Sunday, July 22, 2012

a little night music

Last night saw Calverley Church packed to the walls with people eagerly anticipating the launch gig of Jonny Walker's EP CD, This Is Not Me.

Jonny is a terrific singer/songwriter, with influences ranging from Leonard Cohen to the Beatles, visiting Bob Dylan and Don Francisco on the way. His lyrics are evocative, and his wistful style endlessly melodic in a way that belies his roots in and love of busking and live street music.

Jonny asked me to provide a support act set to start the evening off, and to play piano alongside him during his set. It was a pleasure to take part in the event - and a challenge to think of material that would work alongside someone so different to my usual work!

I opted for half a dozen love songs.

A psalm, a song I wrote for a wedding (in the year John my bass player was born), a song of loss, a Welsh hymn of love (in Welsh), and two songs loving life in different ways - If I ruled the world (melted down into a gentle jazz waltz and allowed to be the prettiest of tunes), and Charlie Chaplin's Smile, all jazz solos before exploding into melody.

Free, expansive, fun, relaxed. I had the most response on the night to the song of loss, when I confessed that this apparent love song was about my dog. I almost couldn't sing it, actually, but once I started, it was alright.

I was really grateful for the chance to perform like that - and I was grateful to Jonny for asking me. Steve on trombone & John on bass who played with me were immense, and great fun. We may do something similar again; there is a suggestion in the air that we find an excuse to bring more simple jazz to the venue...

Then we headed into Jonny territory. The crowd loved it. Quite right. He is a great performer, even if a gig like this (as opposed to the informality of the streets) isn't quite his familiar territory. It should be, the material is certainly up to it, as is his terrific voice. In rehearsal, bass-player John's amazing ear rescued me more than once, and I guess Jonny is so used to working alone, and I so used to providing people with charts & chords that our very different working styles meant working together was at times a challenge for me. A challenge I'm glad I had, because it was a total pleasure to play on the evening, to listen, to watch and to be a part of what Jonny was doing.

Again - lots of thanks to Steve & John for being wonderful musicians to work with. And a shout out to Aled for help with the Welsh in Dyma Gariad. And thanks to Jonny for asking me to take part - and congrats on a great gig and a great CD. Click the link & have a listen!

Friday, July 20, 2012

renewing the Church in Wales

The Church in Wales has today issued a report offering a "radical vision" for its future as it approaches the centenary of its disestablishment in 2020.

The press report is here. The full report is here. The headlines picked out in the press report are:

 Parishes replaced by much larger ‘ministry areas’ which would mirror the catchment areas of secondary schools, where possible, and be served by a team of clergy and lay people;
• Creative use of church buildings to enable them to be used by the whole community;
• Training lay people to play a greater part in church leadership;
• Investing more in ministry for young people; 
• Developing new forms of worship to reach out to those unfamiliar with church services;
•  Encouraging financial giving to the church through tithing.

Other recommendations I've seen picked up on include selling off vicarages so that clergy can buy or rent their own homes, continuing the drive to emphasise Welsh language services and promoting ecumenism. The BBC have an interesting piece on the report, and a reaction item in which my successor at St Catherine's comments, as does Stewart Franklin, erstwhile warden there & good friend who always supported me in many, many ways. I see they've added a comment from Mark Broadway too! He'll be delighted.

There are things to welcome and things to question, as with any report. I'm going to be a positive voice. It's important to be a positive voice. For the church to move forwards, we have to grab opportunities and use them. It doesn't matter if we think they are ideal. We take what comes and make the most of what we have. Otherwise, we simply corrode and destroy, and I have a suspicion that this isn't ideal Gospel life.

It is simply common sense that the future of the church lies in mixed ministry models.

The age of one-size-fits all parochial ministry has gone. It was probably never perfect. It was probably the best thing. For a very long time. What matters is that the concept of the church for the community remains.

'The community' is not the concept it was, and that's a problem. I am interested that the review, on the surface, without having yet had time to go through it in detail, links the future of the church to school catchment areas. Undoubtedly there is no future without youth, and that recognition is powerful and well made. Communities are built around schools. This is a powerful identifier. It serves a very useful purpose.

(Is it the best identifier? In church growth terms, more churches gain more whole families - and therefore youth - by focussing on men than on children. Just a comment.)

If I look back at my time in Pontypridd, we tried at one time to see what this kind of 'ministry area' idea might be. It might involve fewer buildings. A fine concept - but people need to be nurtured on that journey so that it's not just about losing a building and being made to "go to church in someone else's church" but also about gaining a future and a new community. That's the stuff of real challenge. Real challenge needs real vision, and real vision needs real leaders.

Question: is the Church in Wales training real leaders? You can't move forward without them.

