Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas

On Christmas Day I presided at communion at St Mary's Shenley. Christmas Day services are always interesting round here since many regular members are away, but our congregations are hugely supplemented by visitors from other churches or elsewhere in the country. This makes Christmas congregations quite unique!

On Christmas Eve at All Saints' for instance, the congregation included a number of members and ministers from other local churches who don't do midnight services themselves. Hence more than half the congregation were members of Loughton Baptist Church, New Life West and Shenley Christian Fellowship.

At St Mary's on Christmas Day the congregation included a number of people who were visiting family - and a few people from local Anglican churches who didn't have Christmas Day services of their own.

At the end of the service I asked everyone to wave and wish you all a happy Christmas. Here are a few of them:
Although it's a real pleasure to worship with such a wide range of fellow Christians, it is a bit tricky to plan for such services - since you never know who you're going to get! Are there going to be any children? Will people take communion? and so on...

On Christmas Day I improvised on the theme of "missing bits":
  1. We all have Christmas traditions and if we don't do them for some reason we may feel that we haven't done Christmas properly... I asked people to think about some of the things that they do at Christmas...
  2. As a family, we like to watch the Muppet Christmas Carol - this is the moment when we know it's Christmas. This year we purchased a new copy on DVD since our old VHS was no longer playable. We sat down and enjoyed the movie - right up to the point when Scrooge was about to loose the love of his life in his worst Christmas flashback ever! The only problem was that the bitter sweet ballad "When love has gone" didn't happen! This is the turning point of the film when Scrooge reaches his lowest point and begins his ascent to self-knowledge and revelation. This is also Isla's favourite song from the movie. Apparently Disney didn't like the song and felt that it was too sad for a family movie! It's not in the theatrical version - or the DVD - only on the VHS release - which must mean that VHS viewers can cope with a bit of sadness...
    Christmas can become a festival of sweetness and happiness - which is fine - but without a bit of sadness it's a bit flat. Unless you accept that there is brokenness in the world there is no need for salvation. Unless you are willing to face the reality of your own faults and failings there is no need for redemption. Christmas is meaningless without the cross.
  3. One of my Christmas presents was a small blue box - a TARDIS. The only problem was that it didn't come with batteries and we didn't have any in the house. A TARDIS without batteries won't go anywhere - or won't make the appropriate groaning noise...
    Christmas presents often need battery power to make them work and God's people also need power if they are to be capable of genuine change or become the people God intended them to be. Our journeys in time and space are not powered by tripple As but by the Holy Spirit. Christmas without the Holy Spirit is just a pretty story.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Scratch Band

For the first time in five years I didn't do the 2:30am service at All Saints' Loughton. It seemed strange not to be constructing a giant advent calendar, crackers or snakes and ladders game. There was no visit from Father Christmas and no opportunity to get a whole congregation to dress up... This was the end of an era... or error depending on your point of view...

This was not the end of the 2:30 service however and Liz Baker produced a great service which told the Christmas story.

So rather than attempt to upstage myself with another OTT visual aid I joined the scratch band. For most of the songs I played bass but hammered out some power chords for "See him lying on a bed of straw" - which Isla thought improved the song...

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Shenley Nativity

A few months ago a simple conversation took place.
The gist of this conversation was - you know the BBC did that Liverpool Nativity with all the Beatles songs? Well, why don't we do one in Milton Keynes - but pick our own music?
This conversation became a plan and the plan became a script and before anyone knew what had happened, the Shenley Nativity was created...

This was the first Shenley Nativity, but I suspect it won't be the last!

Mike Geaney did an incredible job brining it all together. Paul Randall revealed some more of his technical genius. The cast were on good form, the homeless choir looked appropriately ragged but sang like angels, and the soup was just the ticket!

Highlights included: Joseph's dream sequence - projected on a screen above his head as he slept - Mary's song - from the steps of the church - the homeless choir outside the homeless shelter (the vestry) - the birth cry of the baby (from the shed) - the video link to Herod's Palace - and the star on top of the vestry roof!

