Tuesday, 30 December 2008

carols... the sequel

Had a chat with Ben over Christmas something like this:

‘Practically everyone I knew came to the CU carol service at Christmas.’

‘Great, how did it go?’


- basically everyone came out saying ‘why didn’t that guy like Christmas?’ It sounds a classic case of someone answering the questions those outside the church are not asking, or just choosing the worst time imaginable. Why are Christians so stupid? I can’t answer that one, but I’ve certainly asked it myself a time or two. I also have heard a few Christmas talks/sermons/ramblings. We came out of one (not at our church  for those who know) and everyone wondered what the guy was on about. It’s Christmas for goodness sake, there’s no shortage of decent material, even if as a preacher you feel everyone’s heard it all before. I’ve got news for you: they haven’t (if hearing = what I think it’s supposed to mean). Some would argue the style is appropriate for today – more conversational than structured, more story than concept. With the example I’m thinking about, you’d struggle to make such a claim, but I'm also conscious most story writers never get published and I’m wondering whether preachers today should be vetted in the same way!

Oh, the only good thing which came out of Ben’s experience was some good conversations, but preacher guy – it’s no excuse! 

Monday, 29 December 2008

anyone for a round of golf?

'back to work today?' - 'yeah, are you?' = conversation with a neighbour. I always find it weird talking about what I do as work - as do my children!
'have a good Christmas?' - 'great thanks, did you?' What is a good Christmas in most people's eyes? - always worth a thought or two. Maggie was struggling with flu throughout & her dad, who's always seemed invincible, had a stroke on boxing day evening, so that clearly affects my emotional response. We saw him up in Kettering saturday and sunday, and although he can't speak yet, there was a clear improvement over 24 hours, so we're praying he'll recover well.
In terms of presents it was great - there have always been pros and cons to having a boxing day birthday, but one of the pluses is the presents (the downfall is the year long wait). I've been pro-crastinating over starting to play golf for ages. It began with 'I'll take up golf when I retire', then my colleague Geoff gave me an old sets of his clubs, but that was nearly two years ago and I've barely swing a club in anger. Now, my children have bought me some golf lessons for my 50th., so no more excuses - all in the name of mission you understand.
In terms of family it was great - it must be a sign of age! However, when Ben drove up behind me on Christmas morning just in time for church, having been up since some ridiculous hour to muck out six horses and then the three hour drive down from the beloved city, it brought a tear to my eye. Not because Ben is any more precious than our other two children, but it just represented something about us all being together, which was very precious. I wonder whether, as the church, we appreciate what Christmas means to those who don't get it the way we do?
However, perhaps because I incurred rather more Christmas stress than usual - Maggie supervised, I was chief(?) cook and bottle washer, perhaps because we had rather more anxiety than usual over Maggie's dad, the sense of 'God with us' was more real than many others - so yes thanks, great Christmas.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

medicine man, chief

At last … a day to catch up with a few things – always eagerly anticipated, but so far, I’ve had Maggie go down with flu and had to collect Emily from work, also unwell!  So, a few letters, which were desperately overdue and an attack on the e-mail in-box: to little effect, so I’ve retreated and will attack it from a different angle tomorrow – maybe the element of surprise will work. 

One of the things I’ve been wanting to find more about is a book called ‘Medicine Man Chief’ Mike Frost spoke about when he was over here – basically I can’t locate a copy which doesn’t cost the earth yet, but found this on a blog by Tash McGill, which whets my appetite:

There are certain ways that societies organise and arrange themselves .. here’s something of what Renier Greef, co-author of ‘Medicine Man Chief’ says: 

Tribes arrange themselves around chiefs. The stronger the chief, the bigger the tribe. Chiefs have mini-chiefs. They are found at the centre of the tribe - the Chieftains house is always in the centre - the focal point of the tribe's direction and leadership. Tribespeople need a chief, and chiefs need tribespeople in order to be a chief at all. The loyalty is chief to tribe, tribe to chief. They are dependant on one another for security. 

Chiefs are good or bad, sometimes good and bad. They have a job to do - which is leading people, leading the tribe. 

But there is another crucial and necessary person in the life of any people group - the Medicine Man. The medicine man never lives within the tribe. He lives on the outskirts, outside the city gates or simply travels in a nomadic fashion between tribes that require his services. 

The medicine man isn't loyal to the tribe or to the chief. He's loyal to the Higher Truth. His is the business of healing. Of bringing truth to the tribe. As such, he has great influence and power. He can be magnetic and charismatic, just like a chief, but his loyalty to truth (which is ultimately for the sake and care of the tribespeople) will always be his highest priority.

