Wednesday, 29 August 2007

More about Greenbelt

There was just so much going on that it is hard to give a flavour of Greenbelt. The timetable means that there are always things that you miss out on just because you go to something else. And as one of the great things is to meet up with people you know who are also there it is just impossible to do everything you would like to do.

So, having said all of that, I managed to participate in a number of organised worship experiences - Night prayer with nChant, Iona Worship, Suwarta Sangat leading a Satsang (Indian style worship gathering of singing), Matt Redman on the mainstage and the Festival Communion with Ann Morisy speaking.

Talks wise I managed to hear James Alison (as recommended by Barbara in a comment on this blog). I really enjoyed him on exploring the New Testament clobber texts but found another session called "Stand up and be Godless: on receiving the gift of faith" interesting but not as easy to get my head around. I also went to hear Billy Bragg on "Can Britishness be defended in a new bill of rights" and Mona Siddiqui on "Does theology matter for peaceful coexistence?" which I got a lot out of. A couple of things which I missed but were highly recommended by others who went were "Towards the practice of freedom:black theology and the slave trade" by Anthony Reddie (5* recommendation from my husband) and Morna Hooker on "Stars and Angels".

From the performing arts I went to "Cargo" by Paul Field which uses contemporary music, words, dance and images to tell of the Abolitionists' campaign to stop the slave trade 200 years ago and also raises awareness of the many forms of slavery that exist today. It is a difficult subject for this kind of media in some ways (not a feel good event) but it is done very well and leaves you with a challenge. The performance of "Return to the Forbidden Planet" put on by the youth theatre company "Faith, hope and gaffertape" was excellent.

On the mainstage I listened to music from Billy Bragg, Over the Rhine and Kanda Bongo Man and in the Performance Cafe to a range of artists including Esther Alexandra, The Queensbury rules and After the Fire. I also watched the children who had made kites in a workshop (including my godson) fly these from the mainstage area and that was great.

Even just going around the information stands could take the whole weekend - including of course the Methodist Church stand! Then there was the book and music tents and the stands with a very wide range of merchandise.

There were so many other things that I just happened along during the weekend that it would be impossible to write it all here. (Including bumping into Anthea Cox dressed in costume to raise awareness of the anniversary of Primitive Methodism and giving out copies of "Prayer in your pocket"). But the whole festival atmosphere was just fantastic and apart from rather more queuing than I would have liked, I can honestly say that I really felt something of the theme - "Heaven in the ordinary". Highly recommended.

What were other people's experiences? Any thoughts?

Monday, 27 August 2007

Greenbelt was great

Just back from Greenbelt. Work tomorrow meant I didn't feel I could wait for the end and listen to the Christian band Delirious which would have been good. However, the discerning reader (you probably need to be over 40 and British as well as discerning to understand about this) will be pleased to know that I did manage to hear "Chas and Dave" on the mainstage this afternoon! This was a deeply spiritual experience with those wonderful worship songs "Snooker loopy" and "Rabbit, rabbit" to inspire us. I still haven't quite worked out the connection with the Christian arts festival which is Greenbelt but it was fun to be out in the sun and the open air with people singing along. And there is definitely something spiritual about having fun. I will try to post something about my more deep and meaningful moments at Greenbelt later in the week including worship, talks and a range of music and meeting lots of people. But for now it's enough to say it was fun and I felt closer to God which for me has a lot going for it.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Electronic communities - can facebook help the President?

I've eventually set up a profile on Facebook this week.

It has been fascinating but I would have to give up work as well as being VP to get the most out of it. About a year ago someone made me a friend on their facebook account and then in the last 10 days I had 4 different requests so thought I would look into it. I've managed to track down lots of young Methodists (and a few not so young) as well as other people I have had links with over the years. It was amazing linking to friends and friends of friends.

I've posted some photos from my visit to India at Easter to launch the Peacebuilders project and some of Bratislava. This afternoon I have posted a link to Martyn's request for help (below) on a couple of Methodist groups. I'll be interested to see what happens. Certainly new kinds of communities need new kinds of ministry. I have read a couple of discussion boards where young adults are feeling the Methodist Church doesn't understand where they are at. Let's try and make some movement. (In the meantime if anyone would like to send me fish for my virtual aquarium that would be great).

