Thursday, 31 July 2008

Sabbatical: Thoughts and Reflections

As my sabbatical draws to a close, I've been trying to think of an appropriate way to round things off. Over the next few days, therefore, I'm going to offer a few thoughts and reflections arising from the last few months. They are put in no particular order:
  1. Spirituality
  2. Ministry in Life
  3. Mutual Ministry Methods
  4. Plant and Grow
  5. Running for Life
  6. Collective Leadership
  7. Fresh Expressions
  8. Local Ministry
  9. Blog on
  10. What next?
Please feel free to ignore the next ten days of blog entries, but I would also value any further thoughts and reflections if you want to click the "comment" button. This sabbatical has been great fun, but I also hope it's been useful. It would be great to have some feedback...

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A sunny day

All three girls have now finished "school" for a couple of weeks. Time for a few days of freedom. Hope the sun keeps shining....

Monday, 28 July 2008

Ikea and Swingball

Went to Ikea with the girls for breakfast. Bought swing ball - no injuries yet...

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Doctor Who Prom

We went to London today for the Doctor Who Prom. It was an amazing event!

We had to travel via Bedford because of weekend "improvements" on the line but we made it in time. The girls didn't know what we had planned - they thought we were going to the science museum!

The concert was spectacular with Ood, Jadoon, Sontarans, Daleks, Cyberman and Gelf appearing at various points - plus Davros himself! We saw Martha, Donna, Micky and Rose's mum and we were seated just beneath Russell T, Peter Davidson and Catherine Tate!

The girls really enjoyed the event and the music was quite something. David Tennant is being Hamlet at the moment but made an appearance through the magic of TV. It was a fantastic event to be part off and well worth a look when it's on.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Quiet day in the sun

Spent a quiet day with family enjoying a rare summer day...

Friday, 25 July 2008

Birthday Celebrations

We had a visit from our friends Al and Jo who came over for lunch. It was good to see them. Especially since they are soon off to Devon for a Al's new job. He will undoubtedly put more about this on his blog: New Kid on the Blog.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Finishing off...

Spent the morning finishing off some work; printed off some papers and sent some emails. My sabbatical is rapidly slipping away...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Beginnings and Ends

It has been a busy day. I popped into Bletchley this morning to buy my own Birthday present, then attended a meeting with the Methodist Superintendent(s). It was then time for the leavers assembly at Christ the Sower at which I presented Bibles to the year sixes and sunflowers to the departing staff.

Since this was end of term I took the three girls out for tea at the harvester.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Blog update

I've just spent forty minutes updating the blog design. The main change is the introduction of a third column, which should make it easier to view links and updates.

The site meter is still non-functional, but I've checked the provider site today and they promise to have it up and running again within 30-40 days... In the meantime, I should be able to keep track of some stats...


I had lunch with Alastair Wood and we talked about Fresh Expressions and Pioneer Ministry - and how Scripture Union might get involved in Fresh Expressions in MK. It looks like they might host one of the Mission Shaped Intros and possibly help with some admin. This will be good.

I then had a session with Tim Clapton to discuss the use of computers and on-line communions. Our minds were bubbling...

Quiet day

I spent a quiet day at home recovering from the half marathon and writing.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Half Marathon

Isla and I finished the MK Half-marathon today - hand in hand.

Here are some more pictures by family and friends:


Friday, 18 July 2008

Last day together

Isla and I spent our last day together (without kids) before the summer break. We went for a final run and then went into town for coffee. It was good to talk...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

My time in gaol

I spent a most fascinating day at Woodhill prison today. It was a small visit which gave us a chance to see the great work being done by officers. I have to say that morale is surprisingly good and there are some great things happening. I just want to say "well done".

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


We popped to the theatre tonight on the off chance that they would have some tickets left. It turned out that there was a deal for cheap seats in the stalls so we went to Eurobeat - a Eurovision tribute.

On the way in we were given badges. I picked Sweden at random. Isla picked the UK. We then bought flags and went through to join the other audience members who now "came" from ten different European countries.

There was video intro from Terry Woggan himself who reminded us that Eurovision is his pension. The show then began, hosted by Les Dennis and Mel Giedroyc who gave a splendid performance as aging Bosnian superstars - we were in Sarajevo for the night.

We were treated to ten performances representing each of the ten nations - not France. Each entry was a parody of a particular Eurovision style. We had rapidly removed dresses, bizare post-modern acts, extremely camp performers, divas and boy bands.

The best bit, of course, was the voting. We were required to test our votes in during the interval which were then grouped by nation and delivered during the second half.

On this occassion, Ireland won, with a classic Irish la-a-long...

