This week my colleagues have been putting some really good things online, and I’m happy to share them- this comes from Bishop Sarah-
This week in Manchester we have unfortunately seen the NHS and emergency services at its best and Lucy Easthope in the Guardian online talks about how the emergency response of Monday night has been planned over many years. The planning has included “training people to sit patiently with a mother and ask her gently for permission to […]
Sharing a post from my friend Ash Leighton Plom… further thoughts on Acts and yesterday’s talk will be posted tomorrow and in days to come, but I thought this was worth a read-
Today’s blog is from Martin Goss, Diocesan Environment Officer for Exeter:
Five years ago the Diocese of Exeter submitted plans to construct six small-scale wind turbines on its land in three different parishes in north Devon. These were part of an overall strategy for the Church of England in Devon to reduce its Greenhouse Gas carbon emissions. In the event the planning applications were withdrawn amidst an ambience of acrimony and unpleasantness.
In retrospect, it was agreed the process had not been well handled and there were lessons to be learned. However, the continuing legacy of the whole process was to release dubious forces of animosity and division which last to this day.
This pervasive ‘nastiness’ was, on the whole, invoked by people’s fear and uncertainty about the future, and therefore triggered a reaction which was fully self-motivated and self-protective.
I sense that the same kind of bitterness is now threatening to engulf us all as we head towards the 2017 General Election. The country is painfully divided and frightened, and extreme reactions are magnified through the media, unsettling us all. Racism, xenophobia and cultural hostility are on the rise. Cynicism prevails and lies become acceptable. All this, and more, is extremely nasty – especially if you are on the receiving end.
This is not to say there should not be political challenge and cut and thrust debate, which are both fundamental parts of our evolving democracy. But when the entire election seems to split people or communities and we are apparently possessed by a spirit of the ‘uncommon bad’, we need to ask deeper questions. Feeling bitter is not necessarily a healthy motivator for change.
Pope Francis, in his recent TED talk, speaks rather of the need for a ‘revolution of tenderness’. Love is the tenderness which starts in the heart and extends to the eyes, ears and hands to shape a different future. “Tenderness is being on the same level as the other” he said compassionately.
To politicians and decision makers he adds, “The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, and the more responsible you are for acting humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other”. Prospective Parliamentary Candidates please note!
Through public elections people of faith are called to remember that they are also citizens and therefore have responsibilities for both the local community and the wider society in which they live. We are invited to make choices that will have consequences not only for our civilisation now but also for the future. The decisions of politicians today will determine life in this world for generations to come…
The media and others will pressurise us into voting for those who say they will deliver good things for us – actions which will enhance oursecurity or safety, policies which favour our communities and our households.
Yet deep at the heart of the Gospel is a message to be concerned and caring for the most vulnerable people in our world – those whose human growth is stunted by disease or poverty or oppression. All Christians have a moral duty to look beyond their own interests and speak up for justice and kindness in a broken world. For us there is a vision of a different kind of society where the gifts of all are included, and the needs of all are met. Some of us recognise this as the Reign of God, in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first; in which peaceful means of managing conflict are preferred to violence and war, in which strangers are welcomed; and in which people are enfolded in kind-heartedness at times of real uncertainty.
We therefore vote not only for ourselves but more for others, voting out of tenderness not bitterness.
‘Everything begins in mystique and ends in politique’ said spiritual writer Charles Péguy. So to speak up for the poor, the planet and the future are central actions that grow out of a prayerful life which may begin in the mystery of God but always ends in political action…
May these sentiments influence the choices we make more than the clamour of appealing to our selfishness, greed or fear. In the end we are judged not by how we feather our own nests by how we care for the other.
All best wishes – Martyn
The future of humankind is in the hands of the people who recognise the other as a ‘you’, and themselves as part of an ‘us’(Pope Francis)
Usually this blog is based around what I’ve been preaching on- my own thoughts and reflections on a passage from the Bible and the things that are going on in life. You may have noticed that some weeks I appear to have no thoughts (or at least nothing worth sharing)… and while this may be true, the reason nothing comes onto the blog is because someone else has preached at our Sunday worship times. In one of our churches those talks are recorded and uploaded onto our website and itunes, and you can listen to them or find them here– you can also download them from itunes, I suggest you go via our website rather than searching on itunes or click here if you want to subscribe. Anyway, in the other church those talks don’t get recorded or uploaded, instead we just allow people to remember them, or not.
