figures, whether what they are saying sounds good or not. Instead, Jesus is saying, start listening direct to God, to a vision of a world that is different, where people share what they have with their neighbour without worrying about where they fit in any particular religious or political picture or ideal.

Do we want to be ‘good’? Do we want to be beautiful? Do we want to be shepherds, shepherds who welcome all-comers to the fold? Do we want to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of truth, the voice of love?

There are two levels, two areas of the world stage, on which we are invited today to respond to those questions; there’s the macro level, and rather closer to home, the micro.

On the macro-level, where is the beautiful love of Jesus for all God’s people, most visible? One place it would seem, is Aleppo where Ghassan Ward works bravely and painstakingly with other churches of many denominations to feed Jesus’ sheep. That, I hope you agree, is beautiful. The same could be said for the work of the Open Doors organization which supports him, supports vulnerable Christians in Egypt, India, Iran, and nearly 50 other countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian. If that work and those places are where the love of God for his people, and the love of his people for Jesus is most visible, perhaps theirs are the voices we need to take most care to listen to.

Still on a macro-level, perhaps we need to start questioning more carefully what we’re told by our political and dare I say it, our religious leaders, and certainly by today’s mainstream press. Where are we reading the counter-cultural voices, the stories of love, the hidden truths – even if they’re unpalatable or unpopular and don’t fit the current zeitgeist? Jesus says false shepherds flee the sheep in their care, and so we see those with authority playing fast and loose with the security and welfare of our neighbours, because their paperwork isn’t complete or they can’t contribute financially to society because of their disabilities. Sometimes even not knowing who to believe about the reality of whether a chemical attack happened or not, is better than believing the stories of either side without question. What would Jesus have us listen to and believe?

Which brings things rather closer to home, closer to the micro-level of our own parish and benefice, perhaps pertinently on this the day of our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, with St. Barnabas’s to follow on Wednesday. I’m sure you will want to listen later to Rev’d Lerys, as our Priest-in-Charge, but collectively we need to listen to how Jesus wants us to care for his flock, to look at the neighbouring ‘folds’ or parishes, to see where they need help to do the same, or where they might be able to help us.

And what about the other sheep, those that walk past the church in the sunshine, ride down the lane into the forest, stand at the school gate, sit at home and knit, sew or garden, and use the village shop and pubs? They need to know that Jesus is attractive, beautiful and good too, and that can only be done through what we say, and do.

Jesus had a two-fold vocation: to save the sheep currently in his care, and to enlarge the flock considerably by bringing in a whole lot of very different sheep (John10:16). That vocation is ours, because we already know Jesus. Our responsibility now, is to listen to his voice, so that we know where and how to seek the other sheep that he wants brought into his fold.

 

 

 

 

Christ is risen; share the news – Mark 16:1-8

HAPPY EASTER! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

This morning was a great chance to consider the Resurrection through the eyes of St. Mark with the children of our congregation taking part. So the following is something like what I said… with some of the props!

Who has already had some Easter Egg this morning?! Anyone willing to ‘fess up?!

So, I’ve 3 eggs, decorated or foil wrapped eggs, 3 Easter Eggs here for us to explore… and I’m sorry if those further away can’t see the action here, but eggs is eggs and don’t come (much) bigger! You are welcome to come closer if you wish.

We’ve got 3 eggs, all looking very pretty here, and we’re going to see if we can crack them into a glass bowl.

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Putting the Russian icon egg covers on the eggs on Holy Saturday.


Egg 1:
Russian icon egg, pretty, Jesus on it, HARD BOILED.

Egg 2: Foil wrapped, chocolate coated, (crack it…. dribble….) RAW.

Egg 3: Creme egg wrapped, wooden egg, open it…. nothing.

How do those eggs make you feel? Confused, disappointed, shocked… (hungry?!)
What day is it today? Easter Day!
What do you think should be in those eggs? Chocolate!
What’s the date today? April 1st, April Fool’s Day…. Check my watch; still before noon.
Do you think all this is just a joke?

Yes?
No?!
Good.
Why not? …..     Hopefully get an answer that involves the empty tomb.

Why don’t the children sit down here at the front (or with parents) for a few minutes…

There are four different accounts of the Easter story, Matthew’s, Luke’s, John’s and the one we heard this morning is…? Mark’s.

In Mark’s Gospel, that we heard just now, what surprises us?   No-one meets Jesus… there’s only one angel… there’s three women… the story is quite short… it ends without the women having done what the angel asked of them.