Because in Pontypridd, we looked at what might be...and stepped back. We looked at something very like the recommendations I am reading, and didn't do it. And if I am honest, and I may get some stick for this, it was because there was a leadership failure. Clergy wanted the archdeacon & the bishop to lead - ie to take the flack. The archdeacon & the bishop wanted clergy to do that job. Quite rightly, in my opinion. The people just wanted to know what was going on, and in the meantime, dug their heels in.

I fear that this may happen across Wales...

Not because people are weak, but because change is tricky. Grand ideas need more than a vote at Governing Body. They need to be owned. Understood. To be prayed through and to be believed in. And the process of loss for 'what was' is deep; but it is acceptable if the leaders (and that's parish clergy - they are the on the ground leaders, they have to do this) can take their flocks through the journey safely to the new place.

This happens, it seems to me, when everyone has bought into two things:

1. The Church we belong to is God's; he loves us, and what we do matters because he loves us. So we are safe to give our all.

2. We will trust each other on this journey. Come what may.

If we believe that the Church is God's, and sacrifice is OK because we are giving to God our time and energy and lives - we will achieve far more than we thought possible. The Church will change. We will change. Amazing things will happen, and it will be different from what we knew in the past - but life will come. Resurrection occurs in the strangest places, normally amongst the tombs.

And love will break out. Not distrust, 'protecting my patch at any cost'. I have to let go of my patch. I have to love you. You who aren't as holy as me. I have to trust that you are a Christian too. And that we belong to one another. It's this generosity that changes the world.

Plans & reviews are frameworks. Attitudes of the heart make frameworks live. Without them, the best plans will fail.

Is this the best plan?

Not sure. But it has great ideas. And for sure, the Church in Wales should grab the time and be of good cheer. There's lots here to like. But liking isn't enough.

This is a time for the Church to astound the world and be fundamentally Christian. To believe God loves us. To love one another. Then even a half-crazy plan will stunningly succeed. And this, to me, seems better than half-crazy. A little pessimistic, but not crazy.

For Christ is for us; who can be against us?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

the unkindest cut

The Telegraph reported on June 27th that a German court had banned circumcision of infants. Religious freedom was not contravened, the court decided, because a child could decide later in life whether it wanted the rite. Until a child was of age to decide, it was seen as an offence to contravene the child's fundamental right to bodily integrity.

I tweeted about this at the time, and received a bit of grief for it. One doctor saw unnecessary surgery on a child as criminal.

Giles Fraser posted about the case this weekend in the Guardian. He's had a lot of comments. Mostly, from my brief perusal, fairly negative. His argument is that religion, faith, isn't simply personal because identity isn't personal. We believe because we are. Or, to put that another way, communities exist. They exist with standards and cultures and ways of seeing the world. Modern liberalism, which reduces everything to a place where there are no values until you choose your values, is a lazy middle class fiction. (He doesn't call it lazy; I can think of worse words.) There are always values.

No man is an island.


No person...

I want to go far further. For me, Christians need to hear what happened here and understand what our job is. Our job is to defend the fatherless, protect the widows, champion the dispossessed. Where there are weak, there we are - on their side, being strong. We sing for the lost. We protest for the powerless. We are for those who feel that the world is against them.

Even when we don't always believe in the cause.

Because we love what God loves, and God loves people.

But Marcus, comes the liberal rejoinder, what about the child who has no power to say, "Stop!" as the knife approaches, as the cut comes near, as the blood flows. "What about being on his side?"

For a Christian, identity comes in many shapes and sizes. George Carey is winning his war on the wearing of crosses at work; the Prime Minister has promised the law will be changed to allow this, if it needs to be changed. Little silver crucifixes are not terribly New Testament, even if they are en vogue for Bishops and politicians and nurses and airline attendants. The badge of Christian faith is in fact something altogether invisible. St Paul, at least in good Protestant tradition,  is clear: baptism is our marker. Faith is what makes us Christians, but baptism is the badge of belonging.

And it can come when an infant or later in life. A child can decide. A parent can lead the way. We vary.

Oh, how ignorant of the Scriptures we are.

The same liberal minded Guardian readers who condemn Giles Fraser march in hundreds of thousands to condemn the US for cultural vandalism, enforcing 'western' standards on Iraq or Afghanistan. But then they engage in exactly the same kind of cultural vandalism on Judaism, bidding it become just a bit more like the Church of England. So much easier to ignore, except at Christmas. Or whatever.

Circumcision is not a choice. It's not optional. It's not now or later. It is at the very core of Jewish identity. It comes on the eighth day. It is cultural, religious, personal, social, it is at the heart of a people and has been for thousands of years. It's older than Moses. It's from the beginning.

As Christians we opt in, we opt out. We have so much choice. We lose so much. Jewish identity does not work like this, and we make a mistake if we judge another aspect of humanity on the poverty-stricken standards of our own.

A court says a child suffers loss; it must have the right to self-determination and freedom of belief.

