Thursday, March 26, 2009

What a week!

Busy, worthwhile, rewarding, hard work - all very appropriate descriptions of the past week. Again and again I am struck by the privilege of being here, and also recognising just how much there is to do. Admittedly, some of it is stuff I have chosen to do, but there is no end of things I could choose to do on top of what I am already doing, there is so much going on in these villages!

One of the things I have chosen to do is to lead these Lent talks, some of which have taken quite a lot of time to prepare and put together, including this week! Text is available at New Kid Deep Stuff as always, and here is a taster, just in case you fancy a little bit of Theology to keep you thinking....
Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 4

I believe in Jesus part 2

I want to begin tonight’s thoughts by restating a couple of things which I perhaps didn’t make completely clear last week. I have spent some time thinking about the nature of these evenings and some of the discussions that have come both as part of the sessions and around after the event too!

At the beginning of these talks on the Creed I said that I wasn’t going engage in a purely academic exercise, nor was I going to take apart all the bits of the Creed and dismiss them – on the contrary I think I would restate that I wholeheartedly believe in all of the articles which make up our Creed and hope that these talks would assist you in feeling more confident in proclaiming these truths also. In particular, I want to say that when last week I said I wasn’t going to discuss the ‘Virgin Birth’ as I thought it was a red herring, I didn’t mean that I didn’t believe in it and didn’t want to talk about it, I wholeheartedly affirm it. My concern is that (like discussions over a six day creation) discussions about the mechanics of how this or that might have happened are often a distraction. My belief in the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ, which is founded in Jesus taking flesh from the Virgin Mary and by the power of the Spirit is at the heart of my own understanding of the Incarnation.

What I am hoping to do is highlight both how some of these articles of faith ended up in the Creed, and to ask ourselves exactly what we mean, and what those who put together the Creed meant, when these things are and were recited over many hundreds of years. The Creed is not the end of faith, nor is it meant to be recited parrot fashion without addressing the serious, foundational beliefs of which it is comprised. It is easy to drift, or ‘freewheel’ through faith, accepting what might be the accepted interpretation of a particular minister, writer, or tradition within the Church, without grappling with the truths both behind our Creeds and within our Scriptures. [more]

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunshine state & being looked after

Thursday was a good day. After Morning Prayer at Shute Church I went down to the seashore at Seaton and sat on the beach with my latest addiction (handpresso portable espresso set), my notes for my talk and the sun and sea. A couple of hours later my first revisions were made, and having driven to the beach via some of the beautiful rolling valleys of the Coly river and Umbourne brook, I drove home via the Axe Estuary and spent the rest of the aftenoon tidying up the talk and making various phone calls and doing admin (with the occasional foray into our lovely garden for a quick coffee and a bit of photosynthesis). I then led the evening session, the next step of our Lent course, which brought about some very interesting conversations.

Friday was less good, still beautiful and I would have loved to be outside making the most of my day off, but had to try to get to grips with seriously overdue expenses which are causing us some financial concerns at the moment. It is all entirely my fault, as expenses is one of the jobs I hate so I have put this off again and again until things have got a little tight....

For my expenses here, which are modest but a significant portion of our monthly expenditure, I have had a retired accountant volunteer to take my receipts for each month and make sense of them so I can submit them to the treasuree. Fortunately i keep all receipts and a careful record of my mileage so I can do this relatively easily. It's just getting down to it that has proved a problem. Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow!

But this offer is just one way in which these local parishes have made a supreme effort to take care of their minister! This morning someone from this parish came and cut the lawn - a couple of hours work that again would probably have had to be done on my day off otherwise (I was out on a funeral visit whilst it happened).

There is a strong philosophy in this Mission Community that they wish to 'free up' their ministers in order to actually minister. Whether that is by paying for an admin assistant, volunteering to babysit so that lovely wife and I can attend village functions, looking after the garden, making sure that the Vicarage was in very good order when we arrived, having pastoral visiting teams to do initial visits to those in need, having vice-Chairs willing to lead PCCs in the Vicar's absence, supporting lay worship leading teams for family services or any one of a hundred other ways in which they want to encourage myself or my colleagues to consider the wider needs of the parish, to have time to prepare worship and sermons, to train folk to fulfill different roles in our parish churches, to see the bigger picture and offer leadership.

I feel very well looked after, recognising that this is done that I might be able to better look after the church and village communities of this Five Alive Mission Community. With these privileges come a measure of responsibility! By grace, I hope I can fulfill some of the needs of these parishes!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Apostle's Creed part three!

