Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Simple Pastor: We differ on eldership not leadership

From The Simple Pastor » Book Review: House churches will they survive? » Simplicity & Generosity.

We differ on the inclusion of women in eldership (not as so many detractors say to leadership)

My apologies. I just do not understand.

My reading of this is that Phil believes that a woman cannot be an elder but that she can be part of a leadership team. That would seem to be supported by the values statement of "North Shrewsbury Community Church" which includes: 

The oversight and direction of the local church is exercised by the elders in conjunction with the wider leadership team.

When that is read in conjunction with the "Who's Who" which includes a number of women listed with "job titles" I think we can assume that some/all of these are part of the "wider leadership team".

So it seems to me that Phil is unhappy about "detractors" complaining that a woman cannot be in leadership when in fact they have a mixed gender "wider leadership" team that works in conjunction with a set of all male elders.

So hands up. Guilty as charged. I am clearly one of the "detractors". I read what Phil is saying, look at the values and the who's who and I still say that it is wrong to say this structure includes women fully in leadership.

In this structure the elders are the key leaders, the senior leaders, the final authority in the local Church. Sure they appear to be working collaboratively with a wider team but the authority is clearly still with the elders. While it would be interesting to see the formal rules for decision making (to see how the leadership team and elders are chosen and who has final say in what areas) it is not necessary in order to say this does not meet the requirements to be able to say women are fully included in leadership. The key decision making role is one that is not available to women, therefore their inclusion in leadership is by definition limited.

At the end of the day there is a simple definition. If there are roles or positions in a Church that are not available to women then the Church is based around a form of male headship. Churches can try to present this in many positive or gentle ways but the definition is simple and there is a clear line. Either there are no restrictions or there are some.

There are many attempts to fudge this line and to try to bring in side issues. For example we can say that the Methodist Church still has a number of ways in which it fails to be equal on gender issues – BUT the line is still clear. The Methodist Church clearly states that no role or position can be restricted by gender (or ethnicity etc). So while the Methodist Church is clearly far from perfect and fails in many ways it is also clearly on the other side of the line.

Clearly there is a wide spectrum of Churches who are on the male headship side of the line. Some are much closer to the line than others. When we look at the far end of that spectrum for example with Churches that do not allow women to speak in Church we can easily see that many would not want to be seen to align themselves with that.

But this is why the line is important. The line is so thin that you cannot sit on it. On one side humans are equal on the other side there is male headship. You cannot have both.

There is another big difference between the two sides of the line. On one side we have Equality or as Americans like to call it Egalitarianism. This side is a level field. Contrary to the way that it is often presented by male headship devotees this side of the line has no slippery slope. No dangerous extreme. If you believe in equality then what does it mean to be an extremist. You believe people are equal or not, they can't be shades of equal. These is no such thing as dangerous or extreme equality.

However, the other side of the line is quite different. This is a steep and slippery slope. Once you have said that people are not equal because of their gender you continually face the scary slope towards extremism. Once you say that people are not equal due to gender then you (you being men only at this point of course) continually face challenges to decide what this means in practice. If people are not equal then there are always going to be pulls towards restrictions to protect this view.

There are plenty of scary examples to be seen and those on this side of the line are always going to have others trying to pull them down the slope. Take one example. John Piper is a favourite of people on the Male Headship side of the line. He said:

So if this man, for example, is calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly (group sex or something really weird, bizarre, harmful, that clearly would be sin), then the way she submits—I really think this is possible, though it's kind of paradoxical—is that she's not going to go there. I'm saying, "No, she's not going to do what Jesus would disapprove even though the husband is asking her to do it."

She's going to say, however, something like, "Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership. But if you ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can't go there."

Now that's one kind of situation. Just a word on the other kind. If it's not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.

You may say we value women, we include them in leadership. However, if you are not able to say: "We believe women and men are equal", if you are not prepared to say "No role or position is restricted by gender" THEN you are on the same side of the line as John Piper when he says a wife should endure "verbal abuse for a season" and "endures perhaps being smacked one night". This is the slippery slope towards extremist views.