We were really very lucky that it didn't rain. The weather was perfect!

Well done to all involved! - and I look forward to next year's performance!

Got the flu...

I finished Thursday in a semi-conscious state and have been laid low with the flu since then. I'm told God must be at work because there wasn't anything I desperately needed to be able to do workwise... The Lord does indeed work in marvellous ways, but it would have been nice if he could have got me out of something I didn't want to do - or perhaps that would have been asking too much!

Anyway, here's a video Isla found from Northland Church in the US - a tribute to Moms everywhere:

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Rector of Stantonbury

A few years ago, most of the team ministries in Milton Keynes decided to suspend the post of Rector so that there would be no confusion of role between the Team Rector and the Team Leader. While this may have helped clarify the role of Team Leader it generated a number of legal problems associated with the fact that there was therefore no Anglican incumbent to handle legal issues relating to admin, appointments and sharing agreements.

We are now beginning to tidy up some of these situations and appoint Rectors in the LEPs. Today the first appointment was made in Stantonbury and Willen. By the end of 2009 there will be no rector-less teams.

The issue for the future is to ensure that the Team Rector role is clearly limited and that the team leaders are given space to lead. The Mission Partnership will need to do some work to clarify the role of Team Leaders and the rest of us will need to ensure that we are clear about the difference between the roles. In short, the Anglican Team Rector has responsibility for Anglican admin, Anglican appointments and for the Anglican side of sharing agreements - and that is all. The Team Rector has no responsibility for leadership, vision, pastoral care of clergy or the developpment of collaborative ministry - these are all tasks which need to be worked out ecumenically.

Kilkenny Carols

The Kilkenny Carol Service is always one of the highlights of my Christmas. There's something about celebrating Christmas in their lounge that feels more authentic than many of the staged productions that must take place at this time of year. Colin played his mouthorgan for O little Town - in a slightly different key from the one we were singing - which was great. I croaked my way through the carols and out came the sherry. Merry Christmas one and all!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Peter Pan in MK

This years panto in Milton Keynes is Peter Pan - with the incredible Henry Winkler (AKA the Fonz) as Hook.

Reviews have been mixed - but after two years of Bradley Walsh a lot of people were undoubtedly expecting lots of improvisation in panto by numbers where the actual plot is fairly irrelevant... Peter Pan is a different kind of panto and works best as a kind of scripted play.

This version was a fairly mixed bag...

A good production of Peter Pan requires a good Hook and a good Smee - and this had both, with Henry Winkler channelling the spirit of Dustin Hoffman and Andy Ford stealing the show as Smee.

The sets and special effects were also spectacular and well used - although a computer generated Tinkerbell occassionally disappeared into the background lighting.

It was a bit disapointing that the producers felt the need to insert some of the now traditional panto elements - in particular the use of contemporary tunes for no apparent reason.

Overall this was OK. Some people will love it, others will hate it. You can't win em all.

Carols for CtS

Today was a day of singing for the kids at CtS. There were two carols concerts at St Mary's Church. One in the morning (year 3 and 4) and one in the afternoon (year 5 and 6). The year 5/6 choir sang in both and had their lunch in the church.

These were great community events and a good number of parents turned up - many of them popping in during re-arranged lunch breaks. The children sang well and with real enthusiasm. The bells did indeed ring out this Christmas...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The University Centre MK

I had coffee this afternoon with Keith Straughan - an old friend from Cambridge who is now the dean of the University Centre Milton Keynes (UCMK). He was appointed in June and has been working night and day (as far as I can see) to turn some dreams into reality.

The University Centre has been launched as part of Milton Keynes College and is based in an existing office building in Silbury Boulevard. The building has been completely redesigned and is now a wonderful light and airy centre filled with wonderful spaces for learning and creativity.

The central space, which had been dark and lifeless, has become two enclosed galleries - separated by a glass floor.

On the ground level there is a coffee shop - open to the public - which seems to serve good coffee - and tempting muffins. It's worth a visit if you can find a parking space...