Mark’s story focuses on the confusion, shock and disappointment that three women experience at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.

The Friday night that Jesus died, two ladies called Mary, friends of Jesus, had watched as a man called Joseph of Arimathea, who secretly wondered if Jesus heralded a new part of God’s relationship with the Jews, had buried Jesus in a stone tomb. He’d rolled a big stone over the opening to stop people stealing the body.

36 hours later, and they’ve brought their friend Salome to help them anoint Jesus’ body with precious oils. They’re expecting to encounter the problem of moving the huge stone from the tomb entrance, but instead they’re confused by the fact it’s been rolled away.

Were the eggs that I brought with me this morning anything like you might have expected? No!
Were they confusing? Yes.

We all know that when we discover that things aren’t quite what we’re expecting, we become uncomfortable. We cast about for something that’s what we think of as normal, or expected. If we don’t find what we’re looking for, we’re suddenly hyper-sensitive to what’s different, or new. This is a good thing – it makes us curious. It’s how we gain new experiences and is how we learn.

So, the women are shocked and uncomfortable, but they are also curious, so they go inside the tomb. What are they looking for inside the tomb? Jesus’ body.

What do they find? Angel… man dressed in white.
Where’s Jesus? Risen… (going to meet the disciples in Galilee).

The Angel says “Jesus isn’t here. He’s been raised from the dead. The women are to go and tell his other disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.”

That’s the important bit… like the nice yellow, yolk in hard-boiled egg. It’s the important bit at the centre of the story. This isn’t a completely empty place, like my little wooden egg. Yes, they’re horribly disappointed, confused and shocked, but they’ve just been given a really important piece of information; they’ve learnt something so knew it’s never happened before in the history of the world. Someone has died, their friend Jesus has died, and risen to life again… resurrection!

So, what’s that important news again? Jesus is risen.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

What’s the other bit of news the angel gave them?… Get the adults to help… they were to go and tell the other disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.

It’s easy to get distracted isn’t it? We get all excited about one particular bit of a new discovery, and something else about it gets forgotten until later. That’s like the chocolate covered egg I brought, isn’t it. We got all excited and distracted by the chocolate coating, that what might have been important about it, that message in the middle, all dribbled out and felt disappointing when we tried to crack it!

In a similar way, it’s very easy to remember the very exciting bit of Easter, that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead, and then get distracted by the chocolate so we forget the other bit about the angel’s Easter message. What were the women meant to do? Go and tell other people about Jesus being risen, and where they can meet him.

The women in Mark’s Gospel do run off, amazed, but also afraid. They’ve found everything that’s happened in the last few minutes, confusing, shocking and disappointing. They are just so overwhelmed by everything, that they are actually silent, they don’t tell anyone anything!

Is that what was meant to happen? No!

Did they never tell anyone anything about what they’d seen and heard? Hmmmmm….. Yes? Well, the resurrection story in Mark’s Gospel certainly stops there!

If yes…. So how do we know? How come it’s written down in Mark’s Gospel if they don’t tell anyone?

Here’s something that might surprise you: in the very earliest manuscripts (papers) that have been found of Mark’s Gospel, his whole Gospel stops there. Some people think that was all he wrote. Some people think that the last bit of his resurrection story, got lost… like the contents of that uncooked egg. Other people have actually tried to tell another last bit of the resurrection story for Mark, because they’ve added to the end of his Gospel.

The way that Mark’s Easter story ends, as we hear it this morning, is with the women running off and saying nothing to anyone. That’s really important because it makes us think. It makes us think about what’s important at the heart of the Jesus’ resurrection, and what we’re meant to do with that news. What are we meant to do with the news of Jesus’ resurrection? Share it!

The women must have shared the news eventually, because if they hadn’t, their story couldn’t have been told to Mark and written into his Gospel. We know the disciples did meet the risen Jesus, in Jerusalem and Galilee, because we are told that through the other Gospels. So this Easter, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we are reminded that we need to share that news. We need to tell people who don’t know, and remind people who do know, but have perhaps forgotten that’s important. And we need to tell them where they can meet Jesus; here in church, perhaps when we pray, even when we’re confused, scared and disappointed.

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Our Easter Garden, set into the altar.

So, from my three eggs, have we got anything to share? Not a lot!
The wooden egg isn’t edible by anyone.
The chocolate was wrapped around a raw egg, and that’s now all a bit messy and yukky, so we can’t share that either.
The pretty hard-boiled egg is edible…. but it’s not going to go very far is it.

