Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol earlier on, the day the Commonwealth Games are due to open in Glasgow:

Do you ever realise that you've used a word for ages and never noticed what it meant?

The word of the day is Commonwealth. Funny word. Having wealth in common. As the Games continues we will say it lots. According to the 1949 Charter, the Commonwealth stands for free and equal voluntary co-operation.

Common wealth is a very biblical idea. In the early church the first Christians were described as people who 'had everything in common'. The Bible goes on to say that no-one considered any possession their own but shared everything they had. It's a long journey from there to a street like mine where everyone has an electric lawn-mower and keeps it locked in the garage on the thirteen days a fortnight it is not in use.

I'm a realist. I do not imagine a suburban utopia of shared grass-cutting apparatus is just around the corner.

There are bits about our commonwealth history of which I am not proud. Many of the commonwealth countries were invaded or conquered, the places slaves were sought or bad people sent. But the current Commonwealth of nations includes members, such as the most recent two, Rwanda and Mozambique, who were never part of the British Empire.

As we observe the games over the next days we will see winners and losers. But the big picture is to see co-operative competition. It is called the friendly games because, for the nations involved, that is the starting point.

If the only time we use the word commonwealth is where we try to beat each other at competitive sport we may have missed something. But if we were to get better at sharing the wealth. Well that's a thought isn't it?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I read this in a Facebook post yesterday. It is only a partial quote and, as it was Facebook, I won't attribute it but I have told the writer about this post:

'... for me the general issue would not be of orientation but of conduct. Church rules on sex and marriage are clear enough for all clergy, lesbian, gay or straight. I hope ... is able, with the help of others and God, to abide by them and if so I've absolutely no problem with her having lesbian sexual orientation.'

You probably know who the writer was talking about but it is not of importance.

Most of my regular readers will know that I make a point of not disclosing my views on sexual orientation and I continue not to. The point of this post is something else which grabbed my attention - abiding by the rules.

It is not illegal for a clergy person to marry someone of the same sex. It is not legal, to solemnise such a relationship in a Church of England Church building. The bishops's guidelines on same sex marriages for clergy say:

‘ would not be appropriate conduct for someone in Holy Orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives’ (House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance 2013).

Not illegal, but not appropriate.

This guidance gave the strongest possible hint that those who had stated their aim to do such a thing, Canon Jeremy Pemberton being the first, should expect to be disciplined. He and others have been.

The interesting question is that a number of people have chosen to openly disobey the rules, judging that their desire to marry their partner was greater than their desire not to be disciplined. They took their chances. There has not been a landslide (yet) and we do not know, obviously, how many have quietly and discretely married and are waiting to be discovered.

As the number of those disciplined slowly increases so will the view take shape that this is a bad piece of guidance. The LGBT community do have people with extraordinary gifts of empathy, compassion and general social skills and contribute good pastors to the church. As these pastors diminish so will the feeling grow that the C of E is self-destructing.

The guidance is in place, I think mainly, because the church needs to work out its relationship with other parts of the the Anglican communion where LGBTs are treated more harshly. So it will change but slowly.

And of course the Church of England is full of others, myself included, who break all sorts of rules and guidelines and are not disciplined. Because the rules I break are not about sex. We are not very good at this.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Training Days

A few weeks ago I flew to Malta using an e-ticket. I did not have to print it out at any point. I merely had to prove that I was me and offering my passport at the check-in worked fine, although the spell-checker just suggested offering my pastry, which would have been interesting. Hello, I'd like to fly, here's a custard tart. I digress. Must stop doing that in paragraph one.

So I went on Thursday to a small training event, part of a series organised by my national church through Eventbrite. I received an e-ticket. It told me to print it out before the event. I did so, which was annoying becasue it was an e-ticket, but then did not have to show it to anyone, which was worse. Neither was I asked to prove who I was. I simply signed against my name on a list at reception.

Reception. Hmm. The office of the Diocese of Bristol in Stoke Gifford is on the first floor of a building on a new business park. No travel directions were sent and my map was out of date. I still arrived ten minutes early for a 9.30 start. I was first. At 9.35 there were two of us, drinking coffee we made ourselves using a machine with slight complexities. It became apparent that nobody had expected to begin until 9.45. We eventually waited for the late-comers and started twice, at 10.00 and 10.05.

The assumption was made that a bunch of people who prefer social media, and were being trained in its better use, ought to be more enthusiastic in responding to the question 'Are you excited about today?'

This is about welcome, hospitality and joining instructions. They can alter people's expectations of the day and make them less excited about it than they would have otherwise been. Then the training work becomes a whole load harder.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol a few minutes ago:

The General Synod of the Church of England continues to meet in York. Later today it votes once again, hopefully definitively this time, on the Women Bishops Measure. Personally, I hope it passes. My own little church has sponsored two women through ordination training recently and has a third in the pipeline. We value women's ministry and leadership. I'd love one of them to reach the top.

The journey to this point has required great patience on the part of many faithful women who feel called to leadership. But also great diplomacy on the part of the current leadership, in drafting legislation that will accommodate those who, in all conscience, feel that tradition or biblical scholarship point to a male priesthood. Keeping a variety of views as complementary rather than contradictory has always been one of the skills of my broad church.

In a previous role I used to travel the country training Church of England youth leaders. Wanting to impress the importance of the task upon some hard-pressed volunteers, who were often working with small numbers, I used to quote the late Mark Ashton:

'Jesus', he said, 'met many people in his life, but he seemed content to make a significant impact in the lives of just a few.'

Adding my own spin to that I would say, 'You may have just a few members but one of them may be a future Archbishop of Canterbury.'

After a dramatic pause for effect I would then say:

'...and I hope you're looking after her.'

It either got a laugh or a wince (it was twenty years ago).

But maybe that will get a little closer to being prophetic in a few hours time. Hope so.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

New Speak

As an example of a sentence the young me would not have had the first idea how to understand:

Sent from my Ultrafast Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini on Three

pretty much takes the biscuit.

I would have wondered when Samsung took over British Leyland and why the M had been dropped from Motorway names.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered to Geoff Twentyman on The Breakfast Show at BBC Radio Bristol just now. A waxwork is being unveiled in Bath that purports to show what Jane Austen looked like. A challenge has been issued to write the letter that the unknown soldier (statue at Paddington Station) is reading:

Interesting pair of stories this morning. The waxwork imagery of Jane Austin puts a face to someone whose words we know well.

Whereas the challenge to discuss the content of the unknown soldier's letter is to suggest words for an individual whose appearance we know well.

It is clear that looks mean a lot to some people. We do judge by appearance. It is why politicians spend so much time with image consultants (beat) and I prefer radio.

But for our classic and historical authors? I read Bill Bryson's little biography of William Shakespeare recently. He points out that there are only three reliable images of that playwright from his day, and it is likely that two of them copied the third one.

We know very little about the appearance of our biblical heroines and heroes. Michelangelo's statue of David is more about romantic masculinity than a true likeness, although the Bible tells us he was good-looking. We know next to nothing about Jesus of Nazarath's physical appearance apart from generalisations.