It was really great to see how much has been achieved since June - and really encouraging to hear that they intend to take their time to develop the University from the ground up. This is the beginning of something really special.

Well done Keith and all at UCMK!


9:15am Funeral
12:30pm Meeting with Alastair Wood
2:00pm Meeting with Keith Straughan

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Music in Wolverton

There was a splendid concert in Wolverton this evening, hosted by St George's. The concert included some incredible performances by Symphonic Brass - which is part of Milton Keynes City Orchestra - our professional orchestra. There was also a first public performance by the Community Choir - with whom Wendy M was supposed to be singing, if she wasn't suffering from a sore throat... Sam (from Servant King) sang in her band, No Klass... Vocalis were splendid as always...

Jeremy was on fine form as MC - and was dressed for the part.

Well done to all who took part!

Saturday, 13 December 2008


No music centre. Took kids to see WallE.
Nanny and Grandad popped in.
Party at Annette and Jerry's.

Friday, 12 December 2008


Bacon ciabata at Ikea with Isla.
Trip into town to buy tickets to Saturday cinema.
More paperwork - finally cleared the desk! I now know what I'm supposed to have done!
Girls out...
Isla cooked the meal we were supposed to have on Saturday - some rather splendid Moroccan lamb.
(Jane ill, so our date with Gordon Ramsey is delayed...)

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Lots of paperwork.
Coffee Plus Christmas Lunch.
More paperwork.
Funeral Visit.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Supporting Clergy in LEPs

In the past the Mission Partnership carried out reviews of ministers in LEPs. They were usually linked to licence renewal (in the case of Anglicans) and similar time frames were adopted by the other denominations. The reviews asked two questions:
  1. Is the post still needed?
  2. Is this the right person for the post?
These would probably have been good questions to ask if the Mission Partnership (or its predecessor) had the power to make decisions about deployment on behalf of the denominations - and many people assumed that the Mission Partnership had such powers - or should have. 
Unfortunatley the reality was somewhat different and all of the denominations had their own processes - the Methodists, of course, planned everything at circuit level which really annoyed people who wanted to decide who they had in their team. In fact, all of the denominations had their own processes and decision-making bodies, but it was sometimes possible to forget this...
As for the questions?
Well, the first is a bit of a no-brainer. No-one is going to say that a post isn't needed, are they? It might not be possible to afford it - or it might be more sensible to use the resource elsewhere - but these are different questions. Ask a church if their post is "needed" and they'll generally say yes...
And the second is a really difficult one to ask if you don't have clear criteria to asses a person against. The danger is that you open the door to disafected (or manipulative) people who use such a process to stick the knife in or apply presure for their own agenda...
The truth is that neither question are appropriate for the Mission Partnership (acting as Churches together in Milton Keynes) to ask. This was made particularly clear in a couple of reviews when clergy pointed it out!
In the meantime, denominations (and partnerships) have developed their own systems of review and appraisal. Oxford Diocese has just launched its own process of annual ministerial review - and we've explored a process of peer review in Watling Valley, inviting ministers to reflect on their ministry on the basis of our agreed vision and values.
So, old fashioned reviews are dead in Milton Keynes. Some may say "hooray!" but others are conscious that these reviews provided an opportunity for our ecumenical body to ensure that clergy are properly supported - and to gather information which will help the long-term planning of churches and denominations working together in the city...
Hence a small group was formed to look at the issue. This group recognised that it is no-longer appropriate for the MP to "review" clergy but there is a duty of care. The suggestion was put forward that the Mission Partnership set up a system of regular "pastoral conversations" by a team of "visitors" who will meet clergy six months after arrival, every three years thereafter and as soon as an individual has indicated that they are about to leave. These conversations will focus on support, asking questions about practical and experiential issues and will also give clergy an opportunity to raise issues which churches, partnerships and denominations may need to consider.
The group met today and did some work tidying up its proposal. It will now be presented for people to consider. It may be, of course, that this is still regarded as an interferance in proper denominational business - or it may provide a mechanism for ensuring that our key "assets" are cared for and heard...
What do you think?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


