Monday, 25 September 2017

Oxford English

Exciting news from the Diocese of Oxford, which is recruiting for a "Vision Programme Development Manager." Which I'm pretty sure is a job that replaces what used to be called "Prophet."

I feel you should just savour and delight in this sentence from the advert. And bear in mind this is actually one sentence.
This is an exciting opportunity for someone to join us who will coordinate and facilitate the discernment and implementation of the diocesan common vision and strategy process through a range of activities and hands on projects, by working collaboratively with others, informing decisions and deploying effective communication strategies to build engagement across the Diocese
No? You neither? And some people say the BCP is hard to understand.

Important Questions to Ask if You Want Church Growth

With thanks to our good friend, Bradley Hadleigh, of Great Tremlett. Inspired by the far more sensible Kelvin Holdsworth.
  1. Aren't you a bit crowded anyway? Apart from the pews in the front half of the church. And nobody wants to sit there.
  2. Do you really want another building project?
  3. Are you prepared to sit next to somebody you don't know? In your pew?
  4. Where is everyone going to park? The lanes round the church are already full on Sunday mornings. And the Archdeacon says you can't put parking on the graveyard.
  5. Do you really want to go to the trouble of getting to know new people?
  6. Those hymn books are out of date, out of print, and they're running short. What sort of process does your church have in place for selecting a new hymn book, and raising the money for an unspecified number?
  7. You're going to have to buy a new PA, aren't you?
    Do you really want these seats occupied? Think of the cleaning.
  8. Who's going to run all the confirmation / membership / Alpha courses? The Vicar's already maxed out. And now s/he has the building project to cope with as well.
  9. Are there enough cups in the church hall for post-service tea? Has anyone considered what they might cost if there's a revival?
  10. What happens if the growth brings enthusiastic people who want to change things? How will you stop them?
  11. Church growth might bring children. And Sally who runs the Sunday School is 98. How will she cope?
  12. Isn't God really keener on a remnant?
  13. Growth can be spiritual as well as numerical. And spiritual things are better than mere numbers. So what you really need is another hymn on Sunday mornings.
  14. If you are more welcoming, people might come along to more services. Can you cope with the effort of being welcoming every week?
  15. If you have more people singing each week, is the organ up to it?
  16. Can you remember the names of new people? Only if you can't remember them, it would be rude to have them there.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Henry VIII's Transition Period From Europe

Reflecting on the vagueness and emptiness of Theresa May's words in Florence yesterday.

Well, I say Florence. The lack of local interest and the clearly domestic targeting of the speech meant she could have been anywhere. As I came into the office, Burton Dasset was on a '"Florence Truther" reddit, trying to prove the whole thing was a mock up, and she was actually speaking in a Travelodge conference room in Slough.

But her two-year Transition Period, where we all pretend nothing has changed, got me interested. Firstly because that's another two years for this country's political elite (French word) to come to its senses and propose another referendum. Maybe one with a simple yes/no answer. Maybe with the question: 'Now you can see into the Abyss, do you think you were a bit foolish last time?'

But mostly because it caused me to reflect on the last time it happened.

In 1534, in order to legalise Henry VIII having sex with Ann Boleyn, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. Henry VIII thereby became Supreme Head of the Church of England - in effect the English Pope.

Then Parliament passed the Act of Tithes and Firstfruits. In effect, taking back control of the 10% of English wealth that had been sent to the European bureaucracy. In fact, much of the tithes was actually spent in England on board and lodgings for priests and on the monasteries. But Henry didn't mention this in the slogan he painted on the side of a hay wain.

After a two-year transition period, in 1536 the Dissolution of the Monasteries began. I presume this two year period, during which England was effectively Catholic but with Henry in charge of the Church of England, was to allow the transferral of canon law with appropriate changes, and to thrash out a decent deal with Heaven and other third parties with whom we had previously negotiated via the Holy See. I suspect that England, with a population of a few million, actually had a weaker negotiating position than the Pope, which was why we had to move to Calvinist terms (grovelling and hoping) rather than the more flexible Catholic arrangements.

The 2 year transition period also gave a period of time for the English souls in Purgatory to arrange either an ordered transfer into Heaven, or resign themselves, in the absence of Masses for the Dead, to a long wait before getting heavenly citizenship.

Of course, after all the upheaval, England decided to rejoin the Catholic Church just a few years later. And then left again shortly after that. And to this day there are people who clearly have two allegiances - being English and yet also being enamoured of that of a circle of 12 stars. Not the EU flag - the image with Mary in it. Boris Johnson would not be impressed.

But then Boris Johnson is a privileged adulterer, whose aim in dragging Britain out of the EU was for his own gain and vanity. I guess nothing really changes.

A circle of twelve stars... 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Feast of Equinoctial Equivocation

Well, it's an early end to yet another Equinox celebration.

Why is that every six months, we allow Hnaef to try to tightrope walk across the Duck Pond? Every six months we - and he - forget he can't actually walk tightropes. And he plunges, every six months, straight into the dark and murky depths. Every six months. Without fail.

The inevitable song about Autumn got us down, as ever. Burton's rewriting of the Mamas and Papa's "California Dreaming" being such a good example of the problem:

All the trees are brown
And the leaves are dead
Summer is now over
It really does my head.

I'll be cold and wet
when December's here.
From September to mid-April
I hate this half of the year.

So we dropped a ceremonial leaf in the pond each, dragged Hnaef out, and everyone's headed for the White Horse.

In many ways we have been brought closer to each other, and to Mother Earth.

Shame it's all so melancholy. Still, only three months to Solstice. All downhill now.

Equinox Preparation

Beaker Folk are reminded that the Equinox is at 9.02 pm. Please be there sharp with handfuls of leaves, conkers, autumn crocuses and dead badgers.

