Sunday, 31 May 2009

Christ the King

I went to Christ the King in Kents Hill this morning for a wonderful celebration of Pentecost. The band were great and it was good to celebrate with them. Here they are wishing you all a "Happy Pentecost!"

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Race for Life

Isla and Carol ran the Race for Life. They did very well and are thinking about the 10K in the Autumn - which I can't do because of the usual clash with Sunday services...

We went back to their house in the afternoon for a barbecue where John and I discussed school web sites - good and bad...

Friday, 29 May 2009

Quiet Day

Quiet day after the holiday - recovery time...

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Sunny Day in Lyme Regis

We had a lovely day (after a good night's sleep) on the beach at Lyme Regis. After lunch (crab sandwiches) we wandered along to the foot of the cliffs where we found some wonderful huge ammonites.

The drive home was fine and we stopped for pizza at Solstice Services- which sounds like it should be in Milton Keynes...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Wet Wednesday

Cold night in the tent! Not much sleep!

Eventually struggled up for a day of National Trusting...
Went to a small village (in the rain) which had a forge and a tea shop...
Then to a wonderful house in Devon where (as the rain stopped) we had a wonderful guided walk with stories about trees - and were introduced to the first Giant Redwoods in Britain...

We were particularly impressed that the previous owner of the house donated it to the national trust because he didn't believe in private ownership - rather than because he'd gambled all the money away - or had no one left to pass it on to...

More cream teas - quick visit to Al and Jo - and then home to the tent for rotisserie chicken...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Off to Dorset

Off we go with Jane, Emily and Daniel to Monkton Wyld in Dorset for a wonderful break.
Whether sunny today. Went to Lyme Regis and enjoyed the beach.
Got colder during the night...

Sunday, 24 May 2009


Two services in Wolverton today. Beginning to get used to it...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Just been to a residential home for the monthly service. Decided to do a simple service based on SU all age material from Light. It went very well. In fact one of the ladies commented, without knowing that I'd used all age materials, that it was good to have things explained in simple language that they could understand rather than the complicated words that they get from the pulpit.
It also should be noted that none of them really understood what ascension day was, where it fits into the story of Jesus and what it might mean - even though many of them had been to church all their life! (With the possible exception of one Roman Catholic...)
...and the moral of this story is Keep It Simple Stupid

Practical Doctorate

I hope to use my blog hope to focus my research, reading, writing and data collection for my work as part of a Practical Doctorate with Anglia Ruskin University. At the moment I'm still waiting for a formal letter but it seemed sensible to start gathering information and reflections now.

The title of the overall research project is, at the moment, "Thinking Together" and I plan to focus on the issue of collaborative decision-making, particularly in the context of fresh expressions and collaborative ministry.

I will need to write a 7000 word literature review, a 6-8000 word research presentation and a 7000 proposal before starting on a 60,000 word thesis. My hope is to produce the initial work within the fifteen month minimum period, enabling me to finish the whole thing within three years. This is fairly ambitious but the time-scale may be essential in order to fit all this in with my work...

Wish me luck.

Unit 1: Practical theology: context, practice and performance

I've just been looking at the guidance notes for unit 1 and am thinking about the kind of work I will need to do. Assuming that I'm focussing on collaborative leadership I should be able to build on work I did last year in my sabbatical but focus on this issue in a more systematic way. The guidance notes suggest that I will need to present a "critical review of the performance, ideas and methods of an established scholar within or associated with the field". This does sound worth while and will probably be good fun - if that's not being too enthusiastic. I suspect it will be best to identify the scholar after an initial period of reading around the subject, but potential suspects would include Robin Greenwood, Kevin Thew-Forester, Stewart Zabriskie or Fredrica Harris Thompsett. Alternatively, I would be tempted to focus on "Skills for Collaborative Ministry" which does seem to be well respected and present a good account of current thinking about good practice.
In the meantime, I'm going to start a systematic survey of the books I already have on my shelf and see where that takes me.

The Road to Growth

Bob Jackson has carried out a great deal of research about church growth and the factors that affect it. In The Road to Growth he looks at a number of reasons why churches have been in decline and makes a few suggestions about strategies for future development.
It could be said that he is obsessed by attendance as the principle measure of a church's success. There may be some truth in this assessment, but attendance could equally be regarded as a "proxy indicator" for a range of other less easily measurable qualities like vibrancy or health.

