Sunday, 27 January 2008

Asylum Seekers

I have just been reading some fascinating stuff on Methodist Preachers blog about the questions that Asylum Seekers are asked to answer to prove that their conversion to Christianity is real - one of them is to name the twelve disciples and I doubt if many experienced Christians could manage this one. I must ask the folk at the service tonight if they can answer this.
This article got me thinking about the test that foreign nationals have to take if they want to become British Citizens and that is equally difficult. There are 24 questions and you have to get 18 right to pass the test. Want to give it a try? Check this out
I failed so perhaps I should leave the country.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints!

Away from church I have spent a number of years handling complaints for a fifth of a large housing organisation and have just taken on the complaints portfolio for the whole organisation. It is an interesting role and sometimes very challenging while at other quite amusing - some colleagues have difficulty with the definition of a complaint and automatically on seeing the word 'Complaint' on any form of written correspondence think it has to be a complaint. This of course is not the case, but all comments can be useful to an organisation both the positive and the not so positive, although it has to be said that more often than not we kick ourselves about the complaints and forget to pat ourselves on the back when we get it right.
I sometimes sense that we in Methodism are quick to pick up on the negative but not so on the positive. There is much talk in all sorts of places about the declining numbers in the church and yes there are all sorts of reasons. I believe that much of our problem is too do with an increasing godlessness in society as a whole in Britain, a lessening of standards and dare I say the 60's when some strange ideas started to creep into society with the inception of the hippie culture with its free love etc.
I have to say that when I look at our current congregations which to a great degree are mainly in the over 60 age group it does not need a genius to work out that these are an expendable resource even allowing for a higher age of mortality in general terms.
I think it is true to some degree, and I may be being controversial here, that not all of our preachers are 'doing it' for congregations they are leading in worship. My fiercest critic, for which I am very grateful is my wife - she tells me off if I wave my hands about or put them in my pocket or go over the hour and I have always said to her if I get boring TELL ME!
I used to use a sermon more than once but now generally I will use the lectionary readings for the week and prepare something new for each service - I really do think that sermons can become tired if preached over and over and that 'tiredness' can be picked up by the people we are preaching to. The gospel is old yet ever new and yet sometimes it seems old and ever old.
I get excited when I hear of Fresh Expressions and really do feel that the Hope 2008 project is something that has the potential for lifting us out of the doldrums that we appear to be in - I know there will be some who say they are not physically able to be involved but they can be the power behind the project as they pray for the various events and activities.
Some years ago a local pentecostal church had a weeks mission and I was at one of their prayer meeting when a lady of 90 said she was very sorry she could not get to the church for 7-30a.m. to join the prayer meeting but she was getting up at 6-30a.m. and praying for the prayer meeting and then switching to praying at 7-30a.m. for the mission. The pastor said this was a great encouragement and was something that everyone could do at some point during the day.
So come on folks lets get positive, and at the very least take the example of the 90 years old as a guide for us.

Monday, 21 January 2008

What's going on?

Regular visitors may be wondering what's been going on in respect of posts on this blog and I have to say I have been doing a lot of reading - mainly of other peoples blogs and sometimes it is quite fascinating. Sometimes other people beat me to a topic and I think I better not blog about it in case they think I am copying - sometimes I comment on topics on other blogs and sometimes I don't because there appears to be some friction creeping in to some of the topics. One comment on another blog says they hope that a topic doesn't develop into a clergy versus laity type thing and I agree with this it would be really sad to see that happen especially when topics being raised and discussed are important to those people who raise them.
Another thing that strikes me is that we are all human and I would hope can become quite passionate about things - I remember an evangelist once showing a poster with a picture of Bill Shankly and the Liverpool team and on it there were the words 'Bill Shankly and his twelve disciples'. The evangelist then went on to liken the crown at Anfield to the multitudes that gathered when Jesus spoke, challenging us to have the passion of the crown on the Kop at Anfield.
For those of us who preach I am reminded of something our Super said at a Local Preachers meeting when he said those of us who preach needed to be like Adolf Hitler - to a few pained expressions and sharp intakes of breath - but he had a point. I don't speak German but whenever I see old newsreel of Hitler I can see how and why the German people got excited he was a gifted orator with a charisma that even a non German speaker can recognise. How much better is the message that we have? Should we not deliver it with a passion and an excitement or have we got too bogged down in the politics of running the church etc.?
Of course I am sensible enough to realise that the preaching is not the only side to the Christian gospel and I am fortunate in that I belong to a church that tries very hard to show the love of God in its activities. For a number of years now we have had a ministry to asylum seekers and have seen numerous folk come and go as the mechanism of the home office moves them around from place to place. All of them have been welcomed and all of them are very much part of the family at our church even though many of them have moved on and some have even been returned to their own country but still keep in touch.
While all this has been going on we have retained our usual membership and our minister is a former asylum seeker who occasionally tries to get us to sing in his native tongue (he is from Rwanda)as well as trying to get us to try other new songs.
There is much to be thankful for and although there is a feel that the Methodist church is disappearing perhaps this in some degree not helped by people keep telling us this. I am reminded of a story I heard of a man who could not recognise a loving God because the priest had told him if he ate the bread at the Eucharist he would go to hell - he was in his forties before he lost this fear of God and came to realise that he had loving father - if we tell somebody something often enough or 'officially' enough they will often believe it.
One of the other things that struck me about the church I belong to was before we became members there we noticed that there was a willingness to try something different and to sing a new song. A willingness that stretches across all ages and all lengths of membership - our longest attendee has been coming to the church for 80 years but joins in and enjoys the varied worship styles that we have.
I am not saying that we should not raise issues and challenge problems but let's try to take the advice of the old song 'Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don't mess with Mr in between'.
When I first joined a youth group at a Methodist church in the early 1980's we often used to sing those wonderful words 'Keep your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace'. Surely great advice for us as we try to serve our Saviour in the 21st Century with that message that is old and yet ever new!

