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  • Cause for Celebration?

    Tonight was the Dibley & District Churches Together AGM - the start of my second year as Chair.  It was hardly a dynamic affair, which is a shame because as Churches Together groups go, we do well with a lot of shared activities.  But getting opinions and ideas reminded me of a phrase about stones and blood.

    One of the things that troubles me greatly, and has done ever since I arrived, is the general air of negativity that abounds - low self esteem, low expectations and truckloads of criticisms.  It's hard work not to get sucked into it, and I guess tonight shows how often I fail in my endeavours!

    Towards the end of the meeting, which had eventually been quite productive with one or two good ideas identified for the next year of events, I asked each church (congregation, since there are four Anglican church buildings with a total of 3 congregations sharing 1.5 clergy in a united benefice) to identify one item for rejoicing and one for prayer.  I knew I was on a loser when Church A identified as a cause for rejoicing, "we're still here".  This set the tone for a relentless round of the same.  Only Church E had something to tell that spoke of hope and a future.

    I was dismayed and, to my shame, said that my person had given a very gloomy view of where we are, since we are very active (or so I think!).  There's nothing like a minister with foot in mouth needing to apologise!

    But is this cause for celebration?  Is survival enough?  My instinct says a loud and hearty 'no' but what if everyone else feels otherwise?  I guess there are some congregations for whom having survived is an achievement, and maybe for my folk who have survived the loss of their treasured bricks and mortar, perhaps there's a hint of justification.  But for the other four, with secure buildings and centrally funded, almost guaranteed ministers...?

    Thank goodness Pentecost is just around the corner with its celebration of the empowering of the early church for mission.  Perhaps we can dream dreams and see visions and rejoice in the new thing God is already doing.

  • A A Milne Week

    I've just decided that it's A A Milne week in Dibley!  I have spent part of today writing the address for a wedding service on Friday and an interactive all age Pentecost service for Sunday.  Suprisingly for someone who tends to preach pretty 'straight' sermons in both cases I found myself drawn to A A Milne's poems!

    The wedding couple have chosen Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (two are better than one) as their Bible reading.  I've always likened the writer of Ecclesiastes to Eeyore, and now I found myself reminded of a poem about Christopher Robin and Pooh that expressed much the same sentiments as this little extract from Mr Life-is-Meaningless himself: -

    Wherever I am, there's always Pooh, 
    There's always Pooh and Me. 
    Whatever I do, he wants to do, 
    "Where are you going today?" says Pooh: 
    "Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too. 
    Let's go together," says Pooh, says he. 
    "Let's go together," says Pooh.


    "What's twice eleven?" I said to Pooh, 
    ("Twice what?" said Pooh to Me.) 
    "I think it ought to be twenty-two." 
    "Just what I think myself," said Pooh. 
    "It wasn't an easy sum to do, 
    But that's what it is," said Pooh, said he. 
    "That's what it is," said Pooh. 


    "Let's look for dragons," I said to Pooh. 
    "Yes, let's," said Pooh to Me. 
    We crossed the river and found a few - 
    "Yes, those are dragons all right," said Pooh. 
    "As soon as I saw their beaks I knew. 
    That's what they are," said Pooh, said he. 
    "That's what they are, said Pooh. 


    "Let's frighten the dragons." I said to Pooh. 
    "That's right," said Pooh to Me. 
    "I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh, 
    And I held his paw and I shouted , "Shoo! 
    Silly old dragons!" - and off they flew. 
    "I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he, 
    "I'm never afraid with you." 


    So wherever I am, there's always Pooh, 
    There's always Pooh and Me. 
    "What would I do?" I said to Pooh, 
    "If it wasn't for you," and Pooh said: "True, 
    It isn't much fun for One, but Two 
    Can stick together," says Pooh, says he. 
    "That's how it is," says Pooh.


    Then it was on to Pentecost, and the mystery of how to describe the Holy Spirit which was experienced as a rushing wind.  More childhood memories stirred, and another poem to share: -

    No one can tell me, nobody knows

    Where the wind comes from, where the wind goes

    It’s flying from somewhere as fast as it can

    I couldn’t keep up with it, not if I ran

    But if I stopped holding the string of my kite

    It would blow with the wind for a day and a night

    And then when I found it, wherever it blew

    I should know that the wind had been there too

    And then I could tell you, where the wind goes

    But where the wind comes from, nobody knows


    I know there have been books on the Tao of Piglet and the Te of Pooh (or somesuch) but I hadn't ever quite anticipated quoting two A A Milne poems in a week.  Happy memories of bygone days and some light relief for my hearers!  I hope God likes A A Milne too!

    (Both poems downloaded without any apparent copyright restrictions.) Apologies for formatting still need to learn how to use html

  • Rocks and Hard Places: God and Mammon - Ministry and Mission

    It's a long title!  It's a week of a lot of posting.  And it's a week that's made me think quite hard about a lot of things.

    On Wednesday we had our annual Home Mission visit, when we are asked to talk about what's going on in our church life and get asked questions about our application so that a recommendation can be made about how much money we should be given.  The visitors have a thankless task, there's a very limited pot of money to share between far too many small churches and some churches, like Dibley, have been recipients for an awfully long time.  The visits in the previous two years I've been here seemed very innocuous, no really searching questions about money or mission or even much about ministry.  This year was quite different.  Lots of probing questions which, whilst entirely justified, left me slightly irritated and feeling a little vulnerable too.

