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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The 'n' word

I turned on the TV earlier this evening and a prog called "Lenny's Britain" was on. This is a series where Lenny Henry travels around the British Isles checking out our sense of humour, what makes people laugh in different places and in various jobs and circumstances. He was on a ferry to Ireland and then travelled to Belfast. So, I took an interest.

In Belfast he met with some Northern Irish comedians who were talking about the rise of racism that was accompanying the influx of immigrants over the last few years now the locals weren't fighting each other so much. One told a story about the apparently innocent use of the word 'nigger' by older people who had never so much as met a black person. Lenny Henry's reaction, spoken in the commentary was as follows: "I'm not so much shocked by the use of the 'n' word, more saddened. There's always a skip in my heartbeat whenever I hear it. And no matter how well-meaning the people are saying it, no matter how fitting the context, the word for me is still taboo."

As it happens this describes quite well my reaction when a few minutes earlier in a clip from his stand-up routine Lenny had used 'Jesus Christ!' as a comic swear word. I'm sure he meant no offence (it was but one of what my friend Geoff Mann called "a million casual blasphemies" in a song we used to do) and I won't be burning an effigy of him. But it reminded me again of our culture's current measures of political correctness and what will or will not be tolerated, and the marginalisation of Christians. Without in any way taking away from the genuineness of the emotion, or the history behind it, is Lenny's sadness at the mention of the 'n' word more valued than mine at the casual exclamation of the 'j' word?

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Last night was our area Confirmation Service, hosted by Brunswick. All a bit too Anglican for me, but at a basic level a good opportunity to express or re-affirm commitment... and one of those doing so was our daughter Alannah, so naturally we were there to support her.

Of course, as I sat there feeling a bit more non-Anglican than usual, God decided to remind me he can speak through anything!! As people came into the service each was given a small stone. (This is something we have done at Brunswick before, but may have been a bit of a shock to folk from other churches who might have been expecting a hymnbook!) The stone was not a means for us to express our reaction to the sermon (...though, thinking about it... I feel a digression coming on. Must... find... close... bracket...) but for us spectators to also make a fresh affirmation of our commitment by bringing the stones to the front and building a cairn.

As I sat there with my stone I thought, well... I'm part-way through this sabbatical and, as I wrote last time, at a strange stage of having laid everything down as best I can, not knowing what to pick up again or in what way, yet with a head full of inspiring but non-specific stuff and a desire to try to get beyond the 'fishing people out of the river' work to finding out and attempting to deal in some way with the bigger issues of what/who is throwing them in. To cut that very long sentence short, all I can do at this present time is make a marker of my continued trust in God to bring me through this process, hopefully strengthening that trust in that act.

It was as I was thinking this and actually getting up to go down to place my stone that the thought came to me: "It's like I'm shaping up to face Goliath, I've rejected the armour of Saul, and what I need next is the 5 smooth stones". Yowza! Good summary of where I'm up to. I don't think it means I will be given exactly 5 specific actions, but the timing and stone/stones thing was a reassuring God-incidence.

The photo is of our finished cairn at the end of the service. As always, thoughts, comments, chocolate very welcome.

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Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Some assembly required

Last week I had another day with my 'Spiritual Director' where we chatted, shared and prayed over my sabbatical/study leave so far. This was the second of three of such days we've planned for the start, mid-point and end of this time. So... about half-way in, where are things up to? I mentioned last time about the office clear-out and golf lessons being possible pictures of what is going on in the S/SL. The feeling of clear-out and being taken apart has intensified - I was saying to someone the other day it feels like the bits of my work/ministry are lying around me on the garage floor, waiting for re-assembly (I hope!). It's a strange feeling of lack of specific vision and motivation. Plenty of vaguer vision and inspiration about the church and society, culture, engagement etc coming out of what I've been reading, but nothing coming into focus yet about how exactly I will take some of that and re-enter the fray.

I've also been reminded again of a thought I had back when this S/SL was being considered - that I was like a computer that had been running lots of programmes for ages and was getting sluggish. The best thing to do with a computer in such a situation (free Tech Tip here) is to re-boot... start again just with the basic operating system. The next day (God-incidence?) I came across this quote from Bono: "That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting of a computer at regular intervals. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet" (from 'U2 on U2'). Well, the re-boot has happened and I'm now just running the basic operating system with the choice of what other programmes to add. Lots of possibilities, I can't possibly do them all, and I don't want to go back to a situation where it seemed like I was trying to do them all. (Also, I would like to find a different angle for some things, something that would work better. Too idealist? I don't know. Still thinking this one through. More anon).

