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  • End of Year Waffle by a Gen-X-sympathetic Minister

    Things I have read recently - about Generation X , the ages of ministerial candidates, the work of Sunday Schools and mission in the 21st century - need to be connected up somehow and made sense of.

     

    What follows is long and waffley. That’s the way I think, the way I write: I apologise but there it is.   Some of my friends rightly complain that bloggers assume too much knowledge on the part of their readers, I probably err to the other extreme and patronise you.   I don’t know if what I’ve written makes any sense but in my little part of life’s food court, these are things I’ve picked up and tossed around for a little while …

     

    Generation X – seems generally to be seen as those born between about 1960 and 1980, so currently aged from mid 20’s to mid 40’s; sometimes seen as those born 1965 - 1985.   Defined alternatively by an ‘attitude’ – possibly a poor choice of word since it seems to be used pejoratively these days – that embraces experience, multi-media, popular culture and a searching/questioning outlook.   I’m not entirely sure that I fit the ‘Generation X’ model – maybe I was born too early within it, grew up in too conservative a backwater or am just too conventional – but I am certainly ‘Generation-X-sympathetic.’

     

    Churches of all persuasions are concerned about the average age of those entering training for ordained ministry which at 35 (Baptist) to 40 (Anglican) is seen to be too high.   This may be one way in which I am an ‘average’ (Baptist) minister, since I was exactly 35 when I felt the call and 40 when ordained!   Denominations seem to want more young ordinands and seem happy to ignore the fact that those of us who come along later actually didn’t feel called any earlier…  Never mind the rather large absence of younger people… which leads nicely on to Sunday Schools

     

    Sunday Schools from their inception have, it seems, failed to nurture a new generation of believers from among the children of the faithful and have been a total failure in mission and evangelism.   Only a small percentage of those who attended ever made the transition into “full church membership” (however understood) and the law of diminishing returns took its inevitable toll.

     

    Churches today are faced with an ageing population, with the few children and young people ‘haemorrhaging’ away.   There is a lot of talk about ‘mission’ about ‘cultural relevance’ about being ‘counter culture’ and many ‘how to’ books that can act to demoralise or confuse rather than inspire or encourage!

     

    The seemingly average ‘Generation X, late entry minister’ may find that she or he is the youngest person present on a Sunday, is expected to embrace a style of worship that was old fashioned when Noah was a lad, and, in the midst of this muddle and mayhem, to develop and implement a strategy that will see the church grow (numerically) securing its survival for another generation.  

     

    As a result of the demographics, in a typical church the Generation-X-sympathetic minister is unlikely to find many – if any - likeminded members.   The ‘Baby Boomers’ are almost absent leaving a congregation composed largely of pre-war pensioners who like centrally heated homes, soaps operas and the green hymnbook.   The few determined teens who hang on in there are likely to “txt” friends during the sermon and see songs as something you dance to rather than sing.   Meanwhile small children are fed a traditional diet of action songs and moral tales and are all too often relegated to the dowdiest room in the place.

     

    So what do you do?

     

    Members of my little congregation are remarkably tolerant to my experiments.   They don’t always like them; they sometimes moan about the use of candles or meditations; they occasionally refuse to join in the (sic) ‘choruses’; they love it if we get out the green books or I deliver a fairly old fashioned service.   But on the whole they go with what is offered, recognising, perhaps rather late, that times have changed and that it isn’t all (sic) ‘kids stuff’ after all.

     

    But this is only a tiny part of the puzzle – too long churches have been inward looking, thinking about our Sunday services, while mission opportunities have drifted by.   The concerns about reaching Generation X – and now the next generation – are valid but require more than a ‘Changing Rooms’ makeover of our worship services.   It needs thoroughgoing changes of heart all round.   Denominations need to stop moaning that we’re all starting ministry too late and give thanks to God that we aren’t so trendy they can’t cope with us!   Ministers and churches need to stop fiddling about inside and start looking outside, making friends with people, being real and allowing the real issues and questions people have to shape our agendas rather than vice versa.

     

    Nothing new there of course, it’s all been said by far better folk than me, so why isn’t it happening?

     

    I think partly it’s because we are too busy being in competition with each other, confusing bums on seats and Baptismal numbers with success.   Also we are often so occupied with keeping going the fabric of our dying churches that we have no energy left for mission.

     

    Entering a new year is traditionally a time for looking back and looking forward.   My folk have travelled a long way in the last 12 months, letting go of bricks and mortar, beginning to test the waters of community engagement and allowing me to play around with all that is precious to them.   I am proud of them – even if also often frustrated by them!   Our new year sees lots more challenges ahead, new relationships to build, new opportunities to explore and new adventures to share.  

