Stuff I’ve Given Up

October 28, 2013 § 6 Comments

There’s lots of stuff that I’ve never done. Some of it is on principle, I guess. But other stuff I have done, and have stopped doing. hand-stop-2I don’t know what this says about me, but here goes:

Watching, or indeed having anything to do with, Premiership Football.  Three years ago. The money is just obscene. How can we fuss about the ethics of banking when a bog standard striker is on £10m per annum? You get a whole C of E diocese for that. I won’t join in any more.

The Grand National. Ditto – but twenty years ago, after various horses died. In fact I just don’t get horse racing generally, and dislike the aftermath of race meetings (in York and Beverley). It’s just not pleasant.

Reading The Times. Just because it’s Murdoch. I’ve never had Sky, for the same reason. But, I confess, we do get The Sunday Times, because I’m weak and I like Style and Culture.

Watching Downton Abbey. The story, and depiction, of Anna’s rape was just plain wrong. Sorry. No more.

Anything to do with the Horror genre. That’s been a long standing thing. Just don’t like it.

Anything like farce, or the comedy of embarrassment. Just makes me feel uncomfortable.

When Typesetting: Using Comic Sans, centering hymns, using exclamation marks, justifying text, using Times Roman, using Publisher. Just because.

Reading the Daily Telegraph. I used to joke that I read the DT because at least I knew I disagreed with it. But then Damian Thomson wrote something abusive about the C of E, effectively damning every one of its clergy, and I thought ‘I don’t have to pay for the privilege of being abused like this’. I did get a very nice letter from the Letters Editor, Christopher Howse, though, and I miss his bits, including the obituaries.

Wearing any clerical shirt colour other than black. This is a complete turnaround: I vowed before ordination that I would never wear black. Just goes to show.

Things I’ve Written

September 3, 2013 § 3 Comments

books21After signing copies of Rules for Reverends at Greenbelt, I bought some volumes by Walter Breuggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor and Kenneth Bailey (respectively on grace, incarnation, and the middle eastern culture in which Jesus lived and through whose eyes his ministry takes on different meanings).  Rules is meant to be light and funny. But it was still a surprise when the person at the till said: ‘But these are serious books.’ The downside of having an amusing exterior is that people can think that’s all you have and all you do.

Later someone else asked if there was a list of anything else I’ve written – so I’m posting what I think is a definitive list here. My long term interest has been in liturgy and worship. I did a 50,000 word MA thesis at Durham in 1995 on the way words work in worship. As a member of the Liturgical Commission I was well placed to write on the new services in Common Worship. Early on I wanted to reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit in ‘liturgical’ worship, and was pleased to be able to do this with Chris Cocksworth, now Bishop of Coventry. I worked in a cathedral for seven years, and contributed an essay on cathedral worship to a volume about cathedral ministry. There’s other stuff on ritual, and my first proper book was as part of a team offering pastoral resources for crisis situations.

Perhaps the greatest privilege is in crafting prayers for use in public worship. Some prayers in Common Worship started life in my head. I’m not telling you which they are.

So here’s the list, for what it’s worth.

Rules for Reverends, (illustrated by Dave Walker), Bible Reading Fellowship, 2013

‘A Service of the Word’ in God’s Transforming Work, ed Papadopulos, SPCK, 2011

‘Liturgy at the Frontiers: Laboratories for the Soul’ in Dreaming Spires: Cathedrals in a New Age, ed. Platten and Lewis, SPCK, 2006

’Text, Authority and Ritual in the Church of England’ in The Rite Stuff, ed Ward, BRF, 2004.

Using Common Worship: Daily Prayer, CHP, 2002, with Burnham and Myers.

Common Worship Daily Prayer, An Introduction, Grove, 2001, with Chris Cocksworth.

Articles in Common Worship Today, ed Myers and Earey, Harper Collins, 2001.

Communion in Common Worship, Grove, 2001.