I'm hoping and praying the next bit of the S/SL will see some re-assembly, some specifics. But just now it's a little weird and a bit of a struggle... that's probably something to do with impatience. I was reminded again the other day that this is a valuable time in and of itself, not just as a means to an end. And it may not happen again for some time!

I feel a twinge of guilt at the luxury of having someone spend this time focusing on me and what I'm about. I also feel a bit guilty at taking this time out when I see or meet others who seem to be able to just bash on year after year without any visible signs of fatigue, loss of vision, energy etc. Maybe they've got the balance right - the balance I've struggled with for years, leading in the end to a situation of near burn-out. When I end this time and get back involved in stuff (whatever that is to be) I need to establish a pattern or balance of activity that will include relaxation and rest, reflection and study, not in a big block like just now, but in the daily/weekly/monthly/annual round. Could be a challenge given the chaotic nature of the urban context.

As always, those of you who are, thanks for the prayers. All comments, queries, suspicions of heresy, whatever, welcome.

cartoon from

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

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Sunday, 27 May 2007

Books, birthday-bash and Wemberlee

The gaps are getting longer... sorry. Told you I wasn't too good at this diary-keeping stuff.

May so far has seen a number of reading days clocked up at NTC (Nazarene Theological College), more golf lessons and office clearing, plus a Nice Surprise, and Alannah's 18th Birthday.

Books read so far fall into two groups:

1. On reflection and silence - ' Into The Silent Land', Martin Laird; 'Poustinia', Catherine de Hueck Doherty.

2. On mission - 'Church in The Back Streets' by Stanley Evans (an urban classic from the early 60's), 'A Charismatic Approach to Social Action' by Larry Christensen (from the 70's - one of only a few I'm aware of on that subject from that spirituality), 'Church Beyond Christendom' by Stuart Murray (follow up to 'Post-Christendom' which I read earlier in the year together with 'Intelligent Church' by Steve (books-kept-under-the-table-at Keswick-Convention-Bookshop) Chalke), plus a number of articles and booklets and podcasts.

Currently I'm reading: 'Journeying Out' by Ann Morisy, 'The Secret Message of Jesus' by Brian McClaren and 'Gospel Without Compromise' by Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Yes, organised and structured as ever, I have 3 on the go at once.

Coming up in June I am going on a 5 day conference on Post Christendom led by said Stuart Murray, then later in the month the "Jesus in the City" Urban Congress in Bristol and a couple of day events looking at Community Organising. This is what a trainer said Carisma had been doing without really realising it, so I want to investigate some more and see if there is something to be learnt for future direction. That will then be about it as far as going to conferences etc will be concerned - there were a couple more things pencilled in, but there is so much buzzing in my head already I think after the stuff in June it will be time to attempt to focus down and apply. There are so many issues and areas of interest and possible research and it's like each thing I look at opens up several more.

For Alannah's 18th on the 26th she asked for a Big Family Meal, so as many as could get there got together in Sheffield for a mega pub lunch. Rumours that several of the staff handed in their notice as the horde piled in have so far been unsubstantiated. It was a lot of fun, and also Tess's (Daniel's fiancee's) introduction to a number of Alannah's aunts, uncles and cousins. She survived! Photos here.

As for the 'Nice Surprise'... Having been offered some tickets to watch Chelsea in the F.A. Cup semi-final least year, this year, thanks to my brother-in-law Dave it was one better... 3 tickets for the first F.A. Cup final at the new Wembley Stadium - again featuring Chelsea! Again I was accompanied by Daniel and Judith's Chelsea-mad cousin Martin. A great day out, and though not exactly a classic final our team did win, which was an improvement on last year. To quote Martin (every ten minutes ever since apparently): "YESSSSSSSS!"

Maybe I'm reading too much into this but the epic clearing-out of the office and the way the golf pro has taken my swing (I use that term loosely) apart before beginning to put it together again so I can do what I was doing before only better, could be pictures of what is going on ministry-wise. Whaddyawl think? Don't touch that dial, folks. Keep it here and keep praying. As always all comments etc much appreciated.

And finally, with another off-spring hitting adulthood (yes, we are that old), I thought it appropriate to include for your edification and reflection the following thought on parenthood...

