Thursday, 30 September 2010

20:20 vision or nightmare?

Oh boy, where are we going? I noticed the headline (well, couldn't miss it) in the Baptist Times the week before last - 'Church decline over?' I know it was a discussion and I recognise there was a question mark, but we are so desperate to convince ourselves the projections aren't likely to happen. Frankly, this disturbs me.
What also concerns me is, as someone who's sometimes accused of being a naive optimist, I'm in danger of being cast in the grumpy old man pessimist, talk down anything good, mould. Our 20:20 vision questionnaire among our own churches is an attempt to get to, where I think most things start from, present reality. It's already interesting to hear people's responses to this. 
Some are saying because they anticipate the future being bright, there's no need to think about such questions as where they're going because God will continue to lead them. I'm all for that on the one hand, but see churches frequently restricting growth because they've not facilitated more space, more leaders, etc. - anticipating further growth and development sounds too much like planning for some to grasp it seems. In the present climate of a reaction to anything which sounds modernistic, or management oriented, this is anathema.
Others are saying, it's a waste of time thinking ahead (we want to know where people think they'll be in ten years time - hence 2020) because In one particular response, 'planning for the future is a red herring for what we should be doing here and now.' In this case, there's a sense of present paralysis because surviving today is all that matters. In ten years time they wont be here!
The problem is the past, present and future are all actually linked together. Yesterday is the biggest predictor of what I'll be like today and today is the best indicator to how I'll act tomorrow. Character is forged not produced and so, it seems, are churches. Not surprising really as it's people, which make them up. The transition from organisation to organic is not proving to be a comfortable one.
The photo? This years holiday - sunrise, or sunset? Equally beautiful, but one brings the arrival of light, the other night.

Monday, 27 September 2010

church planting 101.

Here's a brief response to the church planting 101 weekend just past - basically 38 people participated in the Church Planting 101 course held at Patchway Baptist Church, Bristol on Saturday 25 September. Jointly sponsored by WEBA, Bristol Baptist College, the Incarnate Network and Urban Expression, this day event explored the basic principles and practices of church planting, illustrated with three case studies from practitioners. Feedback from participants - not only Baptists, but Anglicans, URC, Methodists and others - was very positive. For some, this was their first encounter with teaching on church planting; others were already involved and looking for encouragement and further guidance.
The course will run again in the autumn of 2011, but before that there will be an opportunity to explore similar issues on Emerging Church 101, to be held at the same venue on 14-15 January. For those wanting a more extensive and wide-ranging course, there is the  Crucible course in Birmingham, organised by some of the same organisations, which runs over three weekends in October, February and July. For further information on either of these courses, contact Stuart Murray Williams

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

survival, or blessing?

"Well, did you survive seeing the Pope?" - one question I've been asked this week, which I guess was not asked with the intention of the literal meaning of those words, but did highlight one of the words, which kept coming into my mind - 'bizarre'.
"Well, are you going to blog on your response tot he service on friday?" was another question, which has prompted me to stop and try and verbalise one or tow thoughts.....
Bizarre - why? For me to be there seemed odd to me for all sorts of reasons. In terms of social background, (I told Maggie she had to wear a dress - clearly wasn't brought up to understand 'day dress' meant something else) ecclesiology, political leanings, theological perspectives, having better things to do with my time. 
Yet I was there. Maggie and I went as a couple. I had the opportunity of two tickets and chose to take my wife. I don't habitually invite her to inductions, or other representative events I have to attend, but I did this one. We went to see the Queen too at a Maundy service, we were disappointed not to be able to dine as guests of the Royal navy when in Bristol, but such events are few. Basically, it was a 'social' occasion and on that level it was significant. I enjoyed spotting some of the 'great and good' (this comes into the bizarre nature of my own feelings about being there - Baptist Ministers have not historically been perceived as great, nor good, but then neither have Pope's from our viewpoint!). Douglas Hurd, Norman St John Stevas and other notable ex political leaders, as well as the necessity to be seen present brigade. It was good to see Tony and Gordon apparently enjoying a laugh together. Having said that it was not the most significant social occasion for us even at the weekend. Our 30th wedding anniversary - close family boat-trip above included - took precedence.
Would Jesus have got in? A thought, which struck me in the queue to get through security. We had to have a passport, or photo ID, a utility bill with an address on, a security search. Would Jesus with 'no fixed abode' have got through? Probably not. Does this imply I don't think Jesus was there? Well, actually, I think he sneaked in past the security guards somehow, or another.
It was political. I cheered inwardly at many of the comments made by the Pope and Rowan Williams. I rejoice in the fact the Pope says it as he sees it and challenges governments to pay attention to the claims of Christianity, points our Britain disregards the moral and ethical fabric of our background at our peril and people seem to listen, at least politely. Christendom is not entirely dead, but whether it will be promoted from the air of the ceremonial and traditional frameworks of Britain, or be relegated down to the traditional historical frameworks remains to be seen.
It was historical. First time, this that and the other and I was glad 'to be there'. But was the historical significance an indication of the radically reduced significance of the church in UK society, which is one factor in the greater willingness and tendency to focus upon Christian unity. I would not have been there, I suspect twenty years ago and I probably would not have been invited then either.
As a service for Christian worship, I benefitted from the opportunity, although it was difficult to fully focus on the task in hand (think about that one and you'll see the problem). I thought someone somewhere put some great thought into the choice of hymns and wording used for prayers. Very clever, some provocative. I appreciated the first line of the first hymn "Christ is the sure foundation'.
"Did you actually see the Pope?" - well, I saw his head one way up the aisle. We were ten metres away from the action, but it was hidden behind an impressive bit of Westminster Abbey. Impressive building, but theyw eren't built for participatory worship of a present kind, enjoyed the incense though! Of course, that was the root of the my problem - I went to an Abbey to see the Pope - and that's not why you're supposed to go.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

me, the Pope, but probably not tea ....

