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  • Triple Points?

    When I was a teenager, my brothers used to delight in telling me that I wouldn't get double points for going to church twice on the same day.  They may well have been right, but I used to enjoy the very different feel of morning and evening services.  Today I went three times, to three different churches, so I'm not sure what kind of point collector that must make me!  It was an interesting experience, to be with three very different congregations with very different 'feels', and each one in its own way special.

    The morning was at GB church (D+2) and was family worship.  It is a very informal fellowship with lots of bits of drama and interaction with the congregation.  There is a worship band, a wide age range and typically a congregation of around 50-60. It is a light and bright place to be and it's usually fun.

    The afternoon was my own folk and a very different feel.  The format was unusual for us, with sung chants without the words available and, as one person commented, the first time he'd ever sat down all through a service. A few people really engaged with the theme, and the atmosphere was quite good, though the familiar grumblers grumbled in familiar fashion!  As it was the first weekend of the school holidays I began with 18 chairs so that people would sit together - and eventually got up to 30 by the time we began!

    Then the evening with the Penties in town who I love because they are a very authentic group of people, who can share the highs and lows of life with one another.  The endless 'ay-mens' don't quite do it for me, and some of the shouted exclamations are not my thing, it is a fairly comfortable place to worship.  I find it odd, in this day and age, to have people take notes during my sermon, but they are always gracious and appreciative of what I offer them.

    As I left the evening service I spoke to a couple of Anglicans who were visiting (from nearby) who commented that they like to go there occasionally for something a bit different from their routine.  Going "visiting" does (at least) two things for me:


    It reminds of  incredible diversity of Christian worship

    It helps to remind me of what I value in my own little church


    But today, I have to give extra points to the Penties who closed by singing 'Immortal, Invisible' a hymn that brought back powerful, and positive, memories of some of my earliest experiences of leading worship as a 15 year-old when the older members of the GB and BB were sent to take services at the local old people's home (as they were called in those days).  When it was GB's turn, two of us would go along, with my friend's boyfriend who played the piano for us, whilst she chose the Bible reading and I did the prayers!  James' repetoire seemed to consist almost solely of 'Immortal, Invisible' and 'The Day Thou Gavest' and whenever I sing them I am transported back to that place and time when I wasn't earning points for extra attendance but I was learning skills I'd later need!

    All in all, points or no points, a positive day.

  • A More Humane Talent Contest?

    I've enoyed watching the first two episodes of 'Last Choir Standing' which have felt altogether more gentle and more affirming than so much of what we see by way of talent competitions.  Whilst we see the judges making some stern remarks, there is none of the outright aggression (even if it is allegedly pantomime) seen in other competitions.

    552261140c49bd60df73c592575795ac.jpgI loved seeing the interview in the first week with the Filey Fishermen's Choir (left, picture from BBC website) - a group of very senior men whose biggest desire is that the choir survives after they are no more.  They took rejection with dignified sadness and went home to make more music. I love the Open Community Choir from Northern Ireland whose members are a mixture of people with and without physical disabilities who make a very 'honest' (in the words of the judges) sound and clearly love singing.  I am rooting, probably rather hopelessly, for Dreemz, a group of young black singers whose community mentor encouraged them to enter the competition and worked hard to find them a Musical Director in order that they could progress to the second round.  The joy these youngsters get from singing and being together is palpable and what a fantastic contrast to all the news of guns and knives.

    There are some truly amazing choirs - notably a couple of the larger all-male choirs - some who are quirky and there are some that appeal to that British love of the underdog.  But what really shines through is that these are groups of people who do more than just sing for an hour once a week - they are intentional-communities, united by their love of music and engaged, to some level, with each other's lives.  It has been telling how many of the older singers told of joining choirs after life-partners had died and how many others speak of the life line in times of crisis (though of course we don't hear from the ones whose lives go relatively smoothly).  I'm not completely niave though - I know that choirs, like churches, have their share of awkward so-and-sos and can be places of dischord rather than harmony, but it is refreshing to hear uplifting stories.

    It will be interesting to see how the competition pans out.  I hope that the seeming underdogs aren't being set up to fail alongside the giants, I hope the judges don't turn mean (though I doubt they will) and I hope above all that something of the inherent good of humanity can be celebrated.

  • Measuring Distance Run...

    It is sometimes really good to step back and reflect on the distance we have come as a congregation here in deepest, darkest Dibley.  When we moved out of our building almost four years ago we opted for an afternoon service time as a compromise to offend everyone equally and maximise the number who would continued to attend.  yes, we've lost about 6 folk as a result but we've also gained two regulars and has a few who were 'in transit.'  Despite everything, it has worked.

    However, recently there has much grumbling among the 50-somethings who feel it takes too big a chunk out of their day, argue (without evidence) that it hampers mission and would like it reviewed.  At the same time, being more charitable, we have become a far more frail group of people and somehow a little more open to each others needs as well as out preferences.  Against this background, we've just entered out first service time review for about 18 months! When we left the building they were initially every 6, and before that of course about once every new building...

    I had some very mixed feelings about how the discussion would go, because I knew there were strong views and that a few folk could dominate if given half a chance.  So, I split people in to groups of 3 or 4 to discuss pros and cons of different sections of that day 'morning' 'afternoon' and 'evening' and then in a plenary got them to share what was good and bad about each.  Some did not get the idea straightaway, in response to 'what is good about option x' telling me why they didn't like it, but we got there, with people telling each other why it might actually be good to have services at different times and why their own favoured times might not be so good.