So it is simple. Are you on the flat, stable and safe side of the line where people are equal, even extremely equal :-) Or are you on the slippery slope side where having claimed that women are not equal to me you are forever being drawn to extremes with no safety net.

More on a lighter footprint

I have written before about the opportunities created by our move this summer, for example in 42: A lighter footprint. Our move is coming close now with about a week to go.

So today we took a big step in lightening our footprint. We have moved from two cars to one. One step further to a longer aim of one day becoming car free.

Key to this was finding a car that would have much of the economy and costs of our small Citroen C1 while providing as much of the capacity of our large Citroen C8 as is needed by a family with 3 tall sons.

In the end we managed a two for one part exchange (sadly a considerable top-up was required) and now have a Citroen Berlingo Multispace with family pack (h'mm pity the name is so long). So this gives us 7 seats (room for Mum and/or girl friends) or a generous sized boot. Yet the running costs and environmental impact (Fuel, Vehicle Excise Duty, Insurance, …) are all much closer to the C1 than the C8.

It would have been hopelessly costly (financially as well as environmentally) to run our C8 as an only car with the prospect of many short city journeys (eg from one side of Leicester to the other in order to take mum out for a while). On the other hand we could not all fit in the 4 seat C1 and it could not have a towbar so caravanning would have been impossible.

The Berlingo might look ugly and is not going to be exciting to drive but neither of those are high priorities (indeed quite the opposite, given the goal of driving much less, a car that you want to show off or that is fantastic to drive would have been positively unhelpful).

Two key things have made this change possible. 

Firstly, downsizing from our big twin axle 6 berth caravan to our small five berth folding camper (Dandy Designer). So we moved from needing to tow about 1600kg to around 400kg.

Secondly, the move from Raunds in the Nene Valley Circuit to Syston in the Leicester North Circuit coupled with the changes in the needs of the family. We no longer need to get a son to and from a 6th form and county music service both 20 miles away. Jane no longer needs to work somewhere that makes getting a son to a distant school convenient. The Leicester North Circuit is far more compact and so means I should be able to cycle rather than drive (for example I have had 2 Churches 10 miles from home in opposite directions. After the move nowhere in the circuit is more than about 7 miles away and the Churches I serve are much closer).

We have had our Citroen C8 for 6 years and it has been a great family workhorse, superb for holidays and carting around lots of people and stuff. But with nearly 100,000 miles on the clock and different needs it was no longer appropriate.

We only had our Citroen C1 for 2 1/2 years. We bought it to be a cheap (environmentally and financially) way to get to and from Northampton far too many times a week. Having bought it with only 10,000 on the clock after one year, we did rather more, averaging about 1,500 miles per month. Beyond the original need we used it whenever we could, even for longer journeys as it was so much cheaper to run than the C8.

Now we hope the Berlingo will provide good economy (something over 40mpg overall) with the space and flexibility we need. First signs are good it is the smallest and cheapest 7 seater car we found that fits our two younger sons in the back row. Some of the alternatives were amazing (not in a good way though) for example Jane and I nearly killed ourselves trying to climb into the 3rd row of seats in a Toyota Verso.

It certainly feels a lot lighter to be able to go back down to only one car. However, we do recognise that in absolute terms it is far from a great environmental example that we are setting. I would love it if we were able to take the further step of this being our last ever car. I hope that improvements in public transport, dramatic improvements to the cycling infrastructure and options for car pooling over the next few years might allow that dream to become a reality.


New hope for Trident?

It seems to me that the transfer of the costs of the Trident nuclear system to the Department of Defence (Future of Trident in doubt as ministers row over budget | Ekklesia) is right and offers new hope.

Unless the Ministry of Defence bears the cost of everything related to defence/military expenditure it cannot be expected to make the decisions based on cost effectiveness. If they do not pay for Trident then it should be no wonder they want it as it will appear to be fantastically cost effective.

