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  • Baptist Assembly Bingo Cards - And Other Games

    A good friend of mine who serves a Baptist church near the erstwhile Rover plant has a game called Baptist Assembly Bingo that he plays each year with the hymns/songs that appear in the main worship events.  This year I thought I might have a go at creating my own version (how naughty I am) which could also include words and phrases and/or other games - like how many times do we use the phrase "total mission"  or the worship leader will pray "yeah 'n' God we really just" or even who it is who will offer which opinions in the various debates.

    I enjoy Assembly, it is good to be part of something big, to meet up with friends from around the country, to share in the commissioning of ministers and missionaries, to listen to 'big name' speakers, to get a flavour of where other people think they 'are at' and where 'we' are 'at' as a Union.  But if we take it too seriously then, alas, I fear we have lost the plot.

    Now then... 'light of the world you stepped down into darkness'.... 'let everything that hath breath praise the Lord'... 'santo, santo, santo.....' and, undoubtedly this year, 'and can it be' and 'amazing grace.'   Others...?

  • Libraries, bah humbug, and other waffle.

    Just got home from a totally unproductive day trip to Manchester!  The good news - apart from 20 mins to get through Alderly it was a good run run each way.

    Who hides all the books in libraries, that's what I want to know - they put on all these fancy electronic tags and install fancy databases but the list of a dozen or so books you've come to look at, which are all listed as 'available' are invisible.  And you are are not alone, a twenty-something undergrad (obviously of the keen variety, it's not term time) was speaking to the library assistant about her list of invisible books too.

    "Blue 4 is a silent study zone" it said on the door - i.e. death to students who talk!  So I entered to find the two library staff chatting loudly as they shared holiday photos, and as I 'womanfully' laboured to persuade the keyword search to find anything I could use (it is not very good at 'fuzzy matching' let alone wild cards), a whole group of chatting folk sauntered through.  Obviously in post-modernity silent does not mean silent anymore, silly me.

    Decided to pop into Blackwell's university book shop.  Great collection of Mr Men/Little Miss books, but nothing on theology or historiography, let alone congregational studies.  Is it too late to switch my field of research...? ;-)

    Drove past my old flat which had scaffolding outside - finally the roof is being repaired!  It is now used as offices, and the whole area has changed dramatically from 8 years ago when I moved there.

    So, back home, back to Amazon and Google - at least in the quiet of my little office in my little damp house I have only myself to get ratty with.

  • Becker's Models of Congregations - and Catriona's thoughts

    Since reading Becker's Congregation's in Conflict, my subconscious has been playing around with the metaphors/images/models she uses and wondering what their implications might be.  In particular, the 'family' and 'community' ideas, which seem probably the most relevant for where I am and what I'm trying to do.

    The family metaphor is a very popular one, and I suspect how many of my folk see themselves.  Becker notes some of the strengths and weaknesses of this model, often flip-sides of the same facet: cohesion, tradition, defined roles, introversion etc.  I found myself mulling over the consequences - and limitations - in an almost biological-reproductive sense!  Becker notes that outreach/mission is not a big issue in such congregations, they will support home and overseas mission financially, but are not engaged in local mission in any way, shape or form.  This is actually not unlike human families, where the centre of the universe is the old 'we four and no more' (except a few grandparents, aunts and uncles).  Families can be healthy and strong but they only survive as long as there are heirs.  When the last heir dies childless the family dies with him/her.  So it is with family churches.  My little lot speak fondly of their good Sunday School of 30-ish children about 15-20 years ago.  What they forget is that all 30-ish were the children of church members and that now only two remain in any church - neither in ours.  The last heirs have, in effect, died (yes, these folk may rediscover their faith, but not here) and if the church is a family, it will die when numbers are too small to keep meeting.  This should not surprise anyone: research shows that only something like 5% of chidlren who attend Sunday School ever make the transition into church; if I tracked back one more generation on my church, we have exactly 2 people from the 1950's/60's who are still in church.  Family is a nice cosy metaphor, but it is inevitably self-limiting, maybe the more so in an area like this where I am one of the few people not related to half the church by blood!

    The community metaphor - used in the Five Core Values material - is growing in popularity, not least as congregations wake up to their plight and the need for mission.  It is a much more fluid and open model, the boundaries are possibly less clearly defined (though in reality rivers and roads can be pretty distinctive limits) and there is a clearer sense of being more than a group whose only common interest is faith.  Geographical communities are very fluid and the changes over time can be dramatic, which is why congregations can find themselves as a kind of holy ghetto in a foreign land.  People move in and people move out, shops and businesses come and go - communities are a bit like the old tale of the wedding present broom "it's had three new heads and four new handles but it's still the same broom."  There is not the same expectation that people will be here for ever (except perhaps in small rural villages, which can die with the last family) but the congregation will go on because new people are expected to come in as 'old' ones move out.  That doesn't mean that there is no stability, rather it means that this type of church has the potential to survive the demise or departure of individuals or families because it is less dependent upon them.  Mission and adaptation are important - and bring with them a greater openness to change and the challenges that come with it, including disagreement and conflict.

