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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Not Going to Church on Sunday

Back to the subject of busy people not going to Church. Interesting article at Standing on My Head on why Anglicans Don't go to Church on Sunday. Actually, until immigration changed the figures, Catholics didn't much either, in England. And Fr Dwight's assurance that as long as we all become Catholics and go to Mass, everything will be fine reminds me of something. Now what was it?

.....and then three priests appear with a mobile altar
Is there anything to be said for another Mass?
Oh yeah. I remember.

But I was also much taken by  John the Lutheran's quotation from Ford Madox Ford,
 Tietjens had walked in the sunlight down the lines, past the hut with the evergreen climbing rose, in the sunlight, thinking in an interval good-humouredly about his official religion: about the Almighty as, on a colossal scale, a great English Landowner, benevolently awful, a colossal duke who never left his study and was thus invisible, but knowing all about the estate down to the last hind at the home farm and the last oak: Christ, an almost too benevolent Land-Steward, son of the Owner, knowing all about the estate down to the last child at the porter’s lodge, apt to be got round by the more detrimental tenants: the Third Person of the Trinity, the spirit of the estate, the Game as it were, as distinct from the players of the game: the atmosphere of the estate, that of the interior of Winchester Cathedral just after a Handel anthem has been finished, a perpetual Sunday, with, probably, a little cricket for the young men.  
Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End (No More Parades, part 1, chapter 4)
Fr Dwight's stereotypes - the harassed female priest in the image, soup kitchens, "a blend of the Girl Scouts, Being Spiritual and the Power of Positive Thinking" - they're unfair on the priest, the people that run soup kitchens, the Girl Scouts. He's got a beautiful line:
"...a transaction with the supernatural, the threshold of heaven, the staircase to the stars, the grittiness of repentance and redemption, the soul’s salvation and the heart’s homing"
 If Jesus is to be encountered, Jesus tells us, he is encountered in the sort of people you meet in soup kitchens. There's a transaction with the supernatural, you have repentance and redemption and the soul's salvation (if we are to take the story of sheep and goats seriously) at the soup kitchen. A direct encounter, Jesus tells us, with his body. Don't knock soup kitchens. This God isn't the absent  Lord of the Manor, or his dilettante Son. This God is here, physically, in the bodies of the poor and homeless.

But the encounter with Jesus in the soup kitchen - that is, for the average Christian, a giving-out. And, if it's not funded properly, fuelled the right way, then it is still a virtue with its own reward, but busy-ness alone, the service of the  poor or the acts of social goodness - well, they can become world-bound without their cosmic connection.

Because we do meet that body of Jesus elsewhere - we encounter body and blood in the Mass, and we know the Word alive in us when God's word is preached. A Christianity that is alive when hearing the Gospel, when gathered round the Lord's table, is alive when serving the poor. Yes, Fr Dwight is right. Let's be lifted up to Heaven in the Mass (and let's be brought to the throne of God by the preaching of his word). And then, when we've done that - let's feed the Jesus that we've fed on, And do you know what, if we're preaching the word, receiving the sacraments and feeding the poor - let's not worry too much who goes to church on Sunday. We'll leave that to God.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Drive-Thru Church

Drive-Thru Church is the first official Beaker response to the news that cathedral attendance keeps going up, especially mid-week.

It's based on the following key principles:
1. People need a spiritual connection;
2. People are time-poor, but some of them are money-rich;
3. Very few cathedrals are located conveniently for ring roads and motorways:
4. The possibility of selling merchandising relating to nearby cathedrals;
5. Some people are so addicted to their cars that you might as well let them stay in them;
6. It works for weddings in Las Vegas.
7. Involvement and commitment are, like, so Christendom.

In essence, it's a cross between a Drive-Thru McDonald's and a car wash. Cars pull up in one of the six "worship bays". Each "worship bay" is decorated in the style of a familiar worship location: St Paul's, the Sagrada Familia, Lourdes, Walsingham, Buckfast Abbey, or Stonehenge.  Opening the windows, worshippers then receive all the traditional requirements of a full cathedral service experience:

1. A recording of a psalm (Goodall's "Dibley" theme);
2. A recording of a reading;
3. By a cunning combination of electric fields and white noise, the vaguely uncomfortable feeling that you don't know what you're doing;
4. The Lord's Prayer (BCP, natch);
5. Something by Standford.

The car is then wheeled forward on a conveyor, where the cashier - sorry, officiant - will give you a vague assurance of God's forgiveness, ask for a donation and try to sell you a fridge magnet of Salisbury Cathedral, or a set of coasters featuring the ikon of St Alban. If you don't offer a donation, but have a contactless payment card, don't worry. We'll sort something out.

All told you'll be in and, spiritually refreshed, back out in 10 minutes.  Who says the Church can't move with the times?