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Help needed!

Great blogging Ruby - haven't seen you for ages! But look forward to seeing you soon.

Been away for over a week in Oxford at a Conference for Methodist scholars from around the world. It's great to meet colleagues, and it's always challenging to hear how God is working so vitally in so many parts of the world. Makes me feel very inadequate!

Back at home/cliff college now for a few days and my mind is turning to a chapter of a book I am contracted to complete by the end of the coming week! It is nowhere near and I need help!

The book focuses on young adults who are experiencing the call of God in their lives to 'ministry', often full time, often for life, but not always.

There are very few of them offering, and all mainline churches bleat from time to time that not enough younger folk are offering for ministry/ ordination and they would like more. Fair enough.

But why?
So I just throw out some random thoughts in the hope of responses from you which will help me,

a) Are our denominational systems - the processes by which we assess and test God's call - geared to younger adults? Particularly males? Or has the preponderance of older candidates, with experience and often posswessing a different kind of articulation, subtly altered 'what we are looking for' so as to disadvantage younger adults, whether consciously or not? Do we still say 'come back when you are older' to too many younger folk?

b) Do we know how to discern God's call in young adults, say 20 -25 years old? Is their call discerned differently, or is their age irrelevant to the business? If it is different how? And has anyone any ideas about improving the process of discernment and testing?

c) Some younger people I meet are experiencing a deep call from God, but they are petrified that the call will result in entry into Methodist ordained ministries, especially that of presbyter! Why? Well - rightly or wrongly - some of them think they know what that form of ministry consists of, and don't like what they know. They associate it with maintainance, 'keeping the show on the road', whereas they feel a fall to 'change the world', go anywhere, especially among poorer contexts like housing estates, and church planting in pretty unchurched areas. They can't understand why we don't snap their hand off, rather than, as they see it, putting them through a process which de-energises them, and prepares them for a style and kind of ministry they don't find appealing. So they don't offer. In fact they are far more interested in ministry that is missional, engaged and 'bigger' - but they can't easily relate this to ordained ministry as they perceive it. Ironic? Real? Mistaken? Whatever - it appears to be a factor and perpetuates the dearth of young candidates.

d) Some younger ministers who have undergone the process are incredibly frustrated by 'normal' ministry. They feel loved (some of them) but trapped in a world of church that is very difficult to relate to their call and sense of giftedness. Is it because they are different from previous generations in that they will not tolerate what they don't like - i.e. they are just more selfish, or demanding - or are they genuinely 'misplaced' in terms of what they actually do and be - or say they are expected to do and be - and what they feel called to do and be?

e) In my recent book 'Resourcing Renewal' I claimed that the church is training too many ministers for yesterday and not enough for tomorrow. Beginning work on this project is not changing my mind!

What is the way ahead?
Comments quickly please.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

A chimeless existence

It is very quiet at work this week - plenty to do but also plenty of time to do it and far fewer interruptions which is unusual. There is less structure to the day and this is particularly key because at the Houses of Parliament where I work we are missing the distinctive sound which lets us know when it is time to move on. Big Ben is not chiming due to maintenance works and this will go on until September. It has made me realise how much I depend on the chimes at quarter to the hour to point me towards a meeting starting on the hour (and in those dire meetings the joy of hearing the chimes which herald the end of the meeting). But I have also found myself thinking about the other things which give our lives structure and purpose - people, places, faith, activities - and how hard it can be when we lose these. We need to take time on occasion to understand what is going on and ensure we do essential maintenance where we can.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Book Review and looking forward to Greenbelt

Back to work this week so doing a bit of reading on the tube. Working through Richard Dawkins "The God delusion", have been meaning to get to it and it seems better in short doses. Don't think this blog will turn into a book review site - won't be much time to read once we get to September, won't be time to breathe! But for now just wanted to share about a book I was reading whilst I was away. It's called "Take this bread - a radical conversion (The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first -century Christian)" by Sara Miles.

