October 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Most of my sermons are on the Beverley Minster website. But occasionally I stick them on here if I fancy getting some e-reaction. Here’s my one about Giving, from this morning.
I heard this week that the BBC is looking for its ‘holy grail’: a recording of George Orwell’s voice. If at all possible they want moving pictures of him as well. It is amazing that the person who gave us the concept of Big Brother, of the surveillance society, of the Ministry of Truth and so much which helps us today to understand the torrent of communication in which we live has left no record of himself beyond his writing and some still photographs. It was Orwell who gave us, in Nineteen Eighty Four, the concept of doublethink, where you can think two contradictory things at the same time and not recognise the conflict.
I reckon that we use a kind of doublethink in relation to money, and it’s because we apply different rules depending on the contexts. How much, for example, is a lot of money? It depends on the context. Five pounds is a lot of money to pay for a packet of Extra Strong Mints, but a small amount of money to pay for a car. I can spend ages agonising over a purchase which might save me just a few pence, but happily sign a cheque for hundreds of pounds for a holiday without worrying about shaving off another fifty pounds here or there. Thinking about money goes way beyond the actual amount involved, and is affected by the values we place upon what that money is going to do. If someone did charge you five pounds for some mints you’d be much more cross that being charged five pounds too much on a thousand pound holiday.
There is every possibility of using doublethink when it comes to the church collection. Let’s take it as read that it is a good thing to support the church you belong to, or come to occasionally. I’ll take it as read that most people think that, when push comes to shove, having the church here is probably something they are pleased about. And I’ll take is as read that committed Christians have a basic belief that at least some of our time, money and possessions should be offered to God in some way or other. So when the collection plate comes round you can pretty much guarantee that most people will feel it’s OK to put something in – when if a perfect stranger came up to them in the street with a plate they would almost certainly not.
But how much is OK for church collection? The latest statistics in the Church of England (for 2010) suggest that the average amount given by members of the electoral roll is around £6 per week. Remember, though, that some electoral roll members don’t actually worship regularly, and don’t give anything at all. The average amount given by people in a planned way is around £10 per week. Perhaps some of you are already working out whether £10 sounds a lot, or a little. It might depend on how much you habitually keep in your wallet or purse – how much you take out of the cashpoint when you go. Remember that £10 is the average for people who decide in advance how much they will give – which will be most of you. Does that sound like a lot of money?
It depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what value you place on the church, your faith, and the other things in your life that your money could be used for. It might depend on whether you trust the Vicar, or the PCC, to spend that money wisely. But it will mainly depend on the standards you apply to the things you give most worth to. If you went for coffee at Nero’s three times in a week, that would be more than the average person gives to the Church of England in a week. So is God worth less than three lattes a week? If you buy a broadsheet newspaper seven days a week, that’s more than the average person gives to the Church of England in a week. So is God worth less than Rupert Murdoch? Membership of Beverley Golf Club or a Hull City Season ticket are about the same as the average person gives to their church per week. So is God worth the same as golf or football?
I’ve had a bit of a dangerous thought. I’d quite like you not to put anything in the collection this week – and if you give by standing order I’d like you to cancel it immediately. I’d like you to stop, and reassess, and have a good think about how much is a lot of money for God, and within that how much is a lot of money for this church. I’d like you to try to avoid doublethink and apply the same standards to that decision as you would to the things you give most worth to in your life. I’d like you to compare what you give to and for God against what is the most precious thing you have. What is the very best thing you can do with your money, and how keen are you to do it?
I’m hoping that, when you do this, you will not weigh God up on the same scale as coffee or sport. I’m hoping that the scale you apply to God, and your faithful following as a disciple of Christ will mean that you do more than calculate how much of your loose change you can afford; do more than calculate how much would look OK if the person next to you happens to glance across when you are putting your cash on the plate. I’m hoping that you will put this calculation onto a completely different scale altogether.
I’m hoping that you will recognise that you can never out-give God, and that God is of such infinite value that all we can do is give the tiniest amount as a sign that we owe God our very being. I’m hoping that you hear that verse in 2 Corinthians about “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” I’m hoping that you remember all those commands about remembering that God gives to us first, and that we give back the first things to show that we know they are not ours. I’m hoping you’ll remember that the Bible talks about giving proportionately, so it’s not about the amount, but the percentage we decide.
I’m hoping that you work out then what you can give as a matter of rejoicing, not guilt. I would much rather that the PCC made use of money given joyfully rather than grudgingly. And I have a hunch that, somehow, a small amount of money given with joy might be more effective than a large amount of money given in a panic or out of guilt. I’m hoping that we reach that ideal place when we give an amount we value, with generosity and joy, and that amount does take account of our needs, so that you do look at our current financial state and see how you can contribute to our growth. The PCC can take joyful decisions about our finances when people give in a planned way, and tell us about it.