Warning: Drive-Thru Church may not have any noticeable effect on the state of your soul. Typical 256% APR. Your home may be at risk if you do not keep up your payments. Terms and conditions apply. If in any doubt, consult your Spiritual Director.

Church and Love and Work and Life and Time

I shall have more later, I suspect, to say on the theory that cathedral services are thriving because it's easier to fit a half-hour dash into a city-centre building than it is to get up and organised and get the kids together and plan your way round shopping and weekend sport and visits to Granny.

But the idea of church for the time-poor did chime in with my experience, when visiting Facebook, of seeing an advert for an online dating agency for people who are too busy to have time to meet potential partners through the usual, time-consuming methods of having hobbies and interests, going to the pub or having mutual friends. Which made me think.

If your busy work life means you're too short on time to find a soul mate, how will you find the time to maintain a relationship?

Answers on a postcard please. No photographs. Especially not that kind of photograph.

Monday, 24 November 2014

English Church by Numbers

5Average number of references to previous ministers in a church meeting.
6 years How out of date the  "latest news" is on the average church website.
2Average number of tweets after which a new social media ministry runs into the sand. Number 1 is always "Trying to work out how this Twitter thing works".
55Average age of the children of choir members
65Average age of people who think "Shine Jesus Shine" is a modern hymn
7Number of people in the average town who know what the Rend Collective is
4Number of people on General Synod who have a day job that can't broadly be described as "Church stuff".
761Number of hours from Tulsa, if a church committee meeting had to debate whether it was a bad idea to go there, whether somebody had been there before and it hadn't been very nice, or whether there were other medium-sized cities in Oklahoma that should be considered by the "where we should go to in Oklahoma sub-committee" before definitely committing to going to Tulsa. 
23Number of attendees at the monthly "Benefice Together Service", when there are 5 churches in the benefice, each with an average attendance of 23.
3Average number of points in a 3-point sermon, if the preacher hasn't been infected with the virus of post-modernism. 
45%Decrease in regular congregation when there's a baptism in the main service.
1.8Average number of  persons that members of the congregation actually believe are in the Trinity.
5thThe Sunday in a month that transcends the laws of time and space, melts rotas, leaves people in the wrong place doing the wrong job, and can cause the church to fall into a black hole and enter another universe.
4Average weekly attendance of a medium-sized church, if the Treasurer filled in the annual return.
29%Proportion of church members who are to all intents and purposes Arminian
35%Proportion of church ministers who are to all intents and purposes Arminian
25Number of times you have to play "Just as I am" as an altar call, before somebody takes one for the team and goes forward for prayer.
5Average charisma of an atheist on Reddit, if Joe Wilkinson off of "8 out of 10 Cats" scores 12.
95Occupants of the graveyard that are alleged to be turning in their graves, if the church reordering goes ahead.
15Most tea lights you can light on a tea light stand without the danger of a chorister having a toupee go up in smoke becoming serious.
3Final number of nonconformist churches in a town, if the two nonconformist churches decide it's a good idea to unite.
15 yearsTime the average church member spends in committee meetings in a lifetime.
Average number of Property Committee meetings it would take to decide that renting the church hall out to a group of hamster-worshippers was not a good idea. 
15Members of a Methodist choir above which the vibrato can go critical and start causing quantum effects. 
712%Amount bigger the congregation would be, if all the people who claim to be speaking for "other people" were telling the truth.
17Number of ghosts that still have a say on the running of a typical church.
3.141592654Number of points in a three-point sermon in a Catholic Church, if the Bishop is a member of the "Magic Circle". But it's all Pi in the sky.
1.5Number of people who know the new song that the band really wants to play. Including the people in the band.*
4Average number of people who turn up an hour late when the clocks go forward.
52Weeks of the year when a visitor will be told "there's a lot of people away this week...."
1/177Ratio of people who know who a Christian celebrity is, to the number of people who know who a proper celebrity is.
2Different opinions in a church committee meeting when 12 people are there.
31Different opinions on the same subject, in the church car park afterwards.
3Number of people that everybody claims do all the work.
45Number of people who claim to be one of the three who do all the work.

*thanks to Raquelita for this one.

In the 49th hour, God Rested

Quick worrying thought re the 6 days of Creation.

Did God break the EU 48 hour Working Time Directive?  I mean, logically, six 12-hour days is a lot more. Naturally, being English, God could opt out. But if so, which employer would be required to give God a waiver form?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

With Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Obviously, I blame myself.

Though mostly I blame Ashley.

When we had our "spontaneous worship" Occasion this evening, I was very keen that all could - spontaneously and freely - contribute. Following Paul's words in 1 Corinthians, I encouraged people to bring a song, or a psalm, or a verse, or a word.

Ashley brought a Psalm.

Number 119.

In the end, we carried her outside and left her in the car park. It was the only way we could finish the service.