It must lose community. Identity. Belonging. Tradition. Culture. Because these things do not match what we see as right. And we know so much better.

No, we don't.

Never mind the secular liberals whom I am parodying here (and it is a parody, I accept, though like all good parodies, it carries a very great deal of truth) as Christians, when we disagree with others, we are called to love them. This involves understanding them. We may still disagree. That's OK. But part of loving is understanding so well that when our neighbour is threatened we fight for them. For their right to exist. This German ruling threatens our neighbour. We should stand as one and fight for them.

Personally, I find circumcision abhorent. People are sometimes surprised by this - and again this carries cultural overtones: 55% of American males do it for reasons of hygiene. I don't care. I just don't like it. I'm not Jewish. I'm not Moslem. It's not for me. But that a court thinks it can stop a community from existing - that I will stand up against & do my best to stop.

We stop things that are wrong by standing with our neighbours and supporting them 100%.

And tomorrow they will stand with us.

Now of course, the German Chancellor herself stood up to the court and its ridiculous decision. Quite right. So I write about this not because it's ongoing and has an unfinished or unhappy ending, but because the issue behind the story is vital. Christians must love people. Must understand people. Must allow people to be different. Must value people and their myriad values. We are only 'right' when we do this. This is the only standard we may ever set and hope to have emulated everywhere we go. Our morality is not simply about making people conform to our idea of what it means to 'be moral'. And that's a huge thing for us to grasp. Love is complex.

In the end, we are called to do unto others...

Because God loves others.

Because others are people too.

Because others will do likewise unto us.

Because this kind of doing is the closest thing to living out love we can manage, and that has to be our aim.

Monday, July 16, 2012

a year on

A year ago today saw my final Sunday at St Catherine's.

Frankly, it seems a very long time ago.

I've often been asked if I miss my life there. The answer is 'no'. I do miss a lot of people, whom I think of often, and I do miss some of the things I used to do, and it's great to preach occasionally in Calverley.

But I don't miss the whole package.

I was clear when I went into it that it was what I should be doing, and I was clear when I walked away 12 months ago, that it was what I should be doing. Life is about change and moving forwards and growing and (for a Christian) being obedient and serving God and people. You don't have to be in paid ministry to do that stuff!

There are no crystal balls; we make decisions and sometimes we get things wrong. In which case we should acknowledge what we've done and have another go. But in moving from Pontypridd, I got it right. The job's a challenge, and I love a challenge. I'm learning constantly in all kinds of ways, and I'm enjoying that process. My pride takes all kinds of knocks, and I smile at myself and get on with it.

Then I go home, relax, and rest till the next day.

Of course, there have been challenges.

Most of these have been about family illnesses and being concerned with what has been happening to people I care about. I've had a bit of bad health myself. And, of course, losing Matt affects every day. There's a piece in today's Telegraph by Ben Fogle about losing his dog, and I know what he means. Matt's companionship and friendship was a foundational reality in my life. Far more so than my old job title or the social standing or community leadership that went with that role.

Last year on this Sunday I looked out at the crowd before me and saw some of the faces that were not there: I wrote of Dan & Kirsty Jones. Today I am with them, and Flo & Sam, in their Dordogne home. We've been speaking of change & identity.

The things that make me who I am remain; desires to love God & people, and a certain fallibility at both; a passion for music; a need to communicate in written & spoken word; an enjoyment of performance arts, sports & good food, passively and actively, with varying degrees of relative success; insecurities about my height, my weight, my hair-loss... Changing my job, my home, my situation, my challenges freshens everything up. It reminds me what really matters. Who I am. Even, just a bit, why I am.

A year on, I miss people I left behind. I occasionally think of the work back there in terms of the ways I could be serving, but I am reminded that my solutions had a sell-by date attached, and I am thrilled that Peter is in place to take a community forwards in ways beyond my gift set. I am working on my gift set.

And I don't know what the long term is, but I am grateful to be where I am (and I mean Leeds, rather than this current, splendid holiday weekend with la Famille Jones, for which gratitude is insufficient a word) and, with the qualification of the sadness of Matt, to be enjoying the moment.

As for what is to come... As I said. There are no crystal balls. But I have a smile on my face, hope in my heart, and curiosity abundant. That's a fair deal, I should say.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sexism, Synod & Sky TV.

