Monthly Archives: April 2009

Changing Worship Patterns

It seems to me that my experience of Easter Day 2009 is a good example of how worship is changing within Methodism. As in past years I took four services, however, there has been quite a shift in those services. My guess is that as in many other ways Northamptonshire is some way behind much of the country so it is interesting to see that changes are taking effect here.

My guess is that a few years ago Easter Day as a minister would have meant multiple quite similar services in different locations. Maybe if you had a large Church it would have meant up to three services there (Sunrise/Early Morning, Morning and Evening) but in more rural setting you would have had a number of very similar communion services in different Churches.

The changes here initially looked quite simple. Dropping a sunrise service that was very poorly attended (and to be honest what a relief, in 3 years that I had taken the service I don't think we had seen the sun once) and replacing it with a tea time service at 4pm.

However, it became clear that the services were all going to be very different. In the end I had the following:

  • 8:30am traditional Methodist Easter Communion at Thrapston by that I mean it included things like pews, traditional hymns from Hymns and Psalms, organ and people coming forward to the communion rail to receive the elements. Followed by a breakfast (croissants rather than eggs).
  • 10:30am modern Methodist Communion service at Raunds. So people sat in a circle (two rows deep in places due to numbers and to support those who don't like to sit in the front row) we had a band (piano, bass guitar, electric guitar, two acoustic guitars, mandolin, electric violin, clarinet & singers), all the songs were from songs of fellowship and did not include much in the way of traditional hymns (but all very suitable for Easter day). Still a "proper" sermon but with young children running around from their colouring/craft table to show parents and grandparents what they were doing. We shared communion around the circle with the wine in a chalice rather than small cups. The service lasted about 90 minutes which is typical for a communion service at Raunds.
  • 4pm cafe worship at Ringstead Shared Church. An entirely new venture which attracted 19 people (including several who don't normally come to the Church). We had quizzes, some songs (piano supporting), sarnies, cake and tea/coffee, a scripture passage and a couple of guided discussion times around the tables based on that. It was a comfortable and friendly time of worship, sharing and challenge that everyone seemed to enjoy. They had a communion service in the morning which was well attended but this was more popular than their normal fairly informal evening services.
  • 6pm pastoral care worship at Old Weston. Essentially the chapel at Old Weston now exists for pastoral care of it's tiny and elderly membership. Over time I have come to realise that the best form of care for the very small membership is to provide them with the traditional worship that they have faithfully supported for so many years. The services there always include as part of the worship a time of preparation as we discuss how things are, how many doctors visits there have been this week etc. We use traditional hymns from my ipod and communion is received in the pew as standing and walking is difficult. Everything logical says this chapel should have been closed many years ago. Now that has been left too long and I see that part of my task as minister is to provide pastoral care through worship in the little chapel they have served for so many years. I doubt if it will be for much longer but I do believe that this is a valid if often derided form of pastoral care.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to say these are in any way unusual or special, in fact quite the opposite.

I think there are a number of issues that will be worth exploring (none are particularly new, but this Easter day seemed to highlight them for me):

  • Am I right that we are seeing a widening variety of ways of worship and celebration across the connexion? Much wider than the old debates about which book to use for songs or which liturgy to use.
  • How visible are the changes? Most members don't worship in lots of Churches, maybe local preachers don't adapt to local situations enough to be aware of the differences. Maybe circuits create some level of homogeneity soi in many cases the difference are only visible across circuit boundaries.
  • What are the implications for worship leaders and preachers? Are we training local preachers and ministers to lead a wide variety of worship styles? Should we be or should we have specialists? How much variety is there in the services that are reported on when in training? I have seen circuits specifically choose "proper traditional" services to evaluate new preachers when most of the services they lead will not be of that style.
  • What are the implications for the ministers time? It takes much more preparation when services are so different. For example I have taken 11 services in 8 days and have not been able to repeat a selection of hymns once. On Easter day one hymn was sung twice and all the others were only used in one place.
  • What are the implications for our understanding of Church? If our congregations are becoming so much less homogeneous then do we need to re-think our understanding of the "local" Church or even of Circuit?