Some people in Athens had erected an altar to an unknown God. St Paul, stopping off there to debate in the market place, used the opportunity to speak of Jesus. God may well be unknown, distant, he suggested, but Jesus has made him known.

It was Jane Austen herself who said 'Life is but a quick succession of busy nothings.'

But the unknown soldier - Everyman - stands for sacrifice, courage and generosity of heart and spirit. We almost don't need to put words on his lips. A life all over far too quickly. Busy, but not nothing.

How do you want to be remembered? For how you looked? Or for what you did?

(Grateful thanks to Commissioning Editor Tim Pemberton for improving the punchline.)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Thought for the Day July 4th

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Two people wake up this morning knowing that a day awaits which may be their last day of freedom for a while.

Rolf Harris, a childhood hero of mine, will be sentenced on twelve counts of indecent assault.

Andy Coulson will be sentenced for conspiracy to intercept voice-mail messages whilst he was editor of the News of the World Newspaper.

Now let me paint you a scenario. Imagine you find yourself in the position of being able to pardon one of these two men. Who is it going to be?

I don't know what you would say but we all carry round in our minds a chart of comparative wrong-doing. 'At least I'm not as bad as...' we say to ourselves.

So in prison - and Rolf Harris has been told to expect that - as a sex offender he will be looked down on by other prisoners. As a child sex offender he will be looked down on by the other sex offenders.

A judge, of sorts, once found himself in the position I placed you in. Who will he pardon? The leader of an insurrection or a popular teacher and preacher. He let the crowd be the judge and they surprised him. 'Release Barabbas', they cried, leaving Jesus to his fate.

The Bible actually says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And so whilst we might all expect, and maybe even be pleased, that today two criminals get their just deserts we might do well to pray for them. For repentance. For turning from their wicked ways.

And to pray a personal prayer too, for if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

100 Years of Reading

A review of a book first published in 1967 is, by any way of reckoning, late and so this is more about how reading it has felt.

It was Peter Carey who first introduced me to the concept of the unreliable narrator with his Herbert Badgery story-teller introducing 'Illywhacker' with the line that he was 134 years old and a habitual liar.

The narrator of 100 years is not a liar, but speaks of ordinary things and flying carpets as if they were both normal, telling the story of the village of Macondo dispassionately whether describing sex romps or massacres with a detailed and pathological gaze.

I rarely enjoyed the company of the compulsory books in English Literature. This felt like one. Paragraphs last three pages. Sentences are interminable. The dictionary was required on more than ten occasions. Get distracted by the conversation of the people in the seats behind on the train or plane, as I did, and you can accidentally read a page without registering it. Then you have no idea who is the subject of the lengthy paragraph any more. (It may have changed.)

The five generations of the founding families of Macondo often repeat names, with minor variations. I was constantly popping back to the family tree at the beginning of chapter one to get my bearings. Was that José Arcadio Buendia, José Arcadio, Arcadio or José Arcadio II? And time seems to pass weirdly. Some characters live to well into their second century, others die but you discover the book hasn't finished with them. How old are these folk? How are they counting?

It is hard to get your bearings. Where are we? The Caribbean, we learn late. When are we? There are pointers but it is not tight.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a Nobel laureate. He died recently.

It was mysterious, vaguely magical and the hardest book I have ever finished and just about enjoyed. I'm glad I did. I think.

On the jacket The New York Times says it should be required reading for the entire human race. How little that paper knows of humanity.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What Would You Have Done?

I know you like these occasional little tales told against myself so here goes. Tell me if you would have done the same and if you would have noticed sooner.

Last night I returned home from the Standing Committee at about 10.15, poured myself a glass of wine at the end of a long first day back at work after holidays, and sat down to watch the end of the Germany vs Algeria game.

My lovely and generous wife, off to bed, changed the TV channels to the football (how cool is that?) and I observed that there were about 25 minutes left. The score was 0-0. It seemed end-to-end and exciting. The game was good, although it slowed a little, and the referee blew for what I thought was full time. The commentator said, 'Back to Adrian and the boys.'

I expected extra time but it became apparent that it was half-time not full-time. The boys were preparing to discuss the first half, after the inevitable ITV break.

During the advertisements I checked the kick-off time in my little, battered Guardian World Cup guide that I took to Gozo and back (sad eh?) and saw that the match had been due to start at 9 not 10. I wondered (are you there yet?) if some of the references to weather conditions I had vaguely picked up had led to a late start. Or maybe crowd trouble or transport problems

Then, about three adverts in, a blank screen with this message:

This content is not available on ITV+1. Please turn to ITV.

ITV+1. Oh bollocks.

After a short break the adverts continued then the panel came up and began to discuss the first half and it struck me. I had just watched the end of the first half on ITV+1, the channel my wife had accidentally tuned to. Her generosity and loveliness dipped a little.

Dilemma. The game is now over. I have missed the second half. But if it ended 0-0 I can save having to watch a dull second half and jump straight to extra time and maybe penalties. But if it has not ended 0-0 I'll have missed the possibility of watching the Germans lose.

I opted to keep watching +1, knowing that extra time would see me going to bed pretty late and penalties - well you know. Amazingly I had not looked at Twitter the whole time so decided I couldn't, obviously, do that either - even if the game was dull.

So that is why I am late with my homework for today's meeting, slept until 8.00 a.m. for the first time in a million years, and, apparently, can't type anymore.

Of course the Germans won. They woke up. Wish I could.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Holiday Reading

Not a very adventurous holiday. Just felt a bit like escaping into easy stuff. But these are the books that kept me company this last fortnight. Mark out of ten indicates escapism, enjoyment and in its genre - not simply for literature value.

Mark Billingham
From the Dead
Nice little thriller. Woman comes out of ten year jail term for having her husband killed. Then he turns up. Page turner. Bit of a twist. (6)

William Boyd
Spy thriller. Beautifully written. Flitting backwards and forwards between modern Cotswolds and Second World War, a woman finds out who her mother really is, what she did in the war and who still remembers. (7)

Dave Eggers
A Hologram for the King
Sparse prose and slow moving. Salesman Alan Clay, in Saudi Arabia trying to clinch a deal, has to do a lot of waiting around for the people to whom he needs to present. Has the USA lost the knack of impressing foreigners? Have the Chinese somehow got it? If you like Magnus Mills you'll love this. (8)

Susan Hill
The Shadows in the Street
A Simon Serailler whodunit. Prostitutes disappear. Many characters with motives are sketched out. The Deanery Close is full of manoeuvring. Not as well done as P.D.James but good fun nonetheless. (7)

John Grisham
Theodore Boone - The Activist
Although not explained on the cover this is a Grisham children's novel. Now I quite like such books. Good to have some to recommend to younger readers. Not this one. Wanted thirteen year old Boone to die horribly. He is an adult who has been drawn as a child, behaving as adults would wish. This is horrid children's writing. An adult writing a book about a child to keep children in order. (4)

Lee Child
Never Go Back
Jack Reacher goes back to meet a woman who he can only say 'Has a nice voice'. Amazing. Turns out she's a looker, fancies him and can also take care of herself. 500 pages later the world is slightly safer, several motel rooms have been abused, the bad guys have their fingers broken and I am back in Gozo, poolside. Can't complain. (6)