Team Ministries
Jackson regards team ministries, and LEPs, as one of the "own goals" that the Anglican Church has scored against itself. He notes that there was great enthusiasm for the setting up of teams during the 1970s and 1980s in diocese that had a "teams enthusiast" in their senior staff (p.17).
Unfortunately "it does not seem that there was any systematic attempt to monitor or assess their progress." In fact "stories of dysfunctional teams began to circulate." Jackson quotes data that seems to indicate that attendance in team parishes has declined by nearly twice the level of that in non-team parishes.
He suggests a number of reasons for this, including the tendency of teams to turn inwards and focus on internal conflicts, or the "ambiguity of relationships embodied in the team setup." (p.19) "Who is in charge of the team vicar's parish - the team vicar or the team rector who has legal charge and may feel entitled to tell the team vicar what to do?" (p.19)
This alone says something about the nature of decision-making in team ministries and the challenge of working in collaboration. Although other writers point out that teams were originally set up to include lay people (check reference re Andrew Bowden) the reality is that the challenge of collaborative decision-making in team ministries really concerns the relationship between the rector and the team vicars.
On a more serious level, Jackson suggests that multi-skilled clergy teams may actually disempower lay people. "A vulnerable vicar with obvious gaps in his or her ability or gifting may leave more room for the growing of lay ministry than an omnicompetent team able to turn its collective hand to anything." (p19) This has interesting resonance with Rolland Allen's concept of "retirement".
In team ministries the emphasis on collaborative ministry and decision-making is undoubtedly focussed on the clergy team rather than on the whole body.

Lay Leadership
Although Jackson is negative about team ministries, he is very positive about lay ministry. "Around the world, churches without professional leadership have better growth trends than churches with it. Those who take an active part in church leadership and ministry tend to grow in commitment, confidence and stature as a result... it is no surprise that churches that have been changing in the direction of increasing the involvement of lay people in their running and leadership have also tended to grow numerically." (p70)
Jackson quotes statistics that demonstrate growth in churches that have positivley involved lay pepole. He mentions a process in Lichfield in which churches grew when at least half the PCC were involved in day conferences "- the lay leaders were seeing the issues and making decisions together with their clergy." (p71)

Local Ministry Teams
Although Jackson is positive about lay leadership in general he has some challenging things to say about the kind of local ministry schemes that have been set up in some dioceses. These have involved teams of lay people who have been trained over a two to three year period, often with a locally ordained minister as part of the package. He notes that in one diocese they were succesful in setting up twelve pilots, but attendance dropped by 25% during the period of implementation. (p142) Another diocese invested heavily in 'mandated ministry teams'. "Attendance in 98 churches with such teams fell over 18 per cent over a five year period while attendance at 353 churches without such teams fell only 16 per cent." (p142)
Jackson has a number of suggestions to explain this: "First, the group of lay people set aside for training usually contains some of the most effective and committed leaders in the church." This creates "gaps and weaknesses" which were not there before. Secondly, Jackson suggests that these people may actually have been more gifted for their previous areas of work.. Thirdly, Jackson suggests that "clericallizing a few of the laity" may be unhelpful. "Lay ministry schemes may be more a way of avoiding real change than of brining it about. The structures of church life can continue as before because the gaps have been filled - a group of square pegs have had some carpentry attention to make them fit into the round holes vacated by the clergy." Finally he suggests that teams often focus on the internal workings of the church rather than on mission, although he does quote on church in which a three year decline was followed by a period of growth. The vicar in question said, "Those were the years we were training our ministry team and our focus was all inward looking. Now the team is trained we are trying to look outwards again and hoping to grow." (p146)
From the point of view of this study, it is significant that collaborative ministry and decision-making often move from the exclusive domain of the clergy to the slightly more collaborative domain of the team - but this does not imply "leadership as a body" as Gibbs and Bolger put it in Emerging Churches. (check quote)

Perhaps the most significant thing that Jackson has to say about collaboration is this: "The realities of how to grow churches are not invented by experts, they are discovered by the churches themselves." (p147) Jackson notes that churches who's leaders are part of networks in which stories are told and ideas are shared are more likely to be growing. "The answers to the growth of the Church are laready out there - in order to turn the whole national Church around it may be enough simply to expose the churches to each other in networks of mutual learning and sharing." (p147) This is worth comparing to material on mass collaboration in Wikinomics and The Wisdom of Crowds, etc...