Long day:
Took kids to school - Iona forgot lunch so headed home...
Went home, picked up Iona's lunch, went back to school...
Spoke to Heather and Nigel on phone - missed team space...
Long session with Paul - discussed deanery...
Had bite of lunch, wrote emails...
LSM project group...
Met Nigel to discuss the service on Sunday...
Ate something... (fish)
Made start on family Christmas card...
Went to Ecumenical Pastoral and Sponsoring Committee...
Typed up notes of LSM meeting...
Called it a day...

By the way, Ebay estimate that we give £35 worth of "unwanted presents" to each person in the UK. Their busiest day is the 27th December when many of these presents are put up for sale.

It seems sad to speak of "unwanted presents" - what about unwanted friends or unwanted love? What else do we want to return?

This reminds me of the observation that Jesus was an unwanted gift and his sacrifice on the cross was the greatest act of unwanted service. We may wish to send him back on the 27th of December but the gift has already been given... (is there a Christmas sermon here for someone?)

Baby Jesus Blog

At a Voices editorial meeting we briefly discussed asking the baby Jesus to do the minister's letter. We decided not to go for it, but someone has posted his blog. See The Baby Jesus Blog or Baby Jesus gets a Blog

Bishop Alan gets a blog award!

Bishop Alan produces a wonderful blog through which he pours out his thoughts for all the world. It's always a great read and is one of the few I check on a regular basis - after all it's nice to know what the Bishop is up to...

He's been given an award for blogging - one of those wonderful "pass it on" awards where you have to give the same award to five of your favourites... If you want to see who he's nominated, check out Scribble, Scribble, Mr Gibbon.

Monday, 8 December 2008


Vocalis is a wonderful little choir in Milton Keynes run by Alan Dryer. Past members have included Amy Hewitt from All Saints - amongst others... Iona has been a member for two years (with Emily S, Hannah C, and others...) It's one of the city's little known treasures!

Tonight's concert was fab - with lots of traditional (and even ancient) Christmas carols mixed up with the occasional "Santa Baby" - all good stuff!

Well done all! and thanks Alan!

See the Vocalis web site for more...

Mailing Medbourne

I did my bit for the Watling Valley Christmas services this morning and tromped around Medbourne delivering leaflets.

This is wonderfully therapeutic work on the whole and gives you space to think. On the whole, it's not bad being a postman, but this kind of thing does give me a great deal of sympathy for the professionals:

1. Dogs
Yes, they're great for security, but I wouldn't want to be a posty with heart trouble. The worst ones are the hounds that wait until your fingers are inserted before hurling themsleves at the door and barking madly! This is particularly annoying when combined with...

2. Really Heavy Letter Box Brushes
These are designed, of course, to keep the heat in, but they also stop the postmen pushing letters through... It can take a long time to poke your leaflet through, by which time the dog has started barking and you're wondering if you'll ever get your fingers out...

3. Flats with "Trade" buzzers
Some flats are great and they have a rack of letterboxes at ground lever - others have a single letterbox. Unfortunately, a number of blocks in Medbourne have no letter boxes at all - only a buzzer for "trade". The idea is that you buzz the door during a certain time period and you can then gain entry to post the letters through each door - which is fine as long as you can be at these flats during that magical half-hour slot - or know when it is!

4. Ground Level Letter Boxes
These are presumably designed for small people by archetects concerned about heat loss - basically the letter box is so low on the door that it's practically on the floor! While this probably has positive impact on drafts (possibly) it has a bad impact on postmen's backs...

Having done the whole of Medbourne this morning I feel it safe to say that the worst road in the whole of this grid square (for post) is undoubtedly still Kirkwood Grove - it has ground level letter boxes, trade buzzers, and numerous little closes and obstacles which make this a virtual assault course of a road. I did note this year that a number of local reisdents have taken things into their own hands (perhaps fed up with not getting any post) and have replaced their doors or put up external post boxes... It will be interesting to see if this is a trend that will continue...