A few weeks back a friend preached, and it a real good’un, and so I’ve asked her to give me the text to post here- so, a guest post by my good friend Jo Pay, based on chapter 6, verses 25-34 of Matthew’s Gospel-
When I was a teenager the Daily Mail used to run the Peanuts comic strip and I used to cut out those that I thought were apt, I occasionally come across them stuck between pages in books. There was one with Charlie Brown and Linus, where Linus is asking if Charlie Brown is worried about tomorrow; he answers no – he’s still hoping that yesterday will get better! This little cartoon strip perfectly illustrates the theme from our 2 readings today – Worry and Hope. I tried to find the comic strip, but although I flicked through a number of books I couldn’t locate it – never mind it’s around somewhere.
Now at times I can be a bit of a worry wart; am I packing the right clothes for this holiday, will the meeting at work today go alright, will I catch the train this morning as I’m running a bit late! Not huge all the time sort of worrying, but odd and quite specific concerns – probably quite trivial in the grand scheme of things.
Our reading today tells us specifically not to worry. I find it really refreshing that Jesus recognised this inbuilt trait in humanity to worry. Also it’s quite reassuring that it was prevalent enough then to warrant a mention, and there’s us thinking that we have the monopoly on things to worry about?! Times obviously don’t change that much.
So worrying, why do we do it? Is it because we think that by making a real conscious effort and dwelling on something we could possibly make any difference to a situation, or to the outcome?
Let’s look at the reading – it opens with ‘do not worry about your life’ and goes on to say ‘is not life more important than food’? This made me think about planning, just because God tells us not to spend time worrying about our life, it doesn’t mean that we can’t plan, or map out our lives. Now I might think that I do this, but oh no I’m just a mere amateur compared to some! When I worked at Wrafton Labs in the Development Team we had a gap year student, who had planned exactly how he wanted his life to be. He was working with us for a year and then studying Chemical Engineering at University. He had decided that he wanted to work for BP, he’d even decided at what age he would marry and when he would have children, and yet at that time he didn’t even have a girlfriend – wow! I’d never met anyone like that before to have such strong views on how his life would be, I remember thinking at the time what would happen if it didn’t turn out like that, maybe that wouldn’t be the case as he was so determined! In comparison my life is a bit more ‘unstructured’, allowing space for God to steer, or push. I have aspects of planning as for an example, from quite a young age I was determined to work for ICI at Plant Protection Division, and I did, however when I look back the ‘steer’ from God can be quite visible, although when you are there in the moment, it doesn’t feel like it. We don’t have to just sit there and worry about how our life will turn out, or what will happen to us – we can plan and turn it prayerfully over to God and relieve ourselves of that worry.
I was thinking of this passage as I was in the garden at the weekend filling up the bird feeders. Yes lots of people now help God out and feed the birds, however some of my shrubs still have some berries on them, and the blackbird was having a good old root around in the leaf mould finding insects, so there is still plenty of God given food for them. So why do we feed the birds? I think that it is because we care for them, enjoy them visiting the garden; Not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. Maybe some people feel that the only way they can show care for somebody is to worry for them, or about them. But we need to develop a better way of showing we care to relieve ourselves of the worry. Our heavenly Father cares for us, it says that he knows what we need. We need to sometimes give ourselves a shake and remember exactly how much God knows us, he knows the number of hairs on our head, he knit us together in our mother’s womb – put your cares back onto God. Stop worrying and enjoy the life that God has given you, know that it is all within his plan for you.
So now we’ve managed to consider our worrying habits and think about bringing it back into perspective and under control we can consider the second reading – we can have hope for today and tomorrow.
Now this reading is a bit more challenging, I’ve been doing some reading on it in preparation and one author stated that we need to read chapter 8 as the Victory chapter, the turning point in Romans where Paul tries to show us what is awaiting us. But if we are just considering the passage in question and especially thinking about hope I found a really good analogy which I will share. This passage was likened to watching a football game, or your sport of preference, between the team you support and a n other team. Your team isn’t doing well and so you are groaning, probably shouting at the TV. Part of you wants to hope that it will turn out to have the result that you want, a win for your team, however at the moment that hope is unfounded and you are in despair. Then, suddenly in the last few minutes of the game your team turns themselves around, the crowds are cheering them on – you are on your feet in the living room, shouting and screaming as they score the final winning goal. The hope you had in them has been realised. However you feel emotionally like you have gone through the wringer, yet if you watch any of that game on the highlights later on, you will have a completely different outlook all the way through, your despair is not so deep because you know the outcome. Well this is what Paul says we should be like, our despair, our pain, our worrying should not be too deep because we know that God sent Jesus to die in our place. We can have that hope that it won’t be too bad, we can wait patiently because we know it will be good. However it is worth remembering that this hope needs to be our attitude to life, it won’t always be easy, life happens to us in all its glory and some of it can be a bit tough, we have those worries about those specific things in our life that can swamp us at times. We need to pray daily for hope to arise in our lives, to know that those things that make us worry and feel hopeless have been overcome by Christ’s death on the cross.