Bob Jackson has some invaluable data that can help us asses diferent approaches to collaboration in terms of its affect on church attendance. It seems to me that when these approaches focus on clergy or clericalisation, the effect is usually negative, but when collaboration arises through decision-making processes or organic development in response to missional needs there are usually positive results. Networking is good, as is the creation of space in which lay ministry and leadership can develop. The trick is to create the structures in which this can happen.

Jackson, B, The Road to Growth: towards a thriving Church, Church House Publishing, 2005

Monday, 18 May 2009

From CafeChurch to CafeSynod?

Had a great Deanery Synod this evening. Arranged the room with tables of five so that people could talk in small groups. We handled initial business in twenty minutes and then were able to give over an hour to the main item of the evening - Deanery Strategy.

People spent ten minutes reviewing the past before switching groups to talk about the Diocesan strategy. We then switched groups again to talk about the future...

It actually worked very well and there were some really good conversations. No-one dominated and a lot of listening took place.

One person said that meetings should have more prayer in them - which was good since we finished the meeting by 9:30pm in time for compline - with five minutes of open prayer.

As I said, it was a good meeting - requiring a fair bit of discipline and preparation. I don't think we could do it this way every time but it did work well. Perhaps we need to vary the format - meeting in a circle, around coffee tables, around one table for a meal, perhaps even like a trade fair? - but never again in rows with a table at the front - that's just asking for trouble!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

CafeChurch Training

I went to London today for a training session for CafeChurch. It turned out to be an extremely interesting day and it will be good to follow it up.

I went with Mike Baldwin who is one of the team who have organised Music and Message. We've been speaking to a number of people in MK about the possibility of doing CafeChurch here.

The CafeChurch Network was created by a baptist minister called Cid Latty. It started with his church in Welwyn Garden City when they approached their local Costa Coffee about running cafe style worship in their branch. This went so well, and impressed the regional manager so much, that they then negotiated a deal that would enable and encourage all branches of Costa Coffee (and laterly Gloria Jeans) to allow local churches to run CafeChurch.

Cid started the day by talking about theology, encouraging us to base our ecclesiology on our christology. In other words to think about how we build church on the basis of our understanding of Christ.

This ethos that he would encourage is:

Welcome: "Everyone is welcome!" There's no hidden agenda and real life is acknowledged.
Warmth: "Friendship is better than image." Be relaxed and informal - be real.
Words: "Jesus had good words to say about how to live." - address real issues.

He also spoke about values and the importance of discipleship as an ongoing relational process.

In the second session another speaker addressed the issue of making connections. She pointed out that we no longer live in an agricultural society in which everyone knows what everyone is doing. In our disconected society there is an increasing blurring between sacred and secular. There are also fewer "third spaces" - neither work nor home - where we can just "be". She challenged us to think about how we release church members to spend time in third spaces - mentioning an experience she had with a group of inline scaters on a Sunday morning who were haveing too much fun to consider church...

In the third session Cid spoke again about "authenticity" challenging us to be real, positive, practical and spiritual as we think about how we relate with the people in our area.

Moving forward from the day, we were given a brief taster of the kind of session they recomend - after three years of experience. Each session should have a light and relatively uncomplicated "menu". In fact, they use the same printed menu for each session:

Introduction: hello - and what's the theme?
Quiz: copies on the table as people arrive with relavant material and press cuttings... there should be a prize!
Expert witness: Bring on someone who knows something about the subject to start the discussiuon off.
Real life story: Interview an ordinary person and ask them to share their experience.
Table time: A few questions for people to discuss around their tables.
It's a wrap: Close with a few thoughts and thank yous.

In order to make this work in MK we would need a small team to manage the events/publicity and a number of people who could welcome, chat and help serve the coffee. It's all quite do-able.

On the way back, Mike and I wondered if we could work with a number of local churches to launch more than one CafeChurch in MK... starting in the centre and moving outwards... it's got potential...

