Wednesday 3 February 2016

Never, in the field of ... (I)

Church ministry (I bet you thought I was going to continue with 'human conflict'!)

Using the opening words of a broadcast in which Winston Churchill spoke of the heroism of the pilots who defended Britain in the Second World War, I would like to reflect upon another bunch of heroes: those who minister in our churches and the problems they encounter as they struggle to make Christ known. The words at the beginning will be joined with words from an earlier conflict. The reason for this being that one of the most persistent of the complaints I hear from many colleagues mirrors that used of the high command during World War One in that they are 'Lions led by donkeys'*.

Up jumps that nice Green chap (who, according to his report. would do it with the senior clergy in the Management School) in support. But the problem lies deeper than a lack of management skills or training for it is something quite (un)wonderfully institutional. Putting aside the 'Oxbridge Cleric' model** and the invitation card it so often brings to diocesan top tables, let's consider the complaints (as fairly as we can) before us.

One of the complaints I encounter most is that clergy wish their bishops would pastor them and be a friend to them; a neighbour when one is needed. I recall the first meeting of a newly minted bishop with a group of clergy in his patch. "I want to be your friend," said he with a smile, "But I won't be 
your mate!" "No change there then," said an older, nearing retirement, colleague in a loud aside. And this is part of the problem, for there is always the underlying tone that says, "Beware, I will always be your boss - do you really want to talk to me?" And so, more often than not the answer is 'No' and so begins the path to clergy stress!

A colleague sums it up like this: "Whenever I meet my bishop I feel there are three questions on the agenda (even when I think I've set it!): How many people? How much money coming in? How quickly can I get rid of you? The public face (and hopefully the intent) speak of care and concern but the reality is that there is a divide between the plebs and the ruling classes. We are cautioned always to 'know our place', "

When I was asking advice of an older and more experienced cleric a few years back the first advice I got was, "Don't talk to your bishop about it!" (Actually, I did talk to him and he was helpful, supportive and prayerful, He spoke of parish ministry and used experience as one who had the pastoral skills needed of a bishop who cared for those who ministered in his diocese).

My theory is this: Bishops have diocesan staff to run the day-to-day operational things. In the diocese I am part of we reap the obvious benefits of having a sound and prudent financial department. The head of this knows their job and does it well - so what is required is management reporting from the professionals to the pointyhatted folk and suggestions for ways forward to keep the lights on.

The same is true for the Chief Exec', they run she ship organisationally and leave the task of steering it spiritually to the person on the bridge. They are the XO on the Captain's ship. But it is the Captain who makes it a happy ship at the end of the day - and this is a spiritual function and a pastoral challenge - sadly many have their telescope held to their blind eye it seems!

Let me clarify things a little: I was asked to write about this by someone who encourages clergy to join a trade union because they consider that we are now no longer joined in the one cause but have become employees (they point to the establishment of HR departments in support of this) and the bishops no longer manage their clergy or monitor their welfare but leave it to others. The role of bishop has changed and so clergy become little more than a management problem rather than something collegial and pastoral - primus inter pares (First amongst equals) has become princeps (the Chief) and this is contrary to the New Testament model, and the example of Jesus, the Christ.

I am regularly asked whether it should be a surprise that so many of our colleagues are suffering from clergy stress. Should we be surprised (or even shocked) when we find people calling on us to join a union? Questions that need to be asked and then, honestly, addressed by lay and leader methinks.

I don't have a job - I have a calling -  I hope and pray that this can be said of those who occupy the higher echelons of Church and yet, with some noteable exceptions, I fear not.

So here is a quick and dirty scribble of my thoughts - I write them in a desire to stimulate in myself and others, thought and prayer; I relish comment, challenge, correction and dialogue with what is here. The floor is yours.

Next stop on this journey will have to be archidiaconal types reckon - don't you?

* Needs to be said here that this is a not altogether fair assessment of the British High Command and is coloured by many unfair shades of bias and wilful ignorance! The same is often true of those in senior positions I'm sure!

** One of the DDOs with whom I worked would often mutter about how the Oxbridge legacy was one of the greatest ills to undermine the progress of the Church. She would explain how we took effective people and turned them into establishment figures instead and made them fit for little other than a pointy hat, a gentleman's club and a trip to the Lords. (Not sure she'd be any happier to see girls joining in that or not!)

Friday 9 October 2015

Clergy and the eight day working week!

Am I the only person to have noticed the C of E's growing trend for clergy vacancies to have eight day working weeks and more church congregations under their charge than fingers on their hands?

Being an issue that amuses, confuses and, more often as a Missioner, confounds. I started a bit of an informal league table with regard to the number of 'exciting' and 'wonderfully attractive' churches on offer and the top of the table position is occupied by an advert' offering eleven congregations. This is (dare I say 'obviously'?) a rural setting and having been told of it by a friend who also vacancy watches for the. Interesting, strange and extremely odd, I have to say that it was a very pretty setting indeed.

The problem is that thinking of the workload of some of my rural colleagues acros the country I find them doing about the same as me but spread across a number of churches. Each and every one tells me how stretched they are and how they depend daily upon the goodwill of parishioners and the help of retired clergy and willing laity to supplement any other clergy provision in their patch (if other clergy provision there be!).

Many of my colleagues are struggling with conflict because they have churches that are not sustainable and yet are surrounded by communities who are unwilling to see them close, but are unwilling to be part of them outside of the Christmas Carol service and their children's weddings and/or baptisms. Yet the rural setting, if done 'right', is a place of close communion and growth but are hampered by the inability (unwillingness) of those who plan and lead our diocesan structures to staff such opportunities.

We are surrounded by words of growth and encouragement and yet, generally, reside within a reality that is managing decline.

The other challenge that seems to be more and more prevalent is the inability to understand what a full working week looks like for the clergy. Now, being someone who is often told to 'do less' and  to remember that my working week is Sunday plus five days (I didn't tell that to the dying person I sat beside on my last supposed day off and the days either side of it: 'Can you get on with it, tomorrow's my day off!' doesn't seem to give the right impression or match my own attitudes and beliefs!). But if a full-time post is Sundy plus five working days; each working day being split into three where one of them is my time.  The six 0.17 days (I've generously rounded up) result in a whole. The problem is that I have of late seen 0.5 posts which speak of a Sunday and three days, which is four times 0.17, which is 0.68 of a full-time post.