It's great fun! Apparently they're already working on next years - set in Amsterdam...


Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Sports Day

Spent the whole day at Christ the Sower - how do I manage to work when I'm not on sabbatical?
Iona's assembly (playing violin - very well!)
Izzy's sports day (she was very good at running with the scores)
Iona's sports day (she did the long distance - 400 meters)

Monday, 14 July 2008

Car Repairs

Today was the first day of a bad week...
The C5 needed repairs, so I took it to Bletchley.
New break pads - front and rear - £120
Isla had bad day.
We need cheering up...

Girls had good day visiting their new classes.

The Folly of Teams...

The concept of "team" and "teamwork" has been high on the agenda for many of us during the past few years. "Team" has become a top priority and has been seen as an antidote to hierarchy and a way of encouraging a more "collaborative" way forward, but...

...there are a few problems with teams (and groups) - particularly when it comes to decision making: Firstly, teams can indulge in groupthink as "popular", "safe", "established" or "familiar" approaches are prefered; Secondly, there is a tendency for teams to talk themselves into more polarised opinion - In other words, once a team begins to move in a particular direction, members supports and encourage each other to share the same stance - The more "popular" a decision becomes, the more "true" it can seem; Thirdly, the need for "belonging" discorages eccentrics and radicals - who may actually have something important to say; Fourthly, teams can easily be dominated by people with higher status, who speak more, or who speak first... In other words the opinions of the most highly ranked, and the most vocal, will seem more significant than those of the quieter and more reflective members.

This may sound negative, but it's worth thinking about, since it's backed up by research.

Teams are very good at tasks and projects. When you're trying to achieve an objective it is far better to have a functional team - but teams are less good at decision making and leadership, although they can have a role in managing or fascilitating leadership and decision-making processes. As far as I can see the best decsions are made when a collective and collaborative process has been used - the more people involved the better!

I've been reflecting a bit on the way the LSM Project Group has functioned over the past year and a bit. Some may well say (with some justification) that it's been somewhat chaotic, with different people involved at different stages as the discussions have meandered backwards and forwards over a range of related topics. It's been exilarating, ceratinly, and a great group to be part of - but a terrible example of "getting things done". I think it would be fair to say it's been a rubbish "team", but...

...the strength of this conversation was the collective and diverse nature of discussions - I never knew where things were going to go next - or who was going to lob in which theological handgrenade! As convener it was a real learning experience to ride the collective thought flow... It's a mirracle (in some ways) that we produced anything coherent at all - although I suspect, in fact, that the results benefited greatly from such a broad range of contributions...

It was a rubbish "team" but a fantastic process! A really creative group of people who were absolutely brilliant at tackling a very tricky issue!

As the Project Group moves into a more formal phase I suspect we need to widen the circle of vision and reflection rather than tighten things up. The success of collaborative ministry in Milton Keynes may well depend on the use of a collaborative methodology - but where will the Church in MK lead us? I wonder?...

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Wiped out...

We're all completely wiped out after the wedding. No chance of much activity today. Luckily Jane invited us round to their house for a cup of tea in the afternoon, so we spent a couple of hours collapsing in their garden which helped reduce the risk of over-tired behaviour... although the girls did manage to be awake until after 10! I pity their teachers on Monday...

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Annette and Jerry

Today we celebrated the wedding of Jerry and Annette. It was funny to be back in church (St Mary's) and actually took a while to get back into the swing of it. I felt quite uncomfortable at first, standing in front of a congregation again, and it took a while to feel comfortable and articulate.

The wedding went reasonably well (I think) - improved substantially by the musicians from Jerry's old church in Great Missenden. We're getting to know the catholics of Great Missenden better and better every time we meet them. They're a great bunch and have a huge amount to offer. It is really interesting to see how they have linked music, faith, life and mission. They're good people to spend time with.

It was a good party too! Great fun! We met lots of really interesting and fun people and staggered home late - a good day!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Wedding Rehersal

Iona was at work so I spent the afternoon tinkering with my new computer. I'm still struggling with the need to find drivers for a 64 bit XP system - not all manufacturers have produced them. The question I may have to consider is whether to upgrade to Vista... Will this solve the problems or create new ones?

This evening I had the rehearsal for Jerry and Annette's wedding.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Interviews and Long Run

Spent most of the day at CtS interviewing for a year six teacher.
Had time for a quick 8 mile run before collecting children (80 mins). This was my first long run after the half marathon walk-through. Can I keep this up for 13 in a row?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds

Why the Many are Smarter than the Few

This is a wonderful book on collective intelligence filled with a great deal of good sense and practical wisdom. Surowieki's main argument is that a crowd of people with great diversity in ability and knowledge, can consistently outperform the experts - as long as they are able to think with relative independence and there is a system for aggregating their collective mind.