Lots of questions, any answers out there?

Easter Wouldn’t Be Easter Without A Row About The Atonement

According to Adrian Warnock Easter Wouldn't Be Easter Without A Row About The Atonement.

So he gets busy manufacturing a row as he is upset by evangelicals seeking unity at this time.

I'm nearly lost for words :-)

However, being a boring traditional Methodist and thus not really a proper Christian according to some, I prefer to stick to orthodox Christian faith. I therefore categorically assert that for me at least:

  • Easter wouldn't be Easter if Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, had not gone to the cross and died for us on that first Good Friday so that we might be forgiven and reconciled with God.
  • Easter wouldn't be Easter if Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of
    God had not been raised from the dead by God on that first Easter Day.
  • Easter wouldn't be Easter without the love of the living God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Rows, however artificial, distract us from what Easter is all about. They have nothing to do with the Good News of Easter.

If you want to discuss the content of Adrian's attempt to create a row then see Henry's post: Atonement: The Error Adrian Warnock and Giles Fraser Share.

[Update]

Just a reminder that Adrian is doing nothing new here. he has attempted to assert his own revised definition of evangelical many times, as if by repeating it everyone else will automatically agree. See 42: Back on form: defining evangelical for a response from the past. Summary: Evangelical does not automatically imply believer in Penal Substitution, and it never has.

Maundy Thursday grows at Raunds

This is the fourth year since we re-introduced a Maundy Thursday Service in Raunds and we have just experienced a significant increase in numbers.

This year our plan was to run the following:

  • 5pm to 6pm All Age Worship led by our WOT team
  • 6pm to 7pm Meal
  • 7pm to 8pm More traditional service with washing of feet and Holy Communion
  • 8pm to 9pm Service of Light and Darkness (meditation on readings from Mark 14 & 15)

In fact things did not quite work out as expected. This was a good thing and was caused by lots more people coming than we dared hope for. We had around 40 for the all age worship and it was fantastic. Our basic programme was

  • Welcome (just as people arrive) & Craft (making liturgically coloured palm branches)
  • Sing: make Way with lots of marching and waving of palm branches
  • A drama written by Glayne Worgan (a friend who is a minister in Northampton). Lots of stuff for the crowd to do. Donkeys, crashing tables etc. Basically the whole passion story in just a few minutes.
  • Sing: Two Easter songs found by Paula. One to the tune of "Sing a song of sixpense" and the other to Jingle Bells. Paula accomopanied on her mandolin.
  • A game using the pictures from Mark Roberts stations of the cross (look up the passages and sort the images to match the passages). Grateful thanks to Mark for the permission to use the images (see Stations of the Cross | www.markdroberts.com for the Scripture passages & excellent paintings and meditations). Used the scoring to remind us of key parts of the passion narrative.
  • Sing: How Deep the Fathers Love for Us
  • Talk from me while we first tore up crepe paper and then created a mosaic from the broken pieces (a cross on top of the planet with a dove and flames to the side). Talk was a simple presentation of salvation and our response (we are all broken and through the cross Jesus creates beauty from brokenness).
  • Sing: Beauty for Brokenness
  • Closing prayer

Took a little bit longer than an hour. The meal went well and finished on time but we had not alllocated enough time to setup for the next service so that was over 30 minutes late but we agreed that this was a cause for rejoicing due to the numbers that had come.

40 people for the all age worship is:

  • More than we have ever had at a term time WOT
  • More than many Sunday mornings
  • 4 times the number that came last year

The age range was from 2 to 85 with about 40% under 15 and every decade was represented.

As we were eating there were 5 full tables of 8 and a few extra at a 6th table, that is nearly as good as one of our regular Sunday lunches.

Remember that currently the meals are being prepared and served without any kitchen on the premises.