I asked one of the people who have advertised a post with the above timings and how they had calculated it as a 0.5 post. Their response was that three days amounted to 0.5 of a clergy working week (yep: 3 x 0.17 = 0.51). 'But what about the 'extra' day that is Sunday?' I asked. 'Well, they'd be expected to do that because they are ordained clergy so we don't include it!'

'O my!' I thought (see I am getting holier!!) rather incredulously. Sunday is not a working day but a day when, as I'd be in a church services somewhere (I am a Christian first and foremost), it is fair game for it to be regarded as something other than work because it is my own personal act of worship, does this mean that I can pop off to another church to enjoy a visiting preacher or to be blessed and communicated? Nah, of course not!

I tried to explain this to the person in the line but they merely got a little exasperated and started blustering about goodwill and being willing to contribute and the need to get more bang for our buck (my term, theirs was much more drawn out and irrational).

I countered that with the fact that they were billing four days as 0.5 of the normal clergy working week and so doubling that gave a full-time working week of eight day which, when a day off was added meant that somehow in the diocese of Goodwill, the working week had somehow extended to become nine days. I also pointed out that zero point anything meant a zero point anything contribution to pension funds and so any point something job was a goodwill gift from the minister that just kept on not giving in the shape of a pension when retirement came.

The combined result of less than a whole cleric and more than enough churches to shepherd is, for me, a missional nightmare. I struggle with those who talk of opportunities for the laity when what they mean is 'not paid for' help! We should always have been collegial and engaging in all-member ministry, the problem is that some are embracing this as a financially necessary move whilst others are struggling to take up the roles being passed over to them (even though, ironically, many of them have for years they've said they could do better than the Vicar)!

Is it any wonder that I am confused - look at the reality and tell me its not the product of a warped imagination!

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Collaborative Church - All about PEERS

'Needs must as the money drives,' and with those words those around me smiled, laughed, nodded or rolled their eyes as they saw fit at the wisdom of the speaker before them, who continued to impart their own particular brand of wisdom with, 'After all, if we can't pay for ministry we will have to find ways of getting it done without paying won't we.'

Now I have to say that for me one of the most confusing things around me is the issue of collaborative church and what it really means and why we should be doing it.

Confusing because I, perhaps naively, thought it was what we were supposed to do. 

Confusing because I am meeting a number of people who are effectively preaching anticlerical tosh and rallying the laity to 'take ministry back from the clergy' to do Church as it was. After all, the early Church didn't have paid clergy did they?

Confusing because I am hearing clergy complain about workload and seeing more multiple beneficed, multiple roles, point something jobs. What's worse is that I come across more people being expected to do the bulk of the work in places whilst those who collaborate with them (AKA the laity) predominantly sit and watch them 'do their job'.

I recently met a cleric who had taken on a 'point something' role and after their first Christmas in the place had decided to chuck it all in and effectively retire from all ministry for good. This was a decision made (officially) because their other half had decided to take an early retirement which provided them with a good excuse to walk away without sour grapes or fingers being pointed in bitter rancorous rantings (either way). Yet the reality was that their three day a week ministry role had immediately been extended to Sunday and 'nine other days a week' (their comment, not mine - but it was adorably bittersweet humour) because of the expectations of the (previously whole time parish) church members.

The problem is that wherever we maintain any level of clerical input (and Eucharist makes this 'everywhere') there is an expectation from many who attend (for which read 'the fewer who attend') to have their dog collar on deck whenever they assume that it is meet, right and their entitlement for the cleric so to do. 

But the reality is that Church is a game for ALL the Church family - each of us has a calling, a baptismal calling, to find out what they are supposed to be doing and to get on and do it - and the role of the clergy and the wardens and the congregation is to help people do it. And we do it by:

Permitting     -    Giving permission to others to explore and try stuff. This can be:
                            Preaching, Teaching, Leading, Missional stuff, Making Music
                            Sharing, Caring (we call it 'Pastoral'), Kid's Work, Visiting ....

Encouraging  -  Cheering when they try it - win, lose or draw - and keeping on cheering

Equipping      -  Giving the basic skills and enhancing them as they progress (or fail)
                           to get the job done better and people doing it stronger.

Releasing      -   Realising that once they are doing the stuff that we need to get out of the 
                           way and let them do it. This doesn't mean we don't correct and advise but
                           We don't interfere for the sake of doing it - this is what collaborative means! 

Supporting   -   Being appreciative without being being fawning, condescending or 
                          disengaged. One of the worst things is to let others try by over managing or
                          'leaving them to it'. Collaborative means we works as PEERS and family.

And it so blinking simple - it's what Church is meant to be - it's what Church always has been - that I don't understand why people make it out to be something clever or innovative or anything else.

Regardless of who you are you are always, if you are Church, laos, then the business of being and doing Church, (and that means active, engaged, worshipping and missional Church) is yours. Adding diakonos or presbyteros (or anything else) to that does not remove the laos label.

I you are one of those who thinks it does then you are one of the people who make me very much the confused cleric that I find myself projecting all too often - and so a final word to those who make me confused - STOP IT!

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Clergy Wanted: Must be ...

Under forty with twenty-five years ministry experience!

Recently I got engaged in conversation with a few dog collars and for once we didn't get round to funerals but the conversation turned towards finding a new posts Hence the previous post on the process being like 'playing away from home!').

On of the interesting comments came from someone who had seen a place that took their fancy and so, as per the advert', they rang one of the churchwardens to discuss the post before they requested the application form and profile. Apparently the conversation went something like this (the would be applicant is in italics):

Good morning, I'm rather interested in your vacancy, could you tell me a little more about it please?

Certainly, how old are you?

I'm nn.*

Aaah, we're looking for someone younger than that.

So can you tell me a bit about the post anyway?

Yes, we have n churches and need a new Vicar.