The Spirit and Liturgy, Grove, 1998, with Chris Cocksworth.

Pastoral Prayers, Mowbray, 1996, contributing editor with Stephen Oliver, et al.

Twittering and Discipling

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.

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English Baccalaureate

January 12, 2011 § 18 Comments

Am cross cross cross about the English Bac. Its a way of arranging the data about Schools to show how many pupils get 5 A*-C passes in ‘rigorous’ subjects – strictly defined (no RE in humanities, no music etc).

1. I’ve argued before that a league table only tells you one thing about a school, and the data is so vulnerable that it generally tells you the wrong thing.
2. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, decided to manipulate the data in this way without reasonable warning. As Christine Blower from the NUT said:  “You can’t have schools judged against things that didn’t exist before.” A previous decision had allowed pupils to drop a modern foreign language. Why should schools now be marked down without warning for the number of pupils who failed to attain one?
If this Government believes in fairness it should have flagged up that it would require the data to be presented in this way in time for schools to do something about it (ie with at least 3 years warning so that option choices can be made with all the inormation to hand).
What Gove has done is to declare that something which wasn’t an offence now is, send someone to prison for doing it while it was legal, and justify it on the basis that the punishment will make everyone buck their ideas up.

3.  The list of ‘rigorous’ subjects not only has some glaring and offensive omissions – isn’t RE a humanity? – but it devalues all the others as well. My two sons want to pursue careers in music and the expressive arts/design. One of them was earning a wage in that field while still at school, and is supporting himself in his gap year doing the same. Well thanks a lot Mr Gove. Not rigorous?

The English Bac is an act of contempt for a teaching profession which was asked to do one thing and has now been attacked for it. It makes a spurious, elitist and dangerous distinction between ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ subjects. Its imposition is duplicitous from a government which is supposedly giving more power to schools: the EB  tells schools what they should do while saying that of course they can choose to do something else if they want to be at the bottom of the league.

I am all for rigour in teaching and learning. I have 13 O levels and did all the sciences, three languages and 2 lots of maths as well as the English I went on to teach. I am all for attainment, the measuring of ability, the stretching of potential. But this is offensive, gimmicky and unworthy of someone who is supposed to hold education and teachers in the highest regard. After the sport debacle it’s the last thing schools need.

This chap clearly agrees!

Photos for the 12 Days – XI

January 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Total vanity. But it’s been a busy day, and I’ve never given a blessing on national telly before. And emails are flooding in, from all over the place, saying that people liked the prog.

Not sure what I look like in HD though…

Photos for the 12 Days – X

January 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

The BBC did us proud on Songs of Praise last night. The filming was so long ago that I’d forgotten just how much we were taken over by the demands of television.  It wasn’t just for the week of filming, nor for the large number of planning meetings about practicalities and logistics. Songs of Praise especially do a shed load of research – one person spent a week in Beverley just collecting stories.

A local journalist rang me this morning to ask why the programme had been so good (she’d loved it so much she watched it twice). It certainly captured both the beauty of the Minster and the life of the congregation (apart from the performers everyone who was interviewed is a regular part of our life here).  Perhaps it was because the programme’s makers had spent such a long time in Beverley getting to know us. They had certainly been received warmly, and it might just be that the warmth they received made its way into the programme they made.

When someone is with you for a while, you can’t keep an act up. They get to see you as you are. Both Songs of Praise and the Antiques Roadshow enjoyed being with us, and found a quality here which they reflected in their programmes. There’s no way you can instantly generate such an atmosphere of hospitality, welcome and love out of nothing. You inherit it, and then do all in your power to keep it growing. That’s certainly what I’ve found here over these last 18 months. And it it’s not there to start with, you get there is small stages I guess.

So, a photo of the Minster, taken this afternoon as the sun was setting. It’s from a distance and close up, if you get my drift. Overview and detail. My mission for January…

I believe. You ‘avin a larf?