We then had 19 for the more traditional service which again is more than ever before. That included our 7 person band (hence the setup time). Due to the way the space was used tonight we ended up facing in the one direction I have never got the congregation to face before (so now they have sat facing in all four directions as well as in circles, squares etc). As were late starting we took longer over this service and merged into the service of Light and Darkness so we finished at 9pm.

Finished clearing away just after 10pm.

So many encouraging things from today:

  • The community that has been built up from WOT who are now ready and eager to come and worship during school holidays (and face together the darkness of Holy Week).
  • The way so many people help make this happen, just seeing tasks and doing them.
  • The informal and friendly nature of the way we do things that allows us to adapt and change and enjoy our worship and sharing.
  • To have such a large proportion of the Church wanting to take Holy Week seriously.
  • To have so many wanting to share in washing feet (everyone at the service) and think about what that means for us.

Certain unruly members of the band (yes Pete and Andy) were asking for a revolving stage like U2 for Sunday. I said that if they could guarantee a sound like U2 I would happily spend Saturday building them a revolting (oop's sorry, typo, should be revolving) stage for Sunday and will willingly push it round during the service. So far no such guarantee has been forthcoming.

Hop on your bike this Easter

The CTC urges us to:

Hop on your bike this Easter

It’s the Easter weekend and that means there’s plenty of time to get out on your bike.

I’m not totally convinced by the time argument. I have just got back from 7 hours at Raunds Methodist Chapel for an all age service, meal and more traditional communion service with washing of feet. Still to come Good Friday March tomorrow and 4 services on Sunday.

I suspect Monday will be a feet up day!

Carbon Detox, by George Marshall « MAKE WEALTH HISTORY

After this Carbon Detox, by George Marshall « MAKE WEALTH HISTORY recommendation we bought the book and Jane and I are now close to finishing it. Got calculations to do, but already planning changes. Excellent book. Well recommended.

Some things are good news. We have never been into flying for holidays. I think we have done so about three times in the 20+ years since we were married (twice where Jane came along on business trips and once to Jersey when my sister lived there). I did, however, do a great deal of flying for work over 15 years or so but none in the last 4 or 5.

When it comes to other areas of lifestyle the realities of life as a Methodist Minister have a huge impact on our carbon footprint. Just about all the big ticket items we have no direct control over whatsoever.

For example, all the significant issues relating to making your home a low carbon footprint are outside our control.

  • We did not choose where to live (not even which part of the country)
  • We cannot change the insulation of the manse (it is not very good)
  • We cannot change to a more efficient heating system (good as gas, bad for age and efficiency)
  • We can't fit thermostatic radiator valves to making the inefficient heating more effective
  • We can't fit solar panels
  • We can't choose to move to reduce driving or allow us to use public transport as we have to be in the house provided for my work.

On the other hand there are lots of lifestyle choices we can make, many that we are pleased to say we have already made. There without exception have had a positive impact on our lives by living lighter as suggested in the book.

  • We have the most fuel efficient small car we could find (Citroen C1), which we use for the bulk of our mileage (mostly caused by not being able to live near where our son goes for county music services, no choice of location for him).
  • Our big car is under 2 litres and diesel and only 4 years old so could not be improved a great deal unless we could go a lot smaller.
  • We do have energy efficient bulbs everywhere and installed them as we moved in 4 years ago
  • We do use a green electricity supply company (Ecotricity)
  • We do like bikes and use them for transport and on holidays. (but would be a lot healthier and happier if we did it more).
  • We work quite hard at recycling and composting.

We are going to be looking at a whole range of issues together over coming weeks and months to see what else would be good to do.

One step already taken is that I have applied to the Methodist Council (essentially the Methodist Church Executive Committee) as a district representative, that puts me on the District Executive as well. I have also applied to a new District Think Tank. On all of these I will be pushing for the Church to become far more responsible and active on Climate Change (in every sense, starting theologically but moving rapidly into more practical action). I also have a big focus on mission – just in case anyone was wondering :-)

One area that I will look at is how to align motivations in manse maintenance. At present there is no incentive for circuits to pay for better insulation etc as it costs them money but saves the minister money. Some way needs to be found to encourage circuits to take decisions that are currently not to their benefit yet which are clearly good overall.