By putting the costs into the MOD it will have to be justified as cost effective against the alternatives. Personally I am confident that in any fair comparison the full costs of Trident will not be cost effective and so on those grounds alone it should be abandoned.

My own view is of course that it does not matter at all if Trident is cost effective, it should still be abandoned and all our Nuclear weapons decommissioned immediately. That to be followed as soon as possible by ideally a complete demilitarisation of the UK.

Step one in all this should be immediate progress on banning all arms sales to anyone anywhere by any British company, any British passport holder and anyone on British soil. That will then need to be extended to include all forms of transport for arms and all supporting equipment, good and services.

Last, last services

Today included not just the thrilling end of the the Tour de France, but also my last two services in the Nene Valley Circuit. The last few weeks have felt at times like the last few km of a tour stage, lining up for the finish line, getting the team organised and giving your all for that chance of a good finish.

So this morning I was at Raunds. It was lovely to lead my last Holy Communion there using the communion set they gave me as a leaving present.

This afternoon was the Circuit leaving service. Lovely to not lead the service but as expected embarrassing in places.

Now all services in this Circuit are done. Just a few bits of paperwork handover and I am done.

22 years and counting

Today (Friday) was our 22nd wedding anniversary. It does not seem like it but I met Jane nearly 25 years ago at the Manchester University Ecumenical Society. Our 22 years together have been and continue to be a joy.

We had a lovely day. Jane finished her job as a Learning Support Assistant yesterday and it is my day off. So once our youngest son had disappeared for his last day at school in Raunds we went back to bed ;-)

Sometime later we emerged and after a very short token attempt to do a few jobs we went out for lunch together at Stanwick Lakes, it was extremely romantic sitting outside on the decking over the lake eating Jacket Potatoes with Tuna Mayonnaise :-)

As it was the last day of term School finished early so we dashed off to Syston, just north of Leicester, where we will be moving very soon now. On the way we collected Mum from the Methodist Home in Oadby and just about arrived in time to meet Pete, the Circuit Steward who is looking after the moving process.

We saw the very rapid work being done on the manse to prepare it for us. Particularly adding a loo downstairs so Mum can visit (I think it is essential anyway if you are going to have visitors that they should not have to go upstairs into the bedroom area to use the toilet). The old drive is gone and the new one will be put in this weekend. In the study there are 6 new Billy bookcases, freshly assembled !!! :-) The wiring is going in (at our expense obviously) so that I can safely use a MIG Welder in the shed we will be putting in. Our predecessors have left the whole house looking very clean and nice, the boys enjoyed planning their new rooms – much easier now they are empty. while there we were also able to collect a whole load more boxes to pack :-(

Then we all went out for a meal at the Hobby Horse to celebrate our anniversary, not been there before but will go again I am sure.

After that we took advantage of the long light evening to have a quick look around to see if we can find a cycle route to Wanlip Sailing Club. We left hoping they can allow access through the locked gate on Meadow Lane (running west from Syston) as otherwise it requires you to ride on the A46 dual carriageway. Otherwise Roundhill Sailing Association is also handy but they only seem to sail on Sundays which is not much good.

Anyway, we then went for a nice walk in the northern part of Watermead park (round King Lear Lake), very wheelchair friendly and looks like a really nice place to go that is very close to home. I can see it being a very popular place for a gentle evening bike ride as well as a route I'll be using a lot to get to Leicester City Centre and to Rachel's manse (the Superintendent minister) at Birstall.

Then we dropped Mum off, never a quick operation :-) still we were home by 10:30pm.

The result is that I am looking forward to the next 22 years with Jane.

A great value urban bike

I have written several posts about some absolutely fantastic urban bikes. See

For more generic issues see my older post 42: What makes the best urban Bike

Now time to address a "value" option, a bike for everyday use that is affordable for more people.

For me the Halfords | Carrera Subway 8 Hybrid Bike 18" looks like excellent value at £350.