The three conditions essential for good collective wisdom are diversity, independence and decentralisation - of a particular form.

Surowieki begins with the illustration of a scientist in 1906 who was convinced that 'normal' people were not able to make inteligent decisions. He attended a farmers exhibition and watched a group of people bet on the weight of an ox. He was convinced that the sum of their 'average' minds would provide evidence for the weakness of the 'herd'. He gathered the betting skips together and was surprised to find that the mean average guess was 1,197 pounds. The ox actually weighed 1,198 pounds - pretty close!

This is, of course, a fairly basic example, but the book is rich with theory and stories, ranging from psycological and sociological experiments to real world examples drawn from business, inteligence and nature. I am particulalry taken by the observation that a large group of people with limited knowledge can produce better and more consistent results than a few experts.

This is a good book which I have found very helful in my continuing reflections on collaboration, mutuality and the church...

It brings to mind the silly little exercise we used to do with congregations when we asked them, during a service, to list three things that they would like to see happen in their church within five years. This may seem like a daft exercise but it fulfils Surowieki's criteria. The whole bredth of the congregation were able to contribute, and their responses were fully independent, since there was no discussion and the small pieces of paper were gathered in without being seen. The results could then be grouped in themes to indicate the common mind of the church. Once again, you may say this sounds insignificant, but I would like to point out that the Watling Valley churches who did this in 2000-1 produced the list of six partnership values which still seem incredibly relevant eight years later!

The thing that has really got my mind spinning is that this concept of collective inteligence may be really helpful in developing a theory of collaborative discernment. The issue of discernment (particularly of new ministers) has been raised locally as we move towards a more collaborative appraoch. Who should decide which local people are called to take up particular roles. Clearly the issue of gifts is highly significant, but who is responsible for identifying them? Should people self-select? Do we trust the clergy to do it for us? Does discernment only work if it's done by people on the outside? Do we need a diocesan selection conference for vergers and coffee makers?

In some ministerial models it is common to present people with a list of members and ask them to indicate which individuals are called for particular roles - or ask them to put names on a piece of paper and drop them in box - after prayer, of course. Is this merely an exercise in consultation or is something more significant taking place? Can a congregation, filled with the Spirit, opperate as a collective inteligence, thus producing an authentic piece of group wisdom?

In some places the "nomination" from the congregation is then processed by a central panel who pick people who fit with their own objectives. This would be one way of processing the information - similar to the process used to develop Linux.

A more authentic way of "agragating" the information may be for a co-ordinating panel to approach the most frequently identified individuals and invite them to explore their call further through a process of mutual discernment, further exploration, formal interview or election - depending on the post. Surowieki is correct to say that the more people who are involved in the agragation process the better.

Interesting... I'm going to think some more about some of the strands in this book. It has a lot to say about leadership, decision-making, group processes and collaboration. It's a very useful theoretical tool.

Local Shared Ministry

We had another good Project Group meeting today. We discussed the Vision and the Action Plan. Lots to write up, but no more meetings until September.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Fresh Expressions in MK

I had a good meeting today with Tim Clapton, Peter Ballentine and Keith Beech Gruneburg. We had arranged to meet to discuss possible plans for the encouragement of Fresh Expressions in Milton Keynes. Although we still have a lot of work to do, we have mapped out a rough plan of campaign:
  1. Vision Day: We're going to try to organise a vision day with the national team in November. This would provide us with an opportunity to enthuse on a large scale.
  2. Mission Shaped Intro: We're hoping to organise two hits of this course; once in the spring before Lent, and once in the summer term. These should give us an opportunity to explore Fresh Expressions and Pioneer Ministry with interested people.
  3. Mission Shaped Ministry: We aim to host a year-long course for practitioners - ideally starting in September 2009. This will be invaluable as support for those who are getting stuck in.
This is all very exciting! We hope to float this at the next Mission Partnership Exec and ask for a Planning Group to be commissioned as an ecumenical Project Group. This is a very achievable project which should have enormous value for our work in MK.

Still not broken

I was on track this morning for a good time for three miles. I managed the first two in 16 minutes but began to feel a bit sick. Perhaps I ate too much this morning or didn't have enough water or didn't take a hay fever tab... Walked the last half mile and finished in 26 mins. Still chasing that elusive 24 minute record...

Monday, 7 July 2008

Women Bishops and Collaborative Leadership

I watched some of the reports on the General Synod vote with mixed feelings. While I have no problem with the concept of women bishops, I do feel a little uncomfortable about some of the language being used.