Have you all seen the beautiful Easter Garden at the front? Take the children to the altar…

There are the crosses on the hill, where Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.
Can you see the tomb?
Did you notice that at the very beginning of the service after we lit the candles and I put the big Easter candle in it’s stand, I went and rolled the stone away on the tomb?
Take a close look. What’s nearby?

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What was left of the contents of the golden egg after it had been shared.

They will find a large golden egg.
Get them to bring it to the front very carefully, and open it into a fresh glass bowl.
They will probably be excited, but ask them…

What they are meant to do with what’s inside, before we get too distracted?

SHARE IT! With the whole congregation….

Thanks to the ever-present strength and camera of Graham who keeps this clergy going. The pics are his.

As I was reminded at the end of the service, this was the last sermon of my curacy. On 9th April I will be Licensed as Associate Priest to the parishes of St. Mary’s Eversley and St. Barnabas Darby Green. My thanks to all those who have contributed to the journey thus far, and here’s to the next adventure…

 

 

Forest Church – Variations on a Missional Theme?

Maypole dancing at St. Peter's Church in the centre of St. Alban's, part of their Forest Church celebrations of may Day and Mary-Tide on 3rd May 2014
Maypole dancing at St. Peter’s Church in the centre of St. Alban’s, part of their Forest Church celebrations of may Day and Mary-Tide on 3rd May 2014

Over the last two weekends I have had the privilege of sharing in two Forest Church meetings. My grateful thanks go to Steve Hollinghurst of St. Alban’s Forest Church, and David Cole of New Forest Forest Church, for making me most welcome. Together with Bruce Stanley’s book ‘Forest Church – A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals’ which I have avidly read, these brief forays with those seeking to deliberately seek out the revelation of the Divine in creation are the necessarily limited encounters I can make in the limited timespan available for me to complete a ‘Mission’ portfolio on them prior to ordination at the end of June!

The portfolio is not however the only hoped for outcome of this restricted ‘field work’ as I look forward to curacy in what I think of as a rural parish on the outskirts of suburban Basingstoke, which I already know to be stuffed full of wildlife and other encounters with the natural world just waiting for me to engage with God through them. However, much water has to go under the canal bridge before I might begin to explore any fulfilment of that element of this research!

Both Steve and David were kind enough to suggest that I contact Bruce, and other Forest Church leaders, with questions that might help me unpack the extent to which Forest Church, is missional. To my current understanding this means that the intention behind Forest Church groups, and the inspiration for their facilitators, should lie somewhere on the continuum between the ‘propagation of the [Christian] faith’ (Bosch 1991, p1) which implies something being deliberately planted from a mature source either as a seed, cutting or graft, and “finding out what God is doing, and joining in” (which is I’m pretty a sure a John V. Taylor-ism, but I can’t currently locate it), which to my mind implies something more ad hoc, though both should be Spirit led!

Tying our prayers to the seasons with ribbons tied to a young apple tree in the orchard of St. Peter's Church in St. Albans - springtime and fruitfulness all in one.
Tying our prayers to the seasons with ribbons tied to a young apple tree in the orchard of St. Peter’s Church in St. Albans – springtime and fruitfulness all in one.

When I met Steve in St. Alban’s he was adamant that that group was intentionally missional in seeking to share the Jesus-tradition (as Bruce describes it eloquently in his book) with those who find encountering God in nature as a spiritual practice more attractive to them than sitting in a stone or brick-built creation of man. This appeared to be born out in the liturgy chosen for the May Day and Mary-tide celebrations in which I joined, where Jesus was mentioned by name, and links made through the Christian tradition with Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as with the fruitfulness of creation as we tied our prayer ribbons to the apple trees in the churchyard orchard.

At Hatchet Pond near Beaulieu with David last Sunday however, as we gleefully defied the elements, the link with the Jesus-tradition was less obvious. David certainly talked of God (I think, rather than the Divine), of purification, of the movement from darkness to light and death to life, which, as well as being a very seasonal theme of Beltane is one associated in the Jesus-tradition with salvation and the forgiveness of sins. However, whilst referencing the Bible briefly, Jesus was not I think mentioned directly and no prayers of any sort were offered, nor any Christian scripture or reflection; we were simply encouraged to go off and reflect on how we might engage with these general ideas. For me, aware as I am of my own current point of transition into ordained Christian ministry, the idea of transition visible in the blossoming and procreation visible in nature, was a very good metaphor of what (I hope and pray) God is doing in my life at present. Because I understand God revealed in Christ as well as in creation I am able to make that connection, but what of others?