I'm genuinely quite hesitant to say this, but I'm off to Westminster Abbey with the Pope tomorrow. Well, at least that's the reason I've given for not being able to do a number of other things invited to.
Obviously, 'with the Pope' is a significant exaggeration of what I anticipate will be the case. It's a 'service of prayer' at which the Pope will be in attendance - even that's my take as the official invitation says something like 'a service of evening prayer in the presence of ...'
Yesterday I walked into a gathering of our Ministers as they were talking about the Pope's visit and there was much laughter, but also a range of very sensitive issues mentioned, which have come into sharp focus with this visit.
I've had a range of responses from people when they've become aware I've accepted this invitation. There are those who probably think I've sold my soul and this ecumenical nonsense has eroded the last remains of non-conformity in my blood. On the other hand, there are those who simply think what a great social occasion to have been invited to, what do you have to wear, etc. Of course, most fall somewhere in between, but inwardly I also have, and continue to, experience an oscillation between both extremes. Thankfully most of my waking life is lived in-between too!
Does it imply I agree with Catholic doctrine on a whole range of issues? Obviously not.
Does it suggest I support any suggestion of 'cover-up' in child abuse scandals? Absolutely not.
Does it suggest I'm an inquisitive human being who responds to the flattery of being invited to such an historic occasion? Clearly, the evidence suggests this is also obvious.
Does it suggest I've had to compromise something of my own beliefs and understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ? Honestly - I've experienced no such tensions.
Does it make me uncomfortable - because the way I suspect the media coverage influences how some people regard the church, including renegade Baptists? Frankly yes.
Will I be wearing a hat, or a papal decoration, both of which are allowed on the invitation ......

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

just a staff meeting?

I just had to blog about our staff meeting this morning. On the one hand not very exciting, but from my perspective, a tremendous privilege. It highlights why ‘working’ (I tend to always put that word in inverted commas – being a Minister still doesn’t feel like work!) in a Christian environment seems so strange to many people and some of the ways it is quite different. Of course, whether these are for better, or for worse, will depend.
We met at Lesley’s home. Lesley only works part-time as our administrative assistant, I think her title is. Lesley is off work because she’s had an op on her feet, which has involved nine of her ten toes being broken. Consequently, she’s wearing a pair of not very trendy looking sandals. These are probably not at all like the ones Jesus and the twelve wore as they have a steel sole. Obviously, as her employer this is not best practice, but it was her idea and she lives along the road from the office, she provides good coffee, doughnuts, why argue? We read the bible and prayed together, there were bits of personal stuff to share together – an hour gone. We made some plans, we tried to work out how some stuff could be improved, we talked about new possibilities for which everyone has a will to see happen. This is an exciting team to be a part of and I guess I simply wanted to express my gratitude to God for them all.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

food, glorious food....

This has, so far, been an interesting and fascinating week - and it's only Wednesday! Just had a good chat with Jim Gordon over tea-time who has restored my faith in theological education. Jim is the Principal of the Scottish Baptist College and I happen to be at Regents Park in Oxford because our regular Team Leaders meetings are placed to meet the various Baptist College Principals. 
It was our 30th wedding anniversary on monday, so Maggie and I went out for a meal - and a really good one too at Loch Fyne in Bristol. Of course, it tasted all the better because it cost us very little for reasons I wont go into.... but they are legal.
Then last night, it was Brassiere Blanc in Oxford to mark Pat Took's retirement. Pat, my colleague in London, will be sorely missed for many reasons, but basically because of who she is. It's difficult to believe I'm a Baptist Minister. I don't feel guilty about eating out in such good places, but I do sometimes look over my shoulder for fear someone will report me to Home Mission.
I'm glad we find Jesus eating out with friends and enemies alike on a regular, possibly frequent, basis. I think, if I read him rightly, he wasn't there primarily because of the quality of the food, or the price tag on the bill. I'm not sure he was there because of the quality of the relationships if they're to be tested at the start of the meal, but because of the potential quality which a meal provides an environment over which they can be created. Jesus sent out 72 to 'eat was is set before you' which hasn't been a challenge over the last two evenings, but that's not always the case. It's this food (and drink), which Jesus describes as the 'wages' of mission - one of my fears about our present day professionalisation of ministry is we quickly regard the wages we are worthy of in rather different terms.

Monday, 6 September 2010

a miracle, or two!

Well, I ran the Bristol half marathon at the weekend, raised nearly £6k for a children's centre in South Africa, ordained and inducted Paul Carter at Nailsea, but .... the really significant news in the Coles household was our chickens arrived!
To be exact, we went out out and bought four chickens to install in our coop and newly built run. This one has been called Priscilla and the more amazing news is we had two eggs on Sunday! Now, to the uninitiated, chickens laying eggs is not going to be amazing news, but according to all we've read, we weren't to expect any eggs for at least two weeks. Consequently, Maggie running around the garden with an egg in each hand, exclaiming 'it's a miracle', caught me by surprise and hence no picture! 

quick half marathon update!

Yesterday was the Bristol half marathon and I managed to get round in 1.41.08. People tell me this is very good, but they kind of add a silent 'for your age' afterwards! 
The good news is I've now had £5800 given or promised towards my £6000 target to raise towards building the children's care centre in Zululand. If anyone's missed out on what this is all about, feel free to check