David Sedaris
I'd recommend hearing Sedaris read some of his prose before embarking on a story collection. He has one of those voices that makes you expect something funny. You won't be disappointed. At least five laugh-out-loud moments and I never do that because then you have to explain or read to the other residents and you can't do the accent. The final story, from which the collection is titled, is his adventures with some nudists. 'The absence of clothing made it very hard to describe people. You couldn't say 'Who's the uncircumcised gentleman with all the hair on his ass?''(7)

Kate Atkinson
One Good Turn
In Edinburgh during the festival a few people witness a road-rage incident. Not everyone who has something to report does so because they were up to no good themselves. Then the witnesses start disappearing. Good combo of whodunit and whatdidtheydo. (7)

Gabriel Garcia Marcquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Well you friends and followers know that I try to take something improving with me on holiday. Maybe a classic that I missed or the work of a lauded writer who is known to be hard going. Don't say 'What kind of a holiday is that?' Especially if you go skiing and come back with broken bits. Yes you. You know who I'm talking to. Suffice to say that I'm glad I read it, will probably never read anymore by Marcquez (who recently passed away), quite enjoyed it but, and it's a big but, this is the hardest book I've ever finished. Three page paragraphs and forty word sentences are the norm. Will write a longer post on the impact of this later. (8)

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Although I have no recollection of ever meeting anyone who actually had somebody's eye out with that, I recall being warned about the possibility on several occasions. Raspberry canes, in the wrong hands, must be the world's deadliest anti-ocular device.

Lectures about risk were regular. Walk downstairs properly not on the outside of the bannisters. Don't run with a drink in your hand. Don't hit your sister with that whatever was to hand.

In fact I paid little attention to those rules and the only occasion in my childhood I can recall attending Selly Oak Accident Hospital was preceded by the statement 'Mum I dug up an old light bulb.' I still have the scar in the palm of my left hand. Don't run excitedly to your mother with an old light bulb in your hand. Good advice that but I had never been given it.

In fact my parents had a strange attitude to risk. Living in a massive old Victorian house, much of which had fallen into disrepair, was a permanent adventure and we were allowed to play with things we found. Hide and seek could include an oily inspection pit in the garage. Building games took place with old bits of rough wood leading to splinters. Many of the planks we found had nails sticking out of them but nobody seemed to mind as long as we had a tetanus jab from time to time and always cleaned any wounds with Dettol.

The one thing that was an absolute no was playing in the front. In the street. This was not, as far as I could tell, because of the risk of abduction. Such things were not heard of in the early sixties and even the Moors murders failed to make a mark since the moors were in the north and it was well known that northern murderers never came south of Derby.

Neither was it a risk of car accident. Oakfield Road is a long straight suburban road where you could see and hear a car approaching easily and if you couldn't the gene pool would surely find other ways of removing you. In fact Oakfield Road was used by a local garage as a brake-testing strip in the days when that was done by mechanics not computers. It was a long, straight road with a thirty mile an hour limit where many drivers were expecting to jam on their brakes at some point. I doubt if there was a safer street in Brum.

No. The problem with playing out was that it was common. The sort of thing the people in Croydon and Luton Road did. And my mother required me, if going down to the shops, not to walk down Croydon Road for fear that I might catch working-classness.

I thought about this afresh today having observed a couple of builders place their ladder in the road on a busy blind corner. Then they proceeded to remove a piece of rotten wood and replace it with a stone lintel. Gloves to protect from splinters? Pah. Eye protection and face masks from the brick dust and chips? No way. Protective footwear? One had bare feet and the other wore flip-flops.

Discussing Gozitans' maniacal approach to risk - apprentice builders have to walk round the top of an uncompleted house wall before the roof is in place to show they are made of the right stuff - I recall the words of a travel rep some years back, 'Last week a priest fell down a hole; what can you do?'


When visiting a Catholic Church on Gozo male tourists in shorts are often turned away because to show that much leg (hairy or otherwise) is deemed disrespectful. Women, likewise, are required to borrow a shawl to cover those shoulders and a wrap to cover their knees.

But at weddings, one of which we watched today from the safety of a piazza cafe, whilst the men all turn up in sharp suits, and even the local farmers wear what is probably their only tie, the younger women turn up in vertiginous heels, bare shoulders and tight dresses which barely cover their knickers if pulled down with that little shimmy movement women in too-short skirts often manoeuvre through. Not that I stare.

I'd post a photo or two but I swear the porn filters would reject them.

Maybe the priests need something to look at through a wedding, especially on a Sunday with four masses to do as well.

Anyway the country that rips you off with Catholic tat has got a strange line on respect. Churches are the only place on the Maltese Islands we have ever been treated badly.

I'm sitting here waiting for the fashion show to come out of church again. It was all the wife's idea. I'm just a reluctant conscript. She took a photo of the bride getting out of the car.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I know this will feel a bit rich coming from someone just half way through a very enjoyable sixteen day holiday, but the end of a holiday can loom at you like a deadline. I am pretty sure that by the end of this week I will be looking forward to coming home (I usually do). There will be things about being away that bug me - hot nights, cheap sheets, noisy dogs, fireworks and church bells are the Gozo distraction - but I wish there wasn't a definite flight to catch and an end point. If there wasn't it may well be that I'd be home earlier than expected. It is the fixed point I don't like. My whole life runs by appointments. I don't want my holiday to end with one.

Same way I don't want my shower to end when the water stops because you haven't pressed one of those annoying buttons to keep it flowing. I want to decide.

OK. I'll get back to relaxing now. Just a control freak on vacation I guess.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tax the Rich?

Just want to make it clear I haven't become a Tory but, but, but...

I read an article in the Telegraph today, an organ I only peruse on holiday, and came some way towards understanding a flat tax policy. I have Fraser Nelson to thank.

In his piece he points out that the grand plan in France, to tax the highest earners at 75%, on which Francois Holland was elected, has quite simply resulted in lower revenue. They have discovered that '...high taxes redistribute people, not wealth.'

So well done to the coalition, and especially to the Liberal Democrats, for balancing the debate on lower taxes with the idea of moving a larger portion of people above the tax threshold altogether.

The problem for all governments is that their wealthy are not all setting up Gates Foundations. Wealthy people are as selfish as the rest of us. Which means that if they don't like a country's tax regime they will get in the yacht and move elsewhere.

So if we overtax the rich we lose their tax altogether.

Now I don't trust the Tories on the NHS or education so I am not running into the blue camp just yet, and even later the Woodspring Fox camp as Atlanticist, Thatcherite, Euroscpetic Unionists are not really me.

But one cheer for an idea I now get. You have to keep your rich happy or they bog off. Selfish of them, but hands up anyone who doesn't vote with their feet if given half a chance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seeking After Truth

There is a certain way that churches do evangelism. Probably applies to conservative and evangelical churches more than liberal ones. Liberal ones tend not to do evangelism.

The methodology uses the metaphor of a meal and feeding a baby.

The parent has the food. As much food is put into the baby as possible who then needs to burp before any more can be taken.

The teacher has the truth. As much truth is put into the enquirer as possible who then needs to burp before more can be taken.