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Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Greetings from Benburb

I'm writing this from Benburb Priory, Northern Ireland where I'm staying for a weekend organised by Maranatha. When I saw it advertised in their mailing I realised the venue was a place I visited about 30 years ago as a young Christian. I have since bored many people with my reminiscences of my time here and how I felt the close presence of God, particularly on several walks in the woods by the river accompanied by the Irish Setter and Cormac and Rosheen the Irish Wolfhounds that were here then. Sometimes it can be disappointing to go back to places, but this afternoon I met the two dogs that now reside here - large black things of unknown breed (though not as big as Wolfhounds) - who just like their canine predecessors came along with me on a walk through the woods. In fact I was going to walk into the village, but they met me in the drive and more or less manoeuvered me off to the right to the path to the river! Talk about deja vu! Nice one God.

There are about 25 of us on this retreat, most from various parts of Northern Ireland. At our initial meeting this evening during a prayer time someone said that they felt that we should offer up our individual agendas for the weekend up to God, what we were hoping to get from it and instead ask him to do what he wanted to do in each of us. Fair enough. My first thought was that beyond re-visiting somewhere significant in my early spiritual life I didn't really have an agenda, but then I began thinking about this sabbatical/study leave and that I had an agenda for it of "having something to show" at the end of it. And I remembered that my most recent prayer to that effect was this very afternoon. It seemed that God was saying I needed to abandon that agenda, and that it was actually a human thing - I wanted to come out of this time with a neat package of guidance and direction or reading and writing accomplished to justify the time in other people's eyes. I needed to offer the time back to him (the whole S/SL not just this weekend) and let him accomplish what he wanted for it. That may or may not include some of those things - but it won't matter either way. Maybe it's a sort of variation of Matt 6 v33. Seek first the Kingdom... It could be this is what the anonymous note from the 'Caretaker' that has appeared on the end of the first entry in this blog is about. Go have a look.

I wonder what the rest of this weekend has in store? As I have no internet connection here and can't post this yet, read on...

Wednesday, Belfast City Airport...

The weekend was rather good and had a similar feel to the Renewal events I went to in the North and South of Ireland back in the 70's. (More deja vu. Is one of the features of this S/SL some re-visiting of my spiritual roots?) The people who came are from that movement in fact, some going back to the initial move of the Spirit in the 70's, some more recently 'awakened' as one lady put it. They were a lovely bunch, mixed Catholic and Protestant and the question never arose as to who was who. Which is how it should be. Good fellowship, sharing and ministry. I ended up co-leading one session (hope that doesn't count as 'work') and played a bit of guitar on Sunday to help out as one of the musicians had to leave on Saturday night. Several people asked me if I'd thought about moving back to N.I... hopefully they were just being polite and not speaking with the Unction of you know Who!!!

Then it was back to Belfast for a few days staying with mum. As they would put it here: "My ears are tawked aff me so they are."

P.S. Experimenting with adding video via YouTube.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2007

friends, tech-support, golf, binbags, spiritual direction...

We had a good Easter break during which we saw several friends, some of whom we hadn't spent time with in ages. It was good to catch up. I also made a start on the office clear-out and had the first of my birthday golf-lessons. It was quite encouraging... the pro said that I had a natural gift for the game and that with a few minor tweaks to my swing there was no reason why in a few months I couldn't be down to a single-figure handicap and.... and then I woke up.

Then there was the day and and half of Tech Support... Judith's work laptop suddenly started behaving strangely, causing much panic as she had some course work on it NOT BACKED UP. I managed to salvage that OK after a couple of hours, but it turned out the problems were because the Hard Drive had started to die. The last Mac laptop HD I replaced was very simple, just lifted the keyboard and there it was, so I bought a new one... only to discover on this model it's a major take-to-bits job. Fortunately via good ol' Google I found a step-by-step guide with photographs. It still took several hours, but I'm glad to say the transplant was successful Doctor and the patient made a full recovery. Great time-savers these computers...

This week I've continued the office clear-out, a job which is proving much more time-consuming than I thought. A number of items have been given away via the Manchester Freecycle Group (see:, a few sold on Ebay and a LOT dumped into binbags. Yesterday I went through 3 boxes of floppy discs, destroying any that might contain State Secrets, and purged another bunch of old files c/o a shredder (anyone need a mattress stuffing?)

Today was a reading day at Nazarene Theological College (NTC). The morning was reading more of "Into The Silent Land" by Martin Laird, and in the afternoon I read and made notes on ALL of 'The Church in the Back Streets' by Stanley Evans. Impressed? Actually, it's only 49 pages! But good stuff if a bit Anglican in places. More of the same tomorrow.