Obviously many of our older church buildings are also very poor in terms of insulation (and are often heated by electricity) both of which are not good for their carbon footprint. However, options are quite limited for many of them.

We had an excellent talk at our last ministerial synod of the theology of climate change by one of our ministers who is writing a doctoral thesis on it at present. At the time I made the point that the trend in responding to climate change is to aim to be more local while in churches (of all types) the opposite is true with more people commuting to Church further away from home than ever before.

While the talk made powerful points about eschatology and climate change I think we have a long way to go before it can be said we are taking the basic justice issue seriously enough and that is relatively easy and obvious to grasp.

Anyway good book. Highly recommended.

Stanwick Lakes gets better

The new visitor centre is now open at Stanwick Lakes which is very close to us here in Raunds.

As it was a beautiful afternoon (and I wanted to procrastinate about the things I am procrastinating about now by writing this post) we decided to ride over to have a look.

Our youngest has not yet done much solo road cycling (lots on the back of tandems or on a trailer bike) so it was a bit of an adventure for him. Jane decided to ride the XXL recumbent trike for comfort and I went on my mountain bike – no point in my riding anything fast with those two :-)

Again we were reminded that Stanwick Lakes is a great facility and rightly very popular. But also what a total mess for local access. There is still no safe pedestrian, cyclist or horse rider access from Stanwick – you have to cross the busy A45 dual carriageway at the Stanwick roundabout with no help whatsoever.

From Raunds we have “better” access down Meadow Lane which is track in a terrible state of repair, then a bridge under the A45 which is flooded most of the time (even today after no significant rain for ages there is still a huge area of mud by the bridge), then through two tight kissing gates.

Now I don’t mind the kissing part of kissing gates. But even my mounatin bike does not fit through without being held vertical on it’s back wheel. All recumbents have to be carried over. To top it all our son got stung by the nettles around the gate. This is crazy for “public” access from the nearest town to a

unique countryside attraction in the heart of the Nene Valley in Northamptonshire. It is a site which really does offer something for everyone: leisure opportunities, access to attractive countryside and abundant wildlife can all be found here.

Once you are past the useless access Stanwick Lakes is superb. The adventure playground has been maintained well and is large and very popular.

The new visitor centre is great. It is supposed to be the first really green building in Northants (we are a lot behind the times here) with grass roof, solar panels, ground source heating, wind turbine etc. It also has a nice cafe with a terrace over one of the lakes.

At the central area by the car park there is also a bike hire scheme provided by AJ Bikes (see 42: AJ Bikes in Northants). Elsewhere there is an outdoor amphitheatre, bird hide, assault course adventure trail and a fair amount of walking and cycling.

So we got a nice coffee, a nice sit in the sun while the adventure playground was used and then a gentle ride back.

One little bit of excitement was to find a flat tyre on the recumbent trike when we got back to the bike rack. That was when I realised I did not have a pump with me. Fortunately I did have a cannister of seal-n-flate which you just connect to the valve, press the button and it fills the hole with gunk and inflates the tyre. Cool for a temporary repair. Ok I could have taken a pump and 3 spare tubes (3 tyre sizes with us) or repair kit but this was wirth every penny in convenience for us today. Plus Jane said how easily she could do that herself whereas she has never been keen to repair punctures herself (and to be fair some of the tyres on small recumbent wheels are really difficult to get off). Anyway when we got home I found the culprit which was a thorn nealy 10mm long going straight through the tyre.

As for the access problems, one of the Sustrans Connect2 routes runs from Stanwick Lakes to Wellingborough. Hopefully when that gets started we will see some progress on the cycling access to the lakes (good from Ringstead, poor to terrible from everywhere else).