So let’s try this all together, praying daily for hope, kicking our worries into touch so that we shine with God’s light flooding us from within – maybe even changing what Charlie Brown thought and having hope for today and tomorrow.
No, not that kind of ashes and cake… I didn’t get around to blogging anything about Ash Wednesday, partly because I was too busy prepping for it and then was trying to enjoy the afternoon with my family afterwards, but a friend of mine blogged about what he was doing here. Interestingly he’s also thinking about how to relate to folks who would be more comfortable meeting and talking in a pub than in a church, which is something that we’re exploring in our local.
Anyway, here’s Rob’s reflections on Ash Wednesday-
It’s been a pretty busy time … a few things to update and for me to reflect on.
So we arrived at the bus stops at 730am on Ash Wednesday. We were both robed. I was a little nervous. We positioned ourselves, with our small containers of ashes and a handful of our postcards which had a lent prayer and explanation attached to them, at each of the bus stops opposite each other and waited.
We did not have to wait long until we were engaged in conversation with a variety of people. Some asked about the ‘fancy dress’ while others told us simply that they knew it was Ash Wednesday and, ‘yes please …. could you ash me and pray for me’.
In all we gave ashes to just over 30 people in the hour we were there. People seemed encouraged and blessed by our presence; even people who did not wish to receive ashes or a postcard commented that they liked to see ‘the church’ out with the people. Lots of people did not wish to engage and avoided any eye contact and it was very right to respect their dignity and give space, but many also wanted to engage and ether connect or reconnect in some simple way with God, their Creator.
Wednesday morning was encouraging.
Then came Wednesday evening.
For a large part of the previous week I had posted a message asking anyone that was interested in birthing a new church on the Greenwich Peninsula to meet me at the local pub on Wednesday evening. I even blogged it here. After much prayer I felt this was right to ‘put out there’ and was convinced that, through this, I would find the first of the new people that would join us to create church here.
I arrived very confidently at 7:55pm.
I waited more.
It seemed I waited an age so I looked at my watch and saw it was only 8:15pm.
I laughed at myself.
8:15 became 9, and 9 became 10.
No one came. No one showed up.
The good beer could only be a scuffed and scratched, rather than silver, lining on the evening.
Whenever you plan or hope to meet with people and they do not show it is hard to take. I was convinced I would meet one key person that evening … and yet the reality was I felt pretty invisible and anonymous in the pub. A few weird looks at the start (obvs I was in dog collar!) dissolved into nothingness. Even in Rochester I was sworn at or the butt of jokes ….. but here … nothing!
It felt harsh.
I wondered if I had got everything wrong.
I questioned whether what I am trying to do here is even possible.
I then I heard a memory …. a memory about presence and being present.
I had to acknowledge that I believe I have been called here by God to work with the people that are here to create something. But …. over and above that calling, God asks me to be present here. Properly present, present and available. We were present and available in the morning and people were encouraged …. I was present and available in the evening and seemingly people didn’t notice …. but it is immaterial …. it changes nothing …. present and available is what I am called to be ….. and present and available is what I will continue to choose to be.
So I go out today …. not too sure where … but wherever …. present and available is what I will be.
As for what we did… rather than ashing by the bus stop, we offered ashing as part of a prayer/reflection space that took place alongside our family coffee and cake morning- so we had a few folks coming along specifically for the service, some members of the church who would be there anyway coming for prayer and some kids and their mums having a good look at what was going on and taking part a bit… a different way of making prayer and the idea of Focussing on God (which was our theme for this year) accessible to folk who’ll come to church for cake but not yet for God.
On the pub front, we don’t have a name for what we’re doing, but we’re going to do something… I guess the difference between what Rob is trying and what we’re trying is that he’s at the stage of connecting with people at the moment, while a small group of us who’re involved at this stage have a list of around 20 people we could invite along… we’ll see where it goes from here…
This was posted on Faithworks yesterday, its worth a read, and whether you feel that there should be more done/said to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, or that there should be more done/said to make the genocides against other peoples during the last century, put that to one side and read it down to the end. Its the final sentence that challenges and speaks most to me…
JANUARY 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date the United Nations has chosen to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were killed.
The anniversary, marked each year since 2005, falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland by the Russian army in 1945. One million people died there.
The president of the European Parliament has warned of rising anti-Semitism as Holocaust Memorial Day is marked around the world.
The Parliament held its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day with the European Jewish Congress on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
It came as Auschwitz survivors travelled to the camp in modern day Poland to lay flowers and remember those who were murdered by the Nazis.
Speaking at the memorial day event in Brussels, Mr Schulz warned that many Jews across Europe still do not feel safe.
