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sabbatical - Page 5

  • Looking at Worship (1) - Midweek

    September has been spent visiting a variety of churches to experience their worship. One of the things I was looking at was Midweek worship - who is it for? how is it shaped? what is it's purpose?


    I was really hoping I would find somewhere that was serving younger folk with families for whom Sunday morning is a problem - but I didn't, these are all catering for people who available in the morning and so are largely the retired. Most are using this as their second service of the week - as they will also be found in church on a Sunday morning - "a top up" one person said, "quieter, more peaceful" said an office holder who spends Sunday morning busy organising. Two good reasons for midweek worship - but I am left wondering where those juggling work, family etc can find their worship space.


    However, these services cater for the people who come and each one is well done and valued by those who come along. None are particularly different in style or content - "tame" one Minister described it as - but that suits the people who go and I must admit on each occasion suited me as well. Time is interesting - most were in the morning - 9.45am, 10am, 10.30am - one starts with coffee, another comes before the regular coffee morning (but meant that those setting up couldn't come in) another comes before a Bible Fellowship (although not on the week I visited) so those who want to are spending half a day involved in church activities. The alternative time was 12 noon - after a coffee morning; they had less people there than anywhere else and it was more of a meditation (which is how it was billed) than a service. But it's timing meant that it felt like an add on, and afterwards people were rushing away for buses and dinner. Our midweek communion at St. Andrew's follows the same pattern with the same result - perhaps we need to look at it again.


    Nobody used their chapel. One used a foyer area - a good place just off the street for someone trying to find it. Others used community rooms with various issues about locked doors and how to find. One would have been impossible to find had I not been met by the Minister outside, as it was down a long winding corridor. In setting out the room, straight lines predominated - even when placed in a 3-sided horseshoe! Perhaps it's just me - but I do like circles and shape, it feels inclusive and welcoming. And it seems a terrible waste of space not to use the places designed as worship space - a result of course of them being hard to heat and inflexible - is it good stewardship to have big spaces used for an hour a week?


    All of these services hoped that Mission would be part of what they are about. One service is used by a couple of people who don't use Sunday morning - this in effect has become their church and it was the establishment of this service that brought them back into church life. All of these would be good places to quietly invite someone to, gently re-introduce friends to worship life - but on the whole I didn't get the impression that was happening - in fact the service before coffee morning has to close it's door so that those arriving early for coffee morning don't disturb them and was set out in a way that would mean that quietly slipping in at the back was not possible. So are they too tame or are we just too embarrassed to invite people along?


    So would anyone like to tell us about other forms of midweek worship? Is anyone trying to cater for working people? what else is going on? Anything in the Cambridge area that I could pay a visit to during October?


    Next contributions will be on Cafe Church and Sunday morning - but will probably be written from Cambridge as I will be at Westminster College from tomorrow.


  • Being Reformed

    In Letting God be God:The Reformed Tradition, David Cornick does a difficult thing well in his usual straight-forward engaging way. The task was to describe Reformed spirituality for Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series and sit alongside more obvious Catholic, Anglican and Ancient spirituality's - the very places we tend to go to when we feel we need a bit of spirituality to counteract our dry words.

    Yet, it is back to the words - or rather The Word - that David takes us to find the depths of a Reformed spirituality and he spells it out in four chapter headings :-

    A Speaking God and a Listening People: we expect God to speak to us, through the bible; through the preacher; in prayer and so we expect those through whom God will speak to prepare and study and speak in a language we understand. And all of us must listen for we “are a people created to listen to the One who spoke creation into being” (p61) 

    A Choosing God and a Chosen People: concepts of election and predestination are to be found in the Bible and so however uncomfortable it may be for the post-modern mind we have wrestled with hows and the whys and the consequences. Election brings “a sense of calling to live a godly life for the sake of the Kingdom” and is “a liberation from spiritual striving” (p90-1). The chapter finishes with an analysis of Watts’ When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, as a meditation on the spirituality of election - love so amazing, so divine/demands my life, my soul, my all.