Alpha uses this model. The talks are the food and the discussion groups are the burp. It still works for some people, especially those who have a respect for the knowledge and ability of the teacher. The discussion groups allow people to respond to the talk and the next talk builds on this.

It was perhaps nearly twenty years ago that I met my first brother in Christ who would describe himself as an 'emergent' Christian. The person in question, who I encountered at a very funky little group at the Custard Factory in Brum where Christians involved in the arts could support each other, called himself a 'Seeker After Truth'.

I loved that. I loved the language, the spirit of enquiry, the lack of certainty (therefore the presence of mystery), the general cultural alertness of the members of the group.

In doing their work (and all were highly effective communicators of the gospel) they emphasised some things that operated counter to conservative Christian culture. I will call the communicator 'teacher' in these examples but I mean it more in the sense of philosopher, or journey-leader. Here are some emphases:

1. Seeking. Both teacher and disciple are seeking. Both might be changed by the process. The person who is interested or enquiring is valued as someone who has something to bring to the party. The whole one-beggar-sharing-bread-with-another thing.

2. Vulnerability A. The teacher owns up to uncertainty or times when Christians have disagreed. If there are two views both are expounded and decisions are not forced.

3. Vulnerability B. Rather than packing a meeting with seven Christians for every enquirer (again, often my Alpha experience) the teacher will go alone into a room full of seekers, facing the questions, the difficulties, alone.

4. Biblical literacy means talking about the historicity questions academic theologians have discussed for years but have largely been kept from congregations. It is about being honest with the truth.

5. Story. Stories have a power. Jesus used fiction to communicate. He very rarely told people what the story meant and even when he did his explanation often contained more mystery than certainty.

I ran Alpha for some years. Still would given half a chance. But I was quietly subverting it by setting out options and not insisting on one line. My Alpha course embraced universalism, hell as a metaphor not a reality, the possibility there was not a real Satan, the possibility of God no longer healing physically, the fact that some committed Christians were gay ... not saying these things were all acceptable but allowing people to come on board with such views and be included.

In reality Alpha don't like you mucking about with their course and still calling it Alpha. In my last church I just about held together some of the most liberal thinkers I have ever seen in a traditionally evangelical place of worship, including a number of lesbian and gay Christians. Almost all left shortly after I did. Which saddens me.

I'd like there to be a possibility of this not happening where I am now.

Monday, June 09, 2014

1 Peter 3:15

I was chatting to someone I know a little the other day and invited him to a men's breakfast. Sadly he was unable to come due to a golf commitment. Hope he enjoyed the game in an absolute downpour.

Here's the thing. We talked for a bit and we exchanged addresses for the first time. Noticing he lived in the same road as a key couple from one of my churches (I work in six and have responsibility for one) I mentioned this and his face frowned massively.

I was than regaled with two stories about one of the couple - one of dangerous and selfish driving, the other of failing to acknowledge an attempted kindness.

And there is set the opinion of their church. And the bar, of getting an interested enquirer across the threshold of a spiritual event, is set that little bit higher.

We are invited by Peter in his first letter to always be prepared to give an account of the hope we have in us. Ever wondered why that doesn't happen very often? Maybe because your life doesn't betray that you live with any hope, or have an ability to explain it with what Peter calls 'gentleness and respect'.

I do not write as one who is constantly bombarded with requests to give an account of the hope I have in me. I try to be a good example so as to leave the door open. But this story is a reminder to all of us that we only have one chance to make a first impression and that is not necessarily about the quality of coffee and the welcome at the church door. Although obviously if those two things are horrid you have erected another barrier.

Play nicely everybody. Play nicely.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 2

I thought of another hundred things that make me happy:

101. Underfloor heating

102. Stars on a clear night

103. Gatefold sleeves for vinyl albums

104. Making connections

105. Suspended 4ths

106. A goal scored after a period of possession and several passes

107. Pain relief

108. My varifocals

109. Sandblasted stone

110. Ties

111. Mark Rothko

112. Christopher Brookmyre

113. The Alabama 3

114. Candles

115. A great click-track

116. Trains

117. Flat whites

118. The moment when you know the show is about to start

119. Impressionist artists

120. Wayne's World

121. Finding a quote direct from source, not a quote book

122. The instrumental break on Cinema Show by Genesis

123. Churches with comfy chairs

124. Being dry when there is rain falling hard on the roof

125. The smell of bacon cooking

126. People dropping in

127. Pizza Express pizzas

128. Gelato

129. Last minute winners

130. Weeping willows

131. Fair trade

132. Locally sourced

133. Foraging

134. Free cycle

135. Juvenile fledglings

136. Home-grown herbs

137. Things finishing on time

138. Being served in the correct order at a bar

139. Anthony Trollope

140. Peter Carey

141. Swatch watches

142. Old Testament wisdom literature

143. Hot air balloons in the sky

144. Heavy bottomed glass tumblers

145. Evolution

146. Good dark chocolate

147. Geordie accents

148. Carl Hiaasen

149. Jason Bourne

150. Snow on the city

151. Bristol's floating harbourside

152. The Eden Project

153. L'occitane almond supple skin oil

154. The Wire

155. Breaking Bad

156. The Sopranos

157. The Good Wife

158. The West Wing

159. Thinking things through by writing about them

160. Danny Baker

161. TheiPaper

162. The Guardian

163. Q

164. Watching a film in the afternoon at the cinema

165. KFC

166. Big Mac meals

167. Fopp!

168. Summer nights

169. Lighting effects

170. Two minute power-pop songs

171. Getting things done without being in charge despite opposition

172. Knowing when you are good at something

173. Onions softening in good butter

174. Puppies

175. Pitching outside off and hitting leg

176. Catching a firmly hit cricket ball one-handed

177. Watching a nicely judged putt

178. England winning stuff

179. Backing vocals

180. Killer sudoku online

181. Codeword

182. Mark Steel

183. Mark Thomas

184. Milton Jones

185. Bill Bryson

186. Sea salt and cider vinegar kettle crisps

187. Shadows

188. First big gulp of ice cold Becks

189. Audi and VW

190. Liberal evangelicalism

191. Breakfast buffet

192. A shower after a day on the beach

193. Reading by the pool

194. Air con

195. Bodycon

196. Sporting behaviour

197. Underdog victories

198. The many varieties of cool

199. Faithless

200. Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt

Saturday, June 07, 2014


I have been to Wells Cathedral, for the installation of Peter Hancock as the new Bishop of Bath and Wells. It is funny to reflect on the terminology used at such occasions:

Some get installed, but not because they are a dishwasher.

Some get licensed, but not because they are currently illegal.

Some get translated, but not because nobody understands them.

Some get collated, but not because they are out of order presently.

Some get inducted, but not because they are pregnant with ideas.

But I like the idea of a bishop as chief server, edgy if not borderline illegal, fully understood, packed with ideas and putting everything in order.

Go Bishop Peter.

Deanery Synod

Asked how he felt sitting atop a rocket and about to become the first American in space, astronaut John Glenn once commented that he felt the same way anyone would feel sitting on top of $2m worth of equipment all of which had been supplied by the lowest bidder in the US space system's procurement process.

The average age of our Deanery Synod has got to be in its late fifties. Some new lay members who look suspiciously forty have joined but it still feels pretty old.