He said: ‘Jewish life is part of our culture and our identity. Without the Jews, Europe would not be Europe. Therefore it hurts that in today’s Europe, Jews again live in fear.
He added: ‘Our collective memory of the Holocaust is fading fast, but if we allow the horrors of the past to fade into history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes again.
‘We need more that just ceremony and commemoration. When anti-Semitism is on the rise, when Jews are once again fleeing Europe.
‘When a murderous Islamic extremist ideology is threatening our existence, we need action as well as words.
‘It is time for our leaders to commit to a robust, unified and coordinated approach to tackling anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism.
‘We must all stand against hate refuse to allow history to repeat itself, making ‘never again’ a reality.’
How to actually do that? Standing against hate without allowing hate to rule us? How do we ‘tackle’ something without force or violence? And if we do go down the path of violence, what steps can we take as we go to ensure that this is the last time?
There’s an Iain M Banks novel, ‘Look to Windward’ that explores the whole idea of redemptive vengeance in parallel with soulless compassion… whether its worse or better to do the wrong things for strongly held beliefs or to do the right things because they are right, whether we feel passionately about them or not… His conclusion is along the lines of the maxim that ‘the best politicians are the ones who don’t want the job’… giving responsibility for making decisions about conflict to those who’ve suffered and survived, who’ve come to a place of personal peace and forgiveness… those are the ones who won’t glibly launch bombs for the sake of votes… or is that just another naive dream?
Oh, and what would Jesus do? What did he ask his followers to do? I don’t mean what did Thomas Aquinas theorise which became developed into the ‘Just war theory’ that the UN bases its decision-making process on, but what did Jesus do and say about hate and conflict? Answers on a postcard please.
So, I live in a mono-cultural part of the UK, not because of any ethnic segregation but because of distance and work availability. Or at least, it used to be monoculture, and monochrome (I do remember meeting, quite literally, the first black African who lived in the village, and the first Thai family who moved into the next village…). Now, 15yrs on, the culture is predominantly white british, but with a lot of diversity at the fringe- there are families from all over Europe, Africa and Asia who’ve moved here with work (schools and the hospital plus the beach lifestyle/tourism mostly); but very much in the minority.
The question I have is whether race is an issue here- is someone’s colour and ethnic background a marker or just an identifying feature? Does it cause someone offence to describe them by their background/hair style/skin colour/employment? I know folks who’d answer both ways to that question…
But the question of race isn’t just colour- its status: refugee, migrant worker, incomer (that’s me, by the way), ex-colonial and so on. Here the question is as much about the camps in Calais, the welcome we give EU nationals working here for a summer, how we treat the families of those who’ve been recruited from overseas to run our healthcare…
Anyway, with all that in mind, I read the post below on Gospelrelevance and thought I’d share it:
One Year Later: 7 Ways To Respond To The Ferguson Aftermath
This past week marks one year since the death of Mike Brown. How should you respond to Ferguson aftermath?
I grew up in St. Louis, in a placed called “North County,” about 15 minutes away from Ferguson. I lived in North County most of my adult life until moving away for college. Having spent most of my life in NoCo, as they call it, these are familiar grounds. And I know about the hardships of this area: my uncle was innocently murdered when I was in 4th Grade by a stranger over some chump change.
I’m not saying I’m the most qualified to write this post. But I’m certainly not ignorant. I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m on the inside crying out.
So what should you do?
Last year I wrote a response post right after Michael Brown’s death. My aim was to challenge Christians to respond in a proper, godly way. But now that it’s been over one year, I think we should revisit the question: How should Christians respond to Ferguson?
Here’s at least 6 ways:
1) Continue to pray.
As soon as you mention prayer, some Christians reply, “I know, I know. But what else can I do.” If this is your attitude, you don’t understand the importance (or power) of prayer. Sure, activity is crucial. You can’t just sit around and do nothing. But to think lowly of prayer is to think lightly of the Savior — the one who is ready to grant requests according to his will for those who ask, seek, and knock. Pray for humility, for reconciliation, for wisdom, for love, for help. Prayer is the first step.
2) Perform a self-examination (again).
It’s easy to criticize the media, but this is of no value to you if you don’t examine your own heart. Do you struggle with racism? Do you racial-profile others? Do you show favoritism to your race? Others might not know, but God does. Confession and repentance is the fist step for healing.
3) Start a racial dialogue.
I think a “Win” in the past year has been the increased emphasis of CNN and Fox News and other media outlets on having more conversations about race, social justice, and the like. Sure, the info is sometimes incorrect and biased. But at least a discussion is happening, and the emphasis being made more prominent. The media — and Social Media — are talking.
What about you?
You probably won’t be on CNN this week. But you can have a dialogue with your neighbor.