I can't remember who recommended it to me but when I went on to Amazon before I went away I had put it into my basket so I went ahead and ordered it. I think it's amazing. As Sara says on the cover; "Mine is a personal story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert". A lesbian left-wing journalist who covered revolutions around the world, Miles talks of being forced to deal with the impossible reality of God who she meets in communion after wandering into a church in San Francisco. She says " well as an intimate memoir of personal conversion, mine is a political story. At a moment when right wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn't about angels or going to church or trying to be "good" in a pious, idealised way. It wasn't about arguing a doctrine - the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce - or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the prophet said, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subsersive practice; a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honoured. And so I became a Christian, claiming a faith that many of my fellow believers want to exclude me from; following a God my unbelieving friends see as archaic superstition."

It links a lot to what Martyn has been saying about personal and social holiness for me, and it certainly is good preparation for reading Dawkins. There are also links with what we see in the "Somewhere else" expression of Church in Liverpool. That inclusivity, the personal journey of conversion and growth and the radical action of sharing through food. If anyone else has read this I would love to hear what you thought. And if you haven't - give it a go.

Anyone else out there going to Greenbelt this year? I'm looking forward to it. Not least Billy Bragg on the Friday night. Any recommendations for speakers or bands to listen to? Hope the ground is dry for those who are camping - as ever I will be ensconced in the local Travel lodge. Look out for the Methodist Church stand and for Twelvebaskets among others. Still, nearly two weeks of work to do first. And more of that reading on the tube.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Let's celebrate - in Bratislava

I must admit that when I was asked to go the European Methodist Festival in Bratislava my first job was to look up Bratislava to find out where it is. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, lies on the beautiful blue Danube in the heart of Europe, only 50 km from Vienna. The small Methodist Church in Slovakia were very excited to be hosting this festival which ran from the 1st to the 5th August. They did a fantastic job of it too.

I travelled there by train, being careful of my carbon footprint but spending more money and time in the process. (The journey took 28 hours and I travelled by underground to London then by train from Waterloo to Paris Nord, walked to Paris Ouest for the train to Strasbourg. The train from Strasbourg to Vienna was overnight and we had booked couchettes. On discovering that there were 6 to a tiny cabin with three on each side above each other and just spece to stand between, I realised that this was not for me and I wandered off to find a seat! In Vienna we arrived at the Westbanhof station so caught a tram to the sudbahnhof station for the train to Bratislava. All very exciting.) I made the journey back by plane which did not make me feel so holy but did make me realise why so many people travel that way. It's an interesting dilemma.

I really liked Bratislava. It has a small interesting old centre with a castle and churches and plenty of open air cafes to sit around at. The centre is well served by bus, trolley bus and tram from the University where the festival was. The facilities at the University were best described as varied with some beautiful rooms and some 60's style utilitarian buildings! Greatly helped by the tents put up by the Evangelism tent mission section of the German Methodist Church. But the team who put the festival together did an absolutely fabulous job. It was great.

Each day there was Liturgical morning prayer at 7.30 am led by Keith Albans - chaplain of MHA (I'm sure it was very good but where I was staying did not allow for breakfast and 7.30 starts - that's my story and I'm sticking to it), then Wake up and praise with music from an international band and interviews from visitors from all over Europe. There were Bible studies in various forms including sessions for children and young people whose groups also carried on during the day. After the Bible studies Wesley groups of about 15 people formed to discuss the Bible study or the theme for the day or anything else which occurred to them! In the afternoons there were workshops available or time to explore and in the evening were celebrations all together. Afterwards was a late night cafe with music and sharing. (It was also possible to take the bus into Bratislava centre and take in the late night atmosphere there. Apparently it is quite popular for stag weekends which may explain the t shirts for sale on one stall with the slogan "Where the **** is Bratislava?" They don't seem to have got out of hand though as a small group of us went into town on the Saturday night and found it very pleasant.) Some really interesting conversations took place over late night coffees or over meals - or in the queue for meals. There were times of challenge of comfort and of inspiration.