AJ Bikes in Northants

Here in East Northants there is good news for cycling.

First a local Bike shop has moved to new larger premises. AJ Bikes are now at Unit N, Bury Close, Higham Ferrers, Northants. NN10 8HQ.

This is not your average small, local bike shop. Apparently they have 10,000 square feet and over 200 bikes on show. I can believe it. There are bikes from pretty much every major genre (kids, bmx, town, fixie, folders, road, cross, lots of styles of mtb) all with several brands. Ok no recumbents or cargo bikes (yet), however, much much better than anything else I have seen in Northamptonshire. To find anything similar would currently mean going to Cambridge or Milton Keynes.

Not only this but I have found them really helpful. I bought my full suspension mountain bike from them and the service has been very good.

Last week I took my fixie in as I saw they had some neat looking chain guards. They fitted one for me within 2 hours (at the same time giving my mountain bike it's free service).

Yesterday, our oldest had a day off school (inservice training for staff) so the two of us went for a gentle ride to find lunch. After a very nice lunch at Beans in Higham we called in at AJ Bikes as I needed a helmet replacement after a fall (see 42: Will I or won't I? and 42: Home from retreat). Despite the fact I had not bought the helmet from them they checked with Specialized, found out the replacement policy and then said leave it with us and we will sort it out. As I said great service. If you live in Northants then I recommend them.

LOVE LINK

I have been a bit slow to do this but Rachel tagged me in Re-vis.e Re-form: LOVE LINK for Link love so here
are Rachel’s latest postees websites, followed by my ten latest postees
websites. Your job is now to do the same, if I’ve linked to you. This,
whilst giving exposure to sites we might not have come across before,
is also revealing how some of us really are in network with each other.

Rachel’s latest 10 postees’ websites:

Chipping Away At Chuchianity
Bishop Alan
Fibre fairy at Strands of Life
David Rudel at Fire in the Bones
Dave Warnock at 42
Singing Owl at The Owl’s song
John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar
Peter Kirk at Gentle Wisdom
Tim Goodbody at Friends Meeting House
Fibre Fairy at Strands of Life

My latest 10 posters:

Rhea from hubbaduh’s Xanga Site.
Pam from PamBG’s Blog.
Hannah from We Mixed Our Drinks.
Mad Priest from Of course, I could be wrong….
Jack from ClobberBlog.
Will from Ramblings from Red Rose.
Peter from Gentle Wisdom.
Mark Adam but no blog so does not count
Josh from Josh Tinley.com.
Jon from Men: Leave Church – Encouraging all single men to leave the churches.
Sheryl Anderson but no blog so does not count
Sam from Elizaphanian.

Why we need more (good) theology

Simple answer because there is so much bad stuff around.

This post is partially motivated by a facebook discussion on needing more women to engage in theology (started by Angie Shier-Jones with Micky Youngson taking up the baton, or whatever it is). Also by a comment from Jon who left a comment on 42: Why have men left the Church?  His blog Men Leave Church demonstrates many of the problems poor theology leaves.

I want to look at why need more good theology particularly in local churches and academia. It is important to note that what I mean by "good" theology is not "theology that Dave agrees with". In fact I want to suggest that we all grow most when learning to challenge good theology that we don't agree with (that challenges our assumptions and understanding).

Now let us be clear, I am not and do not pretend to be an academic theologian. But I am fortunate to know and have been taught by some very gifted and qualified academic theologians and have the utmost respect for them. That is not me (as anyone who has ever marked one of my essays will testify).

On the other hand I absolutely do consider myself a theologian and that being such is a vital part of my work as a minister but more than that as a critical element of my everyday, normal discipleship as a everyday Christian. I sincerely regret the wasted years when I thought theology was only for academics.

First, a reminder of what theology is:

1. The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions.

2. A system or school of opinions concerning God and religious questions: Protestant theology; Jewish theology.

3. A course of specialized religious study usually at a college or seminary.

From theology – definition of theology by the Free Online Dictionary.