I Believe, part 3

Part Three comes with another confession, as well as the opener! I wrote much of the substance of this talk forGreenbelt Arts Festival a few years back, then adapted it for a previous series of Creed talks in the Papworth Team Ministry and for an evensong at Emmanuel College Cambridge (MP3 of that talk here). So, this talk is based on previously published talks, though it has been amended for this set of talks (which took a few hours in itself :-) )

Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 3
I believe in Jesus part 1

I have to begin with a confession – that this evening is probably the reason I wanted to do this series of talks on the Creed in the first place. Tonight’s thoughts come under the general theme of ‘Incarnational Theology’ – and it is Incarnational Theology that made me truly fall in love with Theology in the first place! It was in studying the early Creeds and particularly why the Church said what it did about Jesus, that I really began to grasp the depth and the meaning of that sometimes glibly bandied about phrase ‘I believe in Jesus’. I should warn you though that this might mean that tonight I might do even more speaking than last week, as I have so very much to say! [more]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mission Community thinking

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been on a helpful day thinking about 'Moving On with your Mission Community' - a day of considering this new category of parish organisation in the Diocese of Exeter. Mission Communities are groups of parishes, as in our case, or even single parishes working with a focus on shared ministry, and in restating and reconsidering our Mission objectives in the context of the local church. For this group of parishes which I am privileged enough to lead that means reconsidering the way we work together, refocussing on our calling to reach out to those beyond the Church, pooling resources where appropriate whilst still working to maintain the particular context of each Church fellowship. In the case of these five Devon villages that means working with the unique makeup of each Church and community, not trying to subsume them into a homogenous lump, but using the shared identity of a Mission Community to support the individual characteristics and identity of each church.

The initial attraction of this position when, about nine months ago, I saw the advertisement for this post in the Church Times was this phrase 'Mission Community' that appeared on the top of the ad. I then found out that these five parishes were the first commissioned 'Mission Community' - called the Five Alive Mission Community - in the Diocese. Since that time one more benefice has been commissioned and many others are thinking about what this might mean for them and are working towards the point of being a 'Mission Community'.

But this is more than just re-branding (this group of parishes could have constituted themselves as a 'Team Ministry' or 'Group Ministry' rather than as this Mission Community). This is an attempt, here in the South West of England at least, at redefining the Church of England's response to the changing world in which God has placed us. Though we still work with the established church constraints - and liberations - of the parish system, though there is a weight of history and tradition upon the shoulders of the local church, though we are in a transitional state of being and becoming Church, we are seeking to create a new identity, a new way of doing and being Church.

This is more than just propping up a fading institution. This is an attempt at a new vision, working both within and beyond the old parish system, drawing us towards a fuller expression of 'every member ministry' where all recognise their part in the proclamation of the kingdom of God.

In practical terms it means building up ministry teams comprised of lay and ordained members, of meeting together more often as well as continuing a pattern of worship for each church fellowship, it means reconsidering the way we meet the needs of young, old and everyone in our worship on Sundays and through the week. It means pooling our resources to do youth work, adult teaching and training, children's ministry, outreach, social action and engagement. This has been a feature of the life of these parishes, and of many within Team and Group ministries, for many years, but now there is the new edge of being Mission oriented, and of asking hard questions along the lines of 'if this isn't for the advancement of God's kingdom, why are we doing it?'

Our day in the Sheldon Centre gave a number of representatives, both Clergy and laity, the opportunity to share some thoughts about change and the management of change, of the difficulties and joys in working together. There was a very good Bible study/talk from our local Bishop, Bishop Bob and for Clergy an update about our new Professional Development, Appraisal and Accountability scheme. As you can tell, the consideration of Mission Communities is still a thought in process, for me and for the Anglican churches generally in Devon. Probably too many words and too little action at present, watch this space for practical applications and progress in the future, hopefully.

Monday, March 16, 2009

So very, very true

Your Thinking is Abstract and Random
You are flexible, adaptable, and creative.
There's many ways that you can learn - and you're up for any of them.

You relate well to other people, and you do well working in groups.
You can help people communicate together and work with each other's strengths.

You don't work well with people who are competitive or adversarial.
You prefer to work toward a common goal... not toward conflicting goals.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This week's sermon

This week's sermon - and yes, some of you will have read some of this before as it is a rewrite from a few years back! No point in letting my old jokes go to waste...