    A few days later, now that things have had a chance to mull away in my subconscious, I begin to undertsand why I was miffed, and the extent to which that says something about me, about my little church and about the process/system.

    In recent months I have finally managed to get the church to allocate a sum of money for mission, recognising that this is after all why we exist!  The reality is that until now a small group of people have dipped deep into their own pockets to cover expenses for mission/outreach/evangelism events because (a) the church does not have the money and (b) if they put it into the offering it'd get swallowed up in running costs.  Unfortunately this leaves us between a rock and a hard place: either we increase our direct giving, and HMF funding goes down, or we remove our mission budget and HMF funding stays at the same level.  Whilst HMF requires us to state out mission priorities, it doesn't expect us to draw money to pay a minister in order that we free up funds for mission (since effectively it then, arguably, funds our mission).  It's a tricky one!

    We try to be thrifty in our expenditure and good stewards of the money we do have - I recently spent a fair bit of time sourcing a good secondhand portable loop system rather than spending all our 'DDA enabling fund' in one go.  This seemed the right thing to do - but now we are being asked why we have a pot of money set aside for this, and other purposes, when we could use it for other things.  It's a fair question but it grated because of the care that's gone into being careful with what is after all God's money.  We do need to look at all our metphorical jam jars of money - especially perhaps the 'music fund' (formerly 'organ fund') - and ask why they exist.  To be fair to our visitors, they were less concerned about the DDA fund than the other odd pots of cash, but perhaps they'd like to explain to my church meeting why the music fund should be closed and the cash released!

    I'm not sure this really goes anywhere - it serves more to make me ponder the tensions of serving God and the need for money, of balancing the call to mission with the desire for full time ministry, of trying to share out fairly a limited resource for funding.  That and the sense that we are now caught between a rock and a hard place: mission or ministry or a bit of each?  Home Mission is a great thing, and I am truly grateful for the suport we receive from them, both financially and in encouragement.  It's just a shame that there is no easy way to escape the tensions that arise for little churches such as Dibley BC.

  • Ascension - Part Deux

    Well, they didn't eject me for unspeakable heresy!  In fact a number of people even said it was interesting, topical or made them think - I think that's sort of praise.

    What intrigued me was not the reaction to the Da Vinci Code but the responses to the little quiz with which I began the sermon - if I thought I'd been showing a high level of Biblical illiteracy (earlier post today), it was nothing compared to that of my three colleagues or the congregation in general!

    Test yourself out without looking at a Bible, commentary or concordance and see how you do...

    1) How many gospels are there in the Bible?

    2) How many of these gospels have an account of Jesus' death and resurrection?

    3) How many of these gospels have an account of Jesus' birth?  For a bonus point can you name them?

    4) How many of the gospels have an account of the ascension?  Which? (No bonus points for those smarties who can give an answer relating to the longer ending of Mark)

    Suffice to say that the only question that people got right was No 1 with three the most popular answer for all other questions (perhaps an assumption about the synoptics?)

    It is no wonder we get tied in knots by cynics, sceptics and seekers when we don't have a clue ourselves.  Perhaps we need to worry a little less about what Dan Brown is writing and learn a bit about the Bible ourselves?


    PS The answers are...

    1) Four

    2) Four

    3) Two - Matthew and Luke

    4) One - Luke.  Or two if you accept the longer ending of Mark

  • Da Vinci and Ascension

    With the release of the Da Vinci Code film there's a lot of blogging going on about it - Graham Doel has a nice video blog giving his initial thoughts and Simon Jones has been using it his cafe services.

    As for me, although I enjoyed the novel immensely (even if it has effectively the same plot line as Angels and Demons), there were no plans to pick up on it... until I started writing my Ascension Day sermon, the first one I've ever had to do, and so the first time I've really looked at what the Bible says, and doesn't say, about Ascension.

    I realise this will shock and dismay my erstwhile Biblical studies tutor, but I had not appreciated that it is only Luke-Acts that explicitly includes this event (though I did know that these two accounts differ in detail), with the longer 'added on' ending of Mark being the only other gospel reference to it.  At least it made me look at the endings of all four gospels again!

    So why did the writer of Luke-Acts see it as important to include this when the other three (haven't re-checked the gnostic writers, sorry) did not?  What questions were being asked about Jesus that prompted its inclusion?  Bells started to flash and lights to ring (as one of my old maths teachers used to say) and the dear old Da Vinci Code popped into my mind - perhaps even in the second century people were wondering and dreaming up wonderful theories (certainly the resurrection accounts in the synoptics suggest this to be so).

    We Baptists don't go much on Ascension - indeed the only reason I'm preaching for it is an ecumencial service - perhaps, a bit like the gospel writers, we don't see it as very important, which is a shame because it seems to be exactly in tune with the interest that arises from Dan Brown's novel.  Did Jesus remain on earth, marry and have children?  Well it doesn't answer that question epxlicitly, but it gives another perspective.  Will I escape with my life after I brandish a copy of the Da Vinci Code and Bentley Layton's Gnostic Scriputres in the Methodist church tonight?  Now that's a different story!