The main languages used on the platform were English, German and Slovak and translation was available in other languages including Spanish, Polish and Italian via headphones. We finished on the Sunday with a commissioning service with covenant renewal and Communion. When I got the programme on the Wednesday I was interested to see that this would include music, testimonies and a sermon. I was even more interested on Thursday evening to find that one of the testimonies on Sunday was to be from me! Three people each gave a three minute testimony, one in Slovak, one in German and one in English. These were not translated so I have no idea how they compared in content.

Each day had a theme Let's celebrate -......being loved, .....being young,......being foreign,.......being different and........being travellers. The celebrations and the Bible studies all picked up the themes. I enjoyed the Bible studies which I went to which were led by Inderjit Bhogal. Plenty to think about and it was challenging to discuss the passages with people from different parts of Europe - especially when we were discussing such things as"what do we admire and not admire about children?" and "what names do people call foreigners?" and "what are the tables that need to be turned over in your congregation?".

I went to two workshops - the first on Christian Mission in Europe led by David Deeks. David encouraged us to look at what the gospel has to say about responding to misbehaviour, wrongdoing and wickedness and how this is dealt with in European secular society and challenged us to consider the relationships we saw between the two and the effects of change such as historic privileges disappearing whilst increased legislation is being set to guide behaviour and set norms for punishment. It was good to consider together in buzz groups the reality of God who nourishes people and communities using, but not enslaved by rule and regulation.

The other was led by Johnston McMaster with Helen Harrell and was entitled Confessing Christ in a World of many faiths. This was based on work done by the Theological Commission of the European Methodist Council and their interim paper can be found at
I found myself in a buzz group with a man from Britain and a woman from Italy where we were encouraged to share stories of meeting people of other faiths. It was fascinating and encouraging. We then looked at Bible passages considering God of One and the Many and then used some Charles Wesley hymns to reflect on God's grace for all and in all. In discussion we looked at Jesus as a Social Prophet, Jesus as Peacebuilder, Jesus and Global Responsibility and Jesus and Divine Presence - that the God encountered in Jesus for our salvation is truly God. Sadly we ran out of time to discuss the death and resurrection of Jesus in detail in this. We were encouraged to develop a profile of Jesus for a dialogue encounter with people from the Jewish or Muslim faiths (Abrahamic faiths). This is definitely still a work in progress for me. It certainly gave me food for thought.

Another challenge for me on the Thursday morning was being interviewed as part of Wake up and Praise and being asked to explain in a couple of sentences what a Vice President is. Most of the European Methodist churches come out of the United Methodist tradition with bishops but no equivalent of a Vice President in lay leadership. (Answers on a postcard please in case I am asked again!) I resorted to saying that we have a President, the equivalent of a Presiding Bishop (sharp intakes of breath from some here but I did only have a couple of sentences!) who is elected each year by the Conference. The Conference also elects each year a Vice President, usually a lay person (I didn't try to have the discussion about deacons) to work alongside the President in the leadership of the Church. I also mentioned that I am doing a "proper job" at the same time which seemed to cause some amusement. Especially as "Assistant Serjeant at Arms" proved to be as indeciferable in other languages as in English - I knew they shouldn't have asked me what my proper job was!

It was a great festival, enabled and facilitated by people from all over Europe and the British Methodist Church can certainly feel proud of those who contributed to it who included Colin and Sandra Ride, Elaine Robinson, Keith Albans, Steve Pearce, Eva Walker, Inderjit Bhogal, Mike King, Doug Swanney, Penny Fuller, Rob Redpath, Lindsey Peniston, John Nutt, Frank Aichele, Elizabeth Harris, Val Ogden, Gary Hall, Steve Hucklesby, Anthea Cox, Jonathan Kerry, Keith Bamford, Graham Horsley, Dave Martin, Luke and Sara Curran, Naboth Muchopa, Mark Williamson, Peter Clark, Helen Harrell, Jill Baker, Kathleen Pearson. I'm sure I've missed a few but what a talented lot they were leading workshops on everything from All age lantern making, to HIV/AIDS - the challenge to the church, leading Bible studies and worship, facilitating overall organisation and supporting the work with children and young people. Fabulous. Lots to celebrate. Praise God.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

holistic holiness

I guess I will have busier weeks over this year, but if you can't be a bit more chilled in August then it's never going to happen. I did two 'official' engagements last week. The first was to go to Summer Fire, the new branding for the Southport Holiness Convention - a Methodist gathering since the later 19th century - where I preached at the evening celebration event. The second was to go to Yelverton, near Plymouth to join in the centenary celebrations of the Methodist chapel, and its lovely folk there. The rest of the time I've been writing, doing admin and preparing for the onslaught of September.

