Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Bye-bye Sabblog

Another month's gap... ho-hum. I did warn you I wasn't much at this diary-keeping lark.

My sabbatical ended 4 weeks ago and I'm now back 'at work' so to speak, which means I need to draw this Sabblog to a close, as I'm no longer logging a sabbatical. I'll be reverting to my other blog 'Tasting, tasting. Yum, yum, yum' if you want to keep in touch.

So, how was it? Better than my previous attempt at a sabbatical 7 years ago. That was shoe-horned into the gap between two issues of the Network Diary the quarterly events listing which I produced back then - i.e about 10 weeks. After a good start it just got gradually compromised. That happened a bit this time, but not nearly as much thanks to a bit of fore-thought with the help of Derek and the Urban Presence trustees. The last month was de-railed a bit by family stuff (which of course is OK) - namely Daniel's wedding (a brilliant day: photos here. Lots of photos - you've been warned!), Alannah heading off to India, and my mum's operation for breast cancer, which meant I headed off to Belfast for a few days.

The three purposes were: Rest, Reflect, Re-focus...

- It was restful. 6 months with NO MEETINGS! Well, one. And an occasional chat over coffee or lunch. And some stuff by phone and email... but a lot of my work is based on relationships and you can't just have no contact at all. I have to say everyone was very understanding - even those who couldn't quite work out what this was exactly!

- Reflecting... Researching and reading up (all these 'R's!) on 'Mission with...' - my theological back-filling - got me into areas of incarnational ministry and more recently how does or should the local church exercise power and control over how it interacts with the local community. Key quote: "True incarnation is when I go out and get involved in a local project where I don't run the show and I don't pull all the strings" (Steve Chalke) One decision post-sabb is to keep the research going one day a week, so I've been spending Thursdays back in the Nazarene Theological College library, to write up what I've got so far, and to read further.

- Re-focus. The idealist part of me thought this sabbatical would be a neat and tidy period, ending with all loose ends tied and definite conclusions arrived at for the next stage of my work/ministry. Ha! I think we're talking 'work in progress'. No, I'm not extending it - apart that is from the day-a-week studying. I'm back with Street Pastors, Carisma etc, but feeling very much still in transition and taking up to next summer as the next stage. I'm not making any commitments past then - why, I'm not entirely sure, but from talking and praying this through with others this seems to be the way to proceed.

A final thought for Sabblog. Steve Chalke (again - that man has a LOT to answer for!) in the current Faithworks magazine says: "Vision and Frustration are exactly the same thing". Rats! I'm back from my time out with lots of fresh input and ideas about how things could be, but at the same time more aware than ever of the chasm between that and the way things often are - in local church, in community work, in my own life. If it's possible to be inspired and envisioned, frustrated and daunted at the same time... I am!

Powered by ScribeFire.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

The Golden Rule

As a Chelsea supporter this last week has been depressing, though the departure of the Special One - the most successful manager in the club's history - has been coming for a while as tensions between him and the owner have increased. One report said this was the moment when Chelsea ceased to be a football club and became a rich man's plaything. Once again, in a fight for control, the bloke with the cash has the ultimate power.

When it comes to questions of funding for local social action projects I'm fond of quoting "The Golden Rule" as defined by the Wizard of Id cartoon: "He who has the gold makes the rules". I touched on this in my last sabblog entry... where money goes is dictated by the giver. Certainly a funder should not be coerced to donate where he doesn't want to, but it means for the situation here that the people best placed to work effectively in the community have least say in getting resources to where they are most needed. Worse, funding can be used to back up the latest government initiative or think-tank or knee-jerk reaction. These change frequently so it's not uncommon for a project to find its funding stopped as it is no longer in line with the current fad, or for organisations to have to try and tweak what they really want to do to fit criteria laid down by someone else somewhere else. Worst of all is this seeming obsession with 'innovation' which makes continuation funding for last year's new idea to help it get established long term is much harder to come by. Then there's the bureaucracy... It all means those who don't have the skills for subtly wording huge application forms, or the time, end up frustrated and dis-empowered.

In my limited experience the Church Urban Fund is better at listening to local voices, while the Seedbed fund is unique in giving money straight to the cutting edge of community action with very few if any strings attached. Anyone know of any others?

Still, at the end of the day Brian, football is only a game, seemingly now even more a rich man's one. Trouble is funding is a game too, biased to those who know how to play and excluding those who don't, or won't. In both, he who has the gold makes the rules. Can that be changed?