As is tradition, Hnaef will be tightrope walking across the Duck Pond as a symbol of all things in balance. It doesn't normally end well, and it's going to be dark. So we've sprayed the rope with fluorescent paint and will be bathing the area in Ultra Violet. So be sure to bring dark glasses and sun block.

As usual we are expecting Hern the Hunter and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to appear. Also as usual, due a GMT / BST confusion, they'll either be a day late or a day early. Be nice to them. Being forgotten deities, they get a bit lonely between major astronomical events.

It's going to be quite an evening.

This being the last day of summer - at least until 9.02 at which time it becomes the first night of autumn - enjoy a bit of Kirsty summer magic.

Writes of the Church - On Sale Now

The paperbook book of the Beaker Folk's sibling blog, "Writes of the Church" is released today! Available through The Bible Reading Fellowship, Amazon, and presumably many good Christian bookshops.

Join the congregation as they make their way onto proper printed paper, with some great cartoons drawn by Dave Walker.  How many times can Norbert resign as treasurer? Why is Romilly constantly cancelling the social events? Why would a tea towel cause a boycott of the church hall? And Melissa gets in with a couple of her uplifting poems.

A queue of letter-carrying parishioners at the vicar's door

And all just in time for Christmas....

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Getting Really Close to Nature

Really pleased to read Mark Boyle's Guardian article on living without the benefit of modern medicine and technology. At last someone has embraced the lifestyle we have been advocating through our "Ultimate Immersion Beaker Experience" retreat concept.

For a very reasonable rate, we've been letting idealistic people with lots of money live in the Lower Wood for up to three months at a time. During this time we send in "Beaker Lifestyle Coaches" to give them advice on important pre-industrial lifestyle tips. For instance - how to make tents out of fox skins, which herbs to use for broken bones, and how to tell whether you're so cold you will die of hypothermia, or whether you'll probably make it to morning alive.

The Immersion Beaker people spend their days foraging for berries, gathering moss and ferns to create sanitary products, and being sick after eating unwashed berries or drinking water out of the brook. Of course, foraging for berries in late winter and spring is always a bit pointless, so at those times of the year they mostly just sit around being hungry.

Lower Wood was always full of wildlife, so in principle a particularly keen Immersion Beaker  person could have had a decent Neolithic diet of muntjac, hedgehog and rabbit. In practice, of course, they were such idealists they couldn't harm a bunny-wunny, and careers as investment bankers and actuaries don't give you much idea as to how to create a decent bow or snare. And not having matches, they were strictly relegated to banging the rocks together to make fire. We caught someone using a bit of broken bottle to magnify the sun once. We had to confiscate his loincloth as a punishment.

Clothing was of course a real bugbear. Any Immersion Person going into the woods had to yield up all artificial fibres. And if any of their clothes then wore out or were so dirty they were unredeemable, they had to weave replacements themselves. In the absence of any cotton fields in Husborne Crawley this left them chasing sheep round fields and harvesting bits of discarded wool off the barbed wire.
Lacking aspirin, some extreme methods of obtaining pain relief were attempted
The ban on modern medical intervention did bite, though. Surprisingly, as they thought their natural lives would protect them from all illness. Not if you fall out of a tree while trying to hunt squirrels and break your arms, it turns out. All that feverfew didn't have the slightest effect. And Melanie was rubbish at foraging after that. Eventually, faced with her colleagues' refusal to call a modern ambulance to drive along modern roads to help her, she had to walk up to the Big House and beg for help. Where, true to the Neolithic principle, Burton Dasset gave her a backie to Milton Keynes General on his bicycle.

I remember the guy with terrible hay fever, who spent six weeks unable to see, let alone forage. His colleagues did try feeding him plantain leaves, but he didn't trust them not to have herbicide on them. He ended up sitting under a crab apple tree, eating the fruit whenever it fell on his head. Although to be fair, the raving state he got into was very definitely a religious experience.

Indeed, religious experiences become more common the longer you spent in Beaker Immersion. After a couple of months of near starvation, you end up seeing all kinds of visions. And most nights, if you walked past Lower Wood, you could hear people calling on God for help. And twice we had to intervene to prevent human sacrifice to ask Hern the Hunter for blessing. So a very big tick in the box.

But sadly, eventually the Beaker Immersion course had to be wound up. A group of particularly enthusiastic course members, with some awareness of Neolithic agricultural practices, went in for slash and burn. The Lower Wood ceased to exist one week in April. And then they realised they had no seeds, and no way of feeding themselves. They didn't get their money back, mind you. I felt they had had the ultimate Beaker experience.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Tea Light Terror

Some excitement at this evening's "Tea Light Labyrinth" service.

It was a lovely idea, based on Ps 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." A labyrinth of tea lights. The idea being that Beaker Folk would wander through the labyrinth, their feet literally lighted by the tea lights on the floor, and experience the sense of being on life's journey until they emerged, refreshed and ready for a glass of sparkling grape juice.

But Young Keith made a minor error or two in laying out the labyrinth, didn't he. Specifically, in accidentally laying it out so there was no way out from end to the other. As the Beaker folk wandered their meandering paths around the Moot House they started in awe, moved to confusion and ended up in some concern.

So the concern increased as they stacked up at the dead end. And then the concern turned to panic as one or two of their trouser legs caught fire. At this point the sprinklers should have gone off, but we'd put in the emergency override after the Streams of Water service. So the whole thing staggered to an end with Young Keith and I running around the Moot House, throwing beakers of water over the sizzling Beaker Folk. Completely messed up the whole filling up / emptying out of beakers cycle. It'll be 19 years now till we can get that straight.

The Well off Preacher

Nice little blog post from Doug Chaplin on the recent press reports that Church of England stipends are enough to live on.

Basically pointing out they are, as long as you've got other income....