One week after the shooting, I went to a gym in North County. Eager to learn, I pursued a dialogue with an African-American about the situation. I was hesitant and timid and didn’t know if he would reply in an adverse way. But he didn’t. I asked a ton of questions about his upbringing and negative experiences. I wanted to know what it was like to walk in his shoes. And I learned a lot.
That one conversation taught me more about race and injustice than all the articles I read combined.
The good news is that you can do the same.
Can you have someone of a different race over for dinner this month? I promise you won’t regret it.
4) Build multi-ethnic churches.
I’ve been in the church since 7th grade, visiting dozens and dozens of churches in my lifetime. The number of times I’ve been the only minority in the room is staggering. This is a problem. Pastors in St. Louis — and all around the world — should be committed to building multi-ethnic churches.
There have been books, blogs, conferences, and movements dedicated to this point. All of which can be helpful. But something John MacArthur one said stuck with me that I think can help.
During a Q&A session, a pastor asked MacArthur for advice because his church was struggling with evangelism, seeing very few people converted. “The first thing I would do to help is hire someone with the gift of evangelism on my staff,” replied MacArthur. He explained how this can ignite a fire within the church staff, and the church itself.
This is won’t always be available. But if he or she fits the biblical qualifications, I can see how hiring a minority on staff can help promote the cause of the pursuit of multi-ethnic churches.
Many movement promoting racial justice have sprung since Mike Brown’s death, with Black Lives Matter rising to prominence. This is good. It’s a healthy sign that people are being shaken out of apathy, and are moving towards activity. But here’s the deal: apart from a gospel-centered moment, the impact of various movements will be limited. What people need is not just behavior modification, but heart transformation. And that power is only available through the gospel.
Racism exists because of sin, and Jesus is the solution. Even John Piper admitted to growing up racist, and I have had my battles, being picked on from multiple ethnicities. The solution? Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News preached and taught through the power of the Holy Spirit is what will change our racist tendencies, and provoke a love for one another. Not gonna lie: a part from Jesus changing my heart, I would be a racist, prideful jerk. Jesus is — and will always be — the solution.
7) Continue to press forward and look to eternity.
Call me pessimistic, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see a remedy this side of things. Even without violent or prejudicial actions, racism exists because of sin, because of you and I. It’s easy to point the finger. But we should be looking in the mirror. And this sin is not going away, not until Jesus returns.
And he is. His perfect life, death, and resurrection has made a way for God’s people to live forever with him. One day, in a way that I don’t understand, all this wrong will be made right.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
All the tears shed from injustice and racism will one day be wiped forever. Until then, press on.
A friend brought the insane amounts of rubbish left behind at the end of Glastonbury this year to my attention in an article here. It talks about the writer’s outrage at the lack of care that people take over their rubbish, and their belongings… its not just carboard plates being dropped or people peeing in hedges, there are thousands of tents being left behind… every year.
Its easy to sit at home and complain- after all, I didn’t go and leave any rubbish, and when I was there 20yrs ago I used the bins and took all my stuff back home- including my tent which had acquired a broken zip when a drunken neighbour tried to enter one night…
But the problem is bigger than recycling cans, or buying food with less packaging… there’s something fundamentally flawed in how we live our lives, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m as much to blame as those who buy a cheap tent for the weekend and don’t bother trying to take it home.
At the heart of it all- I want what I want. And I want to have it. And when I want something different, I want that too. The thing that I used to want? I don’t want it anymore… I don’t want it later or tomorrow… I don’t want it. The only reason I might still want it, is if I can sell it to someone who wants it, so that I can get more of the thing that I now want.
Whatever it might be. Here’s an example- I don’t think I’m very materialistic- I’ve had 5 mobile phones in the last 12 years, which i think puts me fairly low down on the spectrum of phone owners in the uk… but when I buy a new phone, do I consider what I’ll do with the old one? I can leave it with the shop- they may recycle it (which, if they do, is certainly a recent development). I can give it (or sell it- see above) to someone else- that worked for phone number 3 and extended its life by another 2yrs. But at the bottom line, I want a new phone to improve my life, and the old phone is redundant and unwanted. I don’t want to spend time, thought or money on it anymore.
Back to Glastonbury- I’m at a festival, surrounded by thousands of people eating takeaway food on disposable plates having driven here in cars in order to watch music that I’ve got a pre-recorded copy of… I’m trying to create an experience that matches up with my desires- I want it, and I want it now. If I see someone with tasty falafels, then I don’t want my homemade pasta salad anymore… Once one or two people start to say its ok to trash/dump things, then the idea of not having to dispose of or sort out my rubbish/tent/clothes when I get home becomes attractive- I want it, because it is part of the dream experience- all the fun with no mess!