Powered by ScribeFire.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Gold Braid and Jerk Chicken

Nothing for ages then several at once...!

Last night was the official presentation of Carisma's Queen's Award for, um, hang on (checks photo) Voluntary Service. The Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff beamed down in their gold braided uniforms and we also had the Lord Mayor and some senior Police people. I had to dig out the wedding suit again - that's twice in a week - and give the acceptance speech. Another new experience in this eventful few weeks. Actually, despite my implication that these guys are from another planet - I mean you don't actually see them every week in Asda - I had a good chat with them beforehand. One was a bit Home Counties, using words like 'churlish', but they were both nice blokes with a track record in community stuff, albeit (now who's Home Counties?) on a different level. And I now know what the difference is between the two (todays quiz question folks).

So, to the accompaniment of reggae music and followed by a superb meal of Jerk Chicken, rice and curried mutton, and with loads of friends, helpers, supporters and other activists and a TV crew in attendance, we got presented with the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service by HRH's gold-braided rep in Greater Manchester. It was a bizarre but very British mix of old and new culture which actually worked well together to make a very successful event!

The award is a nice recognition of what Carisma has achieved so far, though the experience of another community group we work closely with who got one of these a couple of years back but still mostly fund themselves makes me a bit wary of such pats on the back. I said as much (nicely I hope) in my speech, and that we'd barely started on the problem and needed more resources - money, skills, (local) people - to take it to the next stage... whatever that is. We're still a fairly chaotic, make-it-up-as-you-go-along outfit, but totally grass-roots and local with a good grasp of the issues and what needs to be done.

It's one of the things I've done a lot of thinking about during my sabbatical - all the talk of the community having the answers and empowering local people needs to get way beyond where it currently is in practice (i.e. well controlled on a fairly short leash - short-term, safe, bureaucratic, distant and subject to the whims of the latest bit of think-tank, vote-catching must-be-seen-to-be-doing-something policy. Cynical? Moi?). A culture-change is needed so provision is community-led. Or... Trust the Community. Easier said than done. Maybe this award will give us a bit more leverage and credibility to build that trust and relationship. Maybe the local churches could be the first to show that trust of community by being more willing to work WITH rather than for... and being in control of what they do. "True incarnation is when I go out and get involved in a local project where I don't run the show and I don't pull all the strings" Steve Chalke. Selah.

P.S. I was very aware that as we arrived for the presentation yesterday my mum was going into surgery in Belfast. News so far is good - the op went well and as of about 4pm today she was up and walking round the ward! Thanks for the prayers.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


Oh dear. Over a month since my last scribble. Well, since August 7...

- A lovely family holiday in Barcelona. Judith and I, plus Holly and Alannah (who decided to come this year - could it have been the choice of destination?), our niece Emma, and Grandad had 8 days in an amazing city. It was our first visit, at the recommendation of Daniel, who had spent New Year there, and who turned up en route between Romania and Madrid to stay with us for several days. Photos here.

This photo is of the Tibidabo amusement park on the hills behind the city. This being Barcelona it features antique rides, and behind it there is a double-decker church (as in one built on top on another) on top of which is a statue of Jesus, arms outstretched, almost as if he was blessing the park! Well, he did invent fun.

- Greenbelt at the end of August. Again I was on the crew at one of the venues (a throwback to my rock 'n' roll days) and also took part in a session looking at grassroots responses in Manchester to the gang violence issue. This went well, as did the whole weekend. The last night of August saw us in Stratford watching 'Twelfth Night'. Nice.

- Then, a busy two weeks leading up to Daniel's wedding (busy as in creating and printing the Service Booklets from scratch, organising PA and music, cake-baking and transport for people from Brunswick to Sheffield... and... and... and...). The day was brilliant - in the immortal words of the bloke from the A Team: "I love it when a plan comes together." Virtually everything worked out well. Family, friends, a service that was both reverent and fun, then tea and cake and photographs and a surprise "Dan & Tess - The Story" video, then the reception and speeches (including both sets of parents, and PowerPoint), then a Ceilidh. We got home Sunday evening, absolutely Wiped Out, but happy. Photos here.

About ten days before the wedding my mum - Daniel's grandma - was diagnosed with breast cancer. They wanted to operate straight away but she bumped it as she didn't want to miss the wedding. And she did not want anyone else to know about her condition until afterwards. She went in today and the op is tomorrow. You may pray.

Then, on October 2, Alannah heads off to India with Oasis for her gap-year trip...

