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‘Downton Church — Season 2: Eight Lessons the Church Could Learn from Downton Abbey’ by Dr Wendy Dackson

 

Downton Abbey Church Logo

by Ken Howard and Wendy Dackson

Alrighty then! Our recent blog post “10 Ways the Church is Like Downton Abbey” got quite a lot of views. So, like our friends in Public Television, we decided to renew Downton Church for a second “season.” And the theme for season two is “Eight Lessons the Church Could Learn from Downton Abbey.”

Indeed, there much agreement in the comments we received that Downton Abbey – both the story and the production – was an excellent metaphor for the organized Church. Both are centuries-old institutions, both have a tendency toward aristocratic organization and behavior, both are steeped in tradition and stymied by traditionalism, both have a higher opinion of their own inherent holiness than their histories reveal. In other words, as institutions, both Downton Abbey and the Church are prone to similar mistakes.

Yet as the historical premise of Downton Abbey and the current cultural context of the Church (“in a world where everything is changing, an institution struggles for relevance…”) reveal, both institutions are capable – albeit reluctantly and imperfectly – of learning and change. So taking the metaphor a step further, what are some lessons that the Church can learn (or perhaps remember) from looking in the mirror of Downton Abbey.

Lesson #1 Noblesse oblige (with nobility, obligation). One thing that the various members of the Crawley family learn again and again, each in different ways, is that with positions of social power and influence comes social obligations: an understanding of their responsibility for those whose lives and livelihoods depend upon them. Lord Robert always seems keenly aware of the house’s obligation to provide economic sustenance and social stability (maybe too much of the latter) to both those directly employed by the house, and those on the wider estate and in the village. Lady Cora seems more attentive – though in a somewhat naïve fashion – to the emotional lives of those who depend on them. Lady Mary, on the other hand, makes a transition from self-centered debutante to more of a socialite with a conscience, who understands that part of their responsibility to those around them is to remain relevant to their needs in a time when those needs are changing in big ways.

What might the Church learn? Despite the claim that churches are somehow under siege from the prevailing culture (at least in North America and western Europe), they still hold a privileged position. Whether as employers of lay professionals (educators, administrators, musicians, and a variety of others), or as shapers of public opinion and policy (as evidenced in the new-but-contested RIFRA laws in Indiana), they influence people well beyond who shows up in any given congregation on Sundays. That influence shapes public perception of the Church –for good or ill. Churches might be better attuned to how their actions affect those with whom they have little if any contact.

Lesson #2 – Willingness to change. Speaking of change, another thing the members of the Crawley household all seem to learn – albeit reluctantly – is that change (sometimes profound change) is often a necessity. And they display willingness (if under duress) to listen to and act on (if sometimes fumblingly) voices other than their own about better ways forward. Indeed, one by one each of the family members seem to learn the painful lesson that the world doesn’t revolve around their comfortable traditions, and that awareness of the changing needs of the world around them often requires them to adapt – not just by adding electricity, telephones, radios, and other new-fangled technology, or sporting new fashions at social occasions, but by making deeper changes and finding new reasons for being.

What might the Church learn? That “modernizing” is more than trying to be “trendy” or “relevant” to a particular generation – right now, the millennials. Concentrating on new music that sounds more like what young people hear on the radio, or being more “cool” in the language used in preaching, or using “contemporary” forms of worship isn’t enough – worse than not enough, in some cases it may actually be harmful: like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, when we really need to be getting people into lifeboats. This is not a new problem. Every generation in From the very beginning, every generation in Church has faced the challenge of translating the Gospel for a new generation. The problem arises when, instead of offering the new generation a true translation in words they understand, we instead sugarcoat it with passing cultural affections in order to make it easier to swallow. True modernizing means discovering what are the public perceptions and beliefs about the faith are and addressing them honestly and directly, without compromising the core of Christian faith or cheapening the tough demands that being a follower of Jesus entails. It isn’t easy or quick, the way changing up the music or adding projection screens might be.