I said last time I'd say more about what came out of the day with the 'Spiritual Director'. After the emphasis on the importance of the 'Rest' part of my sabbatical 3 R's (the other two being Reflection and Re-focus) we looked at the importance of understanding my rhythm and the need to find one for after my sabbatical so, ideally, I don't get as tired and unbalanced again.

We then looked at how I function in ministry and came up with the words 'builder', 'shaper', 'developer', 'provoker' - enabling things to function, connect, run, fulfill their purpose, and giving leadership in those areas. Looking ahead (beginnings of the Re-focus bit) there was a sense of needing to sort out things to leave behind, and things I'd want to take further. Russ had a picture of me stretchering people from one place to another, the implication being that it was time to let them walk on their own now.

We looked at a verse in 2 Chronicles which talks about re-casting and the importance of covering and protection while this is going on (this is where your prayers come in folks!) and of giving time for cooling and solidification into the new shape. Thoughts of re-tooling and adding skills, and also of reproducing myself - i.e. finding and envisioning and/or training others to do the sorts of things I've been doing. This is all pretty vague at the moment, but hopefully more details will emerge as time goes on. One thing that did come to mind during a time of prayer was an old image one of the Urban Presence Trustees shared of Derek and I being on bungee ropes. This was in the context of a discussion about us participating in occasional events outside of Manchester and the idea was of always bouncing back here - i.e. what we did elsewhere would come out our experience here and would relate back to it. Could this indicate more work further afield?

Near the end of the day Russ felt a clear sense that God was fashioning a new tool for me, that I'd be able to pick things up and lay them down in an easier way than before. I'd need to lean a new skill in using this tool, but that would not be difficult. Encouraging.

Something someone else sent me last week which she felt may have been from God fits so well with a lot of this: "Don't confuse a willingness to serve with an obligation to do the jobs no-one else wants/get round to doing. You can choose to be a facilitator or step into the fullness of the ministry God has uniquely for you but you can't do both things well. Don't be tempted at the end of your sabbatical to pick up everything you laid down, not even with the intention of it being short term until a replacement is found. Take the opportunity to only pick up those things you are going to concentrate on." Nice.

One other thing... several weeks ago another friend emailed me Isaiah 8 v16-20. It puzzled me a bit at the time, but together with a couple of other things I've read or heard that have struck me, it now makes sense. In working in a 'mission with' situation it is important to be clear about your boundaries, guarding a distinctive Christian ethos and integrity and being aware of the dangers of signing up to the values and reference points of your not-necessarily-Christian co-workers. See the final 2 verses The passage also talks of disciples and having children, which could refer to finding and working with others.

All interesting stuff, eh? Your thoughts, comments, reactions, accusations of heresy etc are all welcome.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Up to date

OK. I've transferred the three relevant previous posts from my other blog and now we're up to date.

So, just over 3 weeks into the Sabbatical/Study Leave (S/SL) and what has happened?

- A few days away on my own as described earlier.

- The first of three meetings (beginning, middle, end) with a 'Spiritual Director'. Very useful. He emphasised the importance of bodily rest during this time (as it might be the last for a while!) and we did a helpful analysis of where I am up to and how I have been functioning in ministry as a basis for beginning to seek out how God might be leading and developing me, particularly when I 're-enter'. More on this anon.

- A meeting with Dwight Swanson at the Nazarene Theological College. As well as being on the staff there Dwight is Chair of Urban Presence and will be giving me some academic supervision. The college has been really helpful and I now have an NTC library card. My reading and thinking so far has been quite broadly around the notion of 'Mission With'. i.e. working together with others - not just Christians - on an issue of common concern, as compared with 'Mission for' where we have much more control and direction. This is what I have been doing with Carisma and PeaceWeek and with a different emphasis, Street Pastors... and I'm trying to do some theological back-filling! Scriptural basis, limits, dangers. Already I've picked up on a couple of models to look at ('Avec' - George Lovell, 'Co-belligerance and Common Grace') as well as the obvious ones such as 'Make Poverty History', Jubilee 2000, abolition of slavery etc. I've also been doing some reading on contemplation, including re-reading 'Poustinia' and 'The Gospel without Compromise' by Catherine de Hueck Doherty and in the latter actually found some inspiring stuff on identification which feeds back nicely into the 'mission with' thing.