  • You get 8 gears (Shimano Nexus which should be fine for daily use if you are not attempting to break any speed records). The gears will require no maintenance (although be warned there are scare stories on the internet about people whose nexus gears have failed after a few 1,000 miles – but it looks like they were enthusiastic hard riders which the nexus is not designed for).
  • You get roller brakes. Zero maintenance. Perfectly adequate if you are not expecting race bike responses.
  • You get mudguards/fenders. Essential for everyday use. You stay much drier when there are puddles and the whole bike stays cleaner which means you do as well.
  • You can fit rear and front racks which makes it easy to carry plenty of stuff without having to put it on your back (you stay drier and cooler and get less tired).
  • Should be easy to get a basic chainguard fitted eg a SKS ChainBoard.
    2290500400Available from many UK bike shops from around £15. Many shops will have other brands just as good.

I have seen so many people struggling with cheap, heavy mountain bikes. They end up walking up hills because the gears don't change properly (so many just can't get the front gear change to work at all). They can't fit racks so can't carry much. They have knobbly tyres that are slow and heavy. They have no mudguards so think you can't ride a bike if the ground is damp without getting dirty. They need bikes like the Subway 8 that are fine with all the off roading they ever do and work so much better around town.

If shops sold bikes like this people would ride them so much more than the cheap mountain bikes rusting away in sheds.

And the stupid thing is that I have visited the 4 nearest Halfords shops and not one has a Subway 8 for sale, some even tried to deny that Halfords sold them at all.

If you want a bike to ride around town and on bridleways and the National Cycle Network then do not let shops sell you a rubbish mountain bike. Demand a bike with:

  • Hub gears (they will all work, they will work for years, you will not need to do any maintenance). If you are in anywhere that is not flat then look at more than 3 gears.
  • Roller Brakes (no maintenance)
  • Mudguards/Fenders (no bike cleaning, no special clothes needed)
  • Rear Rack (carry shopping etc)
  • Front Basket (makes like so much more convenient around town)
  • Chainguard (one to properly keep the chain away from your clothes and water/dirt off the chain).

Happy to collect suggestions for alternatives.

The joy and pain of goodbyes

One of the facts of life for a Methodist Minister in Britain is goodbyes. As an itinerant minister you expect to move on, as a Circuit Minister (Methodist Ministers in Britain are not appointed to a specific Church but to a Circuit of Churches) that means a lot of goodbyes.

So I am now well into the seemingly endless parade of "Last Services", for a while now I have had last services at Churches in the Circuit that I visit less regularly (ones I don't have "pastoral charge" of). However, yesterday was the first real set of last services for the Churches I have been most closely connected to.


In the morning was Irthlingborough Methodist Church. I have only had pastoral charge of Irthlingborough for a year since when my friend and colleague David Kemble moved out of the circuit. We have had an exciting year which began with the opening of the refurbished Church. 

During the year we have had lots of things happening such as the restarted and very popular weekly "Little Fishes" for parents/carers and pre-school children on Thursday mornings. Plus new things such as Wednesday Lunches and special events galore. 

We have seen the whole Church complex being used much more by the community. We have seen the prayer life and Bible Studies continue to be central to the Church and a widening collection of members being involved in different aspects from worship, preaching, catering, welcoming, … We have launched a project to refurbish the rest of the Church buildings (given that the main refurbishment was done to an lovely standard and with superb management of quality, time and cost [yet all with a clear and prayerful focus on mission] I am very confident that this will go well too).

We have also continued to strengthen our links with the Infant School (I was there for my last assembly in the week and was presented with a wonderful book of memories).

One of the most exciting things about Irthlingborough is that all this great stuff is led by the lay people of the Church. As minister I have been welcomed and included but never made to feel that people are waiting for me or dependent on me in an unhealthy way. It is not surprising that with all this we are seeing growth in Sunday worship.