    Next I invited anyone to share any ideas, however daft they might be, of ways forward and one person suggested we could meet at different times on different weeks - on a planned basis - suggesting two weeks morning and two weeks afternoon (winter) or evening (summer).  She did a great job, was really positive in describing her idea, and as one of the more traditional folk had more credibility than I'd have had making that suggestion.  I'd like to say everyone was delighted and saw all the potential but they didn't.  In local fashion, every possible pitfall and problem was quickly identified and voiced BUT - and this is the good bit - the idea was not dismissed out of court.  Although most people present said they'd prefer a morning service every week, they recognised that they were not entirely representative of the full membership and that it would be good to canvass everyone who worship with us on their views before progressing too much further.

    What really delighted me was the draft letter/poll prepared for circulation tomorrow by the person whose idea it was. Titled 'How Bold Are We As A Church?' it then goes on to ask 'As a church are we prepared to try something innovative and different?'  WOW!  I am fairly sure that five years ago no one would have ever said something like that in a church circular and now it arising quite naturally 'from the floor.'

    Recently I commented to a friend that we've change from, when I arrived, being a church 'where don't do that' through being one where people asked me 'is it alright if...' to one where now people are starting to say, in an open but confident way 'it's alright if I do this isn't it?'

    I'm not going to pretend everything in the garden is roses or that I never wish I could find that missing page from Leviticus that gives the appointed leader the mandate to knock heads together every now and then, but in terms of measuring something of the distance we've run, I reckon it's not half bad!

    As for the service time review - I won't be surprised if it sticks at 3pm weekly for a good while yet!  (Notwithstanding that we can't change anything before January due to existing commitments....)

  • Ramblings on a Wet Friday Afternoon

    Today I had the 2 day's notice funeral at 11a.m. and I have the last ever Kidz Club at 6:30.  It makes for one of those days that reminds what a weird role this is, how you need to be something of a chameleon, how much it is a privilege, how it really is about 'limping with the Lord'

    I was driving over to Loughborough listening to the Ken Bruce show - ever-so holy - and one of the songs he played was 'The Living Years' by Mike and the Mechanics.  It seemed very apposite given the context in which I was to be conducting the funeral: 'it's too late when we die to admit we don't see eye to eye.'  I had been told there'd be around 15 people at the funeral, and had printed off 25 service sheets; in the end there were nearer 50 so announcing hymns 'omitting verse 3' from the red book, whilst not my ideal, was inevitable.  What really struck me was the great parting of the waves as the deceased's widow, her family and their friends sat one side of the aisle and his blood relatives the other.  Whilst there had been enough generosity of spirit to ensure the blood relatives were named, I did wonder how much they felt able to engage with the picture I was painting.  I see too much of this at funerals and sometimes wish that when people have domestic fall outs they could see how it impacts on this most vulnerable of times.  The stepson in thanking me said he felt I'd managed the 'fine line' well, and both sides seemed genuinely appreciative of what was offered.

    Then, still disguised as a vicar, it was into the town and to a supermarket to buy food for tonight's end of term, end of club, party.  I always feel a bit conspicuous walking around dressed in black, and find it mildly amusing when this is juxtaposed with buying crisps, cakes and fizz.  The woman at the checkout was unusually chatty and we talked a bit about the importance of parties, the place of 'religion' and the need for people to offer support in times of crisis.  Whilst she didn't adhere to any one religion, she said, she thought there was a lot of good in all major world faiths.  That was refreshing!  As I sat in the cafe munching my lunch, I pondered the visible representative of the church bit: what do people make of it when they see a vicar eating ham, egg and chips in Sainsbury's?!  (Other supermarkets are available!)

    Now I have to sort out the food for tonight's party, drive (because the weather is incredibly wet and thundery) to one of the Dibley supermarkets to get some flowers for the kids to give to the official leaders and work out whether or not I'm glad it's too wet for them to have a water fight!

    Recently someone asked me what gave me the most joy about ministry. It was - and is - an extremely good question, and I wouldn't claim to have a good answer for it.  But on days like today, when I can offer a little bit of comfort and hope in a place of pain, am allowed to engage in conversations on matters of faith or spirituality, and can then muck around with a group of children hopefully giving them some special memories to take into adulthood, I get glimpses of why all the 'pants' stuff is actually worthwhile because it gives me the opportunities to be, if only in some microscopic way, Gospel in a world desperately seeking meaning. 

  • Cancellations?

    Is it just where I live that crematoria get cancellations?  I have just been asked to cover a funeral for another minister because the undertaker managed to secure a cancellation which means the date/time can no longer be fitted into his schedule.

    When I first encountered it, I wondered if the General Resurrection had come early, albeit staged, to Loughborough, but it seems undertakers round here block book slots and then cancel the spares.  That all seems a bit, well, sick, to me.  And shows no thought for those who are asked at anything down to 12 hours notice (I jest not) to take the funerals moved to these slots. 

    Many of my colleagues say no to anything under 7 days notice, out of their tradition or off their immediate patch - which means it falls to me and the guy I'm covering for to pick up these funerals.  Whilst I have a lot of sympathy with their view - and do feel the undertakers often extract the archangel - from a pastoral (and, if I'm honest, protection of the Church's public face) perspective I'm not going to say no if I can possibly avoid it.