The clergy are also getting on a bit. The Synod consists of all the clergy of the Deanery plus elected lay members.

On Wednesday night we discussed vision.

Now I am an old cynic, which at least means I may be a bit wiser than when I was a young cynic, but I suspect that the churches in the Deanery have not provided their finest people as part of the procurement process (or elections, as we call them). Indeed I wonder how many people who stood for election to Deanery Synod were elected unopposed. The parish I spend most of my time in could not fill its vacancies. The go-getters feel they have better things to go get.

So we have a collection of reluctant, or self-appointed, reps trying to shape the direction of a group of churches.

The people I shared with around the table were lovely. But they had to be constantly redirected to the actual question we were discussing and when that happened there were blank looks and silences. What could we do together? How could we co-operate? Dunno. One comment was that things were better in the contributor's non-conformist church which she left forty years ago but they had monthly church meetings in which everyone could share.

This is my fault. I have often felt Deanery Synod a waste of space - definition is sometimes 'a group of people waiting to go home'. I should get the room full of the best, youngest, most visionary folk from the churches where I have some influence. Then some of the ideas I wrote about a few days ago might have some champions in the room.

Now. Who will take the challenge?

Gender Presuppositions

As part of a Continuing Ministerial Development day on gender issues in leadership, led by the excellent Kate Coleman (KC), I found myself reflecting on my gender presuppositions. Many of these are ingrained, or operate '...under the level of our faith' (KC).

I grew up in a household where Mum looked after the home and children and Dad went out to work. This meant that cooking, washing and shopping became female jobs in my head. A lady came each week to help with cleaning. Gardening, DIY and car washing/maintenance were male jobs, again, in my head.

I had a younger sister.

I was sent to all-boys schools, primary and secondary. I think pre-school may have been mixed but I cannot recall. My first five years at school I was taught by women. From then on I was only taught by men.

There was little physical contact at home. My Dad was of the school that men shook hands. That is all. Sons did not hug fathers after a certain age, and vice versa. I think my My Mum would have preferred a more touchy feely approach. As I was born ten years after the end of World War 2 it is inevitable that those relatively recent experiences coloured my parents' behaviour. But, by and large, we didn't talk about the war, apart from some hilarious moments in aircraft missions, probably my Dad's way of not talking about dead friends.

My inherited views were therefore very middle-England. But the curate and church youth group leader under whose influence I fell, despite still making errors of exclusive language, was utterly in favour of women's ministry

At theological college in1981 the college worship book had an apology/explanation that male pronouns were being used generically. This was obviously designed to placate somebody but in my three year generation it became obvious that, for many of the female students, this wasn't enough.

In Nottingham 1984-1988 I was profoundly touched by a group of women doing 'Women's Studies' at the University. One of these, on hearing me tell my sons to wait for the green man before crossing, corrected my language to 'person'. I have done the same ever since. Correcting our language, however annoying, is an acknowledgement that there is a deeper correction, of the heart and mind, that needs to take place.

In Chester-le-Street in the late eighties I worked with two ordained women deacons who were both way smarter than me. It was a bit of a shock. Most of you know I am always expecting to be the smartest person in the room. They taught me loads.

The worst boss I ever had was a nice woman. The best was a devious and highly manipulative man who just happened to know the secret of getting the best out of me.

Liz and I both still say 'Come on guys' when talking to mixed groups. Probably her more than me these days. I'm trying to quit.

I think that the duty of those of us who feel we are getting there is not just to correct ourselves when we speak or act exclusively, but to police it. We need to point it out when observed or heard. It won't make us good company or fun but the job needs doing.

But as far as promoting the ministry and leadership of women is concerned - I am fully signed up.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful

Having posted about what gets me down the other day I was challenged to post about what makes me happy. I didn't want to take too long over it so I stopped at 100. Here goes, accompanied by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, obvs:

1. Having a knowledge of, and access to, five decades of music.

2. The perfect juxtaoposition of alcohol, olive and bake-product.

3. Lists.

4. A clever use of words.

5. Polishing good people into great people.

6. Discovering hidden depths in the truth.

7. West Brom victories. A Saturday when all four of my family's teams win on the same day.

8. Sons.

9. Laughing with friends.

10. Deep and serious conversations that potentially change the world.

11. Labradors, other retrievers, border collies.

12. Garden birds.

13. Spending money.

14. Having a new DVD box-set.

15. Playing keys in a good band.

16. Numberphile.

17. A pile of books and space to read.

18. The sun-faded-paint colour scheme on Gozo.

19. Really good restaurants.

20. Inventing a new dish.

21. Getting fish cooked right.

22. The introduction to Money for Nothing on the Dire Straits live album with Sting on backing vocals.

23. Likewise Jane by Jefferson Starship.

24. Pretending I'm on Desert Island Discs.

25. New pants.

26. Douglas Adams.

27. A good plot twist.

28. Being insulted for fun.

29. Listening people down.

30. TOMS shoes.

31. KIVA loans.

32. Zen gardens.

33. Vision.

34. That moment when the view through the windscreen matches the soundtrack perfectly.

35. A blank piece of paper.

36. A working day clear of appointments.

37. My Saab 2006-2008.

38. Good real ale served cellar cool.

39. Candy Crush Saga.

40. Beating a pb at the gym.

41. Remembering a name after a think.

42. Slam poets.

43. Being a good example of the gospel.

44. Living near Bristol.

45. Copper foliage - acers, beech.

46. Cheese.

47. Grapefruit.

48. A good cooked breakfast.

49. Bitter enders (you know who you are).

50. Craic.

51. Percussion.

52. A really good busker.

53. Having children around.

54. Taking a good photo.

55. Twitter.

56. Anyone who doesn't take themselves too seriously.

57. Making people laugh.

58. Being able to stand up and stand still after four years of not (1999-2003).

59. Remembering that the idiots will die.

60. Recalling success.

61. Successfully memorising the route to a new destination before setting out.

62. Cold sparkling water on a hot day.

63. Expensive shower products.

64. That moment you realise the new music you are listening to is a work of rare genius.

65. BBC Radio 4's news coverage.

66. Comedy panel quiz shows.

67. Stewart Lee.

68. That my childhood friend and I have sent the same birthday card to each other other for 40 years and he still forgets the date.

69. Bonking and that (I changed this one, if you saw it earlier).

70. Killer heels and a good leg.

71. Having a ticket for something.

72. Google.

73. The Coen Brothers.

74. Roots Shoes, Leamington Spa RIP.

75. The interior of St Mary and St Cuthbert, Chester-le-Street.

76. The absence of horrible, poisonous biting things in the UK.

77. Cooking shows.

78. The English Lake District.

79. Damaris.

80. LICC.

81. Pioneers.

82. 20/20 cricket.