So, thanks to all our postmen who brave ravenous hounds, broken fingers, back pain and confussion as they go about their often thankless task!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Testing the Blog

Bishop Alan has found a wonderful little gadget that does a Myres-Briggs Personality Type Indicator test for blogs (oh yes...) Every blog he tested came out ISTP - written by "mechanics". I would just like to point out that I tested mine and was judged to be an ESTP - a "doer". I'm sure this is all very scientific...

ESTP - The Doers

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Check it out yourself at the Typealyzer

Second Sunday of Advent

The heating's out at St Mary's so we were all asked to wrap up warm this morning. Alison Baird brought a big bag of gloves and hats for the 9:30. Paul Randal got us all up and down with Alleluias and Praise ye the Lords at 11:00. I kept the sermons short...

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Streetlight Ball

This evening St Mary's Bletchley was converted into a splendid ballroom with round tables and a dance floor. Isla and I joined the Catherils and Solloways for a splendid evening of conversation, dance and food!

It was great to see the building used so creatively (hinting at possibilities for All Saint's Loughton post-reordering). In many ways the building felt more natural as a party venue than it does with rows of chairs facing the front. Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise since our medieval buildings were never designed to be auditoriums or lecture halls but community hubs with all sorts of activities taking place in different corners. People may be attached to their pews but they do limit and distort the way our buildings are used...

(Having said this I wouldn't want to see all of our pews disappear. There are some buildings where the pews serve a particular purpose - either to preserve a record of our past - or to enable a community to celebrate worship in a particular way...)

This was the second of two balls in support of the Street Light Trust which supports work with street children in the Philippines. Apparently the two evenings raised £5,000 which will make real difference - so well done to all involved!

All Saints Christmas Fair

This was another big "Christmas" day with music centre concerts in the morning, a fair in the afternoon and a ball in the evening. Iona and I were left at home for the concerts since she had already missed hers. Izzy, on the other hand, had two so she and Isla were out all morning.

Iona and I therefore had the job of preparing "splat the rat" for the Christmas Fair. Unfortunately, when I went up to the loft, it wasn't there! I think someone must have borrowed it...

We therefore spent the morning building a new improved "splat the rat" game - this time with three rats and a fixed drainpipe!

This was the day of All Saints' Christmas Fair - and it was a special one.

This was the first event in the newly refurbished Memorial Hall - which now has proper loos, lots of storage - and no mould on the walls! Hooray! In fact it's now a splendid resource which will be a real asset to this community.

This was also the launch of the All Saints' re-ordering fund - an ambitious plan to raise money for a major revamp of the church. This is a huge project which will eventually involve replacing the floor - which is in an abysmal state - with beautiful stone slabs with underfloor heating - which will enable the church to ditch the elderly dodgy heating system. Once this has done the old pews will also be replaced with comfortable modern chairs - enabling the church to put on services and events appropriate to the kind of community they are.

It's an ambitious project but they are making an excellent start - and Roger is leading the charge...

This afternoon we were on duty with "splat the rat" which isn't a big money spinner but does provide entertainment value...

In terms of fundraising this was probably a very good year. The raffle alone raised £1,200! I think this confirms what I've often said - people don't give to maintain things, but they do give for vision. I have every confidence that this project will be a success and look forward to seeing how a revamped building will release the potential of this energetic church.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Celebrating with Christ the Sower

The Christmas party season has begun!

We joined the staff at Christ the Sower for their Christmas party tonight at the Grange. It was amazing to see how many staff this school now employs - compared to the small group who launched the school in the Green Building four years ago. How fast things can change!

This was officially my day off, but I've got so behind over the past few weeks with extra jobs and ill people that I needed to work. Not sure I made any progress, but I did clear my emails and choose some hymns for Sunday...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Barry Newboult

Barry Newboult was born in Sheffield on the 30th November 1933.