I’m hoping, actually, that you do give something today…and that later you also work out whether something has to change in the amount you plan to give. I’m hoping that you don’t put that decision off, but that you do it today, and get the forms back to us this week. But above all I’m hoping that, in deciding what you value, you will recognise the overflowing love of God for you, and let that love tell you how much is a lot of money.
August 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Planning and Permission
Many clergy are driven by a desire to serve. A sabbatical can feel very selfish. I had to get over this, especially in a parish setting. Let others tell you how important a sabbatical is, believe them, then give yourself permission to plan for a fabulous time. It may only happen once.
Working from Rest
I’ve been ordained 24 years, and this is my first sabbatical, so the key thing was to change gear, and that has meant permission to do nothing. It is, after all, a sabbatical. The freedom from daily demands is the essential joy, and not doing too much has been the best gift I could give to myself. I have not filled ‘free’ days with too much. This is a space to remember who you are, not what you do – or at least to recognise in what ways the two are linked and feed off each other.
Taking Enough Time
How long should a sabbatical be? I felt initially guilty, especially in a parish setting, about taking too much time ‘off’. A wiser friend counselled that I should go for the maximum possible. I worked on the basis that a sabbatical is 12 weeks, and I added the 3 weeks we are advised to have as a holiday.
Another wise friend said that, as a Bishop, he often felt that clergy should have three months off and then have a three month sabbatical. That was echoed by an American friend, planning his sabbatical. The norm there is 6 months, and he was going for 7 if he could.
Take as much time as you can.
Time It Right
It is a commonplace among clergy that you go on sabbatical, come back, and then leave the parish. I guess that’s because sabbaticals are often taken seven or ten years into a particular job. The clergy realise how much they are valuing not being there, and the parish realise that they are quite enjoying it too. So be it…but my circumstances have prevented an extended break until now, less than three years into my time at Beverley. I was keen to say that this was to energise the next few years here, not to prepare to leave.
Genuinely Leave the Day Job Behind
I guess this is the most difficult thing for parish clergy. I am very blessed in having a parish with assistant staff and lay employees, where parish life is filtered through a separate office. I planned the time so that my assistant staff would be in a position to take the reins (and indeed appreciate the opportunity – or that’s what they told me), and tried to make sure that there were no major events (so after Easter and before September…though the arrival of the Olympic Torch and then the Paralympic Flame were not on the radar when I booked it!).
No one calls the Vicarage anyway, and a stern ‘Out of Office’ on the email has meant that I have genuinely been left alone. Not everyone will be able to stay in the Vicarage without the ‘day job’ intervening, so do some creative planning beforehand to give yourself real freedom.
Even with all this the best thing I did was to leave the Vicarage the day the sabbatical started and not return for six weeks. It reminded me that the parish was not about me – perhaps the best lesson to learn. I couldn’t have interfered even if I wanted to.
You need to convince yourself that all is fine ‘at home’, even if it’s not, and that stuff can be dealt with when you get back, however tempting it is to sort it now.
Do Stuff You Wouldn’t Otherwise Do
It seemed important to use this opportunity to engage in things that a normal break wouldn’t allow. For me it was going to Israel for an extended time – four weeks. I was also able to visit places closer to home which I wouldn’t want to inflict on my family as part of a normal holiday. And we’ve tried to make our holiday time slightly more special by going to more events we both like – we might not have done as much without the sabbatical as an excuse.
Don’t Do Too Much, But Have an Aim
In other dioceses there is an emphasis on justifying this time away by studying, or doing something which will have an immediate impact on your parish or the diocese. Some call it ‘study leave’. That wasn’t the impression I got in York, and I’ve worked on the basis that having an aim, or a theme, is good, but not to overcook it.
I thought that ‘sacred place’ might give me the excuse to travel, and would link to the day job in that Beverley Minster is much visited, and remains a shrine and sacred place to many.
I’ve read a little bit, and tried to reflect on this at some of the sacred places I’ve been to (where is more sacred than Jerusalem, for example?), but have not been obsessive about it. And as one who has an (exaggerated) reputation for ‘always’ being on social media and blogging I made a conscious decision not to write too much about what I was doing or thinking day by day. Wise advice from Israel was not to promise exhaustive diaries, as the situation out there is so complex that your immediate responses may not always be helpful. That has worked for the sabbatical in general.
But…I’m determined to let the lessons I’ve learnt ‘seep out’. A session with a wise friend and counsellor at some point will be a good idea, and the sabbatical will be complete when, perhaps in a few months, some considered reflections emerge.