But what is the solution? Its not hiring cleaners- that just makes me more prone to leave things lying around. Its not pointing the finger- that ends up with me looking like an eco-pharisee. Maybe its to do with rethinking the story- I’m still creating my experience, still living the dream baby… but there’s a different ending… I have the great time, and I know I trod lightly in the world whilst I was here (being careful not to tread on others)… and maybe if a few of us start to live this new story (which might be a really old story, maybe?) then a few others might be intrigued or inspired too…
In Nepal when climbers go to Base Camp to climb Everest, there’s a requirement that you have to bring back a certain amount of stuff, based on your group size and the weight of luggage you’re carrying- basically so the mountain doesn’t get covered in rubbish. Its something that was introduced a number of years back, and as far as I know its working- there is less rubbish now than 15 years ago… but it works because the people involved understand the idea- they get the story thats being told and want to help create a different ending. They’ve been willing to take responsibility for solving a problem that they were creating.
Who’s fault is it?
Is that even a helpful question to ask?
Maybe one alternative is ‘can it be my responsibility?’ and if the answer is yes, then how can I rewrite the story.
You may be wondering how this all fits with exploring and living a life of faith… well hold that thought… till another time…
Reposting this from a blog I follow, ‘Holy Soup’. The original post can be found here. Clearly this is written from an American church perspective, but there’s lots to challenge and help us think here in the UK. Here in Devon the biggest challenge is that we’ve lots of beautiful old buildings in sparsely populated areas- even if the whole population came each week (or didn’t meet in the church but met in a well-heated hall or someone’s house or whatever- you get what I mean), it would fill the existing space… so what to do with these beautiful, costly, ancient spaces that are not easily adaptable? But, thats an aside really… what about the buildings where there is a reasonable population, and where the church space is one of the larger buildings in the community that is publicly available? Read on…
“In a decade, America is going to have a whole different look, as far as what is a church and where is a church. And what about all these empty buildings?” asks American Church Magazine publisher Steve Hewitt in the documentary When God Left the Building.
Verlon Fosner watched his church, Westminster Community Church in Seattle, dwindle to the point that its spacious building no longer fit the shrinking congregation. “The level of desperation was pretty high,” Fosner said. The congregation faced a tough decision.
Shifting and declining churchgoing habits are causing an unprecedented shake-up in the religious real estate scene. Take a look at the headlines:
“Banks Foreclosing on America’s Churches in Record Numbers” (Reuters). “The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures.”
“Churches: The New Risky Bet” (Christianity Today). “Hundreds of congregations have filed for bankruptcy or defaulted on loans.”
“Churches Find End is Nigh” (The Wall Street Journal). “The past few years have seen a rapid acceleration in the number of churches losing their sanctuaries because they can’t pay the mortgage.”
“Decline in Church-Building Reflects Changed Tastes and Times” (The Wall Street Journal). “Construction of religious buildings in the U.S. has fallen to the lowest level at any time since private records began in 1967.”
Even still-growing megachurches are shifting away from building massive edifices. There are exceptions, of course, such as Kansas City’s Church of the Resurrection, which is in the midst of a $90 million construction project.
But, as most congregations shrink and donations dwindle, church members and leaders find it increasingly difficult to justify–or afford–the expense of a cavernous auditorium space that gets used once or twice a week.
So, what does the future hold for America’s aging inventory of church buildings? For many congregations, this question raises some other, bigger, questions about ministry and mission. Beyond that beautiful building on the corner, how is God calling his church? What constitutes truly worthy stewardship of a congregation’s tithes and offerings?
A NEW REALITY
While American culture has often identified a church with its real estate, that may be changing. A few trends are emerging:
1. Make space more flexible. Fixed seating is giving way to movable chairs, allowing the sanctuary space to serve multiple uses throughout the week–for the congregation as well as other community groups.
2. Share buildings. Using creative and cooperative scheduling, multiple congregations can share the same real estate. The Mormons figured this out long ago.
3. Unfasten the weekly gathering. Some congregations follow a modified house-church model, where small groupings meet weekly or bi-weekly in homes or other places. Then all these mini-congregations come together once a month, in a rented public space, for a city-wide worship gathering.
4. Get out and go to the people. Some congregations have turned their real estate woes into opportunities to become truly missional. They’ve sold or leased out their church buildings and taken their ministry to the streets and neighborhoods around them.
That’s just what the people of Seattle’s Westminster Community Church did. When attendance continued to drop by 15 percent a year, the congregation decided to vacate their beautiful building. They rented out that space to local non-profit groups. And they’re using the rental income to fund their ministry dream–Community Dinners.