And that being about it the conversation tailed off - leaving the would be incumbent fuming as the call ended.

Now, I'd like to say that I thought this was a work of fiction or perhaps an isolated misunderstanding or encounter with someone who had the wrong end of the stick at one end of the telephone line or the other. Yet it appears that what this represents is a slightly less polished delivery of what can only be regarded as ageism.

Now considering the fact that many of those I chat to are looking to continue in ministry until their late sixties (and beyond with PTOs) and with the changes in lifestyles and fitness and the like - and the fact that some of those in their forties are much older than some in their sixties - it really should be that ability and, most important of all, calling should be what we are looking at.

Now I don't want this to become some sort of crusade or campaign on my part but I am aware that there is something going wrong here and that it might be something not only institutional but something the church will not do well from should it be true.

I'd be interested to hear the experiences of those who consider themselves to have been on the wrong end of ageism and would love to hear from those who might have realised that they have engaged with it from the 'need a Vicar' side of the fence.

If we are really ageist then I am not just confused but and also saddened and disappointed.

* You can insert whatever age you fancy here - suffice to say that they were somewhere between fifty and sixty

Sunday 15 February 2015

Lent - Not Biblical

This was the upshot of a conversation I had with a keen Pastor from another church regarding Ash Wednesday and the journey that begins then and ends on Easter Sunday. They pointed out that nowhere was Lent mentioned in the Bible and so it is, 'Merely something religious and therefore wrong!'

In fact they said that they were trying to encourage people to consider putting the observation aside as something outmoded and outdated; after all, they said, 'it's not something the whole Church does, is it?'

And, with Ash Wednesday just a few days away makes for a really interesting, and potentially confusing, situation for those both within and outside the Church. after all. Apparently the keeping of Lent is, for some, nothing more than being religious: It is a meaningless imposition of dirt followed by giving stuff up and submitting to external pressures from the clergy.

Yet what I see is a time of reflection and, rather than giving stuff up, is a time of taking stuff on. A time to be thinking about the journey to the cross and preparation of the spiritual room that is ourselves for the coming of Jesus the risen Christ. This is what the two purple periods of the church are all about - self examination and clearing out the remnants, silencing the echoes of things, that impede our Christian walk. It is something of value rather than something imposed and religious. It is the very essence of being authentically Christian rather than submitting to something hollow and worthless.

As for not being Biblical - having pointed out that the word 'Trinity' was not to be found in the Bible and so, perhaps, might also attract the same 'religious' label as assigned to Lent - I received short shrift. In fact I think that my conversant was starting to think I was yet another member of an outmoded and repressive denomination caught up in mere religious observance rather than a quick and lively faith.

And that's the sadness because in Lent I actually find something of great spiritual value - a call to a self-discipline that opens my mind and heart and takes me onto the road that leads to the Cross - and it is in this that Easter becomes something personal and eschews everything that could be considered religious.

Oddly, those who effectively ignore the journey to the cross - choosing merely to celebrate the victory of Easter without contemplating the journey that leads to it, the awfulness of betrayal and separation from God that was crucifixion - it is them who are in their triumphalism being religious. It is they who in celebrating the victory without the cost, are making something less than it is of Easter and along with those who tell me that you cannot 'out Grace' are merely celebrating a God who become a celestial do gooding piggy bank where forgiveness without the cost of commitment and discipline are on offer.

And that is why my Lenten journey is so important - not because I am engaging in a moment of self- flagellatory denial or some self-imposed meaningless observation of an unbiblical practice - but an taking the time to consider the cost of the cross and in so doing take up my own cross and seek to follow Jesus, the Christ, in right living and thinking. Something I try to do every day but made all the more challenging as I celebrate the reward made possible by the journey of the incarnate God for me.

Not mere religion - to think that is to be truly confused.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

'Too Old' - Ageism and the Church of England (1)

Having recently found myself in a conversation with someone who, in their mid-fifties, found themselves on the end of a 'too old' conversation when they made an approach for a clergy post I guess I should not be shocked by the clerical vacancy which proudly proclaimed that they wanted 'maturity not ancient!'.

I guess I should merely shrug and take as read the General Synod's document (GS 1979) on
Resourcing Ministerial Education in the Church of England and  proposal 8:

Candidates over 50

Candidates who will be under 50 at ordination will continue to attend a BAP, to ensure national commonality of standards. 

Candidates over the age of 50 at ordination will be selected locally by the bishop. 

Candidates over 50 at ordination will not receive the standard pooled grant: the cost of their training will fall directly to the diocese.

Now what does this mean in practice I wonder? Let me offer the view I see from the place in which I currently hide:

First and foremost this means that anyone who begins the journey to ordination and looking to being ordained at Petertide (June) will need to be 47 (and something) when they begin their three years of training (if two years full-time deduct a year). Now taking into account the average time that those I have dealt with take to progress through the discernment process this means that those who feel a calling to ordaining ministry will really need to be no more than forty-five and a half to ensure that they qualify for the under 50 at ordination situation.

'So what's the problem?' I hear you ask.

The reply to which is the reality that already I am hearing of where some who are already training and paying for the training themselves because of their age; their diocese being unable to afford to pay from their own pool of money. This is what 'the cost of their training will fall directly to the diocese' really means. There's no money from central funds to cover the cost of those who will most likely bring 20+ years of stipendiary or non-stipendiary ministry and with the reality that there's less money in the diocese to pay for day-to-day operational costs.

When I asked someone in the vocations business they mumbled about 'cost-effectiveness' (meaning number of years in ministry divided by cost of training) and 'effective ministry' (meaning the complete cobblers that we can only effectively minister to those ±10years either side of our age!). It seems that the baseline by which we seek to support is moving towards the situation where calling is tempered by age rather than a clear and obvious sense of (confirmed by others and testing) vocation.

At one level I can understand the thinking behind this as we see contraction of training as it withdraws into something that seems to set aside the diversity of training that schemes and colleges provided and reconnects with the more common ordination examination approach of old. The good old CofE is trying to cut its coat according to its cloth.