Get Enough Funding
I couldn’t have done the Israel thing without separate funding, and it felt a whole lot easier to ‘indulge’ myself knowing that there was less financial pressure. Thanks then to the Diocese of York, CFI, Ecclesiastical Insurance, the Boniface Trust, my own PCC and one of my other churches, and our local Methodist Circuit (a surprise and gratefully accepted gift), for their grants.
Get Back To Work
I’m not there yet – 13 days to go. But there will need to be a re-entry (deliberately on a Monday, not a Sunday…). The team here have been good in coping with loads, and there has been just the right amount of communication to let me know what I can expect.
For fifteen weeks there has not been a Vicar of Beverley Minster, and, inevitably, some things will be happening differently. I’m keen not to make everything ‘revert’ to what it was, so there will need to be some adjustment on my part.
And I will be different too. A sabbatical reshapes you. I can remember 17 years ago when a significant event (a family bereavement) reshaped my priorities in ministry, and in some ways there has been a similar reshaping in these last weeks. It’s something about discovering what is important, not just required, and underneath that something about being fully alive rather than just efficient and good at the job. So the parish will, I hope, see something of a change. We’ll all have to adjust.
A simple thing for me will be to make sure that planned time off – a day, a free weekend, a retreat, a holiday – will be another version of this extended time. Permission to rest, to enjoy, to wonder, and to live.
January 15, 2012 § 3 Comments
A Sermon preached at Beverley Minster 15 Jan 2012. On John 1. 43 – end
As far as I can tell I last preached on this passage twenty years ago, give or take 5 days. A lot has happened since a reasonably slim chap in his early thirties with two small sons and quite a lot of hair last spoke about Nathanael and Philip and good things coming from Nazareth. Think back to what life was like for you in 1992, and what you have now that you didn’t have then. I’m thinking particularly of the way that our means of communication have changed. Some people had mobile phones which you needed a sherpa to carry for you. Your computer stood alone, and there were disks and they were floppy. Few people beyond computer science departments had the internet and world wide web.
So there is no reference in my last sermon on this topic (which as it happens was written with a ‘pen’ on ‘paper’ and placed in a ‘Filofax’) to the image which first struck me as I looked at John 1 again. John the Baptist speaks about the Messiah. The next day he sees Jesus and says ‘Here is the Lamb of God’. The next day two of John’s disciples, perhaps encouraged by John, start to follow Jesus. One of them is Andrew, and he rushes to tell his brother, Simon. Immediately Jesus gives him a new name. The next day Jesus ups sticks and goes toGalileein the north. He finds Philip, who follows him. Philip finds Nathanael, and he follows Jesus too. It’s breathless stuff. According to John the Evangelist it’s taken three days only for Jesus to be publicly revealed as the Messiah, and to gather followers in the south and the north. And the image I thought of as I read this? That if Jesus was on Twitter he would be said to be ‘trending’ – one of the most talked about subjects on the internet.
December 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
111. Christmas happens on December 25th every year. It is amazing the number of times you will not realise this until it’s too late.
112. If you have the NRSV on your smartphone you can update your Facebook status during worship and pretend you’re reading the Bible.
113. There is probably a way of remembering which of your robes is in which of your churches, or your house. If you’ve discovered it, please let the rest of us know.
114. Never be afraid to admit that part of you is in it for the dressing up.
115. There is absolutely no way you can look at your watch when in a deep pastoral situation without the other person noticing.
116. Most church problems are sorted out by the people who know in the car park afterwards. Not worth having the original meeting at all, when you think about it.
117. Visitations are only made by Angels, Archdeacons and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not all Visitations are the same.
118. At least with Alpha you get food.
119. Everything is fair game as a sermon illustration. Especially your children. They’ll love you for it.
120. Store up the questions that only God can answer on the other side of death. There’ll be plenty of time to get them answered. Or maybe they won’t need to be.
December 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
Somebody stop me…
101. On paper Carol services look like they are going to be really long, but are shorter than you think.
102. Work out how you respond best to conflict, because there will be some. The Body of Christ is made up of human beings, after all. And the Holy Spirit doesn’t help. Look at Corinth.
103. No, the compilers of the Lectionary didn’t know what they were doing.
104. If you buy a thick cassock because all churches are cold, you will only ever work in warm ones.
105. There is no such thing as a quiet toy.
107. If your worship group has a drummer, pray that they are the most musical person in the building.
108. People who have worshipped in the same church for decades have rarely looked around it properly. Preach about the windows or a carving. They will be amazed.
109. Church bells must be divine. Humans ring them. God knows why.
110. Don’t mess with the Flower Arrangers.
December 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
We’ve made it to 100. Should there be more?
91. It’s only when you’re in the pulpit and coughing that you realise you’re not sure whether the jug and glass have been there for five years without being changed.