Lesson #3 – A Sense of Family. At Downton, the servants are more than simply support staff to the family and the house. By and large, there is a palpable sense of family between the upstairs Crawleys and the downstairs servants: a feeling of connection and interrelatedness. And while the relationship is not always pleasant – or healthy, for that matter – it is deep and strong… How else could a character like Thomas survive for all these seasons? And how else could the Dowager and Isobell become such a mutually (and lovingly) irritating odd couple.

What might the Church learn? William Temple is frequently misquoted as saying that “the church is the only institution that exists primarily for those outside it” (click here to read what he actually said), how Christians behave toward other Christians is important. When the Church treats its loyal members badly – especially when longtime, committed lay people are treated badly – it does more than encourage those individuals to leave. It undermines the public perception of the Church as a benevolent institution. Because when church is important to people, they share all the reasons why. But when church loses its luster, people share those reasons, too.

Lesson #4 –Willingness to “bend the rules” in order to “do the right thing.” There is a ongoing tension at Downton Abbey between the need to respect the rules (or follow tradition, which is harder) societally and the need to do what is right in individual cases. And example of this was the case of Mrs. Patmore’s dead nephew, Archie, and his exclusion from the war memorial, which Lord Grantham resolved by erecting a special memorial to honor Archie’s sacrifice. This goes to the heart of the tension in the church between tradition (honoring things that have been tested by time) and traditionalism (worshipping tradition for its own sake), which the Church has had to learn century after century.

What might the Church learn? First, we might learn that some rules just shouldn’t exist in at all. Second, we might learn that service doesn’t have to be perfect to be sincere and devoted, and that the people who render service also don’t have to be perfect, either. Finally, we might learn that we will garner more loyalty by finding ways to show appreciation than we will by finding ways to withhold it.

Lesson #5 – Willingness to find humane ways to outplace members of the downstairs household when continued relationship becomes untenable. Time and again, the Crawley family finds ways to part ways with servants who have become too difficult or embarrassing to endure. On the plus side, they realize that in an “incestuous” institution like the aristocracy one has to take great care in the way that people are let go, since termination without reference is tantamount to a sentence of lifelong poverty or worse (in the case of pregnant Ivy), and even laying off a person due to the elimination of a specialized position (in the case of Mosley) may render an otherwise loyal and competent former employee without honorable work. They have learned from painful experience not to throw anybody “under the bus.”

What might the Church learn? Don’t throw people under the bus. See Lessons #1 and #3. ‘Nuff said….


Would you like to know what Lessons 6, 7 and 8 might be? Please follow the link here:

To Their Credit – How Churches Are Helping The UK’s Poorest: by Nicole Holgate

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 First, A Brief History of the Church Housing Trust

Prebendary Wilson Carlile founded the Church Army in 1882 and Church Army Housing in 1924, thereby starting a great tradition which continues to this day through the combined forces of Church Housing Trust and Riverside ECHG (formerly English Churches Housing Group).

The Church Army soon became the largest lay society in the Church of England and Wilson Carlile himself was centrally involved in its social work for the homeless, often spending nights on the Thames Embankment in winter in order to care for those sleeping rough. Because of this work, many found the courage to try life in a hostel from where they could move on to better lives.

Church Army Housing transferred its hostels to Church Housing Association in 1977 and in 1984 Church Housing Trust was founded to raise charitable funds to support the hostels and the trust became a registered charity in 1991. In the same year Church Housing Association merged with Baptist Housing Association and United Reformed Church Housing Association to become English Churches Housing Group, and Church Housing Trust remained an independent charity raising funds for their work with the homeless. More recently ECHG became part of the Riverside Group and continues to be one of the leading providers of supported housing for homeless people.

Mission Statement

Church Housing Trust takes positive action to provide better facilities, opportunities and futures for homeless people whilst promoting a wider national understanding of the difficulties faced by those in housing need. It raises funds nationally for the establishment, equipping, organising, furnishing and maintenance of housing, hostel and other accommodation. Church Housing Trust reaches the elderly, students, single people, families and the physically and mentally ill who are unable by reason of poverty, sickness, age or youth to make adequate provision for themselves.