Holy Trinity Concert

Holy Trinity Church in Old Wolverton is hosting a summer concert by the Milton Keynes City Orchestra String Quartet

on Sunday 7th June . The church, part of the Wolverton Anglican benefice with sister town centre church St George’s, is a unique historical building set within the beautiful Ouse Valley Park overlooking the site of the medieval village and close to the famous 19th century Grand Union canal Iron Bridge aqueduct

The Quartet will be performing a selection of light classical and popular pieces starting at 7.30pm. There will be an opportunity to view the church and churchyard during the interval. Refreshments will be available.

Come and support the continuing life of this wonderful place and enjoy the professionalism and virtuosity of the region’s best known and respected players for what promises to be a memorable evening of entertainment

The church is off the Old Wolverton Rd, near the junction with Stratford Rd, and is part of the nationally important Ancient Scheduled Monument site with the adjacent Motte and Bailey castle. There has been a settlement on the site since pre Saxon times. The church works closely with the Milton Keynes Parks Trust who manage the surrounding parkland for the benefit of all residents and visitors to Milton Keynes. Popular for local marriages and with a growing range of activities and services, the church council hope this will be the first of a series of concerts to help secure the building’s future, extend and improve facilities for users and visitors, and carry out structural repairs to provide a continuing place of peace, prayer and fellowship for all.

Tickets are available on the door at £10 with concessions £5. Please telephone 07878 284451 for advance reservations and parking/access enquiries.

Press enquiries to Tim Edwards on 07961 135731 or Roger Wythe on 07710 415894

Contact the Milton Keynes City Orchestra on 01908 558311.

Friday, 15 May 2009

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Well... I have photographic evidence from this year's Christian Resources Exhibition that the Chicken beat the egg - at least to the top of the climbing wall!

The boys from World Emergency Relief seemed to be having a great deal of fun promoting their "Be a good egg!" campaign. It's all about raising money to buy chickens to help people in the developing world. Six pounds buys a (live) chicken - or so I'm told...

Beyond chickens, we looked at chairs for All Saints', stained glass artists for Christ the Sower and shirts for me. I was severely tempted by a clerical hoodie from Cross Designs but decided to be sensible and buy a couple of black shirts - for when I need to dress up...

I also picked up a copy of a new course produced by CMS which aims to help local christians to explore the five marks of mission in the 21st century. It's called 21M and looks quite good.

All in all a very good day. Bumped into a number of old friends and several MK clergy including Chris Collinge, Mindy Bell, Mandy Marriott and the new minister from Newport Pagnell. Always worth a trip.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Fresh Expressions Oversight Group

Went to Oxford for the fresh expressions oversight group. Good meeting. Feel encouraged about the key leader vision day but still not sure how we convince people that new ways of doing church aren't a time-wasting side show....

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Deanery Chapter

Deanery Chapter this evening. Low turn out so decided to abandon the session on Local Shared Ministry I had planned. We started talking about fresh expressions - which a number of people thought were a waste of time - and ended up talking about baptisms, weddings and funerals - which is what vicars tend to do when they get together...

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Whatever happened happened?

Went to see the new Star Trek. Great movie! A re-boot rather than a remake.
Like the excellent Battlestar Galactica TV series this movie takes us back to the beginning and starts again and so we get to see Kirk, Spock and co come together as the Enterprise crew.
This could, of course, have been a problematic formula since millions of people know what's supposed to happen, but the writers have given it a big twist - history has been changed and anything is now possible. We are now in a universe where some significant characters have already died before their time. An entire world has ceased to exist. All bets are off! Isn't time travel fun!
I look forward to the next movie. Anything could happen. In theory, you could kill Kirk off in episode 2 and make Uhura the captain... Could be interesting!
The intriguing thing is that this movie was made by the Bad Robot team who are also giving us Lost. In Lost we are being asked to believe that history can't be changed, yet in Star Trek nothing is set. Of course, they don't need to operate with the same philosophical framework in both shows, but it does make me wonder. In Lost, Daniel Faraday talks about "constants" and "variables". Maybe there are some things which need to happen, but some things which can be changed... Can destiny (or predestination?) be possible without removing free will or creativity? Intriguing... Looking forward to seeing where JJ Abrams and co take this...

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Music and Message

Spoke at Music and Message about "New Ways of Being Church" mentioning leadership and ministry, belonging, worship and mission - with an emphasis on fresh expressions.
Spoke for 50 minutes which was a bit long but seemed worth while...