But tell a story... where a chief, with a big tribe and lots of mini-chiefs all of a sudden discovers an illness within the tribe. A sickness that needs the services of a medicine man. An inground misbelief that needs truth spoken to it. He puts out the call to the medicine man, who comes, with all his knowledge and healing ability, all his concern for the tribespeople. 

He sets to work bringing truth and light. Healing returns to the tribe, health comes forth in new and powerful ways. The medicine man operates outside of the usual systems. At first the chief is grateful for the good work of the medicine man. But eventually, the people come to recognize the skill of the medicine man. They begin to trust his ability to bring healing and wisdom to the way of the tribe. 

Now the chief has a choice. A good chief will recognise the value of having a good medicine man in the tribe. He'll work with him, forging trust. See, the medicine man doesn't want to be the chief - he's firstly loyal to the Higher Truth, then the people. The chief is loyal to the cause of the tribe, it's strength and health. That's where his prowess and manna as a chief comes from. 

A good chief will work in healthy tension and trust with the medicine man, allowing him to do his work. The medicine man most wants recognition of his particular skill, the chief wants recognition as leader of the tribe, he wants loyalty.

A moderate chief will send the medicine man on his way, ensuring that his position of leadership within the tribe remains unthreatened, only to call on the medicine man again in the future. 

A bad chief, simply sees the threat to his leadership and kills the medicine man. 

When the chief kills the medicine man, everyone loses. At least when the medicine man is sent on his way, the knowledge of the medicine man remains accessible when it's next needed. But when you kill the medicine man, the relationship is severed, there is significant loss to the tribe.

So which are you?

Saturday, 20 December 2008

busy doing nothing?


I will never be ‘not busy’ I’ve decided, so the question has to be busy doing what? My challenges are what am I busy with? I have to schedule in the sitting down in the coffee lounge at Slimbridge for an hour meditating on the birds and plans for 2009 – we all need escape places.  People always assume I’m busy as a Regional Minister and there’s no doubt, busy is the easiest thing n the world to accomplish being as a minister, in my opinion. Over busy doing ministry, however, usually raises questions, which are uncomfortable, like ‘for who’ and ‘for what reason’? This week was, eventually, the first week of let’s say ‘less demands’ on my diary from usual sources after all, would you want  to see a RM just before Christmas. I loved this time of year as a local minister – carol services everywhere -  and I wouldn’t have been best chuffed with a call ‘could I pop round and see you’ from the likes of me! However, it’s been a busy week – Chinese meal with home group, meal out with Maggie’s school staff, a really good ‘neighbours’ night last night, oh I had one crisis pop up. It’s been great, but I still haven’t caught up with all those things I was going to do when things went quiet. I still haven’t reached that illusionary state of floating through life in a consciously prayerful mode where my halo sparkles so brightly the neighbours just pop in and ask the way to heaven – they just all moan I haven’t got the white lights on the fir tree in the front this year (but I’ve been busy doing other things). Oh, I’m not supporting the picture by the way.

Monday, 15 December 2008

more carols

Well, we’ve invited our neighbours (the houses within sight or along the road) round on Friday again – something we do each Christmas, so it’ll be interesting to see how many come along this year. What’s always amazing is there’ll be some people here whom I probably wont have even seen since last Christmas, never mind spoken to. Although these are our neighbours, but we drive into our drives and get out to go into our houses and it’s just so easy to not see, or speak to, one another.

OK, OK, I realise saying I’d be worried if I didn’t have roughly three times the number I’d expect to see as part of the Church community, turn up over Christmas, wouldn’t be popular. Let me explain a little further:


I’m not a scientist – I don’t mean literally three times, but roughly. So, for example, I’d use three times the adult average attendance as a guide (why do most people I ask this question of not know the answer?).


The Carol services and other Christmas activities are an ‘indicator’, not an exact measure of the degree of engagement going on beyond the Church walls. The reason ‘guest services, meals, concerts, etc. – the kind where you get the message ‘bring a non-Christian friend – are not working as well as they might is down to the fact there are not enough Christians, who have enough friends, who trust them enough, to respond to an invitation. We all know it, but Christmas reveals it big time! After all, a Carol Service is the thing people want to go to, where all you literally need to do is ask.


Where does all this defensiveness from Ministers come from? One thing it suggests to me is we (Ministers) think it’s all down to us rather more than we usually care to admit. Why else get so uptight about such questions? After all, whether people are invited to a Carol Service, or not, is more down to the congregation than the Minister. However, there is another way of seeing this. If the leadership (note  a deliberate change of tack at this point) do not create the environment which nurtures people to be friendly, welcoming, inviting, etc. it doesn’t happen.