    I find myself much more of the 'community' view than 'family' but how much is that about my own experience and my 'wandering Aramean' tendencies?  Becker notes how difficult it can be for family congregations to embrace new ministers, especially if they happen to have a different view of the purpose of church (which apparently most do!) and that, effectivley, you have to live here for three generations to be one of us.  Yet, what is a minister to do when the family who calls her has no heirs?  She can either be a palliative care nurse cum undertaker - a valid, if perhaps frustrating role - or she can try to encourage the family to open its doors and welcome in strangers who will uphold the family honour and keep alive the best traditions in a new way so that we do not keep a musty stately home as a curiosity but allow the shell to house something meaningful for a new generation or new people - also tricky.

    One of my ongoing questions is 'how long do I go on trying to facilitate change?'  It looks as if our holdiay club will not run this year as there is no commitment from anyone else to make it happen.  Pentecost will happen because I am driving it along, but no one is willing to take a lead in any aspect of it.  At the start of this year I made a conscious decision to step back and start to allow things to sink or swim as local people do or do not take ownership of them; the pub intiative will be the last new thing I start.  It can be painful to see things die for lack of interest - but maybe it has to be.  This has wandered well away from where I began, in best Catriona tradition, but I guess what I am saying is that I think the community model of a congregation may offer more long term sustainablility than a family view (but that's yet another PhD I'm not going to do!).  This year is crunch time in me discerning what God is saying to me about my role in this fellowship, some clear signs are starting to emerge, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept what God might well be saying.

  • 'We are a Gospel Community'

    This is what we were celebrating yesterday, having worked our way through Five Core Values over the last couple of months.

    This morning I got out the sheets where people had listed their commitments, and on the whole I was encouraged.  Four out of five groups had completed the exercise - the fifth group comprised people who were suddenly far too busy to do so (I think that is telling, considering who was in that group!).  Anyway, 4 out of 5 is pretty good and here is what they came up with...

    • Keeping the fellowship strong
    • Mission - in every aspect
    • Encourage
    • Continue to pray for lunch club, and that some of the guests will one day come to a service
    • Pray for our BMS links
    • Pray for success in the new pub-based intitiative
    • Pray for the church
    • Pray for the local community
    • Support at least one outreach event by bringing a friend
    • Continue to exist for those outside
    • Reach out to others
    • Help others who are in need

    Obviously any or almost all of these need some 'unpacking' and some work to turn from good intention to actual practice, but they feel like a step in the right direction.

    After Easter things get a bit clumsy due to various specials, but we will be picking up something around BMS, HMF and CHASTE in the next three months, as well as our outreach Pentecost events.  Now all tha remains is to create some evalaution forms for the Five Core Values stuff, as I put a lot of work into generating study material that may or may not have been used/useful.

  • Nowt like folk

    Sometimes I wonder if I know my folk here at all - they can whinge and moan that we don't sing any golden oldies one minute and be choosing new things themselves the next.  Today we had our largest turnout for ages and people actually said they enjoyed the service, which ran to 90 minutes and was the most creative thing we've done for a very long time.

    To start we sang the dreaded 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' (see Songs and Self-understanding post) with only pictures as clues to the verses; the orang utan and butterfly slide for one of the choruses raised a few titters.  Most people wrote a short thank you prayer on a heart shaped piece of paper and when we got to the intercessions it was quite surprising who did pray aloud in the small groups - my little group praying widely and wisely. 

    Getting people to try to recall and share the history of our church - in milestones events only - was fascinating and revealing.  For all that people go on about how important it is to know "the 'istory" most had not got a clue of any dates, names or events beyond a certain 19th century writer of awful music whose name I will not mention!  Many seemed quite surprised to learn what little I pointed them to - gleaned from the material I was given when I arrived three years ago.

    The 'everyday object' to symbolise the various church-related groups made me smile, not least as two groups had not brought anything and had to scrat around for something.  Two Bible study groups used cups (one pinched off the refreshment table!) because a cuppa is a big part of their meetings, the third offered two - a key, because their newest member (who has only been with us months) is finding the meetings are unlocking new knowledge for her, and a 'share pack' of chocolates because sharing is an important aspect of their meetings.  The women's meeting brought a leaflet on their latest charitable cause, the children's group a bean bag (pinched from the PE store!) and the lunch club a toy bus representing how we transport our folk around.  Some of the explanations were over long, and the main cause of the service over running, but it was good for people to have the opportunity to feel good about their groups and to be feted in church.

    Communion round small tables worked amazingly well - a couple of people even commented that they'd really enjoyed it.  The fact that 'ordinary' folk broke the bread or offered the thanksgiving prayer was, in my view, a great expression of our profressed understanding of church.

    We ended up with Paul's imperative to leave the past behind and to press on towards the future and sang 'Lord for the Years' before sharing tea and cakes in friendly atmosphere.  Quite a few even undertook the final task of committing to three things they would do as a result of having explored the five core values.

    Next week we are back to 'normal' and one of my lay people is taking the service, so it will be interesting to see the church from the back row.