83. Ta Frenc Restaurant, Marsalform.

84. Playing the piano in Holy Trinity, Nailsea when it is empty.

85. Sunday night.

86. Thursday night.

87. Alpine borders.

88. Birmingham.

89. Remembering Radio 4 broadcast one of my stories once.

90. Big handkerchiefs.

91. Christmas morning.

92. Being able to help when asked for directions.

93. Writing a good joke.

94. Live football in a bar.

95. There's something about board games but maybe more about learning them than playing them.

96. Eating where the locals eat.

97. My big leather sofa in the conservatory here.

98. A whiff of unpredictability.

99. Ponds.

100. A walk in the woods.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Depresses You?

A dishwasher engineer recently failed, after three goes, to fix my machine and referred me to the manufacturer. Then a helpful engineer from same fixed my dishwasher. Overnight exactly the same fault which had presented before reoccurred. Washing up by hand the kitchen drain, previously fixed on three separate occasions, overflowed. I phoned the dishwasher engineer, who had left me a mobile number. It was one digit too short.

In town, shopping for lunch for my nine Quiet Day visitors, a person I often see on a Thursday morning asked 'Is it your day off?' I explained as politely as I could why I was allowed out to the supermarket on a working day and why I shopped last minute for the event I was running (because numbers often change quite late).

Arriving home the phone rang. One of my guests I had just purchased lunch for, cancelling. Then a guest arrived with the news that another person couldn't come. I shopped an hour too soon.

These things depress me. Not clinically. Just get me down. Broken appliances. Wasted food. Waiting in for four hours for people who can't do the thing you're waiting in for.

Dishwasher needs a new part. From Germany. Fitting appointment is June 10th now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Teaming Thoughts

What makes a good team player? My answer always has been, and always will be - everyone. But getting the best out of each individual so they can contribute to a team is often complex. Here are some reflections born of spending my whole working life in teams:

1. Many of the things people call teams are not actually teams but groups; individuals doing separate jobs and occasionally getting together.

2. Leadership is important to team work. 'If we're going to get through this we need to work together as a team and that means doing exactly as I say.' (Can you guess the source?) I love being led. It has often been said of me that I abhor a leadership vacuum. If nobody is being in charge I will be in charge. No-one has ever minded this (to my face) and indeed one bunch of people I worked with used to positively manoeuvre a leadership vacuum. But I struggle being in badly-led meetings where a coup is not possible.

3. Intuitive, creative, introverts make great team members as long as the team accepts them on such terms. We will contribute when we think we have something to say. Add 'shaper' to the mix and when we are leading we will drive towards our preferred conclusion. If we are not leading, silence is a courtesy extended to those who are. We will choose when to share our better ideas and sometimes choose not to. We always think we are right until we know we're not.

4. Acute systematising males (I got dealt a bugger of a genetic hand) will not empathise easily. We don't go to pieces when challenged or attacked. We don't expect others to and are surprised when they do, especially when they have asked a straight question and been given a straight answer, or sent a long email and got a long reply. A cute systematising male is hard to find.

5. Have you heard some politicians (inevitably team members if they are to succeed) recently struggling to to answer this question: 'What will you change once you have listened to people?' That is because they probably won't be changing anything, or really listening, but dare not admit it. Correct answer is 'We don't know'. But it is not the truth. Those of us with powerful, internal dialogues have difficulty with truth. It is not that we are liars. We make very quick, often right, gut-reaction decisions. Then, because the world has always asked us to explain ourselves - Tilley your answer is correct but you will get full marks if you show your working and people will not think you cheated - we develop a narrative that makes our answer work. But it wasn't the way we thought. Stuff gets done and afterwards we will convince you it was right. This does not make us bad team players. If we are wrong, or hear a better idea, we will admit it quickly. We move on really quickly. 24 hours (two sleeps) is enough to recover from the heaviest emotional setback.

6. None of us is as smart as all of us. But Geoff Boycott played in some good cricket teams.

7. Diagrams help.

8. Meetings are fine but a clear explanation of the point of the meeting, and each item on the agenda, is essential. We are peculiarly aware that 20 people giving 2 hours to a meeting is one working week lost.

9. I don't think I am the only one, but when I am thinking, my visual interface goes down. The reason I don't think I am the only one is that I rarely pay much attention to body language unless it is really annoying. This is too late to do anything about. I have tried from time to time. Not looking like I am listening does not mean I am not listening. But sometimes I am not. Every introvert zones out from time to time. Especially when the internal conversation is more interesting than the external one. We are regrouping. Powering up. Getting energy back. It's like a bit of sugar to a diabetic.

10. Introverts struggle in large social settings for more than two hours. I do go to parties but become happy talking to one person for an hour in the corner about something I know nothing about, rather than talking to twenty people about the quality of the canapés, or the weather. When I need to 'do the room' my emotional life expects overtime.

11. For an intuitive introvert everything is a discussion document. All decisions are temporary. Errors are the back door to success or elimination from enquiries. You can change your mind.

12. Which are my favourite teams?

Theatre companies.
Formula 1 pit-lane mechanics.
Ellesmere CYFA Venture Team 1990-1998.
CPAS Youth and Children's Department 1984-2000 (I worked in it 1992 - 2002).

13. I like talking about myself. It is my chosen specialist subject. It should be yours too. Yourself, I mean, not me. That would be a worry.

14. Starting and finishing on time matter. I began investing emotionally in the social setting whilst getting ready, or travelling. For a 7.45-10.00 local meeting I diary 7.30-10.15. If it starts late and overruns I feel robbed. If it starts on time and overruns I feel robbed. If someone wants a quick chat about something after the meeting I feel robbed.

15. Don't let 'It's too cold' always defeat 'It's just right'. Don't let discussion always beat reflection. Don't assume you have finished when the idea-pool goes quiet. That's when it's getting interesting in some heads.

16. Tie the monitor-evaluators up until there is some proposal to monitor or evaluate. Team-workers (social glue) can chip in anytime.

17. There will eventually be points 17-n.

Reading list:

Managing Your Team - John Spencer and Adrian Pruss
Team Building - Robert B. Maddux
Making a Team Work - Steve Chalke
The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki
Team Spirit - David Cormack

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I had a surprise at the age of about five. It was my turn to read with a teacher, one who was covering for my regular class teacher, and I took up my book and sat with her. I started to read from the beginning of the first book I had been given. After a few seconds she asked If this was as far as I had got. I explained that I was getting better and faster and sometimes I reached further than before but she stopped me.

'You mean you start from the beginning each time?'

Turns out nobody had introduced me to the concept of the bookmark and I thought you had to read from page 1 every session. I picked up from then on and read at the appropriate speed for my age pretty soon.

Maybe two years later I was introduced to the idea of the public library. There were few books in my home. Few that looked attractive at any rate. But my Dad took out three books a fortnight from Selly Oak Library and he signed me up. I remember their smell. At first I only took one book out at a time, terrified of being half-way through and having to take it back. But once renewals had been explained, all was well.

I think Jennings, Billy Bunter and Biggles were probably my favourites.

For a while I read my books in my bedroom last thing at night and before getting up at the weekend. Sometimes I crawled out of bed and lay in front of the disappointing electric fire, an eiderdown pulled over me. We lived in a big, draughty old house.

I don't know when it stopped. It certainly slowed down. I recall reading when off sick but finding other things to do that were more fun the rest of the time. Probably football related.

I carried on with Alastair McLeans, Ian Fleming's Bond series and various other thrillers but there was often a time when I didn't have a book on the go from aged 14-20. It was odd. I liked books but didn't read them very often.