    A Holy God and a Worldly People: no idol or image can depict the holiness of God, yet we are called to an imaginative engagement with scripture; all space is sacred, there is no distinction between public space and sacred space; we are called into the world and to engage with politics, ethics, issues of justice and culture. In van Gogh’s Starry Night the village church does not lack light because God is missing (as some have argued) but because the people (who are the church) are out in the world - “However tortuous his spiritual journey,however black his depression, van Gogh’s mind was steeped in Reformed culture, and Reformed spirituality is worldly - the starry night is precisely where the Reformed would expect to encounter God” (p127-8)

    A Loving God and a Catholic People: The true church is wherever the  Word is truly preached and the sacraments properly administered; which makes boundaries hard to draw; in the 16th Century monasticism was discarded in the 20th Century three Reformed communities at Iona, Taize and Grandchamp have introduced a new catholic form of monasticism that has enriched the whole church. “God is there before us, a generous giver of lavish grace. The unity of the Church lies in that grace, which is why the Reformed seek to be a catholic people.” (p155)

    In Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution a history from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first, Alistair McGrath tackles an even bigger subject - the way in which the obligation of every person to interpret and re-interpret the Bible through the eyes of their own experience, culture and times has shaped the world in which we live - this is the 'dangerous idea' at the heart of Protestantism.

    He begins with the various 16th Century movements that became known as Protestantism, the ways in which their biblical interpretations led them in different or similar directions, takes us into 19th Century global expansion particularly in the United States. He then explores the way in which the movement has been manifested through believes, belonging, structure, shaping of Western culture and in Arts and Sciences - through it all it can be seen that the dangerous idea has given people permission to both believe and disbelieve, to find God in scientific research and conclude that we are deluded; it helped to create the conditions for capitalism, colonialism and the tools to fight the injustices that emerged; it allows us to question and explore and imagine and experience and re-interpret and adapt and question and....

    He sees the new Reformation being led by Pentecostalism - which has taken us beyond the age of Reason and into an age of experiencing God beyond the written word - where the Holy Spirit is expected to be part of the re-interpretative process. (I certainly had not realised the extent to which the pre-20th Century church believed that the Holy Spirit was no longer active). McGrath believes that the future will be pentecostal, de-centralised and unpredictable! He concludes "Protestantism possesses a unique and innate capacity for innovation, renewal, and reform based on its own internal resources. The future of Protestantism lies precisely in Protestantism being what Protestantism actually is."

    Both of these books have reminded me of the great heritage of the tradition in which my faith has been nurtured and grown and developed. Amongst all the angst about decline, the wailing of the doom-mongers that Christianity is dead, I am encouraged that we are being reformed - and in being reformed we must let God be God and allow the new future to emerge ... 

  • Greenbelt

    The problem with life at the moment is that there are no deadlines. I know that is the idea of a sabbatical - time to take life a little slower, reflect rather than react - but the danger is that the days drift by with no real purpose, and the things I meant to do - just don't get done. It doesn't help of course when the Monday morning when Chris goes back to work and I have set myself a deadline to get the blog up to date, reflect on the service I went to on Sunday, review the book I've just finished and start on the next one - goes by the board as I spend the day listening and watching the news from Manchester City - richest club in the world?! gazumping Chelsea?! Three days later its still a shock - and so if anyone reads this and is waiting with baited breath for my reflections from Greenbelt - I've been otherwise engaged and I really do need deadlines to get myself in gear.

    I first went to Greenbelt in 1982 (annoyed at missing U2's only performance the previous year) and went every year until 1988 when we discovered that its format at that time was difficult with a baby in tow. We returned in 2001 and found an event with a new ethos and vitality (where taking a baby would have been no problem). Since then it has become the place that refeshes, gives hope - reminds me that the church is a wonderful place full of energy and ideas. I return to Rochdale invigorated, usually with some new Hymns, usually with some new insights that I need to share with the congregations here. It is a wonderful festival that has grown and evolved over the years. In its early days it was largely a music festival with a fringe. Now the fringe has grown and many of the headliners are the speakers - this year Brian McLaren, Philip Yancey, Joel Edwards and John Bell. This year there was no musician that I desperatly wanted to see - although one or two I'd have quite like to see but circumstances meant I missed - and from the comments I heard I think most people were underwhelmed by the headliners. As ever there are new acts to be discovered in the Performance Cafe and Underground - and that is about tripping over the unexpected.