On a different level we are seeing the CofE look to restriction of training and opportunity and, more serious to the good functioning of our denomination I fear, engaging in something ageist. Our hope is not in God's calling but the age of the clergy - and I have to say that having met some excellent young clergy I can understand their hope, but like the Curate's egg, not all of them are good and age is not the Philosophers' Stone that turns some of the young would be clerics to gold!

When this comes before Synod I can but hope and pray common sense (and a lack of ageist tosh) prevails!

You may now turn over your papers and discuss

Tuesday 27 January 2015

'It's a bit like adultery'

I wonder if you've ever stopped to think about the process by which clergy move on?

It's an interesting process, one which quite accurately (I assume) is, as the title of the entry has it, 'A bit like adultery!' The reason for this is that being in a clerical post is a bit like being married and so , whilst still in that relationship, one starts to look around for a new partner - and as much as people mock those who find themselves seeking mail order brides - this is the reality for clergy.  Except that instead of a glossy magazine the Church Times is the medium of choice.

The problem is that regardless of the situation, it is just not done to put out the general notice that you fancy a change - it doesn't go down well with the other half! You might tell your friends and perhaps use one of them to get an introduction to someone you fancy but generally it's all done by stealth. After all, the majority of those who have seen their partner vanish with a new love are usually totally surprised by it all - the never saw it coming, or thought of the other half leaving.

The stress of knowing that a colleague has decided to leave and is in the process of courting a new partner coupled with the pressure of continuing to talk to those in their current church as if they will be in the relationship for ever is something awful. The need to portray that which will never be as if it will be to enable the 'leavee' to seek, interview and set up their move is absolute and yet, much like supporting those who are engaged in something adulterous, uncomfortable.

When I worked in the world of supporting the long-term unemployed I would encourage those seeking a new post to network and to put their intent 'out there'. You use your contacts, acquaintances and friends to open the doors for you and whilst this sometimes works as a cleric but generally it's down to church organisations, the clerical press, the various vacancy lists and a cloak of secrecy.

Of course, in the bad old days, you'd get a call from your bishop who would 'suggest' a move and would effectively manage, or at least assist, your ministerial journey. Now, if the various experiences of clergy I have chatted too are anything to go by, the bishops are generally useless line managers with regard to moves and often less helpful that a chocolate fire blanket! a colleague in a diocese down South upon mentioning that they felt the time was right for a move was told of a couple of good jobs (which would have been 'just right') which had been filled in the past months!

Now that leaves me despairing and more than a little confused!

ps. My colleague was so depressed by the experience and the woeful quality of care and support from their pointyhat that they binned them, the diocese and Cofe ministry. another reason the Green report has some merit Methinks.

Friday 9 January 2015

The 'point something' Vacancy

I am really struggling with the raft of 'point something' (PS) vacancies that are appearing at the moment.

A recent 'point something' (PS) job advert highlighted the benefits of the post in a most positive manner as it took a multiple role post and then extolled the fact that the 'extra' time off could be used to spend more time with the family!

The PS trend appears to be an increasingly bitter topic for consideration when clergy are gathered. The old adage of 'too much work for one - too little income for two' is now joined by 'too few hours for what is expected' as adverts for PS posts increase.

Recent scans of the vacancies bring varying ideas of what a PS role actually demands:

 .25 post (Sunday plus two days)

.2 post (Sunday plus two days)

.5 post (Sunday plus three days)
.8 post (Sunday plus three days)

It all gets a bit confusing so I decided to ring someone in London and ask what 0.2 represented and was told that it was one working day (if there wasn't a Sunday involved) but the situation was a little confused because generally a 'whole time' post is regarded as Sunday plus five days (which makes a day something around .17 of a week*) so what a 0.2 ended up being was Sunday Services and a day (which is different from my 0.34)!

Working on 0.17 = a day a general guide to the PS world is:

.17 Sunday Only
.34 Sunday + 1 days
.51 Sunday + 2 days
.68 Sunday + 3 days
.85 Sunday + 4 days
1.0 Sunday + 5 days

I have found adverts for 0.2 posts (which oddly asked for Sunday services and one day) and the pinnacle of the PS art has to be the advert for seven churches where the job was broken down into five 0.2 packets. I rang and asked why this was and was told that two of the churches were earmarked for redundancy and so eventually the post would be five 0.2 posts!

I have also recently come across a situation where the advertised position was split into three discrete elements: 0.4, 0.4 and 0.2. I telephoned and asked why this was and was told that one of the elements was subject to a time-limited funding source and so, when this time was reached, the position would revert to a 0.6 post.

It is interesting to note that the 0.2 and the 'revert to 0.6' posts were not filled.

Recalling Bob Jackson's rule:

A cleric with one church will see growth.
A cleric with two churches will see something static.
A cleric with three or more churches will see decline!

The problem is that we are engaged in mathematical exercises when we look to fill vacancies. One senior cleric I knew used to mutter the mantra, 'Can't pay - Can't have!' and herein lies the rub for some of the most needy and effective ministry areas have little ability to pay and so are at a disadvantage.

Now I am old enough to know that if you haven't got the money then you have a bit of a problem and understand that bills need to be paid but it seems to me that we are in danger of contracting sessional clergy and engaging in PS posts which satisfy the accounting but leave the cleric and the congregations at a disadvantage  - a disadvantage that will see an increase in decline in terms of congregations and clergy.

Time to be a little more creative - and this doesn't mean looking to Ordained lay ministry as a means of making end meet - we should be releasing the laity because we should be releasing the laity, not because the finances demand!

The problem is that those who have the purse strings and those who shape the ministry in our denominations are woefully poor. An area where the Green report's intentions would benefit the Church - pity implementation might come just a little too late!

Is it any wonder when I'm as confused as the people who are interegnum?

* Of course it's actually 0.166 (0.17)  but this is all approximate stuff and so 'rounding up' is legitimate for the purpose of examples.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Ordinands: Age, Sex and Ethnicity

The number of young people (under the age of 30) has risen such that 'the young' now account for around a quarter of those in training and the figues for 2013 (113) shows rise of 145% from the 2003 figures. This has to be a positive trend and the reality of younger vocations, as with any and all vocations, is most certainly a joy.