He was clearly a bright young man who passed a scholarship exam which enabled him to attend one of the top schools in Sheffield. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money for him to continue full time education so he left school at 17 and went to work for Hadfield's, where he was involved in specialist steel work. 

His education continued through night school where he gained a BSc and then was released by Hadfield's to complete an MSc. His Job title, Margaret informs me, was Christallographer, which I think has something to do with the way atoms are arranged in metals - clever stuff! 

Alongside work and study he also made time for a social life. He met Margaret at a church dance and they eventually married. The two of them had a very strong and positive relationship. Margaret tells me that they never fell out in 46 years and their two girls have said much the same - so it must be true. They enjoyed many of the same things but were also happy to have different interests as well.

Family life was very important to Barry. Heather tells me that the absolute highpoint of every family holiday was him taking over bedtime stories.  But he didn't just read them, he would take one of his fairy tales, Cinderella, Snow White or Hansel & Gretl, and enchant it with gruesome extra detail, much to the delight of his daughters.

He was diagnosed with MS at 17 but it only began to bother him in his early twenties. He was, however, very fortunate that the disease progressed very slowly, allowing him to live a very full life. It never stopped him doing anything and they were never forced to cancel a holiday. He was able to work and get around, making good use of his car, wheel chair and scooter. 

The steel industry, however, did begin to face serious difficulties. In 1979 Hadfield's offered the option of redundancy and Barry decided that it would be wise to accept. He decided that the future would be in computers and so took a three month residential course at the Queen Elizabeth School for the disabled.

Through this course he met a man who told him about a new centre in a place called Milton Keynes which was run by SCOPE. He couldn't find work in Sheffield and so the decision was made to move south. He was offered a voluntary post at the centre and the council provided them with an appropriate house.

Although it was a difficult move in many ways. It turned out to be a good choice. Barry enjoyed his new work which involved programming - and wrote programs for a number of local schools. This work eventually began to tail off but Barry continued to work at the print shop at Neath Hill - where he polished his publishing skills which have been used so prolifically in this church.

Barry's links to St Mary's began through the Fellowship Singers - a local group that involved people from a number of local congregations. When Agnes Yates decided to restart the choir here, Veronica seems to have recruited Barry and Margaret. Their involvement in this church has been significant since then. Not only have they sung in the choir, but Barry also became the communications supremo - producing the weekly and monthly newsletters and much more besides... He was also a great help to Margaret in her work with wedding couples - a responsibility to which both of them gave a great deal of commitment, professionalism and genuine care.

How will he be remembered?

His daughters remember, necklaces bought after winning a sweepstake at work, the lego house he built Christine while looking after her with chicken pox one day,  teaching Heather to drive safely on the motorway, Sheffield Wednesday,  the Guardian newspaper and his dry, dark sense of humour.

Many people will remember the practical help and support he gave them - or the work he did with them.

In this church he will be remembered for his commitment, his publications and the things he did with Margaret.

Many people will remember him as a friend.

I asked Margaret what three things she thought he would be remembered for. I think most of you would agree with her list:

He will be remembered for the way he got things done - quietly, competently and reliably...

He will be remembered for the remarkable way he coped with his MS - without complaint or self-pity...

Most of all, he will be remembered for his dry sense of humour - mentioned by many people in the many cards of condolence which have been sent.

We'd like to thank you Margaret for sharing him with us and let you know that we'll all be missing him. 

It has been good to know you Barry and we thanks God for all that you have brought to our lives. May God bless you as your journey continues and may we all meet again in God's kingdom where all will be well.

(Extract from Tribute)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Sick List

Wondering if I can plot the past two weeks on some form of graph...

Who's ill today?

Well... Iona and Isla were still off sick yesterday...
Iona wasn't much better last night and was up in the night with a bad headache so I replanned my day so I could be at home...
Isla went into work today although she's still looking ropey...
I'm feeling sick but determined to hold it in since I've got two church family funerals this week...

Who's ill today?
Christ the Sower has had boiler failure - so Izzy's off as well!
I give up!