Lent 3 (2009) Year B RCL Principal
Angry Christians

I have an excuse this morning to tell my favourite nun joke, the excuse being the readings for today, I hope you will make the connection, otherwise this is just a blatant excuse to tell a joke at the start of the sermon….
Two nuns are driving through Transylvania when a vampire jumps on the car. The nun whose driving turns to her companion and says ‘what do I do?’ the second nun says ‘show him your cross, sister’ [more]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Busy - not stressed!

Looking back over various posts, twitters, fb updates and all the integrated social media stuff I do I am slightly concerned that I give the impression that I am over-busy.... Yes, I am busy, and keen to let people know what ministers do, and that we have plenty that keeps us occupied, but I realise that I am implying by my postings that I am stressed out and overworked. I'm not.

I have days where I work ridiculous hours, I admit, when from getting up in the morning to getting to bed late I seem to be doing stuff for Church. But I also have days where I spend a lot of time at home, I get to do some reading, be with my wife and family, get a bit of admin done (a chore but not too painful) and have the evening at home in front of the telly, or whatever. I try to get some balance in my life, and I am enjoying the place I am and the ministry i have the privilege to exercise a huge amount.

There are also some significantly rewarding parts to the role which I perform, people who make my days brighter, situations which allow me to use those gifts I have and make the most of those talents I possess. (That last sentence was very difficult to write without saying 'such as they are' or being overly self-deprecating, a sign either of anglo saxon false humility or buying into the Church culture which says we are all worthless - so I put it in without those things but added this in parenthesis just in case you thought I was being big headed, another typically Brit fear!)

If I am honest, there are times when I need to slow down, and I do need to work on my management of time, but on the whole most things get done that need to, not all (mainly due to me not writing things down and trying to remember too much) but most.

I feel very privileged to be doing what I am doing, I enjoy it most of the time and I thank God for the gift of being able to be in ministry, and particularly in ministry in this place.

Just in case you were wondering.

About last night :-)

As promised, the text of last night's talk...

There are a couple of spots where the grammar might not be all that it should, so if there is anything hard to understand it's likely to be my writing rather than your reading that is at fault, apologies, I hope it makes sense overall....
Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 2
I believe in God
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I hope those of you who were here have recovered from last week’s excursion as we grappled with some major philosophical concepts and theological idea in our short time together. I realise that a lot of last week’s session involved me talking to you and leaving you with lots of ideas and questions which there wasn’t a huge amount of space to discuss, so I will encourage you to interact a little more this week – make the most of it though, it may not happen again….
I was intrigued whilst doing some research for this evening’s talk to read a reformed theologian’s reflections on the same themes as I have covered so far, and have discovered we don’t share a similar viewpoint. For this reformed theologian, belief is all about each individual and his relationship with God, and the point of a creed is so that we make intellectual assent to the propositions of faith. I am not sure this chap has read much about the early Church or the formation of the creeds, though I suspect he might be in grave doubt of my own ‘soundness’ were he to encounter my reflections anyway! [more]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quite a week

I have had in the back of my mind to blog for the past few days, but sitting down and committing thoughts to paper, or ether, has been an elusive process for me. Thank you for birthday wishes, it was a very good weekend with some pleasant surprises - particularly some of the friend's lovely wife invited for the celebrations. Good party on Saturday night, the local pub did us proud, with a smaller, very pleasant, meal out together at a pub on the blustery seafront at Lyme Regis on Sunday. I can recommend the Harbour inn (apart from slightly grumpy restaurant manager, but I think Maitre D'Hotel's are meant to be like that, tradition or an old charter or something).

Monday saw a day 'conference' on the title of 'Moving On With Your Mission Community' to which I went (late, due to Assembly commitments with the local school) with two 'Lay Leaders' from the local Churches. It was a day which talked about the difficulties and joys of learning to work in new ways in our Diocese where Churches are being moved towards the status of Mission Communities. There's probably quite a lot to be said about that which I can't put down now as I am off to take an assembly!

Tuesday was busy with funeral visiting, services and some meetings, along with a fair amount of admin. There is progress on the appointment of an Admin Assistant for me, so that particular bane of my life should be lessened in the coming weeks.

Yesterday seemed to be very busy - in an unexpected way. Having thought I had little to do I ended with with appointments through the day and found myself in the car to various destinations around the villages, and another funeral visit (I always do two before a funeral) and a very enjoyable lunch to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday. I could get used to this pub lunch culture, all i would have to do is sell everything I own on eBay....