O Level English literature pretty much devastated me with Richard Church's 'Over the Bridge' seeing me off into the dull depths of a grade 8.

My twenties changed things. I met, and married, a voracious reader. But a pre-college training course set me to read Shirley and it was a step too far. I wrote an essay on it without reading it. However, when I went back to College as a mature student I found novels a good balance to theology. Robert M. Pirsig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' fascinated me and I read it in the college library when I should have either been reading for an essay or at home helping with two small children.

After ordination I specifically asked a new friend about improving my reading - I had attempted self-help with a P.D. James. Heather, the friend, lent me some stuff she and her husband had enjoyed and Penelope Lively was one of the authors I discovered.

I began to read book reviews in papers and, with a little money available, to enjoy purchasing books to read and keep (or lend). Aware that an English teacher had once challenged me on my current reading and I couldn't remember anything (interrogative teachers have often made my mind go blank) I began keeping a record of my reading in a journal from about 1987. I also, influenced by some College colleagues, swapped my Daily Mail for the Times.

Some of my book shopping was influenced by covers. I loved the simplicity of the design of Faber and Faber paperbacks and found Peter Carey's 'Illywhacker' and Kazuo Ishiguro's 'An Artist of the Floating World' this way.

What am I saying to our beloved Secretary of State for Education? I think my reading set-backs were all in the classroom and my progress when I was in charge of my own destiny. Victorian novels may well be massive improving tomes but Harry Potters have done more for literacy in this country. As have Fifty Shades and Dan Brownes for adults. I don't think Michael Gove, an English graduate I believe, has the first idea what it is like not to be Michael Gove.

I love now having an eclectic reading habit. I am currently enjoying Bill Bryson's '1927'. My last five books read for pleasure were:

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
Harvest - Jim Crace
The Last Juror - John Grisham
Politically Correct Bedtime Stories - James Finn Garner
Who I Am - Pete Townsend

I like reading, read well, fast enough and like talking about books. Because I can read I thank a teacher, maybe one of my parents too, but my memory of reading is that it was helped by freedom of choice and hindered by syllabuses.

My old friend John Dexter, a science teacher, has written an interesting blog on the subject of literacy. I commend his work.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A New Version of an Old Story, possibly not for Church Magazines

Wrote this a few years ago but it feels surprisingly apt today:

Somebody, Everybody, Anybody, Nobody

This is a story about four people called Somebody, Everybody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was a job which Anybody could have done, but he didn’t. Somebody came along and said, ‘Look, Anybody could have done this.’

Everybody agreed that Anybody had screwed up big-time. Somebody phoned Nobody. ‘Get here now,’ said Somebody, ‘and bring that big shooty thing’.

Nobody came along and let Anybody have it. Blood, guts, death, mess. Everybody laughed. ‘Tosser’, said Nobody. ‘Deserved it,’ said Everybody.

Somebody videoed it. Everybody paid for the new snuff movie and Anybody, who should have done it in the first place, is now famous for what happened when he didn’t.

Just do it. Or Nobody may come and get you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered just now in that don't-mention-the-war way that the BBC has - terrified about misusing its influence? - here is my non-political thought for polling day:

At the time of elections I have twinned questions swimming around my head.

Which candidate will make life best for me? Or who will make life best for most people?

Which candidate will preserve my rights? Or who will fight for the rights of others?

Which candidate will make my road safer? Or who will make the world safer?

Tough call. Takes a bit of thought. But if we think they're all the same ... perhaps we haven't listened to the speeches. Or maybe haven't read the manifestos. Sometimes I'm lazy and don't think afresh. My mind made up. Everything pre-judged.

Jesus told of a man who fell amongst thieves. The parable of the Good Samaritan. Two holy people who you would have expected to help passed by on the other side of the road. Didn't want to get involved. A Samaritan was an enemy. From the other side of the hills and national background. Jesus says a Samaritan, of all people, stopped to help.

Yesterday Steve, you told us about someone who stopped to help you. Don't imagine you asked him questions about his political views before accepting aid.

Insert the name of the group you have fewest expectations of into the gap to work out how it felt to hear Jesus' story. The parable of the good (beat) City supporter? The parable of the good (beat) Frenchman? The parable of the good (beat) traffic warden? Just examples.

But do you get the impact? If the person you expect to be bad turns out to be good. They change your world then, (beat) and your world-view for ever.

One imaginary guy, two millennia ago, changed his mind about Samaritans. Now. Have you low expectations of anyone? Should you think again?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Saving the Church of England on two sides of A4

The Church of England is, however much it has tried not to be, very building-centric. A Decade of Evangelism 1990-2000 charged members to look to move from maintenance to mission. This was laudable but as long as congregations are also charged with the cost of upkeep of many old buildings, often in poor locations compared to the community they were once designed to serve, maintenance will force itself onto centre stage.

Over the same twenty to thirty year period there has been a renewed interest in, and vision for, church planting. I am the minister of a church, planted in 1989, to serve a new community, built in an area that was once farmland.

This church, twenty-five years old this year, seeks independence, control over its own destiny and finances, and the opportunity to be treated as mature. It did once have a dream of owning its own building but the area in which we serve has no suitable buildings for sale and no building land still available. There is a field, not ideally situated geographically, which may one day become available, but increasingly Trendlewood church is happy with meeting in rented premises (currently a local Primary School) and willing to be nomadic should the building ever become unavailable. In fact we moved from one school to another four years ago as a deliberate strategy to bring a Christian influence to bear on a school with no such background. This has been successful. We have grown by almost 50% in the last two years. Many of our new members live in the next door parish of Backwell (not finding appropriate expression for their Christian faith in the existing churches in their town). We would like to plant a new congregation there. Many of our newer members express a dissatisfaction that their giving is routed back to Holy Trinity PCC and used for the maintenance of buildings we rarely use and don't need.

How can we be independent of our parent church, Holy Trinity, Nailsea, without a building and thus no parish boundary?

It seems that the intentions of the mission to maintenance movement (joke, I don't believe it exists) would wish to impose maintenance upon us before we can be treated as mature. I don't accept this.

How would it be if those churches in the diocese which currently have no buildings were grouped together as a separate Deanery? In other words if, alongside Bath and Wells Parish Churches, we ran another Deanery of Bath and Wells Network churches. These churches would probably have more in common with each other than with the parish which planted them.

Each church which wished to belong to such a Network Deanery would need to make its own negotiation with the parish within which it was planted. This might involve a tithe or tax, or an agreed portion of ministry time from the clergy, or even a responsibility for a geographical area, pastorally, using existing buildings for occasional offices. Bishops' Mission Orders, or extended licences, might be utilised initially.

The churches allowed to belong to such a deanery might need to demonstrate that they are:

Financially viable
Happy not to meet in an owned building
Willing to multiply when they grow, because they value being small - 50-75 members. (cf DNA's 'SLIM' churches in Colchester which remain cell-sized)
Lay led and clergy served

I firmly believe that setting a few congregations free from any responsibility to give money towards the upkeep of buildings, save for paying their rent, would enable such to focus their efforts on mission issues and numerical growth.