Part of this increase undoubtedly comes through the settings of goals and targets and the delivery of weekends and training days where the focus is on the younger end of the Church and this is, for me at least a bit of a Curate's egg in that as much as I rejoice I am also just a little  . . . . And that's the problem - I don't know what the word is!

As the person next to me is waxing lyrical about 'effective ministry' and quoting views that clergy are only effective in ministry to those living within plus or minus ten years  (±10) of their own age the person the other side, nodding their agreement, adds cost-effective (the longer the ministry the cheaper the per capita training costs) to the conversation. A third voice joins in extolling the need to recruit more BME and a fourth voice adds, almost soto voce, "And many more women."

All stop talking to smile and nod and then, regaining their stride, continue as to which group we need to be most proactively recruiting. It is then that I throw a spanner in the works and take upon myself the role of token Ephebiphobic Mysogynistic Racist as I put forward the view that we need to be encouraging everyone to discern and respond to the calling upon their lives regardless of the labels we might affix to them!

The response was a complete stilling of conversation and the assembled gathering looking at me like I've just reenacted Peter Seller's amazing 'fart in a lift' scene (from one of the Pink Panther films). I am obviously a cleric who has forgotten their place and the prevailing attitudes of the church of which I am a part - so much so that it appears that I might actually be apart!

The problem with the CofE is that for many years we have compartmentalised and recruited only people of a certain kind. The old standards that were de rigeur in those days where the first son inherited the title and the estate, the second son joined the military and the third either became a gentleman farmer or entered the Church. Sad as it seems, then we looked less at calling and more about those we ordained fitting the bill and thus preserved that which was considered to be fitting for the clergy, now of course we don't do that - do we?

Today, having learned nothing we seek to redress the balance and recruit more young people, those who can lay claim to be from some ethnic group or are women, in the hope that by emphasising difference and including 'the excluded and marginalised' (their words - not mine) we might win others (who might otherwise not come) over to belonging to Church.

The problem is emphasised with a little example in that were I to enter a room where all but one of the people present were male, my greeting them with, "Good morning lady and gentlemen," would in fact be acting against sexual equality rules because I have drawn attention to them being female and isolated them from the rest of those present. The remedy to this is for me to say, "Good morning all," thereby offering an inclusive start to the proceedings and removing the potential for any one person to have any difference highlighted.

What, in my humble and limited capacity (and capability), we need to be doing is to assist ALL who are part of the Church to explore what calling God might have on their lives and to help them develop and follow whatever means is necessary to help them achieve it.

In a congregation where there is a mix of backgrounds I would hope that we would be seeing a mix of those coming forward for ministry - ordained and lay; evangelistic, pastoral, youth, prayer, musical and (heaven help us) administrative. Where there is a congregation with young people I would hope that we would be finding young people coming forward - I reckon you get the idea so let's stop the bus here.

We don't need to be engaging in more tokenism or the act of trying to stick people in the boxes (for I recall a friend who came from an Afro-Carribean background who upon exploring ordination was snapped up because of the 'dearth of black clergy' - they didn't seem to see him or his calling as much as they saw the opportunity to engage in tokenism of the very worst kind! He eventually gave up the ordination bit and left the Church too so disillusioned was he! A real lose/lose situation :-(  ).

So I am confused because my colleagues are all championing the going out and making a point of recruiting those people who are from the lesser populations within the cleric mass, something that I see as a wrong move in the way they present it.

If we are saying that God's calling is for all people of all ages, colours, ethnic origins (after all, how many Dutch are there I wonder - am I part of an ethnic minority myself?) and sex then I am all for it - but that's not what I'm hearing and if what I'm hearing is voiced by others I haven't met then I have to say that I think they might just be wrong!

A quick postscript for the lovely people who have told me that the time has come for the Church to engage in positive discrimination and 'enhanced' career paths for people of minority groups:

First and foremost, we don't have a 'career path' - we have a calling and a ministry and:

If it has the word 'discrimination' attached to it then it is wrong (especially if you're the group being positively discriminated for) - it is hypocritical to speak against bias and then engage in it under the guise of being open-handed: And if you happen to be seeking to support bias for a group you are not part of then beware that you are neither engaging in tokenism or, worse still, engaging in being condescending.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Younger Clergy - are they the solution?

I have had some exceedingly interesting (and perhaps just a little frightening) conversations today regarding the age of clergy. One of the main thrusts was the belief that we needed to select younger ordinands; the reasons people gave for this was many and varied but they included:

1. Younger clergy have much more energy and enthusiasm than their older counterparts,

2. Younger clergy can reach the younger unchurched population and so will build a Church that is like them,

3. Clergy can most effectively reach those ± 10yrs of their own age, younger clergy are the only way to reintroduce those aged between  18 - 40 and so we need to lower the age of ordinands drastically from the current age (which was stated as being c.45),

4. If we recruit clergy at a younger age the cost of training will become lowered with regard to the number of years of ordained service received (simple maths as £10k for 15 years of ministry is dearer than £10k for 35 years), and

5. We need to recruit younger clergy so that they can become the next generation of senior clergy at a younger age - the theory being that preferment comes, at the quickest, after some seventeen years of ordination and so an ordinand of twenty-eight would be looking towards becoming bishop around their mid-forties if their career (a word at which I made my negative feelings known) matched their prospects and ambitions (the second word I struggled with).

The bottom line was that the Church is growing older and the only way to reverse this is to put more into dogcollars and let them loose to revive its (the Church's) failing fortunes.

So here's a marker in the sand, one that I will be returning to over the next few days (along with more on Ministry Development Reviews). I leave you with these five points (you may have more or others I have not considered) to reflect and perhaps comment (or prepare to comment upon).


Friday 5 September 2014

Appraising Ministry - Part the first

I have always been keen on ways of raising my game and developing new skills and am equally troubled by those who are opposed to the various 'Ministry Development Reviews' (MDR) now on offer within the Church of England and by those who see them as something which enables, nay encourages, a 'train up - train out' mentality.