Friday, 8 May 2009

Fresh expressions in St Albans

Took 850 Mission Shaped Ministry leaflets to St Albans to go out with their diocesan mailing. Has a walk around St Albans in the rain...

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Cafe Church

Had a good session with Mike, Ian, Nick and Chris and the Swan in Wolverton talking about CafeChurch. There is a lot of potential. The next step is to bring a team together...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Practical Doctorate

Went to Cambridge to talk to Zoe Bennett-Moore about the possibility of doing a doctorate through Anglia Ruskin. It sounds achievable if I'm fairly disciplined about it. We talked through my research proposal and the work I would have to do. Now I just need to wait for the letter...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Finance Sponsiring Board

The Finance Sponsoring Board met to receive the annual accounts of the Mission Partnership. Treasurers were congratulated on meeting the increased demands that are placed on them and we are reasonably confident about the future, although there will be challenges to meet...

What makes a healthy church?

In answer to Eccentric Paul's comments on the Deanery Strategy Group post there have been various pieces of research done to look at the characteristics of "healthy", "successful" or "thriving" churches. The most interesting, from my point of view, are the criteria put forward by Natural Church Development and the Building Healthy Churches process.

The Natural Church Development research looked at a range of churches and attempted to identify the key quality characteristics of growing churches. This research produced the following list:
  1. Empowering Leadership
  2. Gift-orientated ministry
  3. Passionate spirituality
  4. Functional structures
  5. Inspiring worship services
  6. Holistic small groups
  7. Need-orientated evangelism
  8. Loving relationships

Healthy churches, however, began with research which focussed on twenty five churches in Durham diocese which bucked a general trend into decline by 32%. These churches seemed to have the following marks:
  1. Energized by faith
  2. Outward-looking focus
  3. Seeks to find out what God wants
  4. Faces the cost of change and growth
  5. Operates as a community
  6. Makes room for all
  7. Does a few things and does them well

Both NCD and HC do not regard specific projects, programmes or worship styles as significant. The key to these churches' health is the way they operate rather than what they do.

To these lists I could add some thoughts based on the concept of sustainability. For instance, a church should have sufficient professional ministry that local ministry is enabled, but not so much that local initiative is unnecessary. It should be able to pay its' way - but not pay too much so that others become dependent in turn... and so on...

I've also been very interested in the concept of culture change as a learning circle...

I think an interesting project could be set up to help churches identify their specific "sustainability" or "change indicators" and develop a strategy to adopt a "healthy lifestyle".

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Job Description for Church Members

I while ago I was lucky enough to see a job description for a minister (won't say the denomination or location) which included a job description for a church member.
In brief it said that the duties of a church member were:
  • to attend services and meetings
  • to support the work of the church financially
  • to let the minister know about any pastoral needs
While I'm sure this may have been helpful for any prospective clergy, it seemed to me that it missed the mark if we see church members as disciples or "practising Christians".

So on Sunday I asked the congregation of All Saints' in Loughton what they thought the job description of a church member should be, and they came up with this description:

Church Membership - according to ASL
  • Everyone is welcome regardless of age, gender, race or background. Sinners are in particularly high demand.
  • A close relationship with God is something you should want. You will need to be willing to maintain it with prayer and Bible study.
  • Turning up for public worship and small groups is crucial. Spending time with fellow members is essential for personal growth and community involvement.
  • Loving others is a key task. You will need to be willing to care for fellow members - and even the clergy.
  • Your mission will be outside the church family. You will be expected to love your neighbour - even if your "neighbour" is on the other side of the world. Liking Fairtrade coffee would be an advantage. Can you be a spokesperson for the disadvantaged?
  • Sharing your faith with others is a responsibility of all members.
  • Live life to the full! - as God is calling you to do.

You should be:

  • Willing to give your time, talents and money for the work of the whole Church. It's a full time job!
  • Open minded, flexible, punctual, non judgemental and a good listener. An ability to multi-task would be helpful.
  • Willing to face whatever is thrown at you. You may be required to lay down your life.

Key skills:
It would be helpful to be a keen singer. Grass cutters and cleaners are in high demand.

You will be:
  • Changed by God!
  • Paid? - the rewards are eternal - but you may need to wait...

Friday, 1 May 2009

Day off

Went to school in the morning for Izzy's assembly on the theme of time - then went to Sudgrove Park where Isla saw a rat and jumped!