Watching the women bishop reports from General Synod, and reading about the Terry vs Ferdinand racism case, made me want to combine the two. So, with a healthy dose of asterisks, but a slight downplaying of "industrial" language, I did. (With thanks, and apologies, to the Daily Telegraph...)
Revd Terry, 31, is accused of calling Revd Ferdinand a "w***n b****p" during a Church of England General Synod debate last year.
He says he was sarcastically repeating the words that Forward-in-Faith priest Fr Ferdinand mistakenly thought he had used.
Revd Terry is accused of an unprovoked sexist comment in a public Anglican forum, which he denies.
Today he told the House of B****ps that as the pair traded insults, he heard Fr Ferdinand say: "calling me a w***n b****p".
Revd Terry said today he was "very angry and upset" when he thought Fr Ferdinand had accused him of sexism.
He said he was "frequently" insulted whilst preaching the Gospel and had "heard it all before".
The Reform preacher said: "It's part and parcel of the game, you just get on with proclaiming the word basically."
He said he would be taunted about allegations of an affair with former fellow Reform preacher Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend at "more or less every synod meeting".
But he said he would "just laugh it off basically".
"I thought he was accusing me of calling him a w***n b****p.

"I was very angry and I was upset. I replied 'a w***n b****p, you George C***y." This is presumed to be a common form of homophobic Anglican rhyming slang, and unlike sexist language is perfectly acceptable. 

Revd Terry was giving evidence after his lawyers failed to have the case thrown out. They argued in court that Fr Ferdinand's "unreliability" as a witness meant the case should not proceed any further. The Archb****p of York rejected that plea, leaving Revd Terry to take the stand shortly after 2pm.

The father of two, wearing a dark suit, unusually had to be told to keep his voice up at times as he gave evidence.

During the General Synod meeting last year, Revd Terry said he and Fr Ferdinand first began trading insults when Fr Ferdinand called him a "reactionary funda********t" because a Reform preacher had not given a stole back to Forward-in-Faith.

Revd Terry, as a good Reform man, then retreated back to his basic position and turned round to face Fr Ferdinand.
"He was doing a pumping action and insinuating about Revd Bridge's missus' and me," Revd Terry told the court.
Revd Terry told his barrister George Carter-Stephenson QC that he co-operated fully with both the General Synod and House of B****ps' inquiries.
He said he did not remember the exact times he learned of the investigations but said he was "praying, reading his Bible and arranging to go in and sit down, offering my assistance basically.
"I co-operated fully with both inquiries."
It emerged today that the only person who initially complained to ecclesiastical authorities about Revd Terry was an off-duty church warden watching the Synod on Sky.
Revd Terry's QC George Carter-Stephenson said that four days after the Synod, which was watched by more than two million, a note was made saying it was "highly unlikely Fr Ferdinand or any other Forward-in-Faith staff could assist with providing statements".
On November 4, one of Fr Ferdinand's Forward-in-Faith supporters told ecclesiastical authorities "he didn't see why" he should be involved and "any ecclesiastical court can make up their own mind".
But soon after, Fr Ferdinand's public relations agent Justin Rigby began pushing the House of B****ps to charge Revd Terry, Mr Carter-Stephenson said.
Cross examining the investigating officer, the Ven David Doherty, the barrister said if Revd Terry was not charged, Mr Rigby was planning to advise his priest to take civil action against Revd Terry and take the issue to the Church Times.
This morning's session ended with Mr Carter-Stephenson applying to the Archb****p of York, Dr John Sentamu, to dismiss the case.
The barrister said Fr Ferdinand was an unreliable witness and the lip reading experts agreed it was impossible to clarify what was said at the key moment from the Sky TV footage.
He said the case was "so weak and tenuous it does not warrant it going any further".
The case continues.

there's a hole in my bucket

All this rain has produced an unforeseen side effect at my house.


Big ones, little ones, inbetweeny ones. They live just inside my front door, hiding from the wet. There's a square of tiled floor before the wood takes over, and (until recently) it was a trap for dog hair. Now, there are spider's webs in every corner.

So what to do?

I mean, I hate spiders. Almost as much as I hate snakes. Though I am glad to say there are no snakes in my house.

At least, none that I've seen...

Back to spiders. (Who'd have thought that was a good thought?)

What to do about them. I can't just leave them there, to greet me every time I get home. So - no choice, it has to be the vacuuum cleaner. I hoover them up. They get sucked out of my existence.

Now I have a clean, spider-less porch. Hooray.

Of course, then there's another problem. I mean. They haven't stopped existing. They are now simply trapped inside the Dyson. What if they crawl out again? And it's a Dyson. You have to empty the thing every five minutes.

So I empty it. Into the bin in the kitchen. That solves the problem. Webs & spiders & all - gone.

Well, of course, they're not gone. They're now in another space further into my home. They were just by the front door. Now they are in the heart of my home. Near my food. Where I eat. AND my bin doesn't actually seal when it closes.

Nightmare. I've made it worse.

So I take the lid off my bin, tie up the black plastic sack & carry it outside into the rain & leave it till the bin men come on Friday.

I just hope those spiders stay in there. They won't break out of the plastic will they? Cos if they do, it's raining, and they'll get wet, and if they get wet, they are going to come running to find somewhere dry. 

What price they creep back under my front door again...