Both St. Alban’s and the New Forest ‘Forest Church’ groups seemed to include both committed Christians who seem to add (or retain) God’s creation to their repertoire of mechanisms for encountering God, and those who are searching from a wide spiritual playing field for an encounter with the Divine appropriate to their interests and needs. I was particularly struck by the couple who gathered at Hatchet Pond seemingly in need of spiritual solace from the natural world after having had their cat put down the previous day. If and how that need was met I was sadly unable to discover due to my own lack of acuity in understanding the usefulness of finding out. However, no mechanism appeared to exist beyond the handing out contact details if requested, for furthering the reflections of those I would describe as in pastoral need, and thus the community building that I associate with ‘church’ appeared inhibited.

So my questions are

  • Are Forest Church groups deliberately missional in their intention to share what an evangelical might describe as the Gospel, and which a Forest Church facilitator might prefer to call the Jesus-tradition?
  • If they are deliberately missional, how might this be encountered in an individual Forest Church meeting, and/or in regular attendance at a particular Forest Church gathering? Some examples would be wonderful!
  • Is forming a community built on the foundation of Forest Church gatherings a desirable part of their activities?
  • Finally, because sadly such questions can’t be easily avoided in a mission portfolio and it’s hardly likely to be a ‘bums on pews’ count, how would you go about measuring the ‘effectiveness’ of Forest Church?

I am aware that part of what Forest Church is trying to do is engage in dialogue between ancient Pagan faith and Celtic Christian practices, some of which might be compromised by any idea of deceiving people into engaging with the Christian faith as Steve has discussed on his blog last year, but I hope that interested Pagan friends and commentators might be open to the idea that sharing in Forest Church style encounters is as much a sharing of their faith base, as it might be in being open to aspects of the Jesus tradition. I am hoping that between all those facilitating, attending or simply interested in Forest Church groups, it might be possible to share stories, ideas and motivations on these questions, which is why I’ve posed them via a blog post. Please use the comments facility below, as I may need to supply a link to this post as evidence for such dialogue as little seems to have been written thus far in traditional academic sources! However, if you would prefer to do so privately, please say so in the comments (where only I can see your contact details) or in a direct message on Twitter @ramtopsrac, and I will email you.

Building the aeroplane in flight – reflections on #winchestermission

Rt Revd Tim Daykin speaking on his vision for a  'Rule of Life' for those in the Diocese of Winchester, 5th September 2013
Rt Revd Tim Dakin speaking on his vision for a ‘Rule of Life’ for those in the Diocese of Winchester, 5th September 2013

When I set out to our Diocesan Conference, stuck as I am in a funny place half-way through ordination training,  my sense of calling dry, and confused as to how and where God is shaping my future, my personal prayer was that witnessing the development of Bishop Tim’s vision for the Diocese of Winchester would lead to a revitalising of my sense of purpose in ministry and my passion to serve God.

God did do some business with me, but there was an overwhelming sense was that he did a whole load of business with the diocese. Through the inspirational Biblical teaching of Prof. Tom Wright, through Bishop Tim’s modelling of a passionate and prophetic focus, and through the the work of the Holy Spirit work in the 200 Synod and ministerial representatives present, a corporate re-imaging of church took shape. On Thursday, the priorities were set that require us to become a pioneering ‘mixed-economy’ of culturally relevant Christian communities, living sacrificially as agents of social transformation. If you live, worship or minister in the Diocese of Winchester I do recommend you watch (start at the bottom & work up, slides here) or read the presentations in detail – they will be changing our lives!

Bishop Tim’s use of a video clip where people build an aeroplane whilst in flight was, frankly, terrifying. It was also honest and realistic. We can’t stop being church whilst we re-imagine how we function, not just as a diocesan structure but at every level of our mission and ministry. Witnessing the pain being caused to the ministries of friends and supervisors wasn’t comfortable either, as the speed and direction of progress for some functions of the diocese were subjected to what might be termed a hand-brake turn. The letter of due synodical process may not always have been completely adhered to and some unheard questions may need close examination in the near future, but then I’m not a synodical specialist. Importantly, there was a sense that the Spirit of God visibly moving through the event was of greater importance, if only the pastoral and personal implications can be handled swiftly and effectively.