High School Blog

Not sure how this works but I am happy to have achieved high school rating for the blog - I try to write stuff at an understandable level and I have to be honest I often find stuff on other blogs with language that is quite intelectual. I have been known to dash for the dictionary on occasions - I really must start doing that 'Improve your word power' in the readers digest magazine.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Mutter, Mutter, Groan, Groan.

There are a number of other blogs I read regularly mainly of the merry band who label themselves Methodist Bloggers and there are often some interesting and possibly controversial articles that appear. Some of them are to do with the way Methodism works , how ministers are stationed for instance and I am sure there are many members who have stories they could relate regarding all sorts of things that have happened in the past.
Because I am not a 'dyed in the wool' Methodist (my super's words) I often ask questions about the way we do things - some quite silly like why do some churches stand while others sit when the offering is brought forward and others more to do with the rules and regulations which govern us (CPD) like do we really need so many rules?
In 1982 I went to conference in Plymouth following a fairly meteoric rise from door steward to church council member to synod member and then representative to conference. I was very fortunate in that I sat next to a minister from our district who guided me through what was going on and swiftly took me out of the room when any 'boring' business came up (usually finance or property related). At the time I had been unemployed for around 9 months and one of the debates was about unemployment when a number of well known Methodists spoke in the debate about the whole issue of unemployment and as speaker after speaker got up I sat and got more upset all the time because I wondered how many of these folk had any real experience of unemployment. If it were now with the benefit of age and experience I would have been down to the podium to challenge what was being said, but of course then I was still 'wet behind the ears'and just sat and seethed.
I still get a little annoyed by some things that go on at the highest level and I don't always agree with the decisions of conference or what the 'official spokespeople'say on my behalf, but then I suppose there are a lot of members who don't agree either. I have to say though that I accept the governance of the church and will comply with the decisions where they affect me.
One thing I do find is that members at our churches will often mention things that are in the news from a Methodist perspective and one of these issues is the discussion surrounding a new hymn book and of course I was at conference when the current book was approved. Many people have raised this matter and it seems to me that there are a number of things that seem to be coming up in these conversations. I list them in no specific order and think that they are points that are important to the folk sitting in our conversation week by week.
1. Do we really need a new book?
2. In some churches they will comment they already have a number of books and this just seems silly.
3. We have only had this book a few years (26 actually but of course not as long as the previous one).
4. We know very few hymns in the current book so why have a new one?
5. We have projection equipment so do we need a new book?
6. Can we afford a new book?

I suppose at some point the issue of a new hymn book will come back to districts, circuits and local churches but ther is perhaps some food for thought in the points above.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Joint Local Preachers meeting

I have been to a meeting tonight for local preachers in the three circuits that cover most of the Metropolitan Borough of Walsall and some slightly outlying areas. Around 30 of us met to discuss three main questions and a separate one of whether we felt there was any value in meeting together periodically.
The three questions were:
1 How has leading worship and preaching changed in the last 20 or so years.
2 What new skills and insights might preachers need to adapt to the next 20 years or so?
3 How can we work more cooperatively as neighbouring circuits in the Walsall Borough?

We broke up into three groups with a mixture of people from each circuit in each group along with ministers from each circuit in each group.

The groups then came back together and feed back to the larger group and there was much of interest that came out of the conversation and surprisingly I thought a fairly broad consensus of opinion about some topics.
Naturally there were some differences as well and an example of this was that one group thought service were less formal where another one thought they were more formal.
A thought that seemed to resonate with all three groups was that people today are not as knowledgeable in respect of the bible as they were 20 years ago.

Some of the skill and insights we felt would be needed were a greater understanding and use of audio visual equipment - not just PowerPoint but other things as well. One group felt that we may need to become more like TV presenters using short sound bites to communicate with our congregations.

There was in our group some discussion of the liturgy/worship book as the meeting had commenced with a prayer from the covenant service in the 1930's book of offices using the language of the day - one member of the group said they disliked the current worship book immensely and felt it should be burned. Nobody objected too vehemently to that suggestion so it makes you wonder how popular it is.

Mention was made of music in worship and the variety of worship material available now as opposed to 20 years ago and we touched on the possibility of a new hymn book and it seemed in our group at least we thought this was totally unnecessary. I was at conference when the current hymn book was approved and although it is only 26 years old sometimes I feel it is very dated. One of our group said that they felt as soon as a book comes out it is out of date.

All in all I think it was a very useful evening and we have agreed to meet again on Ascension Day for a joint communion service followed by our individual preachers meetings for a short time and then a joint meeting.