While not my last service at Raunds (that is on the 25th) it was my last Sunday Lunch (and I timed it perfectly, arriving at 12:29 just as the food was ready to serve.. The lunch happens every month and is typically for over 50 people. The regulars include a group of widows who support each other in many ways, I have got to know them well over the years and have conducted many more funerals than I would like for their husbands and friends. Anyway many good friends so it was good to be able to spend time with them and say our individual goodbyes.


So from the lunch at Raunds it was straight to Thrapston for their huge 125th anniversary. The small congregation had worked very hard to put on a Flower Festival and invite many people to join them for the weekend. So the Church was pretty full for the anniversary service, seemed to go well with some great hymn singing (all chosen by the congregation with Andrew our guest organist from Hope Methodist Church doing a great job).

We had a lot to celebrate and a lot to remember nit also time spent looking forward (I used Ephesians 1: 15-23 and Revelation 21:22- 22:5).

It was great to see friends from other Churches in Thrapston, from the Circuit as well as people with connections from the past (such as the choir from Sapcote who used to be regular visitors in the late 70's and then the 80's).

Of course we followed that with a tea (including a very fancy birthday cake). Plenty oif yummy grub to keep me going for my next service.

Old Weston

Despite being one of the very smallest congregations anywhere, the folks at Old Weston are always welcoming so it was good to have a couple of visitors this week.

When your congregation is small, elderly and deeply connected with the local community you get to experience highs and lows quite intensely. So we have had good celebrations over the last 5 years but also many losses and challenges. It got a bit tearful at some points. Leaving them is going to be hard.


I think I have about 5 more "last services" left over the next couple of weeks (Wollaston, Irchester, WOT, Raunds, Circuit farewell). Plus of course other groups such as Churches Together. Circuit Leadership Team and Circuit Staff. Hoping not to be a quivering wreck by the end. It is certainly very much a bereavement process which does include celebrations of what God has done but also much sadness over the people we will leave behind. It is quite different from when we moved here before, as the separation seems more definite (Methodist Ministers are strongly encouraged to fully disengage and separate from the Churches and places they are leaving – for at least 12 months).

In all that I have of course only mentioned my own Church based goodbyes. As a family there are many others for us to work through, all the while while we pack and busy lives go on. 

Anyway, time to go back to some boxes.

Newfrontiers : TOAM

So it is that time of year again. New Frontiers have their annual conference at Brighton called TOAM (I think it stands for "Tragically Only Alpha Males" or something similar).

Worth looking at their main speakers (6 men), oh well maybe not then.

Lets try their leadership track speakers. There are 33 of which 29 are men and 4 women. Great, some progress you might think. The four women are:

  • Liz Holden
  • Beverley Landreth-Smith
  • Ashleigh Smyth
  • Wendy Virgo

However, before we get too excited:

  • all 4 women are the wives of New Frontiers Pastors, all but 1 (Beverley Landreth-Smith) have their husband as a speaker at TOAM. Clearly it is only ok for Beverley to speak without her husband speaking as well because we are reassured "Beverley has a passion for gathering women for days together, and has organised a number of women's conferences in the Home Counties region" – so quite safe, she only talks to women.
  • 3 of the women (all but Ashleigh Smyth) are speaking in the track for women (wonder which men will go to check that what they say is ok).
  • Ashleigh is supporting her husband in the track about marriage and parenting (probably playing a key role in the session on submission and sex).

On the other hand, trying to be fair, Kate Simmonds (Australia) is listed first as one of their Worship Leaders. Better hope she does not try to sneak in any teaching in that worship.

As usual New Frontiers keep as quiet as they can in public about their policies on gender. I could not find anything specifically about their policies on the TOAM website. So as usual it all has to be done by looking at the outcomes. 

So far that does not look good but I'll try to track blogs to see what I can glean (note I don't generally bother watching video as it just takes too long and is hard to quote and respond to).

In the past, so far as I am aware, nobody has reported on any TOAM session led by a woman. I hope that this year that might change, although given the sessions timetable I don't expect to find any such sessions very edifying.