Prof Tom Wright, past Bishop of Durham, speaking at the Diocesan Conference for Diocese of Winchester, 3rd September 2013
Prof Tom Wright, past Bishop of Durham, speaking at the Diocesan Conference for Diocese of Winchester, 3rd September 2013

There were several specific words of challenge for the ordinands present. I silently wept for myself and others as Tom Wright quoted his own words to others “Don’t be surprised if you go through fire & water, it is the norm. Ministry & mission is cruciform.” Yet, I was consoled to know that even our spiritual leaders have at times spent years surrounded by a sense of darkness whilst in ministry, and I was challenged by interview questions Tom Wright and Bishop Tim have heard of being placed before candidates in their pre-ordination interviews:

  • How would I lead someone to Christ? (My answer would I am afraid, vary hugely depending on the circumstances and experiences of the person concerned – no one size fits all, I would suggest.)
  • What are my two favourite Biblical passages and why?

We were reminded we have to carve the stone, or stones, that are our contribution to God’s Kingdom here on earth, in the context of the groaning and sorrow of this world, so that the master mason can draw them together with all the others his followers have produced to build something incredibly special. My private conversations may have suggested this isn’t necessarily possible, but I just hope and pray I have a small stone to carve in this diocese as the journey continues.

At the other end of the emotional scale, there was strong affirmation that though “‘the parish’ is an invented, not a God given structure”, God (and our Diocesan leadership) take a real delight in the variety of ministries we can offer and the desire to change not just our missional focus, but the structures that support it, so that both parishes and pioneer ministries, and particularly pioneering parish mission initiatives, can be resourced, encouraged, affirmed and celebrated.

There was no witnessing the development of our corporate vision; the whole event was participatory even for non-Synod members like me. However, Bishop Tim and the other participants who facilitated our deliberations, made it clear that we’re on a long-haul flight – the changes that have started, including the desire for a Diocesan ‘Rule of Life’ to re-found our mission in keeping with our Benedictine roots, are designed to make the Christian life of this region engage “deep into the mission of Jesus” as our participation in the coming of his Kingdom and his glory, but it can’t happen over-night.

Every parish was at the heart of the prayers, and held by us in our closing worship, at the Diocesan Conference, 6th September 2013
Every parish was at the heart of the prayers, and held by us in our closing worship, at the Diocesan Conference, 6th September 2013

As individuals, as parishes, as departments and deaneries, we might not always sense it, but God really is building God’s kingdom in God’s way… through us!

Building communities – Steve Chalke at #gb40 might relate to #winchestermission

My blurred last image of Greenbelt 2013 - Duke Special and the Greenbelt Festival Orchestra were on stage.  'Colourful but very blurred' is about how well I currently see the mixture of theology and pragmatic community opportunities that ordained life is currently  looking like. I wonder, does it, will it, ever come into focus?
My blurred last image of Greenbelt 2013 – Duke Special and the Greenbelt Festival Orchestra were on stage.
‘Colourful but very blurred’ is about how well I currently see the mixture of theology and pragmatic community opportunities that ordained life is currently looking like. I wonder, does it, will it, ever come into focus?

It’s great to be told half way through ordination training, that “theological colleges are training people for the wrong things!”

I heard that gem, among others, from Steve Chalke at Greenbelt over the Bank Holiday weekend. After my issues with camping that curtailed my experience of Greenbelt 2011, this time I stayed with a dear friend in Stroud (real bed & bathroom in peaceful surroundings) and had the company of my sixteen year old son, and was thus encouraged to focus on music and poetry, rather than talks.

But Steve Chalke’s talk “The Business of Salvation: Building holistic communities in the 21st century” was one of the exceptions, and I think it may prove to have relevance to our Diocesan Conference this week “Living the Mission of Jesus” where the keynote speaker will be Tom Wright (Revd. Prof. N.T. Wright, to give him what may be his formal title).

Steve Chalke’s point about theological training was that we’re being trained as theologians to run churches, rather than what he thinks we need, which is to be trained as entrepreneurs or ‘pioneers’ (to use one of Bishop Tim’s favourite “p’s”) in social infrastructure and community building.

Making the link between the original social functions of the Jewish synagogues and the need for local Christian communities (as opposed to out-of-town mega churches) Steve said something like this:

Church groups need to become/create/found infrastructure organisations – something they can do, together with businesses, local council’s and other community organisations. We have to be in the mix so that stuff isn’t done for profit, and pragmatically to stop stuff in our post-welfare state society from not being done at all! Being are core/key part of the debate gives churches/Christians a voice in the debate and protest – because we will have “skin in the game”.

My impression is, that this is exactly the sort of collaborative partnership that we may be directed towards at conference, and which as a Anglican Diocese with hopefully still a building (or similar resource to sell or redesign) and a fellowship of Christians in every parish, we are hopefully well placed to use.