Holiness interests me. My Presidential address picked up on the idea of certain characteristics, 'charisms', strands of DNA, being linked to certain Christian traditions. Some will think it romantic nonsense, but I don't. I didn't identify holiness as part of the Methodist DNA in that address, focussing more on mission, evangelism and renewal, but it surely is part of our tradition. And it is most surely part of the Southport Holiness and Cliff College traditions.

Holiness in Christian history has taken different forms, it seems to me. The origins of the monastic movement lie in part with a rejection of the version of Christianity that arose in the wake of it being adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The folk we cam to call monks took themselves off, out of 'civilization', and went into the desert. Whether alone, or in communities, or through travelling, they sought a deeper, more real Christian faith. They sought a holy life.

The Celtic/Christian monastic tradition similarly. In one of his books Andrew Walls, the Methodist mission historian, presents a great picture of the Celtic monk living alone in a cave by the sea, eating seaweed, and rising at dawn to stand waist deep in the freezing water, arms outstretched to welcome the rising sun and say prayers. Well, whatever it takes!

Medieval Christianity closely associated holiness with the sacramental life of the Church. The Church was the location of holy things, and the broad ministry of the western Catholic Church was intrinsically connected with the forgiving of sins and bestowing God's grace which brought about a state of 'holiness'. Indeed it is the overly 'mechanical' way in which these sacraments were understood to work that so aggravated some Protestant Reformers, causing them to stress 'Godly Discipline' and the captivity of the heart and mind to the Word of God, as key to the proper Christian life, a life of holiness.

By the 19th century holiness is more associated with reading the bible and a devout moral life (in Victorian 'Christian' England) manifest in various cultural ways.

And a century earlier are the early Methodists, who seem to associate holiness with a whole mixture of things. Supremely God's saving grace in Christ, which is for all, and offered to all who ask and seek. But then also a resolve to co-operate with God in seeking Perfection, Perfect Love. But it also involved prayer, good works - the 'means of grace' - and in time, for many, temperance and the like.

I am no expert - as anyone who knows about this stuff will have already realised! But it does seem to me that Methodism sought to hold together a combination of 'internal' and 'external' demonstrations of 'holiness'. That is, you couldn't simply do the personal piety bit and treat others like dogs, and be holy. Or, conversely, you couldn't be holy by being a perfect philanthropist or neighbour, while ignoring configuring your life around the Scriptures, prayer, meeting together in fellowhip, bread and wine, etc. The 'inside' and the 'outside' belong together. That is why the Wesleys prayed early and hard, were devoted to the Word of God, made rules which marked out members of Methodist Societies, while visiting prisoners, raising and giving money away as a regular thing, and taking active part in almost every major political issue of their day - not least, much in our minds at the moment, that of slavery.

'Personal' and 'social' holiness. Each requiring the other to bring about a holy life.

I think that kind of holistic holiness is still evident in contemporary Methodism. Some of the big issues with which we wrestle are resourced by a combination of proper expressions of personal and social holiness. And we agree to differ by the relative priority we place on different expressions of personal and social holiness. But what we seem unable to do - and I for one am glad about that - is opt for either expressions of personal or social holiness.

All this said, such holiness does not come easy - certainly not to me. I am desperate not to appear a boring pious prude of the worst kind, but I do want to be a good disciple of Jesus, now, today, here in this time and place. I wrestle with both personal and social aspects of holiness, and how they relate together to produce the real thing. But I may be alone in this?

Anyone any suggestions about the way to go?