Anyway, the reason why I see Christmas is so crucial an indicator is because if there’s a good level of wider engagement, it’s reasonable to put on events to draw such people closer to Jesus during the year. If there isn’t, it’s back to canceling ‘church’ commitments and encouraging some subversive missionary activity.


Of course, if you’re in a more ‘emerging’ context, you’ll take issue with the whole gathering, counting mentality. Fair game – but the issues remain – engagement beyond, which co-operates with the nature of the Spirit of God, who desires to draw people to the Father. 

Friday, 12 December 2008

carols by candlelight

Christmas remains the biggest connection we have with those, at present, beyond the Church. What amazes me is how many Churches seem to ignore this fact and allow it to come and go without engaging with many people beyond their usual community of influence. Why is this? One reason seems to be the old chesnut – busyness. Christmas means people are busy and it seems many Churches presume, therefore, people are too busy to be bothered with what we might have to offer.

Tradition may not be popular within the Church (yeah, I know it depends what and who you’re talking about) but they sure packed into Bristol Cathedral last Sunday evening. It was quite a sight to see people queuing up to get in across College Green. The irony was the service was put on, as each year, by Woodlands – a relatively ‘new’ Church. They did the traditional thing – and they did it well. What they have, it seems, what the normal Cathedral congregation doesn’t have is – friends to invite along. I realise, it’s a service put on to serve Christians across Bristol and I saw many people there I knew from different places, but the fact that about 140 took discovery packs out of a congregation of around 1200 was pretty good in anybodies book.

I always reckon the carol service is a good thermometer of how many friendly contacts any Church has – for most Churches it’ll be the biggest gathering of the year. If you don’t have at least three times your weekly gathering of different faces at your Christmas Carol Service, I’d be bothered because these people are the nearest group you’ll have to finding faith. One unusual thing about Christmas is, it’s easy to deliver what people expect and what people want – do it well and you’ll make an impact (a pastor’s delight). All I suggest is this year you count ‘em in and decide what you’ll do about the result. If you get less than three times normal, I’d cancel a few of those meetings next year and send people on a how to make friends course with a practical assignment wherever they want. Of course, if we don’t have ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ at ours, I’ll be disappointed – it’s my favourite carol, but I’ll get over it if someone new comes along. 

Thursday, 11 December 2008

I'm still waiting...

So far, advent is not as I planned it! As a Minister in a local Church I loved the activity associated with advent – carol services, schools, carol singing – we always went for Christmas big-time as it remains the easiest time of year to connect church and people. However, as a Regional Minister, I got used to people not wanting me around this time of year – what’s happened this year? I had days written out of my diary to catch up with stuff, read, reflect, etc. – one by one they’ve almost disappeared. So, as for advent being a time of waiting, I’m still waiting….

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

where are you in advent?

Hi - plan A is this blog entry goes onto Hopeful Imagination as part of the advent blog this year. It started life as a flowchart, then became a Quicktime movie clip - neither of which will upload onto my blog! So, if anyone has any great advice before midnight tonight, I'd be glad of it as i can;t waste any more time trying to get it to work!

Where are you in advent?


Presents wrapped?


Read Luke 2:8-9.


Presents wrapped?


Read Matthew 2:1-2.


Filled with expectation?


Read Luke 2:13


Filled with expectation?


Read Luke 2:25-26


Prepared for what’ll happen?


Read Luke 1:20


Prepared for what’ll happen?


Read Luke 1:38


Hopeful of a good time?


Read Luke 1:51


Hopeful of a good time?


Read Luke 1:48


Knowing how Christmas will work out?


Read Matthew 2:8


Knowing how Christmas will work out?


Read Luke 2:38


If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, now read Isa. 9:6.


However, if you have answered ‘no’ to any of the above, read Isa. 9:6

Monday, 1 December 2008


Well, I had a wonderful weekend – in Tresaith, near Cardigan. I started off Friday afternoon with my best guess being Maggie and I were headed for a romantic weekend together in Paris. However, on Saturday morning one of  my first tasks was to consult a map in daylight to find out where I was – having been blindfolded for part of the journey and not recognizing too many signposts, once well into Wales. There were also 17 of us in an old Sea Captains house - so not quite the romantic weekend, but a big surprise and a great chance for us all to be together. So, a great weekend with my wider - all-innocent/lying through their teeth - family. The weather was absolutely wonderful – two of those sunny, crisp autumn days which are the very best in my opinion and Sunday lunch was the best roast I’ve ever had in a restaurant.