On the Use of Greek Translation in Sermons

I'd like to thank Brother Lewes, from the Windmill Hill Folk of Whipsnade, for his sermon this morning.

Sadly we didn't tell him about our rule on the exposition of Greek words in sermons. To wit, that if anyone uses a mistranslation of a Greek word from the New Testament, or else over-stretches the exegesis of the original Greek to the point where they're putting in more than they're taking out, Marston Moretaine throws a bucket of iced water at them.

Lewes did comment on the buckets before the Ritual, but I admit I forgot to mention their use. You'd think, after the way he got a bonus bucket for his misuse of the Greek word for "worship", that he'd get the message. But there's something about preaching while people throw buckets of water and ice at you that can be very disorientating.

Then, I'm afraid, he explained the meaning of the word "liturgy". Thing is, if you solemnly tell us that it means the "work of the people....." well, it's kinda like catching the Snitch. A "bingo" or "mah jong" effect kicks in. All consideration of buckets of water are forgotten.

And I don't like it any more than the next Archdruid. It's not like I enjoy it. After all, Lewes is our guest.  But rules are rules. We didn't throw him into the Holy Well of St Bogwulf for fun.

I can still hear him hollering now. But the tradition says he has to stay there "till the stain of bad exposition is washed away by the healing stream".

We'll give him another half-hour, then we'll lower a rope for him. I hope he'll be OK to preach at Filling up of Beakers tonight.

Another Kind of Throne

It's been quite a week for considering who our rulers should be.

UKIP are proudly claiming that their victories in a couple of by-elections are because they're plucky outsiders, ordinary ex-public-school, ex-City-worker, ex-Tory MPs like the rest of us. It's a wonder they get away with it. But then an equal wonder to me is the number of people who think they can deal with  UKIP simply through scorn and simple labelling. Calling UKIP "Nazis" or "fascists", for example. Fascism is about top-down, totalitarian control and the worship of power. It's not a bunch of chinless wonder libertarians. Or calling their supporters "stupid". Is that how we persuade people these days, just by calling them "stupid". You can imagine the discussion on the doorstep: 
"You're going to vote UKIP? You must be really stupid." 
"I have seen the light of my ways. I shall immediately become a LibDem supporter. I shall trade my white van for a Prius. Oh wow. Suddenly my IQ has doubled. I must buy some flowers for my pet mouse, Algernon."
The apotheosis of which attitude was the sneer-fest that is Radio 4'a News Quiz. Although, when I hear that programme, I always feel so sorry for Jeremy Hardy. It's no wonder he's so bitter and cynical. It must be a hard job, being the straight man on a comedy quiz. At least Sandi Toksvig gets a script.

But what the Twitter sneers and News Quiz ridicule do is reinforce the impression that UKIP are creating. The image of today's Labour Party as a pasty North London face, knocking back a skinny latte, looking down its nose at a man with a Union Jack tattoo, forever. A party sat on its IKEA throne, giving unchallenged instructions.

The constant idea that somebody else has the right to decide what is good for us. The idea that we're to stupid to have real views, and need to be pandered to through simple images. If the British Left wants to get a proper mandate, let it talk properly about fairness and solidarity, about the whole of society. If your idea of better policies is trying to prevent your leader looking a prat when he's eating breakfast, then don't be surprised when one idiotic photograph and comment loses one of your Shadow Cabinet her job.  In the words of St Jarvis Cocker, and this goes for Tories as well - the future that you've got mapped out is nothing much to shout about. The only parties showing any vision these days are the Greens and the SNP. Yet it's the Tories and Labour who are assuming the right to rule us.

The self-enthroning assumption made by other people that they've got a right to rule. The Right on the basis that they've got more money and are from the right background - the Left on the bizarre premise, never backed up in fact, that they're somehow more moral - better people - than the rest of us. And then, in other times and/or other places, the idea that somebody or other has God's ear, or speaks God's words. And then they set out to prove it with swords, knives, guns and fire.

On a cross outside a city hangs a naked Jewish man. He claims to have God's ear, and to speak God's words.  He has chosen to prove this by not raising an army, by not looking down on the poor, by speaking on an equal level with the oppressed. And he has asserted what are the rights of God's only Son by laying them down, going quietly - like a lamb to slaughter. And in dying because he was seen as a threat to those in power - the ones claiming kingship, the one acting with Imperial authority - he's shown up human power for the lie and abuse it is. He's thrown down a challenge to the rule of the Prince and princelings of this world. Their power is useless - scared of one unarmed bloke? Their time will pass. 

He's given up a throne in heaven for another kind of throne. One which doesn't stand for judgement but forgiveness and freedom. It stands the right to rule on its head, and rejects every entitlement - even the one that comes from breathing life into every human soul. Another kind of power. Another kind of ruler. Another kind of world. Another kind of throne.