On women bishops (as such) I am convinced the Paul has a point - in Christ there is no male or female, Jew nor Gentile, etc... And I can't see why we need to wait for universal acceptance - there are other branches of the Universal Church who don't have them - there are others that do... The same applies to other "innovations". We need to do what we think is right.

Having said all this, I am uncomfortable with the idea of women (or men) who are seeking positions where other people can "serve under" them. Is this a debate about power and status? Are there women priests out there who would like to join men at the top of the clerical pyramid? I hope not, but this was the way it was presented on TV.

The issue for me is the model of episcope we are seeking to develop. In an age when we are aiming to build collaborative leadership we need people who want to "serve with" rather than "lord over". I don't care whether our bishops are male of female, but I do care about the ministry they model.

Oxford Meetings

Had a good day in Oxford today.

I met with Beren to discuss Local Shared Ministry. We spent some time reflecting on the past two years of the LSM project in MK and thought a bit about the wider picture. We brainstormed on the theme of the different groups who are key to the debate and made a list of neccesary culture changes:

From Clericalism to Mutual Ministry
From Pyramids to Circles
From Delegation to Gift-led
From Volunteering to Calling
From Miniter Centred to Jesus Centred
From Exodus 18 to 1 Corinthians 12
From Control to Empowerment
From Community gathered around a Minister to Ministering Community
From Minister as Theologian to People as Theologians

We're spent some time thinking of possible strategies to promote such culture change. All good stuff...

This was followed by the Fresh Expressions Oversight Group at which we planned the February Vision Day, a gathering for practitioners and a series of leaflets...

A fairly busy day for a sabbatical...

Sunday, 6 July 2008

We're in

We posted off our application for the MK half marathon today. We'd better do it then...

Sunday off...

We're all feeling tired after a couple of busy days, so decided not to visit any new churches today... Isn't it nice to have the option!
Watched Doctor Who in the morning - big series finale.
Iona had a party in the afternoon so the rest of us hit the town...

Saturday, 5 July 2008

I'm a Taxi

Not much to say in the blog today. We spent most of the day driving children around...
To be fair, this morning was the Christ the Sower Staff and Governor Conference at which we picked a few new pictures to develop the schools visions. I then had to join the girls in Simpson for the Music Service Fete. Iona needed to be in New Bradwell for the Vocalis rehersal. Both of them needed to be taken to Wavendon for Grace's party - Isla and I had a drink in the pub. Home for an hour before going out to a very splendid summer concert by Vocalis...
Missed Doctor Who...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Bishop's Barbecue

We spent much of today recovering from Thursday's run, but had a good evening at Great Missenden at the Bishop's Barbecue. Although the invitation encouraged us to meet the bishop, the best thing about this event is a chance to meet old friends. It was good to see Kay Peck - now priested - and Derek West from Slough - Valerie and Ken - and so on... A good time was had by all - and it didn't rain!
Many thanks to bishop Alan and friends for making this such a good event!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Checking out the half marathon

We spent this morning checking out the route of the MK half marathon. We ran most of it with occasional breaks for map reading - it's a long way! We only got lost three times...
The question now is, do we do it for real?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


Had a funny morning today. Went in to see Audrey and co. at Sutton House for Communion (having promised last month that I would). Audrey was waiting for a care assistant to come, and the rest had decided to have coffee instead. Lots of confusion...
Older people like to know where they are and need to feel in control of their lives - like we all do - but the best attempts to provide care can sometimes take it away. It's not easy. But it was good to see them.
Went for a run, wrote some emails, did some writing, helped Iona make a CD, had tea, time for bed...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Danny Wallace

One of the great things about living in a town like Milton Keynes is that you get the chance to attend author events. We've been to a few over the years. Tonight we went to see Danny Wallace launch his new book, Friends Like These. He introduced it, read a chapter and told us what happened when he tried to track down some of his childhood friends. It was a good event - very funny.
We've been Danny Wallace fans since he and Dave Gorman tried to find 50 Dave Gormans... I have a signed copy of Join me - which says I can I can still like Jesus and join Danny's Karma Army.
The girls became DG fans when he hosted Castaway. Danny's Diary was must see TV from their point of view. As Danny admitted, they may have been the shows only fans...
He was witty and charming as ever. Haven't read the book yet. Apparently it's not out officially until the third, but we've got one already! (Not suitable for younger readers, I suspect...)

Richard on TV

Our dear friend Richard Davis was on telly today - one of these house buying shows where they get you to look at three houses and tell you to pick one. I know they didn't go for one of the houses on the show but it's worth seeing anyway. I did note they were both referred to as 'vicars'. Isn't ecumenism wonderful...