Monday, 28 February 2011

Early Risers

It's sure sign that Spring is springing - it was daylight when I opened the curtains at 6.20 this morning!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Starting with The Accidental Anglican

The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical ChurchHaving read the article by Jane Williams  in The Church Times yesterday on being prepared to stand up for our beliefs by ensuring that we are well informed, I decided that it was time to actually do some serious reading myself. I have been carrying a copy of 'The Accidental Anglican' by Todd D Hunter in my bag for a few weeks since I saw it on the Eurobishop's February Book selection. I bought it because I was struggling with labels and different traditions. I was not sure where I fit in the Church environment as I like variety and I like to be challenged to think about and confirm my beliefs. I know quite a few friends struggle with the liturgy of some church services. Sometimes the set liturgy of a service just does not reach me. This book interested me as it tells of Todd Hunter's journey from the Vineyard Church to becoming an Anglican Bishop. It is subtitled, 'The surprising appeal of the liturgical church'. I am looking forward to becoming more informed about the use of liturgy and its potential and why Todd Hunter was drawn into the liturgical approach.

If you have read this book, I'd love to hear from you. Have I made the right choice?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Putting my head up above the pews.

I am your ordinary church punter – I claim no theological training and not a huge understanding of the Establishment. I want to understand more*. Given the choice, I guess I would turn up occasionally on Sunday, enjoy the singing, half listen to the sermon and shake the Vicar’s hand on the way out (him not knowing who on earth I was). But I don’t have that choice as my husband often is that vicar at the church door. Since I started this blog I have been asked from what angle (tradition?) I am speaking with regards to Church. (I'm not as anonymous as I thought I was.) I honestly say – I don’t know. Ask me on one Sunday and I will be absorbed in the awe and wonder of a service in beautiful Cathedral, on another I will be hearing testimonies and being amazed at how God works at grass roots level. On another Sunday I might find I am struggling and rejecting the whole lot.
I did not grow up in a ‘church family’. I would think we were a typical Anglican family at the time. Church on most Sundays was either at a high Anglican parish church in a modern church building or attending Sunday school at a Cathedral where I learned the bible stories and went to an excellent Christmas party each year. I was confirmed on 6th May when I was eleven at the parish church. I only know this as it is written in the front of the New English Bible my parents gave me to mark the occasion. I don’t remember anything about it except that I had to wear school uniform and a funny white headscarf. I resented missing gymnastics club to go to preparation lessons in the vicar’s study with one other girl who I did not know. We learned what the Lord’s prayer meant and that was it I think. I don’t remember my first communion.
This marked the end of Sunday school and we either went to the 8 o’clock (the quick one as I knew it – no sermon, no sung responses - I now know it as the BCP service.) or the family service at either  church – one with all the bells and smells and Anglo Catholic traditions. I recently recognised the cathedral on TV when I saw pictures of the decorative ceiling. I spent hours counting circles on a Sunday morning in that cathedral. All in all it was a pretty sound start in learning the words of a service – I can find my way around a service book in several languages despite not being fluent in any.
At thirteen, I walked into town with a friend and went to the YMCA to attend a Crusaders meeting that had been recommended by another friend. And suddenly Christianity for me became real and relevant. The Crusader Organisation (now Urban Saints) was also unfamiliar to my parents  - the music, the set up and the informality suited my desire for teenage self expression. be continued
25 / 02/ 2011 Post Script  
*I have just finished reading an excellent article by Jane Williams in the Church Times today entitled 'Now more than ever, Christians need to think about their faith.' She encourages us not to leave the study of theology to the professionals and gives very good reasons for this. She ends by saying,
"So perhaps now is the time to be honest about some aspect of your faith that you have never understood, and have been avoiding looking at..."       
Have you taken that on board, Curate's wife?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Who will we let in?

I have stayed away from the subject of church for the last few Blogs because I am struggling to deal with the insensitive attitudes of people . I want to believe that the Anglican Church is a broad church where there is support and encouragement to grow, room to express your doubts and lack of understanding, a place to be silent and  to explore that silence in the presence of God, a place to rant and seek God's compassion. Increasingly I find I can understand why people turn their backs on 'organised religion' and seek some other means of exploring spirituality. Often there appears to be a lack of compassion, empathy or humour between different groups even if they attend the same church. From my experience, I am pretty sure we were given a sense of humour to help us get along together a little better - as well as being given our two ears and one mouth. We need to be able to listen to each other and not impose our views without considering how they will be received. I fully support the alpha course where people are allowed to discuss and explore what they understand. This is how we educate today's young people - to think for themselves. More than once, as I have been leaving the church, I have heard the comment about a sermon - "I really wanted to stand up and say something when the vicar said that!". People are educated to debate and reach their own conclusions from the sound evidence that they are given. It needs those who have the theological, academic training and are secure in their faith, to be encouraging enough to allow people to express doubt and explore. They should not condemn or judge when people don't agree and are heading in a different direction. We should welcome debate because, if God is with us, He will ensure we will all grow and learn from each other. But if we only let in 'the right sort' (those who think like we do) and make sure our foot is against the door so it won't open for anyone else - I'm not sure I want to belong.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Unwelcome visitors.