I will admit a failure here: I haven’t yet read most of Tom Wrights “How God became King” which was the ordinand’s Christmas present from +Tim last year. (To be honest, I’ve had other things to read in the meantime.) But, I think what he’s trying to say in that, and I have a hunch he will emphasise similar at conference, is that many Christian’s have become too focused on Pauline and salvation theology, forgetting that this needs to be partnered with the Kingdom theology of Christ’s mission in his lifetime, i.e. the things he did between his birth and death as told in the Gospel accounts. These are the bits that tell us God is already doing his Kingdom work, as Steve Chalke put it, and all we have to do is join in! From some reasoning like this, I’m guessing Bishop Tim get’s his vision statement for the Diocese of Winchester that we should be “living the mission of Jesus”.

To me Steve Chalke, Tom Wright and Bishop Tim seem to stating similar things, that come close to the category of “blindingly obvious”. What concerns me is whether there is really not just the aching/longing prayer, the resources (financial and human), and the will-power to do such community Kingdom building, but whether the structure and constraints of an Anglican Diocese is really enabled to make it happen? I’m hoping that I will receive and encouraging answer to this, because I need to be enthused for the year ahead, and hear some substance to the purpose of my possible future ministry.

Going back to my original Steve Chalke quotation about theological training, in my view at the end of the talk he actually partly refuted his own statement. He clearly said that as Christian’s we need both theology (articulated in clear, common language) and the business skills in our church leaders. So when, in the Diocese of Winchester we think about re-structuring our training patterns to enable this long-term living of the mission of Jesus, are we also going to encourage and enable the tools of community enterprise alongside the theological training ordinands like me are already receiving?

So those are my starting thoughts for the week – not much, but where I’m coming from.

Cross-border funerals and bereavement care

DSCN1055cw(Lillies)Our parish churches and their ministers, have certain responsibilities. These include, as I understand it, the requirement to baptise, marry and bury those who request such ‘occasional offices’.

Whilst reflecting recently on my own past practice in taking funerals, I came a broader reflection on the way the Church of England approaches the care they offer at some funerals, which may simply be about the way my local patch has done things in the past, but may have a broader application. I’d welcome your thoughts:

It concerns what happens when a family from outside the parish approach a church requesting a funeral for a loved-one, because of some prior connection, most often previous residence and the fact a relative is already buried in the local churchyard or cemetery.

For other occasional offices, contact is also established in some form with the family’s local church. With baptisms, permission is typically sought from their local parish church, and in some cases baptism preparation may take place there. With weddings, assuming banns are required, formal contact is also required between the couple and the place, or places they live. There is also an encouragement through the wedding project to seek the prayer support of the parish you live in.

I am aware of no such tradition of missional contact with their parish of residence when families return to a community to have a relative buried; but do correct me if I’m wrong!

So, I’m wondering if, with the family’s approval, it would be helpful and good practice, to contact the local parish or minister of grieving relatives, so that further bereavement support could be provided by the wider church, especially since it could prove difficult for your own parish and it’s pastoral team to follow through with such work?

Otherwise, there may be a danger of leaving families isolated from other appropriate sources of Christian pastoral care, and as Christian ministers we may also be guilty of compromising our own missional capacity.

Is this something that the current research project started last year by the Archbishop’s Council could, or should, consider?

Here we go again… builders and assignments

DSCN0659wThere has been a lull in the building works (conveniently) over the last 10 days, but we think the guys are back from their holiday tomorrow, and with a great weather forcaste this week we’re looking forward to progress. They did start to get tiles on before they left, so it will be finishing them that’s the first job, and then the scaffolding comes down and the windows go in I believe! Then the tough bit will really start, as they’ll come inside to take down the existing front of the house and make new walls, which I have to say I am dreading.

I’m also back to assignments… need to come up with 3000 words of reflections on mission and evangelistic activity in my parish. Encouragingly this won’t be purely an academic exercise, because obviously it will relate directly to my ministry here in St. Peter’s. However it is especially timely as our vicar has announced in our ‘Crucial’ magazine that the PCC in November will be ‘re-visiting the vision process that we began in 2007’. Since November will be the first meeting I will attend as a Licensed Minister, along with my two collegues licensed with me 10 days ago who are doing the same piece of work as me, hopefully we’ll have something useful to contribute. Don’t worry though, we’re not normally all going to go to every PCC meeting… the general intention is to ‘rotate the strike’ to use cricket terms! I might post a few thoughts as they progress…