December 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Interesting article in the Daily Telegraph today. (Yes I read it. No, I don’t inhale). Irritatingly I can’t find a direct weblink to the interview, so my link is to a blog article…

Tony Jordan, streetwise writer of East Enders, Life on Mars, Hustle, etc, has scripted the BBC’s Nativity, to be broadcast this week.

I would guess that lots of sermons this Christmas will talk about this – and may well use his story of a journey to belief through the making of the programme. Jordan says that he didn’t have a religious background, left school at 14, was nobody’s fool, and had ‘discounted’ the nativity, until he started to work on the script three years ago. Like many, when he gave the subject some serious thought, it all began to make sense. “I didn’t believe it…But now I do.” Here’s the killer quote:

“The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind it is so smart that it couldn’t even have come from a clever philosopher.”

Excellent fuel for our annual attempt to convince our infrequent worshippers to come to church a bit more often, and I’m thrilled that such a writer has come to this view. But not all the news is good. He has no time for the church whose central message this is. “I have a distaste for organised religions” – apparently because they mess with the stories to suit their own ends. Couldn’t agree more. And then this about church services:

“I have a distaste for people who say to me, if you come through these doors, walk down this aisle, sit on that wooden bench and sing these hymns in this order, I have got God in a little bottle under my pulpit and I’ll let you have a look. I don’t think that was God’s intention”

Hmmm. On one hand, a man who has made his living telling us to sit down in front of our TV’s at a particular time each week to watch a programme which he has scripted in withering detail to create an effect only he knows about can’t have it both ways. When the church worships it does it in a way which has been thought about and planned. If it was ‘unscripted’ it wouldn’t be any good. The difference between my services and his scripts is that the church’s worship is a public offering, planned by more people than me, with agreed elements coming together in a public offering to which all contribute. If anyone has something “in a bottle” it’s the scriptwriter of East Enders, who has to pull a surprise out of a hat several times a week. Our stuff is everybody’s property.

But: if we give the impression that we are the jealous protectors of this amazing truth, then we are getting it wrong somehow, and we need to enable our services, and our conversation about God, to be open and inclusive. I despise the notion that I as the priest have “God in a bottle”. I want to be the orchestrator of a public celebration of a truth none of us can encapsulate, but within which all of us are included.I have to be able to receive much more than I give, to be affected much more than I affect in worship.

Note to self then this Christmas: be amazed at the wonder of the incarnation. Don’t claim to know it all. Let everyone have a go. Success will be when everyone says, as Tony Jordan does about Jesus: “Wow! That’s pretty cool.”

Bishop Pete, Bishop Richard, Archbishop George

November 24, 2010 § 5 Comments

The news and blogosphere are full of Pete Broadbent, the Royal family, and his subsequent treatment.

In short, Pete doesn’t like the fact that we have a royal family, and is an unrepentant rebublican. He Twittered about it, and a lively thread followed where, in answer to certain comments, Pete said some more. Crucially he wished William and Kate well, but that was outweighed by other comments which, taken together (and with the contributions of others removed) looked like an awful and graceless tirade against the royal family and the happy couple in particular.

He made a formal apology, which seemed well done. Then the Bishop of London released a statement saying how appalled he was, and that he had invited Pete to ‘withdraw from public ministry’ for a while. THis sounded like a suspension, and +Londin had to clarify that Pete was continuing to be the Bishop of Willesden, just not going out and about.

Now, hidden behind the Times’ paywall, former Archbishop George Carey (Pete’s training incumbent in Durham, where I was a member of the PCC all those years ago) says thate Pete was wrong, but that withdrawing him from ministry in such a public way was disproportionate.

This is how it stands at 3.15 this afternoon. What reflections therefore?