A recent conversation with someone who has at some stage been on the wrong end of OFSTED (so much so that they are now no longer in education) left me concerned because they not only felt that they could not face the prospect of an MDR but were willing to withdraw rather than endure or engage with the process. Another conversation left me in no doubt that the possession of the freehold was seen as the means by which the drawbridge could be raised and freedom from the whole 'intolerable interference' (their words, not mine) is assured.

Drawing upon my own experience I found the whole process to be extremely time-consuming and yet quite fun and yet, as another colleague has it, the end result appears to be, "A ticked box and nothing positive, enabling or encouraging! We do it to enable someone up the food chain to say they've done the deed. The whole thing is an exercise in futility and dissipation!" The continued by pointing out that having been invited and having effectively declined they were told that this was a mandatory requirement under their 'terms of service' (and they are of course correct as Regulation 18 of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Regulations 2009 confirms).

What these reviews should be doing is to help the reviewed assess their ministry in terms of:

Success - which might be communicated to other as good practice and used to underpin the oft woeful diocesan provision,

Failure - those areas where stock needs to be taken and training, support, encouragement and resources (only kidding!) can be initiated,

Hopes - The things we'd love to do; the dreams and aspirations we have and, having identified them, offering support (and the means of making them real),

Fears - The things that cause those who minister to become fearful and impotent. Ministry should be about more than Parish Share and BoPs (Bums On Pews) and yet, for many, this is a daily debilitating reality.

Training Needs - What does the focus of the review need to make them a safer person, a more effective minister, a happier and contented person? We need to find this and then work at supplying the means to resolve the need/s we've identified.

Potential - Can the person who is the focus of the review offer more to more who could in turn reach more and make the Church grow? The answer is 'probably' and yet my conversations indicate that the review appears to be an end in itself - it's only goal is to exist (box ticked) rather than enable - how very sad!

So here we are - Communion is twenty minutes away (the church is set up already) and so I'll leave you with this opening shot in the whole 'appraising ministry' discussion.

Hope you're less depressed and confused than me over the whole thing - still there's more to come so don't give up yet!

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Interesting Theology

There are times when people come up with 'interesting' bits of theological thinking which result in crowd pleasing acts which, at best, leaves me with some degree of discomfort or uncertainty.

There are times when I struggle with aspects of theology for one of many of the reasons listed below:

Sometimes because I can't quite see how the position was reached without a bit of a twinkle and a wink of the eye because it's so blinking off the wall.

Sometimes because it is obviously designed to be a bit of a wind-up.

Sometime its probably just because I'm a little bit thick!

Sometimes it's a struggle because the construction is just tough to accept because what it (rightly or wrongly) comes up with is difficult to apply to ourselves or others.

'Theology is our attempt to explain, understand and live with the stuff that's in the Bible.' 

Well that's what a man I admired at the time (and still do long after his demise) once told me in a tutorial. He continued, 'It's our attempt to make sense of what's before us and the potential for inspiration and brilliance is tempered by our ability to deliver the absurd as something of value!'

And this is where I often find myself challenged on a daily basis as I encounter brilliance, weirdness, excellence and heresy as we (you, them and me) seek to understand and explain what is before us. 

Sometimes it's the standard fare of the theological student that surfaces as we debate the Virgin birth, the resurrection and all that Bible stuff. Sometimes it's the weird and wonderful esoterica of the Christian faith and explanations that quench the author's disquiet and cause the reader (well this reader anyway) great angst. Finally, we have the discussions relating to how the world (that usually means 'non-Christians') see us and the many ways in which we engage (or perhaps don't engage) with stuff - often billed under the joint labels of 'rights' and 'equality' - and it is here that the most vitriolic and contentious battles are to be found.

The problem is that whilst many of us are rather reluctant to express our personal doubts publicly for  fear of conflict should we express our views, our failure to acknowledge and engage with this in a measured and balanced public arena is where I think we find ourselves falling down and failing those we seek to pastor. If we are to afraid to voice our concerned, the difficulties we have with theology and praxis that emerges then we create a culture of fear that leaves us a goal down before we begin. The problem is (and there's always a problem somewhere) that when those 'difficulties' appear, failing to acknowledge and address them is to puts aside debate and invite something quite unproductive and displeasing below the surface.

A colleague recently took me to task for 'always engaging' with the difficult stuff. As they did they offered my their mantra: "If you don't engage with it it doesn't exist and if it doesn't exist then it isn't a problem."

But if it exists for others, surely we have a duty to consider, understand and be willing to discuss what is real for others and bring some light into their, and our, understanding.

If this is wrong, then I'm confused.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Hope - Pray - Act

I have been thinking much about the traits of those in church I have encountered during my travels and find that there appears to be three specific categories; and whilst some will engage with all three, other might have but one or two of them in combination and this explains a great deal (if true) about what I find.

Here's a simple chart outlining the three traits according to some I meet:

'Nice' Christians
These are the really lovely folk who populate many of the congregations and really do 'hope' that those outside the Church are evangelised. They also hope that the Church will grow and hope that new buildings will be built and Common Purse payments made. These are the lovely, well-meaning people who wish those in the church, and beyond, well.

You probably know the people I'm talking about: Been in the church for years and never taken up a role in the fellowship but faithfully been coming. What they used to call a 'pew warmer' when I was a teenager. The road to hell, and decline, is paved with churches that are full of 'nice' Christians.

'Good' Christians
The people who have realised that prayer is an extremely valuable thing indeed, for when challenged they can say, 'Oh yes, of course, ler me pray about it!'

At one church I visited the minister pointed to someone and said, 'There's someone who will always pray when asked to get involved,' and then pointed at another person and said, 'And there's someone who will always get involved and prays!' They went on to explain that the 'more spiritual' answer to being asked to get involved was not, 'I'll have a think (or) perhaps,' but was, "I'll have to pray about it!'

Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying, for those who are true prayers are worth their weight in gold - for prayer is the key to successful engagement with the community and spiritually sound worship (which means word, music and prayer). But so many learn the Christianspeak that converts hope into pray and unless they are real - they are destined to produce little and destroy and impede more.

'Doing' Christians
Are the people who make things happen!