As many non-viable churches continue to fail over the next ten to twenty years, network churches will grow and thrive. Some may eventually choose to build or buy buildings, possibly using moneys raised by the sale of non-viable church buildings. Wetherspoons have made an excellent pub-chain business by saving old buildings - churches, banks, shops - and turning them into pubs. Maybe we could turn some buildings into viable churches?

To take this one step further it may be missionally vital to consider selling some of our not redundant-but-not-dead-either churches and to stipulate in the sale that we need to lease back some time and space. Not necessarily on a Sunday.

As various poorly-attended churches die out over the next twenty years other places will thrive. Centres of excellence will develop. Indeed it looks as if cathedrals, minsters and abbeys are becoming increasingly popular. This would be our expectation. Brian McLaren is fond of pointing out that buggies were at their most popular when cars had already come along but were unreliable.

If traditional church is the buggy; maybe network church is the car.

I have deliberately left this paper short and devoid of recommendations. I wanted it to be public and to start discussion. Many people will immediately think of legal matters and details which will need fixing before progress can be made. Great. Let those who like such details get stuck in.

There is some urgency for our situation here. I have explained why in a less widely circulated paper. Suffice to say that those members of Trendlewood Church who live in Backwell, and have a passion for meeting in Backwell, could easily choose to do it anyway. If we don't facilitate it they could be lost to the Church of England. I want to belong to a church that does its best to keep its missional people.

Steve Tilley
Nailsea 20/5/14

If you cut and paste this to A4 and use 12pt Verdana it comes in at two sides.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Standing Committee Playlist

We Gotta Get out of this Place - The Animals
I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass - Nick Lowe
Money - Pink Floyd
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) - Dead or Alive
Go Now - The Moody Blues

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fantasy Worship

This morning's fantasy worship set:

Alabama 3 - Let's Go Back to Church
The Strypes - Mystery Man
Roots Manuva - A Haunting
The Shins - Pink Bullets
Ten Years After - I'm Going Home

OK I'm off to church now.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


'A clock that strikes thirteen is not only wrong once: it also casts doubt on all further teaching from the same source.' One of my College Principal Colin Buchanan's favourite put-downs, usually delivered to the very soul of its victim.

I'm going to be a bit rude in this post but the death threats will all be metaphorical. I'm not that kind of enemy.

Now, onwards. I doubt very much if there are many in front of me in the queue to deliver darts to the heart of our Education Secretary. If there are they can probably hear my voice saying 'Let me through I'm a vicar.' I want, at least, to deliver the last rites: 'Get out of the way.'

So I vaguely dismiss comments Michael Gove MP is reported as saying. They wash over me. I expect them. They may be misquotes but that smoke, fire thing has some truth to it.

And yet sometimes I notice. Can't help it. Could an Education Secretary really be that obnoxious?

So here is my question. When he slags off School Governors as becoming a '...sherry pouring, cake slicing exercise in hugging each other and singing Kumbayah' (Source - Daily Telegraph of all places), to whom is he speaking? And which ones has he been observing?

There won't be many wanting to become school governors if that is how they are to be summarised. There won't be many currently serving who will want to extend their stay. I conclude that he is speaking to his friends. How small an audience is that?

The man is a disaster. A barely sentient, unobservant, rude, selfish mate of some important people who has been allowed to play at schools. I have never despised an Education Secretary as much.

You may like to know that my spell checker changed my poor attempt at spelling Governors to Gove errors. I rest my case and am off for a lie down with cake, sherry and some 1920s spiritual music. Yeah right.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thought for the Day

People in Bristol have started copying Paris and attaching padlocks to bridges and throwing the key in the water as a sign of love. Here is my thought for the day, as delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, based on this news item:

Lovers have been declaring undying commitment in imaginative ways ever since undying love began. Wandering around the cities, towns and villages of our region we see names carved on trees, written on benches, scrawled on walls. 'Jason and Kylie together forever', once a brave statement of 1980s teenage infatuation, looks a bit dated in 2014. Wonder how it worked out for those two?

So what do we make of the idea, imported from France, of lovers leaving locks attached to bridges and railings, as a sign of their love. Kind of quirky? Or well-meaning and magical?

We carry within us a deep desire to do things that mark the moment. Symbolic acts are outward and visible signs of inward, invisible meanings.

I am a vicar. I have married lots of people. In the marriage service a strong, circular symbol of unending love and faithfulness is placed freshly on a bare finger. The bride and groom will say:

I give you this ring
as a sign of our marriage.
With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you,
within the love of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It's always a poignant moment as it is the last symbolic act before I pronounce the couple husband and wife.

A lock is not love. A ring is not a marriage. But they are signs and we like signs.

So good luck to those who have found love and want to do something. Course, if you want to take your commitment further and really lock it in; give your vicar a call.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Eurovision 2014

For the benefit of those not on Twitter here is the feed from Saturday night:

Ukraine 'My heart is like a dodgem singing underground.' Hamster wheel but no hamster.

Belarus have a tune and good hair. Boy banned.

I always find a trapeze adds a lot to a song.


Norway. This guy has piercings and tattoos. Probably had his soul pierced.

Welcome to the first key change of the evening. Should have decided which key to change to though.

So that's where all the depleted uranium went.

I expected the line 'You'll be wondering what I've done with your singer.' Montenegro

Marks deducted for ice skating.

You only get a point if you keep the national dress on for the whole song.

This is a Carry-on film matron. Poland.


Does bearded lady count as circus skills? #inappropriate Austria

Quick bass lesson - hold down at the top, pluck at the bottom. (A Twitter bass-player took issue with this, but they missed the point.)

Coda of German song was her Voice audition.

Apparently Sweden was a great song well performed. What do I know?

Le Jedward. France.

Conjoined hair. Unlucky. Russia.

Italy. O Remus negative

Iceland winning in the room so far.

Is there such a thing as gratuitous contortion?

The Spanish monsoon season has influenced this highly.

Switzerland. Quite like this.

Breathy vocal. Running, running, running. Asthmatic.

Malta'd images.

The Danish IT crowd. I love you, you're a peachy baby.

Every step you take.

Bond chord change. Nobody goes it better.

The results of the Vynes Way jury. It looks bad for Poland.

Poland came last in the room with -11. Iceland won with 9

We voted for you. Please don't invade.

The whole country just shouted 'France has a point.' First time for everything.

Every time the camera catches the Austrian performer we deduct points retrospectively for fake tears.

Planning the Viennese food for next year.

Weird dream. Ice skating hamsters singing out of key backed by bearded lady on a circular piano, playing a bass upside-down.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Eurovision 2014

So here is our voting system honed after hours of discussion and years of experience:

Possible plus points:

General style
National identity
Great hairstyles
Costume change
Strange instrument
Ice skating/juggling etc

Possible negative points:

Backing vocal better than lead
Spotted not playing instrument whilst sound continues
Gratuitous eye candy
Fake tears
Smoke/mirrors etc
Children and/or animals

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Quote Book Index

Back to the Forth-Bridge-painting exercise that is indexing my quote books. Here is the best of the latest ten:

683. is still almost impossible to discuss (drugs) sensibly in the public arena, because only the most censorious opinions can be expressed without immediate scandal.
(Rob Draper/Brian Draper, Third Way, 12/96)