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Monday, 27 April 2015

School Admissions and Unwanted Missions

Fascinating story about the church school that stopped insisting on religious attendance as an entry criterion after complaints by worshippers to the vicar that non-Christians were going to Church to get their kids into the school.

Ignoring the whys and wherefores of the admissions policy, or the implication that Church of England schools are clearly worth getting into - why would any church congregation complain about a mission field just turning up every Sunday like that? Would they also complain about non-regulars turning up at Christmas, Easter and baptisms - all chances to share the joy of the Christian faith to people who've brought themselves along with no effort from the congregation?

Aha. Hnaef has just leaned over my shoulder to read what I am writing, and whispered the words "quite probably". Fair enough.

Saturday, 25 April 2015


"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11)

Beaker Sheep

There is a common expression used mostly, I believe, by Project Managers and similar types whose job it is to organise a disparate bunch of people to work to a common purpose. When struggling to get everybody to agree to their objectives, to turn up to a workshop, or to get a computer programmer to write some code without finding the urge to reboot their computer, reinstall the operating system, go and get a cup of tea or decide to have a quick bash at producing a program that will derive the meaning of life from first principles.  It is, they say, like herding cats.

The implication is that cats are random, wilful, independent creatures - whereas sheep, by comparison, are docile, easily herded, obedient, predictable. Is that what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is meant to indicate? That we're woolly-headed, docile creatures that go where we're led?

But sheep aren't as sheeplike, or even sheepish, as they're painted. There's the idea in Isaiah that "we all, like sheep, have gone astray" - wandered around, confused or headstrong, heading off from the Shepherd and safety. The idea of the shepherd who goes out to get the one sheep - leaving 99 behind - that suggests herding sheep isn't so easy. 

And then there are these critters, finding ways over cattle grids:

Then there were the sheep that learned to roll over cattle grids.

Or this one being rescued from a fence then falling down the hill.

Or the sheep that climbed on a roof, then fell off.....

In fact, I'm starting to think the whole "sheep" analogy is not so bad. That's what humans are like. We put ourselves at risk by being "clever" and end up lost. We choose our own way of doing things. We pay no attention to our environment, just worrying about the thing right in front of our noses - and then we panic.

Jesus's comparison is between a shepherd, and a hired hand. Why does the hired hand run away from the wolf? Well, the hired hand's life is worth more than the sheep's.

Why does the shepherd not run away? Because the sheep are the shepherd's life. He is defined, as much as they are, by their relationship. He can't run away. He is their shepherd. Even if that means laying his life down for them.

Today in the lowlands of England, the shepherd's not so bad. I've seen shepherds near Towcester rounding up sheep with quad-bikes. The land is - mostly - gentle and the weather is - mostly - mild. And there are no wolves. But up in the highlands, the story isn't so gentle. As we come to the end of the lambing season the Dales and Fells are still at risk of snow.  The inter-dependence of the shepherd and the sheep is immense. The shepherd's living is dependent on the sheep - and the lives themselves of the lambing ewes are often reliant on the skill of the shepherd. The winter and spring can be bitter, the weather treacherous, dangerous for the humans and the sheep.

Jesus says to us, there's danger in this world. There's physical dangers, sure - the danger, if you are a Christian in the wrong place, of death at the hands of those who hate the Cross. But the one we follow faced those dangers himself - and laid down his life for the sheep. There are worse dangers, too. The danger that we turn from God. The idea that we can be dependent on ourselves. That individual sheep strike out on their own. That's another thing about sheep. The smart ones, that live in Cumbria, they are "hefted". They know their own patch of land - they know their homes and they stick there. Stupid, lowland sheep - if one finds an exciting new thing, a gap in a hedge or a gate left open, they can all wander off. Just a view of what looks like greener grass across the other road, and given the chance, they're all off. Next thing you know there are sheep all over the road.

The dangers if we wander away are far greater than mere physical pain, mockery or even death. Because in the world of Jesus' parables, if you aren't sticking by the shepherd - if you strike out on your own - you're lost. And if, when the shepherd comes looking for you, you're determined to stay lost, you'll get away in the end. Your choice.

But the rewards for staying by the shepherd are far greater than human reward. The Good Shepherd tells us that he'll bring us into a place where we will be safe forever. He knows that we don't need to fear the wolf that will destroy - because he's faced that wolf. In dying, and descending to hell, he's fought that wolf. In rising to new life, he's killed it. Death is now a short-term pain - as Paul says in Romans 8: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation is eagerly awaiting the revelation of God’s children."

Image from Christianity Today

When we have passed through death, we'll know the Good Shepherd as that one who died for us, and for all the others. We'll share his love with him, and one another, in a way that we grasp at now - but can never achieve. We'll know that he has brought us, and all the other scattered flocks that are his, home - back to a place which we, like a hefted sheep, will recognise as home. We'll give him glory and we'll be his flock. Forever.

David Cameron's All-Time Great Aston Villa Team

Poor David Cameron has spent such a long time campaigning already, it's a shame everybody has laughed at him over his sudden conviction that he supports West Ham, not Aston Villa, as he has claimed these last few years.

But it's easy to get confused. The campaign trail takes it out of you. Many UKIP candidates can unexpectedly say racist things, while people in Tower Hamlets can do completely out-of-character things like say God wants people to vote for them. So we are happy to help David Cameron set the record straight. We asked him to tell us, in his opinion, what would be his best-ever Aston Villa team, made up from the all-time greatest players in each position. And this is what he told us.