Verlon Fosner and his Westminster members now go out, five nights week, to various Seattle neighborhoods and provide dinner and ministry for area residents. I recently visited one of these sites, at a local community meeting hall. Westminster volunteers welcomed the neighbors with a tasty meal, nice tablecloths, live music, and a visual artist creating a painting. As the locals began enjoying their dessert, that location’s young pastor offered a simple 10-minute gospel message.
In Westminster’s former brick-and-mortar configuration, weekly attendance had dropped to 225. Now, its Community Dinners reach 900 people per week.
I mean, really, this is about finding ways to fulfil the instructions Jesus gave to his follwers, and the kingdom manifesto that he introduced in his own ministry… which is exactly the theme we’re picking up for this coming Sunday, so watch and listen closely…
Did you know that Neil from the lunatic 1980’s BBC comedy The Young Ones was paraphrasing (or possibly parodying) Jesus in the episode where he and Rick attempt to grow their own veggies in the back garden? If you choose to watch the episode (the specific clip of which can be found on Youtube here) then be warned its not very polite… but the Young Ones never had any aspirations in that direction.
Anyway, last weekend we were reflecting on the original version as we looked at Mark chapter 4, verses 35-end, where Jesus talks about seed growing and the harvest coming. The passage also includes a version of the mustard seed parable which I’ve talked about elsewhere so didn’t get covered this time around…
When we moved into our current house there was a tree growing outside the lounge window- I call it a palm, but I think it might really be a yucca. It was as high as the guttering of the house, with lovely gigantic flowers that the birds loved and long leaves. About 3yrs ago, when we had a particularly cold winter it, and many similar ones in town, was seriously damaged by the cold and frost- every leaf on it died, and after leaving it for around 6 months to see whether there would be any recovery, I cut it down, leaving a stump to see what might happen (in the back of my mind I expected to turn the stump into a bird feeding table). In the next year around a dozen plants sprouted from around the base, and we’ve now thinned them down and there are 2, well, trees of about 10 feet tall and for the first time the huge flowers have appeared… Things do not always turn out in the way or in the timing that we expect.
Jesus speaks about growth of seeds in many of his parables…the mustard seed, the harvest, the sower, the workers in the field etc… is he just using a easily understood metaphor that represents life or is there something basic to his message- when he speaks about the Kingdom of God and his work, he is talking about something that grows? I think it is the latter- for Jesus growth is an intrinsic part of the Kingdom of God. Growth is the name of the game… how we talk about that is quite varied, but ultimately the church has been sent into the world with the expectation that we will witness growth. Some churches focus on the ‘scattering of seed’, some on the growth of the crop, others on the harvest- the reality is that all 3 are essential.
Scattering the seed- this phrase encompasses all that a church and the individual members of a church do that allows the world to see, hear and in any other way encounter the Good News of Jesus Christ- that is the seed. It includes the preaching of the gospel at a Christmas service or in a school or the talking about church with friends, family or colleagues during the week; the welcome extended to new faces at coffee mornings, mini music and Wednesday club- but also the welcome extended by any of us to a new face in our street or a new member of any group we’re part of. But, and this is important- we need to be scattering seeds of the Kingdom of God rather than just simply being nice… whatever we do, we do it as a Christian- a follower of Jesus, a disciple, with the expectation that God can and does work through our lives in the lives of those around us.
Take a moment to think about what are the essential aspects of the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, as far as you understand them- that you would want to hear shared with others…
Now turn to the person next to you, and ask them to share with you one or two of those things- just briefly.
To include- Jesus is the son of God, through whom we can receive the gift of eternal life and become children of God. All of us have sinned and are in need of forgiveness, which is available for those who ask. When we turn and receive that forgiveness Jesus sends his holy spirit to help us live as his followers.
Growing the crop- this is a really key stage that can easily be missed. Those of us who’re impatient may want to sow seed and gather the harvest in the same moment- I know I’ve done that. When we’ve spoken with someone, or had a chance to show generous love in a way that reveals our faith, we may want to see the fruits immediately. But we need patience. Patience is waiting with expectation and anticipation- its not the same as doing nothing. While the crop is growing we don’t dig it up and look at the roots or pick the fruit to taste if its ripe… We water it, we tend it- in the Christian life that translates to praying for people, and to continuing to be there for them… How long does it take? Because these are people we’re talking about it varies- from months to years, but on average it takes someone 5-7yrs and 35 ‘encounters’ with the gospel to move from a first hearing to a place of naming themselves as a Christian; but many of us know people who’ve come to faith after much longer, or people where we’re still seeing no results after years… Its easy to give up, its easy to try to rush things, its easy to wonder whether anything is happening… but just as a plant grows all by itself when its in the right conditions, our role at this stage is to provide a place where people can grow- where faith can grow. This is the season of persistence- persistence in prayer and in presence, in being there.