1. Facebook is dangerous. Even if you can plead that you were only talking to friends, if they number up to 1000 and you make your wall public anyway, you’re stuffed.
2. The Press can make certain comments made in a sequential conversation look awful when putting them all together.
3. No priest should say disrespectful things about couples they are to marry, or who are to be married by someone else.
4. Pete was probably trying to make a comment about how the tabloid press can turn on the royal family when they’ve had enough of the niceness of it all, and that’s why he gave the marriage a short life span. That was, however, drowned out by the stuff about the track record of the royals, not all of which was caused by the press.
5. I’m not quite sure whether the relationship between +Pete and +Londin is reparable. I hope it is, because Pete has been overwhelmed by messages of support from his area, and there is too much to lose. It would be good to think that +Londin can assure the royals that action has been seen to be taken, and +Pete that he’s got a future.
6. Bishops and Clergy say some amazing things about God, Jesus, the church, doctrine etc, and little is seen to happen. A media storm does have to be dealt with, but it seems harsh to punish comments which, in sum, were crass and inappropriate, but were not in the same league as others we can think of which have gone unremarked.
7. Archbishop George is someone to whom I owe a vast amount. But I can’t think of many of his interventions and comments about the current life of the C of E recently which have move things forward, and I’m sure +Londin didn’t need this comment. It continues to air the argument in unhelpful circles. And I rather dislike the fact that +George  is paid by the Murdoch press to write in the News of the World – not a bstion of press freedom and ethics. Oh well.

What now? Pete was going to keep a low profile at General Synod anyway. He’s got great respect here, as someone brilliant at sorting structures, prioritising mission, supporting the church on the ground and shaping us for the future. I really want him to be able to carry on doing that – and I hope that a low profile for a few weeks will enable that aspect of his reputation to be restored. But whether things can ever be quite the same I’m not sure.

Fresh Expression, Stale Journalism

November 6, 2010 § 14 Comments

Giles Fraser’s Church Times column doesn’t rile me as much as it used to. But it was back to the good old days this week. Not sure whether he was short of copy, but it looks like he decided to do the old journalistic thing of setting up an Aunt Sally which most people would agree with, and then wait for the cheers as he knocked it down. Here it is.

Poor old Fresh Expressions: right in the firing line. FX have never been popular with the liberal fraternity. Cathedrals too were a bit miffed at their absence from the Mission Shaped Church report, and not many cathedral staff rejoice when a lowbrow flavour of church enters their portals. (Quote last week from one such: “not looking forward to the second service with a worship band in 24 hours”.) I was there. I know.

From a safe vantage point Giles Fraser was therefore able to have a pop, though dignifying it by telling us he’d read a book by serious people, one of whom he, gasp, knows; and wih the use of the phrase ‘theological grounding’. “It is time,” he says grandly, “to stick up for the traditional parish model”.

Now it would be lovely to hear him for an hour on all this, and i’m sure his views are really subtle and nuance, but I’ve only got the column to respond to.

Firstly: What cathedrals do, par excellence, is minister to ‘special interest groups’ (like those who love Choral Evensong and Latin Mass settings, and do 100 mile round trips to be there). That’s why cathedrals were miffed at being omitted from MSC. I spent seven years engaing with all sorts of such groups, based around their work (like the armed services or local industries), their charitable endeavours, their associations. St Paul’s is stuffed full of them, and Giles Fraser will have to do his bit – indeed, part of his job is to engage with the life of the City of London in just such a way.What’s he going to do – tell them to go back to their parishes? Or seize the opportunity?

Secondly: St Paul’s is not a parish. He therefore lives and works in a model he’s left. Well, thanks for sticking up for us, but his very job title says that there are other ways of being church beyond the parochial. Even those cathedrals which have parishes have a significant ministry which has nothing to do with that model.

Thirdly: the whole point of FX is to recognise, in good mission style (and there is plenty of ‘theological grounding’ here too) that some cultures in contemporary society just do not relate to the parochial model. The best version of FX is when the Kingdom of God is revealed as living and active in unexpected places, and where the church is started afresh from the ground up. He highlights the goths, surfers and skaters paraded by the FX website. Well, there aren’t too many of them in my congregations, and I’m glad that, within their culture, someone is enabling them to meet with Christ.