Judith is back at work, having had to re-apply for her job (along with all the other staff), but still expected to work while the bosses made up their minds whether to re-employ her or not. Puzzled? Do the words 'Education Service' and 'City Council' help? Thought so. The uncertainty, confusion and the simple fact of tasks not getting done due to posts being left unfilled (e.g. Team Leader!) means the whole thing is in a state of some chaos at the moment. More stress.

As for the sabbatical... Well, part of the idea was to prioritise family, so in the last few weeks all other aspects have been mostly on hold. It's due to finish on September 30... I've just booked a flight to Belfast that day to visit mum for a few days (I think I'll be more useful after she comes out of hospital). I'm still hoping to get a few days away next week on solo retreat (same place as where I started - see 'Sabblog, week 1') to try and gather it all together.

Not unsurprisingly, the words 'emotional' and 'roller-coaster' have come to mind recently. Which reminds me of the amusement park in Barcelona with the statue of Jesus looking over it. Today in my email I got someone's newsletter. The opening paragraph contained these words: "As I write this letter the Father is showing me that somebody who is reading it has just discovered that somebody very close to you has been diagnosed with cancer. But don't be afraid! Your loving Father is in control." I'm sometimes a bit suspicious of these sorts of statements which can be like a Christian horoscope, but have experienced enough genuine examples of God speaking in remarkable ways to think this might be another. Impeccable timing. Your prayers would be much valued just now.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Too much information?

Our week in Keswick was fun, despite some serious rain. I went to about 5 of the convention meetings, and was pleasantly surprised to discover 'Uncle' Clive Calver was the main speaker. This man has a lot to answer for (!) not least employing me in Youth for Christ many years ago. He went to the U.S. ten years ago and is still based there, so it is at least that long since I last met him. Great to hear him in full flow again... I could tell you some stories from YFC days - maybe some other time.

I was commenting elsewhere the other day - a Conversation on ChurchMCR about blogging - and noting the sheer amount of Stuff that is available. Since I began this experiment with blogging I have been reading those of a few other people, each of which has numerous links to more ('Blogrolls', each of which have links to more and so on ad nauseum). A lot of it really interesting stuff, but if I sat here all day every day reading I'd not get through it all. Then there's all the other stuff on the internet. And then there is FaceBook, MySpace etc. I know at least one person who is put off the whole 'Web 2' thing by the volume of information, choice, options and is giving it a wide berth. There's a case for Christians showing a good use of this technology to build relationships, but aware of the need to carefully select and edit material, watch use of time, and be aware of the limitations of virtual versus face-to-face. Aforementioned ChurchMCR is a web2 site seeking to promote just that.

cartoon from

I was thinking about huge quantities of reading material again at Keswick (notice the subtle link) as I stood in one of the three bookshops and gazed out over the tables and shelves covered in books stretching off into the middle-distance. Again, not a chance of reading them all. Add to that the whatever-it-is number of hours teaching given at an event like the convention, all of it available to buy and listen to again on CD, and you have another huge amount of information, again I'm sure mostly edifying and interesting. Edit. Select. Discipline! I managed to restrict the additions to my sabbatical reading list to just two, but even so said list is now longer than when I started - there is just so much available on just about everything. As I've said here before, my head is full of inspiring stuff, now I need to get some specifics. (Still... I feel like I've been at this stage for a while now). I've actually cut back on the reading this last couple of weeks in the hope of letting some of what's gone in already settle a bit.

Is this amount of information a good thing, or too much of a good thing? I can't decide. What do you think?

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Chalk and Cheese

We're about to begin another summer (summer? Hah - it's pouring down outside!) bookended by the 'right and left wings' of Christian conferences in that, for the third year running we will be in Keswick next week during Convention time and going to some of the meetings, and then at the end of August going to Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham. The history of how we got to this point is complex and can wait for another time, but it is fascinating comparing and contrasting the two events. Chalk and cheese.

We've been to some excellent events at Keswick, but I still find myself getting mildly irritated with what I perceive - maybe wrongly - to be a slightly smug, self-satisfied tone emanating from some meetings and leaders. The emphasis is on personal spirituality to the extent that in 2005, a couple of weeks after the 7/7 bombings, at only one of the meetings I was at was this nation-shaking event or the issues behind it even mentioned! Maybe I was at the wrong meetings. Where is the application of the gospel to where people are itching, starting with where they are at rather than with what we have to tell them? Is the Church as represented here just getting older and more irrelevant?