92. Gardening is only therapeutic when your parishioners can’t see you doing it. When they do they think you’re taking too much time off.
93. Answering machines are superb, but you do need to listen to them.
95. No surprise is more pleasant than a letter from the Bishop by return.
96. Never underestimate the power of a nun to get conversations going. Especially on public transport.
97. Fill in attendance numbers carefully, and review them year by year. Some trends take time to make themselves felt.
98. Never handle any cash. If you have to, get a witness.
99. People are very coy and very careful about their giving. Be coy and careful back, but make sure they know they are appreciated.
100. Working harder at this job won’t get you any more money. Unless you become a Bishop, a Dean or an Archdeacon. And who wants to be one of them?
December 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
81. There is probably a very good reason for Deanery Synods.
82. There will be one key which unlocks the drawer which has all the other keys to the building and safes in it. This key will be in plain sight somewhere.
83. There is nothing clergy like better than following other clergy in a procession. That the one at the front knows where they are going is taken a matter of faith by those behind, and is a proof of the existence of God.
84. Most people’s worst nightmare is a Vicar with a guitar. This situation is helpfully relieved by saying ‘I know. I am your worst nightmare. A Vicar with a guitar’. When tuning up, give them a bit of All right now (Free) or Thunderstruck (AC/DC). It works for me.
85. There is nothing so very wrong with wedding photographers. When there is, do give them some feedback.
86. Take great care over finances, and learn to read a balance sheet. The level of giving as a barometer of the spiritual life of the congregation.
87. Being on the committee of another organisation is a good way of realising that perhaps the PCC isn’t so bad after all. Or recognising that, actually, it is.
88. The law of buffets is that the optimum arrangement of food and plates has not yet been discovered, and that all the other ones are achingly slow.
89. Loud shoes in stone floored churches are much to be encouraged.
90. The contents of the flower cupboard are a mystery, one not to be explored without prayer and fasting.
December 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
71. Under no circumstances agree to judge a fancy dress competition where there is any possibility of you meeting any contestant, or any member of their family, during their lifetime.
72. If your church has lots of needy people, it’s probably because it’s doing the right thing. But that doesn’t make it easier to handle.
73. Choristers have to work very hard to make sure they have the right stuff to sing at the right time. They might not, therefore, take in what else is happening in your brilliantly crafted act of worship. Give them some input another way.
74. Some people will never ever be satisfied. Find out who they are, and spend as little time as possible trying to sort things out for them.
75. The preferred communication style of most churches is osmosis and telepathy.
76. Decide which practical things in your church you will know nothing about. This could be how the clock is wound, or the way the boiler works. You do not have to do everything, only the stuff you have to do. Discovering what this is will be your life’s work.
77. Look carefully at the retired clergy around you. Find a happy one, and ask them how they did it. Start planning to do the same. You could be retired a long time.
78. What they don’t teach you at theological college is how to hold a plate and a glass of wine and a fork at the same time. They should.
79. You may not be designed for small talk. Watch a master, and steal three phrases which will help. Asking people about themselves is a good starter.
80. There might be loads of clergy at the cathedral, but they do work hard. It’s just different to what you do.
December 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
On a roll…
61. The length of a PCC discussion about money will be in inverse proportion to the amount discussed.
62. No, the Diocese does not know what it is doing.
63. If you want something to thrive, threaten to abolish it.
64. Some organisations do die. Give them an honourable and joyful funeral.
66. Just because the microphone is there doesn’t mean everyone will automatically hear you.
67. The notice sheet exists so that people can happily ignore its contents.
68. If you can’t be omniscient you can give the impression of being omnipresent. And you don’t have to stay to the end.
69. If the whole team is last minute you’ll get on well with each other and your church will learn what faith is all about.
70.Yes, it’s frustrating not to be able to join in at Choral Evensong. Just let go, and let the office pray you.
December 8, 2011 § 3 Comments
51. Some people have very noisy coats
52. The tiptoeing thing people do when they are late into church doesn’t work.
53. When you go to see the Bishop about your future, bear in mind that he might have said his prayers that morning. But then again, he might just have a gap to fill.
54. You drink more Communion wine than anyone else. You owe it to yourself to make it decent.
55. The Press has a memory shorter than a goldfish, and works on whims and timescales more rapid than a toddler in a toyshop. You will not change this.
56. No church hall booking system ever works.
57. Common Worship was written so that people previously at enmity with each other could have something to moan about together.
58. No one is ever happy about car parking arrangements.
59. Account very carefully for special collections, and write within nano seconds to the donor and recipient.
60. People who light a candle when they say a prayer are not being superstitious. The Holy Spirit is helping them with sighs too deep for words.