Giles Fraser gets it wrong when he says that an FX is about teachers wanting to  ‘get down with the kids’. That’s exactly what a true FX is not. Inherited church sprucing itself up always carries with it the danger of dads dancing badly at a disco, of course. But that should not stop the parochial model looking carefully to see whether some inherited practices are just off putting, and whether some fresh clothes might enable some new connections to be made.

An FX is about the discovery of God at work beyond even the fringiest of the fringe. I think I heard Bishop Graham Cray say recently that a lot of things which called themselves FX weren’t. They were the parochial model doing some reshaped things. But where new life is found in the most unexpected places, and that begins to exhibit the marks of church – then we should sit up and take notice.

Fourthly: the church today is all about choice. People vote to go to 8, 10.30 or 6.30 here, BCP or CW, All Age or Taize. The point of FX is that a lot of people will choose to go to none of them. So the church has to be among them insted. To the goths I became as a goth. Or is that too simplistic? When they get it right, FXs do exactly what his beloved authors want: “serve the whole people of the country”. Not all parish churches do. And ‘the whole people of the country’ won’t always best be served by being told that one size fits all.

In other words, there’s room for both. Giles Fraser is spot on that trendiness can just be cringemaking. And he’s spot on that we have to think carefully about how we are one body in Christ when the church is expressed in so many different ways. But some FXs are at the cutting edge of mission, and deserve better than a stale journalistic putdown.

Perhaps he should visit a few, read some more books, and get Graham Cray to debate with him at St Pauls. And then write about it for us.  Please.


Giving up Football

October 23, 2010 § 8 Comments

The road was not to Damascus but between York and Beverley. Somewhere near Pocklington I decided to stop watching football on the TV, and stop reading about it in the papers.

Not that I have been a fanatic – I support Bradford City after all. But I got in the papers a while ago when I wrote a spoof prayer for England and Ruth Gledhill put it on the front page of The Times, and journalists being what they are it gets trotted out every now and again. I’ve not seen a live game in a few years, but football has always been there, and Saturday or Sunday evenings have seen me watch MOTD more or less every week.

And I’m stopping.

Because…because Wayne Rooney is about to be paid Nine Point Three Six Million Pounds per year. Rising to Ten Point Four Million Pounds per year at the end of his next five years.

Silly point out of the way first: why quote footballers as pounds per week when everyone else is per year? Tell it like it is. Per year: Ten Million Pounds. That would pay for the Diocese of York. Just about.

And it hit me, on the A1079, that much as I enjoy seeing a beautiful move or a thrilling shot from twenty-five yards bulge the net (etc etc etc) I just can’t watch a game where someone gets paid that amount of money. There has to be something very wrong with us to think that football is worth that much. Its thrilling, and fun, and a bit of human life is there, and it gives you something to talk about down the pub and in sermons, and communities have their spirits lifted on occasions (I was in Hartlepool when they got promotion and there was a spring in the step for everyone for a while). But that is not worth one out of form player (with a gift) to be paid £9.36 million per year.

The Bible talks about labourers being worth their hire. I guess what saddens me most is that Rooney has only done what’s expected, and got the going rate. That’s why it’s football which has depressed me, not just Man U. Society needs entertainment, artistry, a lifting of the spirits, and professional sport can do that. But not at this cost. What are the values of a society  which believes that Wayne Rooney is worth £10m per year?

I’m sure that the BBC will not notice that I’m not watching. Nor will the Daily Telegraph know that I turn now to page 10 of the so called Sports section.  And I’m sure that there are other sports which have similar out-of-control stories to tell. But Rooney’s new contract is my particular straw. When Bill Shankly said that football was more important than life or death he knew he was being ironic. There is nothing ironic in the financing of 21st century football. And I don’t want to watch it any more.

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