Blackburn Diocese Breaks the Laws of Physics

I have discovered an interesting job ad. From Blackburn Diocese: a half-time job in a rural setting. What could be more lovely than just working half a week? Obviously you only get half a stipend, but fair's fair. I suppose you could always get another half-time job. Or spend your free three days a week wandering the Pennines getting closer to God.

Oh. Hang on.

Turns out "half time", in Blackburn, means 4 days out of the week. But "half stipend post", presumably, means half of what other clergy get paid if they're full time.

The logic is inescapable. If half-time is 4 days, and you still get your weekly day of rest, then a Lancashire Week must consist of nine days. The Church of England eh? Not all the clergy believe in the Virgin Birth. But fitting 9 days into a week is a whole new level of miracle.

No Rota Way

I'm interested in Lesley Crawley's idea for a zanier church, where every Sunday the members of the congregation get to pick what their job for the day is. It sounds like it adds a spark of excitement, some equality, an idea that we are all children of God. However, I notice that the democratization of jobs is not complete. "Preach the Sermon" and "Preside at Eucharist" are apparently not included. Or, if they are, she's quite quiet about it.

This is in stark contrast to my childhood denomination, the Extremely Primitive Methodists. A hardy group, who believed in simplicity in life, dedication to the Gospel and the avoidance of modern conveniences. The only church I ever heard of where laying-on of hands for frostbite was a requirement from September to May.

The Extremely Primitive Methodists were radical exponents of the Priesthood of All Believers. And so their set of cards included the aforesaid roles, and many others - clean the toilets, scrape moss off the ceiling, wash the Beryl crockery, feed the lions . Ah, many is the service I've attended where a toddler, invisible behind the pulpit, preached from the text "I'm frightened! Where's Mummy?", while from outside could be heard the screams of another unfortunate discovering they did not have "the gift of Daniel" to calm wild beasts.

Then one day, a visiting Roman Catholic came along, took her pick of a card, and received the role "Head of Conference". At which point she declared the building unsafe and closed down the congregation.

Sometimes you can take an idea too far.

Mind the Gap

As a result of our construction of a Yellow Brick Road from the Moot House to the Lower Holy Well, we have discovered a thin place just below the bramble patch in Lower Meadow.

We've put red and white tape round it, and Hnaef is down there with gauges and a spirit level, trying to ascertain just how thin it is. But we reckon ir's at least a Grade 3, as we can hear chanting.

So until we've got any hard data, please avoid the area. Particularly thin places can be very hazardous. We wouldn't want anyone to end up in Narnia.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Inoffensive Liturgy of St George

Archdruid: And so on this St George's Day we raise St George's cross...

All: Bit UKIP-y?

Archdruid: And we celebrate the patron saint of England.

All: You trying to upset the Scots Nats?

Archdruid: The red cross...

Burton: Isn't that a crusader's cross? You encouraging ISIS?

Archdruid: ...stained, it is said, by his martyr's blood, on his warrior's shield....

All: A soldier? What, freedom fighter?

Archdruid: No. Roman soldier.

Hnaef: Imperialist as well. This ain't getting better.

Archdruid: He killed a dragon.

All: Did he reason with it first?

Archdruid: WHAT?

Stacey Bushes: Did he try to discuss maybe some kind of peace treaty - bring in a neutral third party to facilitate negotiations? Intelligent creatures, dragons. We've seen The Hobbit. They've got to have some rights.

Archdruid: No!  He had to save a helpless maiden.....

Edith Weston: What a sexist. You saying her sex life - or lack of it - was the determinant in whether she was saved or not?

Archdruid: I'm sorry?

Charlii: Would he have saved her if she'd been a single mother, or other non-conformer to patriarchal ideals? I suppose if she'd been a childless woman making a living as the chief exec of a pottery company he'd have left her to roast.

Archdruid: I don't know. I'm not aware he had that option. She was a helpless maiden.....

Daphne: What was so helpless about her? Why did it take a man to reinforce his role as protector - while simultaneously endorsing an unholy alliance between religion and the military/industrial complex - to kill an innocent dragon? Surely the maiden herself could have killed the dragon, were she not trapped in the stereotypical role of "helpless"?

Archdruid: So we cry "God, King Harry and St George for England! "

All: That's right, upset the French....

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Clear Signals of Growth

Apologies for the chaos on the Marston Vale line this morning.

As part of their induction to Beaker Life, Burton Dasset took the Church Growth consultants I've hired from Tesco for a guided tour of Ridgmont Station.

Unfortunately he got them a viewing of the signal box. At which point they pulled all the available levers. Turns out that's not always such a good strategy.

Of Democracy and Direction

I've had some Beaker Folk complaining about the new strategy document, "Shut up and do What you are told - How Confirmation Bias Can Drive Church Growth".

Apparently my decision to adopt a bunch of theories based on my personal preferences is "undemocratic". Well, that's what we call a "category error". Inasmuch as this seems to imply that they think the Beaker Folk are a democracy.

Let's get this straight. We tried democracy in the 80s. And what it proved is, you can't trust people to make decisions. Or rather, you can't trust all of them. I know what I'm doing, obviously. Today, in Russia, the European Union and the Middle East, we're seeing the rolling-back of the failed democratic experiment, in favour of people doing what they're told, or else.

Now to the implementation of my new growth strategy.  I've brought in a bunch of advisers from Tesco, who have unexpectedly become available at decent rates. They'll help us to develop a go ahead,  commercial, consumer orientated growth plan. You can trust them. They've got experience of the real world.

Now can Beaker Folk please stop whining, and just follow. Frankly, if people keep not following me, it's gonna look like I'm not a very good leader,