- A few days in Northern Ireland visiting my mum and sister and catching up with some old friends, plus getting some more reading done.

- Just back from a belated birthday celebration: a long weekend away with Judith in the Lake District. We based ourselves in Grange-over-Sands in the South and spent a day sailing and walking around Lake Windermere and another at Grasmere finishing off with a meal at The Priest Hole in Ambleside (recommended). I also had a round of golf which wasn't too depressing. On the way home we called in at the big second hand bookshop in Carnforth and I managed to pick up a copy of 'The Church in the Back Streets' by Stanley Evans, an urban ministry classic much quoted by Kenneth Leech. Now added to the reading list.

At the end of April I'm off again to a Maranatha weekend at Benburb Priory in Northern Ireland. This is a place I last visited on a retreat about 30 years ago and had an amazing time walking in the grounds and by the river with their two Irish Wolfhounds and Red Setter. (I somehow don't think they'll still be there, but maybe some of their descendants will be!) I'll also stay on for a few days in Belfast with mum again.

Between now and then I shall be continuing to give my office a thorough clear out, re-jigging some computer and PA equipment (all a part of the 're-focus' aspect of the S/SL) and doing more reading about and around 'Mission with'.

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Sabblog, week 1

[originally posted March 17]

Sabbatical/Study Leave week one...

A few weeks ago a sabbatical veteran gave me some advice... "If you're spending most of your sabbatical 'on site', as soon as possible after it starts go completely away just for a few days. It makes a break with your previous pace of life and gets other people used to your not being available."

So... c/o some generous friends, I've just got back from spending a few days in their cottage in a little village called Ravenstonedale, about where the Yorkshire Dales blur into the Lake District. No internet connection, no mobile signal. Nice to have 48 hours with no phone calls, emails or callers to get me started into what is intended to be a different pattern for the next six months. Quite a contrast coming just after PeaceWeek etc. Not that I'm shutting myself off entirely, by the way, but space has to be made for the other stuff lined up for this S/SL, including of course some rest.

While away I walked (through wind, rain and MUD!!) to an amazing Victorian Railway viaduct, now disused but restored about 15 years ago by the Northern Viaduct Trust.

While wandering around an unbidden thought popped into my head. (I've known this to be God speaking in the past - though this time it could be a blip from a mind affected by damp and 90 minutes walking). Just like the viaduct links two sides of a valley, so I have been placed between two cultures or groups - local community and local church. And, like the viaduct, mostly disused(!), However, it is important to stay there as a potential crossing point. Does that make any sense??!! The comparison should not be pushed any further thankyou (jokes about age and restoration etc..!)

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HBT me

[Originally posted on March 12]

#2 is reached. Such a landmark when one reaches the changeover of the 10's digit in age. Apparently. Not surprisingly I feel no different from yesterday. Nice to indulge in some PRESENTS however!!

Also sabbatical day 3, which I have decreed a day off. It's my birthday, I'm allowed.

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Sabblog Day One

I've decided to set up a dedicated Sabbatical Blog. Here it is

[Originally posted on March 10 on my other blog.]

OK. Today is Sabbatical/Study Leave (S/SL) Day One. I made it. These last few weeks, taking in preparation for PeaceWeek*, PW itself, and a whole stack of loose end-tying and "could you just before you go" jobs, have left me somewhat exhausted. I don't know if it's linked but I also have developed a red (though thankfully non-itchy and non-contagious) rash over most of my upper body in the last 10 days. Anyone know what it is? My GP doesn't! He gave me some cream to rub on it which I think could be re-packaged toothpaste for all the difference it's making so far.

(*interrupted by preparation at 48 hours notice for a visit to these parts from Rt Hon Tony Blair involving two meetings which Street Pastors and Carisma were asked to facilitate. As I'm involved in both...)

The websites I've linked to just there have more about PeaceWeek and the PM's visit. Both went well.

I'm told that the first while of the S/SL will be detoxing... winding down, clearing up a few more loose-ends, but most importantly Making The Break in terms of daily pattern, don't expect too much too soon. So, on some advice from a Sabbatical Veteran I've booked a few days away next week. And a few more the week after. And a few more the week after that, this time with Judith.

More about the plans for the next few months anon. My plan is to use this space for some random thoughts, prayer requests (a big hello to members of my Monthly Email Prayer News which this will be replacing for a while) and to log stuff I want to remember from what I'll be reading. Responses very welcome.

Now for Cusp #2...