Take a moment to think about those people in your lives where the seed of God’s word has been planted, and there is not yet much sign of it- those people who know your faith but don’t yet ‘get it’ themselves. Those are the people you could be praying for… and we can all be praying for them too.
Turn to the person next to you and ask them ‘who are you praying for, who can I be praying for?’
Gathering the harvest- for some people this is the really exciting part, for others this is the bit they’d like to leave to others, but Jesus has a clear instruction and encouragement for his followers here- there is a harvest, and it needs to be gathered. There are people we know who would like to come to know God- who would like to come to faith and be a part of the church. Something like 20% of the UK population, when asked ‘would you go to church if someone asked you?’ said yes- there are people who want to come. Many don’t know that they can simply turn up (despite signs saying ‘all welcome’), many have had a bad experience in the past or are nervous about coming alone and not knowing what to do- they need to be invited. And there are others, for whom coming to church isn’t the problem or the aim, but who are seeking a spiritual meaning in life- looking around at world religions and schools of philosophy, taking their pick from them all, like the values but not understanding that they have their source in the person of Jesus and God… they all need help to come to place of realisation that God is there for them and that today they can meet him- that they needn’t wait any longer… that the question ‘and why not you?’ applies to their life.
So take a moment now- who do you know that might be at that place where they have heard the Gospel, the seed has grown in their life over time, and they are now ready to come to faith? If you know more than 10 people outside this church, the chances are you know someone who would like to either come to church or come to faith…
If you’ve a pen, write their name down. Or put a note on your phone, or just remember it until later… Don’t forget this person. Pray about how you could encourage them and genuinely help them to know that they are welcome in church and to come to God- they’ll need knocking into shape, but no more than the rest of us and God knows what He is doing.
And the reality is that these things that I’ve been talking about are easier than we fear. They’re not complicated and you don’t need huge amounts of training- if you know people, and care about them, and if you appreciate the wonderful nature of the gift of life that God has given you, then you can be part of the growth of the Kingdom of God. You may feel that you don’t have the answers or the right way of saying things, in which case follow the example of the Samarian woman ‘come, meet someone’… you may feel you need to grow in your own faith before you can share it with others- that too is the growth of the kingdom and is essential in our lives, but it leads to the other- if we are growing in our own personal faith, then part of that growth is a willingness to share our faith- to scatter seed and watch it grow and gather in the harvest.
Unashamedly, the church is about growth. Its what God created it for. Not just people turning up, not just people growing in faith, but people hearing about Jesus, growing slowly to the point of coming to faith, some of whom may find their way into this church community, some into others… Wanting God’s church to grow- being committed to mission and evangelism is at the heart of our reason for existing. The church in England has gone through a difficult time in the last 70years, but in increasingly more places, the corner has been turned and Christians and churches are growing in faith and number… Christ calls us to follow him, to be part of the Kingdom of God…through the simple things we’ve just looked at we will be doing exactly that.
Have a good day, and help those around you to have a better one than they would otherwise have had.
An interview with one of my favourite writers, on one of my favourite blogs, with reference to one of my favourite groups of Christians… what can I do apart from share it with you-
If you’ve not found Malcolm Gladwell yet, you ought to (thanks to my brother-in-law who’s been mentioning him to me for several years now), and you also ought to check out Bryan Patterson’s blog here too. And if you know nothing about the Mennonites, then go do your homework (any group of Christians who’ve gone through what they did is worth respecting, and when their foremost theologian is called John Yoder… well). Anyway, here’s the article:
Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of such bestsellers as Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, last year spoke out publicly about his own rediscovery of faith. He credits a visit with a Mennonite couple in Winnipeg, Canada, who lost their 13-year-old daughter to a sexual predator. After the largest manhunt in the city’s history, police officers found the teenager’s body in a shed, frozen, her hands and feet bound; it took them twenty-two years to arrest and prosecute the suspected killer.
At a news conference just after the girl’s funeral her father said, “We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.” The mother added, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” stressing the phrase at this point. “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to,” she added. [Afterward, Wilma Derksen became a Forgiveness Therapist, and outlines her approach in a moving TED talk:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sGmYDYTwUs.%5D
The response of this couple, so different from a normal response of rage and revenge, pulled Gladwell back toward his own Mennonite roots. As he told Relevant magazine, “Something happened to me when I sat in Wilma Derksen’s garden. It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith. But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary. Their daughter was murdered. And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at the press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness.”
Gladwell found other instances of ordinary Christians who acted in extraordinary ways, such as the Protestants in rural France who sheltered Jews during Nazi occupation. He adds, “Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage. But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”
"He brought me to his banquet hall and raised the banner of love over me. Restore my strength with raisins and refresh me with apples! I am weak from passion... His left hand is under my head and his right hand caresses me" - Song of Solomon 2:4-6