Well, that's what I was told (proudly) by one minister recently as they pointed out the people who were 'doing it'. The problem is that whilst this might make for busy and even successful church the people who work on the 'doing' model find themselves driven and their churches, and its life, hectic and full of busyness - there's no time to stop and pray - church becomes a treadmill on which many are driven until they burnout or drop.

I visited a quite successful place recently and there was a real buzz as people were engaged in doing stuff. 'If you give them a job as soon as you can they feel wanted and engaged,' said the person accompanying me, 'It gives them a purpose and makes them valued!'

I know I may be playing the pedant here but we are already valued and we have a purpose - 'The cross and our baptismal calling make this all too clear, so why artificially load the dice,' thought I, smiling and carrying on. This thought led me to a place where I came to the realisation (once again - for it's not rocket science) that the real key is to hold all three strands in tension. If we can do this then we become 'Real' Christians:

The reason for this is that we have a hope and this hope is focussed in engaged prayer and from this (because we do listen when we pray, don't we) comes the 'making it happen' bit.

I would like to think that the three traits inform and support each other for hope is desire and desire should lead us to to a place of action and there are times when this action is prayer and doing; the action being prayer alone is as valid a response as being action alone - just means your potentially doing it wrong!

Now there's a thought - hope, pray and do - three traits we should all hold in tension (and perhaps I should add 'Read' too?

watch this space

Tuesday 19 February 2013

All-Member (Collaborative) ministry - whose perspective?

An intriguing conversation with a lay minister brought about the complaint that the structure of 'the church' (by which they mean the local congregation) looked like this:

Their complaint, when the smoke cleared, was that they were not far enough up the telegraph post. They wanted to be 'a leader' rather than 'just a lay minister'. They were supposed to sit at the very top of the pole and be equal (or as the conversation continued, perhaps more than equal) with the Vicar. 'I want my views to make a difference and for people to do what I tell them,' they complained.

So I spoke to some of the members of the same church and their complaint was that there were 'too many chiefs and not enough indians'. 'The church,' they complained, 'Looks like this':

'Everyone makes the decisions and sets goals, goes on about mission and vision and targets and the like and we are left to get on with it. Everyone is in charge of something and we do the real work!' The members were forever (or so they thought) being set new goals and presented with vision statements and 'clever little sayings' (like 'for town, for church, for Christ') and the reality was that nothing ever really changed. 'It just looks good for those who pick up our bits of paper or read the noticeboard but it isn't,' was the mantra of the disgruntled members.

So I asked the person in church (and I have to say that whilst their title was 'Rector' one of the member's modifications to 'Rectum' did make me smile) what their take on the whole affair was. What was their church structure like and how much was it like that because of design or inheritance.

The church, they proudly proclaimed, 'Looks like this':

"They decide what they want to do and set the goals, vision and targets and I merely seek to support, enable and equip them.'

Now each and every person I spoke to felt theirs was the true vision of the church as it was. The person who was, at the end of the day, accountable felt that they were running a happy ship and that all were engaged and actively playing their part in the success story that those outside of the church could see.

I wonder what those in our churches and fellowships see when it comes to their church family and its ministry. Think I'll ask those in the one I belong to very soon and hope that I'm not (sadly) surprised. More on this soon . . . .

Thursday 3 January 2013

AAA - Rating our churches

Following on from considering a 'credit rating' type system for those who come to church, I thought it might be helpful to use a similar system to advise where a church was and perhaps assist people in knowing what to expect:
So here goes:

GGG’—Extremely strong church that teaches, preaches and pastors; a worshipping and caring body that supports those within it, those on the periphery and those in the (non-churchgoing) community - does the stuff.

GG’—Very strong capacity with a few weaknesses and some major strengths - what we'd consider to be an 'excellent church'.
G’—Strong capacity to meet spiritual commitments, but concentrates on generally one area from a list that includes worship, mission or self; attracts members from other churches because of it's strength and keeps them for a season because of what is lacking beneath the surface - a 'good church'.

ggg’—A generally capable church that is engaged in the community, teaches and pastors its members and has a good social life - an emerging (and desiring to be) missional) church.

gg‘— One dimensional church - attractive because it has a band, or brings in 'names' or perhaps has a new building - talks about Christ and lives very much for self.
g‘— It's church, but generally only in name. Not a lot of fire and content to continue with its door closed (until the parish share raises its ugly head)  - all the worst things that can be found in a self-serving maintenance church.

pp+’—Problems (real or perceived) mean they struggle to be effective and welcoming.

pp’— Problems (real or perceivedmean that the church has given up and looks to that person who will come and make a difference as they are convinced they can't.
 ‘pp-’—Problems (real or perceived) have created an Alzheimer's church where spiritual death is a reality even though the body continues to appear to still be alive.

These three groups have started to give me a baseline to consider what measures need to be taken to change it and make it effective and fun; for let's be honest here - if a church is doing all the stuff but isn't a place where fun and fellowship is a reality, then regardless of what it does, it isn't Church (is it?)

The reason for this line of thinking is not to put people or churches down but to enable me to start looking at what might be done to help the person or people to engage and enjoy mission and membership. To this end I will post a modified Engels scale tomorrow.

Again, comments, modifications and help regarding any of the posts is aways welcome.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

AAA - How does God rate us?

Of of the indicators of financial virility that George Osborne has clung to, and crowed about, is our nation's 'triple A' credit rating.

When I worked in the City of London's financial sector, one of the proudest boasts that the company I worked for had (aside for its integrity when it came to paying out - not something all can admit to) was the fact that it was a 'triple A' institution. What this meant was that regardless of circumstance, the company would always be able to meet its financial commitment. It was a safe bet and, if it ever needed money, a sound risk (in fact it means that it is effective 'no risk).

Listening to a rather good discussion on the financial probity of some nations and the state of European (and other) nations I was challenged by the assessments that some nation states received; something that got me thinking about how God (and Church itself) might adopt a credit rating system to assess, and advice, of the God ratings of both.