Today is another busy one. I have officiated at the funeral which took some preparation this morning. A sad goodbye to a real Village character, of which there are few left. The service was greatly enhanced by a recording made of the deceased some years ago in which he shared some of his thoughts and stories. There were a couple of minute long clips, so it wasn't either mawkish or creepy, which might have been the case if they had gone on too much. Following the wake I am now off to do an assembly, then back to prepare and then lead our Lent Series, details of which I will post soon.

So, a quick resume of my past few days, mainly in the hope that this will prompt me to get on with some reflection about Ministry and Mission in these bodies we are calling Mission Communities. I have had much to think on, with little space to think, hopefully reflecting on this will bring about some comments later!

Catch you later.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Celebrate good times, come on

Today is my fortieth birthday and I am enjoying a day with the family followed by a party at a local hostelry with friends new and old. My wife hasn't told me who is coming, so I am looking forward to seeing who she has invited. I do know some Cambridge friends are coming so I am very excited! But I must say, the prospect of a day with the family is the most exciting thing.... The children are high as kites, and seem to be enjoying daddy's birthday as much as me...I know they are looking forward to playing with the scalectrix I got as much as I am!

So I doubt I will write much more today.

Two things that have struck me, one is that this social networking business can really make you feel special, the number of birthday wishes I have received is quite overwhelming. Secondly, if a person is judged by the quality of their friends, then I must be pretty incredible :-)

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Believing & belonging

This evening saw the start of our Lent series of talks, for which I have prepared talks on various aspects of the Creed. The audience/congregation were very good, they engaged with the material and, I hope, got something from the evening. I was somewhat concerned about the format, ie that I spoke to/at the group then gave them some time to talk about the issues raised amongst themselves, and I am sure that some would have preferred more discussion, but for the purposes of this evening I wanted to throw some ideas out and start a process that may well continue in a different way in weeks to come.

So here is the introduction to this week's thoughts, the theme being the Creed!

I believe

Congratulations on making it to the first of our talks for this Lenten period as we grapple with the Apostle’s Creed. As it was my suggestion that we follow this series over these five weeks it is also my responsibility to say why I think, or even ‘I believe’, this is a good idea, and what I hope will happen over this next few weeks, before I get on with talking about what we are doing when we say ‘I believe…’ particularly when we consider this creed that we will be looking and saying together over the coming weeks…
I’ll come clean and say that the reason we are looking at this document over the coming weeks is because I think that on the whole very few of us really think about what we are doing when we stand up together and say the Creeds. Week by week we reel off either the Apostle’s Creed – our subject of study and the version used in morning and evening prayer; or the Nicene Creed – a longer document used at Holy Communion started with the early Church council of Nicea in 325 a.d. The Creed was formally adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 a.d [more]

Been Thinking

The title of this post is quite a lot to do with what's been going on since I last posted! I've not really been up to ambling around the blogsphere, mainly because I have not had much time when I've not been occupied and when I have had time I have taken it to think, chill, pray, read and be with family. Not a bad use of my spare minutes! But blogging and most other things online have been rather neglected.

Over the past few weeks I have been finding the same question come up again - why do we do this? By which I mean "why do we do x or y in the church?", "why are things the way they are?", particularly with regards to structures and traditions within the church. As part of this I have been putting together some articles for the Parish Mag (called the Parishes Paper, which goes out to the Five Alive Mission Community villages), the first of which can be found here, I have also found myself in various situations discussing the reasons we do things in a certain way in our Churches.

At the root of it, though, I have particularly been asking this question as I have been preparing a series of talks on the Creed, called simple "I Believe". It's a series of Lent talks ending with Compline (a lovely, short, meditative service of Night Prayer) which begins this evening. My first question is really 'why do we have a Creed', and though I've not answered it to my own satisfaction, I've started the exploration in this evening's talk. I won't publish it at New Kid Deep Stuff yet, or a few folk who I know read this blog every now and then might take the opportunity to read online and not come out tonight! Hopefully all of our snow will have melted by this evening and travel will be easier....

I guess all this reflection and thinking and stuff is all inspired by the impending celebrations of my fortieth birthday this weekend! We're off to the local pub for a joint party with a new buddy from this village, so anyone near Kilmington on Saturday that fancies coming to the Old Inn, pop in for a pint and get ready for a dance!

Will post my talk later tonight or tomorrow.

Oh, am trying to twitter, microblogging much easier than thinking clearly enough for longer blog posting! If you want to follow or be followed then go to