     

    I am not sure how I try to hold together and make sense of all the things I read and/or discover. I am sure that collectively and individually we need to recognise that for some good reason God is calling Generation X folk with a heart for 'mission in many modes' to give up good careers to serve the churches in a new century – so let’s all stop whinging and get on with it!

       
  • Christmas - Crackers?

    Most sensible people take a week or two out from blogging to eat, drink and be merry.  The rest of us blog on regardless reflecting and rambling about our experiences of this bizarre yet signficiant festival, trying to find glimpses of God hidden in the glitz and glamour.  (In case you'd ever wondered I like aliteration, even if I'm not sure how to spell it!).

    Christingle Lights - I had the task of giving the talk and used parts of John 1 and Matthew 5 to pick up the twin themes of both Jesus and people as light for the world.  Using a range of light sources - a birthday cake candle, a desk lamp, a normal torch, a search-light type torch and a string of coloured fairy lights, we thought how lights come in different shapes and sizes, each with a special role and all important.  I ended with the fairy lights, all attached to a single cord and sourced from a single power supply (these were the cheap, non-flashing type so all connected in series) and decided to have a quick Christian unity plug (pardon the pun) pointing out that the colours may differ but they are united by the common power supply.  It seemed to work - and switching on the lights drew a gasp of wonder from the congregation.  My former Church of South India Mehtodist colleague hasn't stopped grinning since!

    Christmas Eve Communion - Baptist style.  We met in the home of one of our members.  She and her husband store much of our funiture in their shed and to my dismay had brought in the communion table and the preacher's chair.  However, the initial sadness at the straight rows of dining chairs, all very ecclesiatical, melted away as people arrived and we had to bring in garden chairs and the rows degenerated into a crush, with one person even sat on the stairs.  Recorded music by Rutter and from Taize, a liturgy adapted from one written by a college colleague and a Nick Fawcett meditation preceded the sharing of warm, home-baked bread and proper sized glasses of grape juice.  Over mince pies and coffee hung a strange warmth as we chatted freely and found Christ in the clutter.

    High Anglicanism at midnight.  My one self-indulgence after our services have ended is to go somewhere else for midnight communion.  This year I trotted off to the very high Anglicans (rather than the just high Anglicans!) where I joined around twenty people for a traditional midnight mass.  It was all very un-pass-remarkable until the moment when I found myself kneeling in front of the large scale nativity scene set out literally under the altar.  Crunching up a wafer (bad heretic that I am) whilst looking into the eyes of an infant Christ was a very moving experience, inextricably connecting the two events of Christmas and Easter in a way that doesn't happen when we just stand our neat little nativity scene on the Communion Table the weeks we don't need it for its designated purpose.

    Village Celebration Service.  This had turned into a nightmare in the planning.  The host church was split over whether it was a 'village service' or their service to which we were coming.  One minister and the preacher had found strange common ground in objecting to the drama the rest of us had agreed upon.  The leader only finally decided who was doing what at 9 pm Christmas Eve and reallocated us all to new roles...  It could have been a disaster with break down of relations a real possibility.  The moment arrived, the church was pretty well full with people from all the local churches plus a few from another church not holding a service (shame on you XYZ Baptist Church) and some 'Christmas Oncers.'  And it worked!  It was a good atmosphere, the singing was good, the simple prayers said all that was needed and the "birth pains" indeed forgotten as we celebrated the crazyness of God all those years ago.

    Yes, Christmas was pretty much crackers, but instead of paper crowns, useless toys and awful jokes, were a few new insights, some precious moments and hope for the future.  Somewhere in the heavens I'm sure there were a few smiles as the squabbles were laid aside if only for a few moments this Christmas-tide.

     

  • Real Christmas Spirit

    Phew, it's the morning after the night before!  All the hours of planning, buying, making, and in my case coordinating and acting as the local 'United Nations' between chair shifters and room decorators, have paid off, we had a great event and attracted four times our normal congregation!

    The Community Centre was transformed with a 'Christmas Eve house' scene, nativity artwork borrowed from local primary schools, some fairy lights and yards & yards of tinsel.  With fifteen minutes to spare, we finally got the data projector and laptop speaking to each other (the in-joke and answer to everything at the moment is 'F5').  It all went remarkably well.  I don't think any of us were to sure how it would 'feel' with a radio broadcast especially as this is such a visual age - hence the data projector to give something to look at!  But somehow it all worked, and people entered into the service and enjoyed it.

    It was well worth the effort and engaged over half our membership in some apsect of the preparation and delivery.  Perhaps the proof of how it went was this morning's email from one deacon saying 'when's the next community service?"

    There are lots of lessons to be learned from the experience, lots of minor issues to address (including my need for a blue hard hat!) but there was a real sense of joy in it all and that God is moving us on to new and exciting things.

    Now then... back to putting away four extension leads, three sets of fairy lights, a bag or three of marshmallows and then a relaxing skinny fairtrade latte before I start on the Christingle talk!