I am going to be focusing on the first of these.

Good Theology in Churches

It seems to me that during most of my lifetime theology has not been understood as something that is useful or relevant to ordinary Christians (in the pew so to speak, maybe I should add this to 42: 15 reasons why pews are bad). Yet, with the wonders of hindsight, I can see that during times when my faith grew most I was doing theology even if we did not call it that.

I am convinced that many drop away from Christian faith and particularly from the Church because they have not been encouraged, equipped and supported in exploring their faith, their understanding of God and what it means to be a Christian. Many appear to have been given the impression that thinking and/or questioning are incompatible with Christian Faith. ie they have neither explored theology nor been encouraged to do so.

In addition Christians who do not engage in theology are at risk from two different areas. The first is from the widely available and loudly proclaimed poor theologies that abound in our internet society. The second is from the sad examples of bad teaching within the Church – we are all to blame if bad teaching goes unchallenged (just as we are all to blame if child abuse happens among us without our knowledge).

The common theme is that in all three issues (dropping away, poor theology in society, poor theology in the church) demonstrate that a Christian who does not engage in theology is a vulnerable Christian.

I am confident that nobody would choose to encourage Christians to be vulnerable in these ways. [Aside: Yes there are ways we are called to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is an inevitable part of loving - but vulnerability caused by a lack of good theology is quite different].

Yet in fact by not encouraging all Christians to do theology we are actually leaving them vulnerable.

Note that while worship, prayer, Bible Study, service etc are all vital, but we cannot and should not assume that those who do these are also doing theology. For example, sadly, it is easy to find Bible Study that does not actually result in "The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions." and therefore does not address our vulnerability. I believe that very often quoting scripture verses is understood as theology whereas it clearly does not meet the definition of theology in any meaningful way.

So in our local Churches we need all involved in good theology as a response to 3 vulnerabilities:

  • the vulnerability to dropping away from our faith because we do not have the theological resources to handle dryness, doubt or questioning.
  • the vulnerability to bad theology around us, typically that gets far more publicity than good theology. As one example consider the huge publicity that books and TV programs on the prosperity gospel get, I see the harm done to Christians who do not understand why they have not been blessed financially as promised.
  • the vulnerability to bad theology within the church. Without a knowledge of theology there is no one to make sure our preachers don't lose their way and lead us astray. We see this all the time in women who are prevented from the calling that God has placed on them. A good grounding in theology for all Christians also protects us from this vulnerability.

Good Academic Theology

We are constantly bombarded with views of what Christianity and the Christian Life should be like. There are high pressure sales of "Christian" books, TV Channels and conferences but many of these contain little or no robust healthy theology. Instead many are more like self help books with little more than a nod in the direction of Christian theology. Some are distinctly sub Christian (eg prosperity gospel, word of Faith Movement stuff, Masculine Christianity), while others are aggressive towards a wide variety of orthodox Christian theologies.

As in every other field of study the role of academics is critical for ordinary people. While we should be concerned about climate change, global warming, peak oil consider for a moment how much worse off we would be without the academics who have been researching this field. Without them imagine how vulnerable we would be to any lie the oil companies or governments wanted to tell us.

Our academics are needed to challenge these lies for us and give us the help, tools and understanding to be safe from these attacks.

But academic theologians are not just part of a defence network protecting us from these
attacks. They also need to lead us into greater understanding of both old issues (Scripture, life of Jesus, our traditions, our language etc) and new issues (the theology of climate change as one example).

How it works

Actually this is where I think it goes wrong. I think that there are few channels connecting local Christians to academic theology. When you combine this with a general lack of theological knowledge and desire for knowledge in local Churches we end up with big problems and people get hurt. Sadly there are numerous examples of this around blogs. I frequently notice these around gender issues, but am confident that they happen elsewhere too.

So the challenge is. How should we be building up good theology and good connections between academic theology and the theology of ordinary Christians?