    This year was a different experience  - Greenbelt relies on volunteers for almost all its organisation, and this year I was there as a Volunteer. My job was to work as a Venue Manager- one of three people ensuring that one venue is able to fulfill its programme. Looking after contributers, liasing with stewards, taking responsibility for health and safety, keeping the customers satisfied - just like being a Minister! I had a great time - despite the problems. Our Venue was called Foxhunter (Greenbelt takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse and so the rooms used have names relevant to horse racing - although Foxhunter is now called Festival that is too confusing at a festival and so Greenbelt still uses its old name - is that clear? No it wasn't for some folk trying to find the venue either). The venue is billed as the Film venue but it also hosted talks and discussions and I was surprised to find that I was also expected to operate the technical equipment - DVD player, projector, vision mixer (I think it is called), PA, any computers speakers turned up - fine when using my own equipment set up in a way I understand - tricky when using equipment set up by someone else which steadily began to fail as the weekend went on. 

    I first had an inkling of how things might be when the first speaker walked in and asked for the OHP they had been promised - we had no OHP, no one had mentioned an OHP, a phone call to the office we had ben told would be there whenever we needed them, went unanswered and a quick visit was met with blank looks. Thankfully the speaker was accomodating and passed her acetates around. The next speaker plugged her computer into the projector and not only was it out of focus (a problem solved the next day by plugging straight to the projector rather than through the vision mixer) but her presentation reduced to part of the screen - I think it was something to do with her settings, but there was no time to play with it - so we batted on.  My real fun began the next day - I was responsible for the evening session - taking over from my colleague part way through the slowest, most boring film I've ever seen (the customers didn't agree because they managed to have half an hour of discussion which had to curtail as time was up and the next film was due. "BecauseThe Bible Tells Me So" is a fascinating film looking at the reactions to homosexuality within the church, in particular focusing on five family stories of people coming to terms (or not) with their childrens homosexuality. It was a popular film as the room filled up I lined up the DVD - discerr said the machine - I tried the two spare copies - discerr. I knew they had been alright the day before, I had checked them - but now the machine was rejecting every copy. I rang the technical support number we had been given that day - nothing wrong with the machine he said, it's top of the range, brand new - must by the disc, can't help, buy - phone call over. We tried cleaning the discs - and this time it loaded, but was soon jumping and freezing and we clearly couldn't continue. An appeal for a laptop produced an Australian one - set to that region - but thankfully someone knew were there was a spare DVD player - a cheap one, probably bottom of the range somewhere and it worked a treat and we all managed to watch the whole film without any difficulties. The next day we were told that the DVD player will only play properly copyrighted DVD's so that no copies can be used - these wern't copies, they had come from the productio company withthe right permissions - and as time went on it was clear that the machine was the problem not the DVD's. In fact we only managed to run the programme we had been given because one of the other venue managers had his laptop with him and we ended up using that to show everything else. Not ideal, and not without difficulties at times - but at least the show was kept on the road.

    The highlight for me was meeting an Oscar winner. I was managing the venue on Monday morning when Will Becher from Aardmann Animations came along to show three short films. We crammed people in - reaching our limit by bringing all the children to the front and squeezing people in. The films were great, the questions and answers informative - but the star of the show was Grommit, taking a day off from filming the new Wallace & Grommit fim that will be out for Christmas, and here he is (with two grinning, relieved venue managers)bbdf50e115ec8a6fae0434ed4a84c890.jpg

    So my experience of Greenbelt this year was full of problems, but it was great - and if they will have me back I expect to be volunteering again next year - much better prepared than I was this year. As to speakers - because I was in one venue I saw people I wou;dn't normally have seen. A talk about non-violent protest in Palestine;  working in prisons and with ex-prisoners using drama; Finding God in ordinary every day life (whilst trying to squeeze lots of latecomers in and encouraging the speaker to speak to the back of the room not the microphone - she does a lot of radio!)and the film I had such trouble showing. Elsewhere Brain McLaren was interesting andI await other talks in MP3 format that will arrive through the post. Monday night was rounded off in the beer tent with Cider & Carols - a packed tent celebrating Christmas - with some wonderful descants (poor Hannah complaining that her cough meant she couldn't join in and Hallfold really have to learn the descants because O Come and Hark the Herald aren't right without them) A rainy August - a good time for Christmas Carols!

     So next tasks:-

    • review "Letting God be God" by David Cornick;
    • reflect on the nature of Community - one of the themes that is emerging from my festivaling
    • get along to a number of worship setting where people are trying something different
    • crack on with reading Alistair McGrath, "Christianity's Dangerous Idea"
    • see if City have aby more shocks in store for us.
    See it's not all lazy days and computer games you know.