Certainly the age profile at Greenbelt is much younger and there are all sorts of professing Christians who go there who would not be found at Keswick - e.g. Goths, Gays, 'Emerging' Church, post-congregation (of course the opposite also applies!) so levels of relevance and inclusion would appear to be better. We've been to some excellent events at Greenbelt, but I still find myself getting mildly irritated with what I perceive - maybe wrongly - to be a
slightly 'trendy lefty', 'we're more enlightened and intelligent than all those comfortable middle-class church-goers' attitude. The emphasis is on issues - environment, politics, sexuality etc. However, does Greenbelt go too far in the other direction - right out on the edge, far away from the safety, certainty and soundness of Keswick? It's been said you only find out where the line is by stepping over it sometimes.

In 'The Church After Christendom' Stuart Murray talks about different models of church:
- Bounded-set: fixed core and boundaries. Believe then belong. Secure, but restrictive. Exclusive.
- Centred-set: fixed core values; no patrolling of boundaries, good for belonging before believing
- Open-set: neither boundaries or defined centre. Inclusive but undisciplined.
- Fuzzy-set: ill-defined boundaries; liberal, relaxed. Unstable - liable to go to open-set or bounded-set

Keswick seems to me to be for those of the 'bounded set' type of church, Greenbelt ideally for 'centred set' but I wonder sometimes if it is in danger of going 'open set' in it's desire to include everyone, and so lose Christian distinctiveness... not likely to be a problem for Keswick! Or is that the chance you take when you get out of the boat? This relevance and inclusion thing is tricky isn't it? Needless to say it is another issue I've been reading and thinking about over the last while.

The two conferences are very different (I'm trying hard to think of a speaker who has appeared at both conferences and can't. Anyone know of one?), but its good to remember that both are also populated with people sincerely trying to follow Jesus as best they can and he loves them/us all!

P.S. Speaking of chalk, last year I went to the Keswick Convention Bookshop to buy 'Intelligent Church' by Steve Chalke (ouch) and couldn't see it anywhere. I asked the assistant and she, obviously embarrassed, reached into a box hidden under a table and got me a copy. Apparently the leadership at Keswick were concerned that people would be offended if Steve's books were on display. I was offended that they weren't!

P.P.S. Cartoon from here. Check it out.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

A busy weekend

Last weekend was a busy one.

Saturday (07/07/07... oo-er) was the annual Fun Day organised by the 'Friends of Swinton Grove Park'. This is a group of local residents who work with the Council's Leisure department to improve and look after the local park. Judith and I are two-fifths of the current regular membership, and the Fun Day is the biggest event of the year, both in terms of people coming and workload. Other neighbours help out on the day with the various activities (though a few more present when we started setting up at 9.30am would have been good) and the Leisure staff provide things like a generator, gazeebos etc. The recent wet weather meant numbers were down this year to around 300-350 (last year it was over 600), though there was actually no rain to speak of during the day.

It was great to see such a mix of people there from many different ethnic groups - a snapshot of our area really - all getting along and having a good time. The only iffy moment was when the bingo went haywire and the game had to be re-started... they take their bingo seriously round here! All in all a nice bit of community cohesion building in these times of 'terror', though due to the nature of our media (in part a reflection of the news we want. Discuss.) the only place you'll hear about it is right here! If you want to see some photos go here.

Sunday - Early Sunday, 7am early - was Alannah's Car Boot Sale to raise funds for her time in Zimbabwe. Thanks to the generosity of friends and folks at church we had a lot of stuff to sell and it was good fun. We couldn't find a sale on any other day than Sunday, so we had to miss church, joining of course with the many others who do so every week. It was our first time running a stall, but the traders either side and behind us were friendly and helpful, and very interested in what we were raising money for. We had some good conversations with them and a number of the shoppers. The regular traders and shoppers all knew each other and all day there was banter and laughter. In other words, a Sunday Morning community, arguably more open and welcoming than some others I could mention...

Something coming through time and time again in my sabbatical reading is the importance of community and relationships, and how they should be modeled by an outward-facing Church as a taster for the Kingdom of God. The thing is community 'out there' at it's best could teach us a thing or two! We shouldn't be trying to replace the positives of community and relationships already happening, or, perish the thought, breeze in saying, 'Watch, let us do community for you'. But we can add into the mix an awareness of the God who is already present and working among, and so make community three dimensional by adding a vertical element to the horizontal.

Powered by ScribeFire.