We like to think that we are a fairly green Curate's house - separating our rubbish for collection, avoiding using unnecessary plastic bags and composting as much of our waste as we can. Our homes on both coasts have excellent waste collection facilities and I cannot fault our waste collection operatives. I believe very strongly that we must live responsibly and look after our surroundings.  I know it is supposed to be a misconception that you are never very far away from a furry creature - but I am beginning to wonder. Last year we had a pair of acrobatic rats who twirled around the bird feeder which was hung just outside our front room window. This year our compost bin miraculously empties itself by three or four inches every week. Last night The Curate came face to face with the culprit as The Curate lifted the lid to dispose of some vegetable peelings. The rat took one look at him, turned tail, headed downwards and escaped out of the bottom, running across The Curate's feet on the way. I now make sure I knock on the side to warn any inhabitant to vacate itself, before I lift the lid. long before a super rat emerges? Perhaps it is already here. The Curate, romantically, gave me a wormery for my birthday some years ago. It is now unusable as our furry friends have made a large hole just under the lid. - Or was it a large worm making a bid for freedom from a bin of worms?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

'Seriously uncool'

It's Sunday morning and The Curate has gone off for the morning to take services in neighbouring parishes. I won the dog walking in the rain which usually would have been fine, but I can't move. There was a church fund raising event for the young people of the parish last night. A well known local ceilidh band - Oggle Band, offered their services to help raise funds by providing the music for a community barn dance. Their music is energetic and exciting - mixing the traditional folk with jazz and rock. With a gathering of people where the average age must have been over 65, I wondered how many would actually be dancing. In young people's terms this type of entertainment is rated as 'seriously uncool' and some husbands had been dragged there by their wives. (The fish and chip supper brought in from the local fish and chip shop round the corner, may have helped). But the music was infectious.The Curate and I really enjoy these type of events and decided it was time to get fit and we challenged each other to dance every dance. By the end of the evening the atmosphere was amazing and the whole place was filled with laughter and boisterous disorder. Even the teenage lad who had sat silently in the corner at the beginning, was dancing with two ladies on his arms. Learning the dances is part of the enjoyment and getting it wrong, adds to the chaos. I can't think of any other type of entertainment that manages to combine such a wide range of age groups in one energetic activity. If you have a brilliant band with a good caller and you can get the people past their inhibitions and preconceived ideas and through the door  - this sort of entertainment is so enjoyable and not 'seriously uncool'. You just need to let your hair down a bit!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Can you read this? - Some thoughts on accessing church services.

Why do some churches assume everyone in church can read? I am well aware there are a large number of adults who cover up the fact they can just about read enough to get by. In 2003 a survey  declared that one in six people had literacy levels below those expected of an 11 year old. I work with children who  struggle with their literacy and  I know how quickly they become damaged and cover up the fact that they don't quite understand or can't quite keep up with what has to be read. Now apply that to one in six of your congregation in church. How are you expecting them to follow the service - in a service book,  or even worse, - on a screen at the front of the church? Do you know how difficult it is to look like you can read - if you have to look up - rather than bury your head in a service book or hymn book? But may be our churches are not meant for those people who cannot read. 

The Curate has just attended a course where he was addressed by a number of disabled people who discussed the difficulties of accessing church services. What about the partially sighted and the blind?  Do we cater for them? The chances are that you will know if there are people with these disabilities in your congregation and provision may have been made for them. What about those who have English as a second language? What about those who have the hidden disability of being unable to read? How do churches tackle this? 
The bible was intended to be heard not read because very few people could read. The book of Common Prayer says the people are to repeat after the priest. Hymns that have repetitive choruses  are more easily learned but some churches reject modern chorus type songs. Do churches presume people who can't read (for what ever reason that might be ) - don't go to church? 

THE TORCH TRUST is a Christian organisation with a worldwide vision for people with sight loss.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Avoiding church

Since the announcement of The Curate's departure (last service 22nd May), I have been avoiding church. Coward? Yes. Having experienced one service since the announcement, where I seemed to have become invisible to some people, I am staying away until the dust has settled. 
The Curate is fielding quite a few disappointed people. Others think it is great that the Bishops have decided that The Curate and I might actually be better together than apart. They are aware that I tried to get work up near The Curate. Too old, too expensive and too experienced. I'm not in a good place right now but I will get over it. A little space and God's grace is all that is needed - so off to walk the dogs and get blown about on the beach. ( The Curate is at church).

The dogs with their regular dog walker earlier in the year.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

'Your strength is your weakness' - Tackling change.

Did anyone else hear Fuzz Kitto speak at the leaders' breakfast at Soul Survivor last year? He was very inspiring. In the question and answer session, people were asking how to attract boys to a successful, established youth group that had only girls attending. Fuzz replied that ,'Your strength is your weakness.' meaning that being so good at attracting girls can result in boys not wanting to join. It is difficult to tackle because you must recognise and celebrate your success but, perhaps, you have to think outside the box to reach another group without destroying what you do well.
Since then his phrase has given me a lot of food for thought. I look at our church that is filled most Sundays with retired folk. It is a growing church despite The Curate and The Boss having to officiate at a large number of funerals each year. More retired folk move to be near the sea and join the church which has a fantastic support network for our elderly congregation. There are phone networks where people ring each other each day to check how they are, house groups, pastoral visitors, social activities and day trips during the week. The services are in a familiar format and we sing lots of the old favourite hymns. Because there is such a positive buzz, it is a pretty forward thinking congregation and they are open to trying new music and they are funding a youth and families worker themselves. But there are very few, if any, young people in the church on Sunday. There are lots of  youth type groups during the week but nothing for them on Sundays. Does is it matter that the young people don't come to church if they are being reached outside church on Sunday?
The Curate felt that there was a need for a more contemporary service and started a Sunday evening, multi media 'contemporary' service with bite sized video clips, sketches and live music. The hope was that it might reach people on the fringes of church and would be an accessible service to bring young people to. Not a new concept but new format for this church. And the enthusiastic regular church members turned up in the evening.