So here goes:

GGG’—Extremely strong capacity to meet spiritual commitments - does the stuff.
GG’—Very strong capacity to meet spiritual commitments.
G’—Strong capacity to meet spiritual commitments, but susceptible to distractions and changes in attitude which make them liable to just walk off when most needed.

ggg’—Adequate capacity to meet spiritual commitments, but subject to distractions and wavering.

gg‘—The lowest 'engaged with church' group - attend fairly regularly and make right noises (but never actually 'do' anything .

pp+’—Problems mean they struggle to be regular or engaged.
pp’— Problems mean that they tend to come when in need and then vanish until the next time.
 ‘pp-’—Problems mean that God is to blame for everything but they still like Church thanks to hatch, match and despatch roles.

AAA’—Will engage with Church, but with reluctance (and some distrust).
AA’—Will not engage with Church, taking every opportunity to attack and misrepresent what it is, does and believes but will still dialogue if pushed.
A’—Will not engage with Church and takes every opportunity to attack and misrepresent what it is, does and believes whilst not being willing to dialogue regardless.


So, have a think about this embryonic model of classification and after having resolved any confusion over yourself, have a think about those around you and then have a go at working out which approach best meets their needs and brings about dialogue. You can add a minus or plus to assist the positioning of a person (churches come next) and aid your methods of engagement.

And if you can offer modifcations - please do.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Gaudete (or Rose) Sunday

Today is Gaudete (or Rose) Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent where we lay down the penitential a little and start to get excited about the prospect of the coming of the Lord and 'Rejoice' (for that is what gaudete means!

One of my favourite songs is Steeleye Span's rendition of the words below:

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
(Out) Of the Virgin Mary — rejoice!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
The time of grace has come—
what we have wished for,
songs of joy
Let us give back faithfully.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God has become man,
To the wonderment of Nature,
The world has been renewed
By the reigning Christ.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
The closed gate of Ezekiel
Is passed through,
Whence the light is born,
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra contio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.

But how many of those who are Christian are rejoicing today I wonder?

On a day when a foolish secularist proclaims that science dispels the myth of Christianity and denounces us as a bunch of 'Zimmer frame'  wrinklies I have to admit that I am (rejoicingly and joyfully) confused!

Wednesday 12 December 2012

When Church finds others things to talk about!

I am rather confused regarding just what 'Church' is all about; for I naively thought it was generally all about Jesus and how He died for us (all) and His (God's) love and all that sort of stuff and yet I appear to be wrong.

What we are apparently supposed to talk about is women bishops and how we need to be seen to be concerned with equality and rights and issues of power and authority.

This morning I awoke to read that supporters of the consecration of women feel that the time has come for 'compromise to be abandoned' and listened on my radio to clerics explaining how we needed to be seen to be doing what society views as 'the right thing'.

I am surrounded by people (from outside the Church) who want to talk about same-sex marriage and  by those (within it) who are sticking their fingers in their ears and singing loudly ('I can't hear you, I can't hear you!").

Actually, here's what I thought we (the Church) should really be doing today:

Talking about Jesus

Looking like Jesus in all that we do

Living like Jesus in both public and private areas of our life

Loving like Jesus loved (sacrificially) and lives (lovingly admonishing, enabling and accepting)

But it seems that, if what I hear and read are true, I am indeed merely confused!

Monday 10 December 2012

Effective Church - a matter of class?

One of the challenges that face any church is that of getting the members to be engaged and active and I am have always been told that a large part of this relates to the issue of class.

Having been in middle and working class churches and lived in areas that ranged from posh to project I have always been challenged by the issue of class and what it means. After all, the Gospel is there for all people and this means that none are excluded or marginalised and yet when I worked with working class folk in London I found that a number of things happened when one of the community came to Christ and became part of Church:

1. They were totally committed and gave everything they had to the point of truly sacrificial giving, 

2. They only had to hear of, or identify, a problem and before you could convene a church council to discuss it, it was done (or at least being taken care of),

3. Although they had low paid jobs and were, in the main, typical working class/blue collar workers, they were full of initiative and invention, and

4. They were introduced to middle class ways and soon became (according to family and friends anyway) posh! Three course meals, cheese and wine and other outward trappings became the norm for the convert and rather than equip them for heaven, we appeared to be equipping them to eat at a Berni restaurant rather than perhaps for heaven

An interesting fact in every community, be it city, town or village, is the fact that social deprivation is usually restricted to certain areas. There is always an 'other side of the tracks' community with its challenging folk and low paid workforce.

Church in Hackney was decidedly different to that in Chingford and church in some parts of Kensington and Chelsea was more different still.

Where the population of a place is limited to working class and aspiring working class and middle class relates purely and simply to the cost of the house, church appears to be a difficult thing to grow and equip people for. What we seek is lifestyle changes but what we get is a hobby that involves church. The people are happy to be directed and yet struggle to work off of their own invention and this leads me to think that to be healthy, perhaps a church does need its directive, middle class / upper class movers and shakers.

Is homogenous church, in terms of class, actually impotent church?

Saturday 10 April 2010

Being like Christ.

I am struggling with people who seek to make me unChristlike.

You probably know the sort. Those people who come into your consciousness and promise much, taking everything and yet contributing nothing! Continually apologising for their inactivity and yet, still beating their breast, continuing to be inactive, neither relinquishing the roles or jobs they have taken up nor doing anything with them.

Like a black hole the vacuum takes whatever is available and yet regardless of  input and attention, or desire on their part, nothing comes from it until suddenly you receive an awful missive labelling others and exuding bitterness and bile. They depart having achieved nothing and remaining, however much has been taken, empty.

I wonder how many times Jesus experienced this. How many people lumped the blame upon Him and walked, assuming they were right, away from Him. Perhaps the sadness and pain of such loss is something we should be grateful for - an opportunity to share in the pain He knew. Perhaps the prayers we continue to utter for those who have walked away enables us to bring Christ into places where He might otherwise  not be.

Perhaps this is a chance to be blessing where others bring their curses and their corrupt and flawed understanding of what it means to be Christian. perhaps, and even if not do we not continue to endure the pain of loss, the offer of friendship thrown back in our faces, the condemnations and accusing fingers providing merely an opportunity to take up our Cross and follow Him?

No one ever said the scenery would always be fun did they?