Nicole Holgate:”To Their Credit – How Churches Are Helping The UK’s Poorest”

The Church’s commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of society has never been more evident than over the past few years, as the need for food banks, the use of payday loans, and the increase of homelessness and rough sleeping have seen council and government-funded services stretched to their limits.

 

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has become a fierce advocate for the creation of a fairer financial system, encouraging churches and individual Christians to add their voices or actions. This came after the news that one million UK households took out payday and doorstep loans with APRs of up to 6,000% every month because they had no access to bank loans.

 

Archbishop Welby’s criticism of Wonga and other payday lenders helped fuel a campaign to rein in the sector. Now that the Financial Conduct Authority has imposed limits on payday loans, the archbishop has turned his attention to mainstream banks and their role in society. Most recently, accusing the financial services industry of ignoring poor communities, he called on banks to put people before profit.

 

He added that banks should make sure all sections of society have access to bank accounts and free cash machines which, following the clampdown on payday lending, would give lower-income families much-needed access to financial services .  Between 1989 and 2012, 7,500 banks and building society branches were closed , two-thirds of these in deprived areas.

 

The Church of England now runs the  website ‘To your credit’, which advises individuals and churches how to get the most out of their banking, including the management of debts and ongoing bill costs. The Church Urban Fund has also launched a series of ‘poverty briefings’ to ensure that each diocese has the information available to form a tailored action plan to help those in the most financial trouble.

 

Last summer, inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on responsible lending, songwriter and music producer Charles Bailey approached the Church of England with the idea for a rap. The song, called ‘We need a union on the streets’ , tells the stories of young people who get into debt because of payday loans with high interest rates and aims to highlight credit unions as a better way to borrow.

While benefit cuts and stalled wages continue to have an adverse effect on those on the bottom rung of society, the Church has come forward as a spokesman on their behalf.  This puts the Church in the firing line of Members of Parliament and the media, who have all been quick to react, not always positively, and this seems likely to increase rather than decrease in the near future. However, some good ground has also been made, even if it may take a while before the wider community finally gets the point.

 

Nicole Holgate, Communications Officer

 

Church Housing Trust

@churchhousing

Facebook.com/churchhousingtrust

Pinterest.com/churchhousingtr

‘Online Mission And Ministry’ by the Revd Pam Smith

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“In 2004 two online churches started in the UK, the Church of Fools and i-church. They were considered so unusual that they both attracted headlines all over the world and hundreds of potential members had to be turned away. While that level of novelty has worn off, people still do a double take when I tell them that I am the priest in charge of an online church. After the double take come the inevitable questions…this book is my attempt to answer all those questions in the depth they deserve” (extract from Introduction)

“Motivation and Longevity (Matthew 13.3-8) (p.113)

As Christians, we seek to be both culturally relevant, so we are heard by the people around us, and counter-cultural in challenging the assumptions and habits that take people further from God or prevent them from hearing the gospel.

The digital world is built for speed. It is possible to have an idea for an online campaign or initiative and set it up within weeks, if not days. If your project is unusual, or you have someone with a high profile involved, it is possible to gain a large amount of publicity very quickly. The downside of this is that things can disappear as quickly as they appear.

One approach to digital ministry is to go for high-speed, high-impact campaigns that have a short lifespan, arousing interest in the Christian message, hoping that people will be motivated to connect with a church that will take them on the next part of their Christian journey.

The counter-cultural strategy is to stay with our online ministry for the long haul, waiting for the seeds we are sowing to germinate and nurturing people in their Christian journey. This is a challenging and possibly a personally costly option. It may be possible to set up an online mega-church of millions of people but it is more likely that a long-term online Christian community will be small and quiet rather than large and exciting, and may not be understood by the wider Church…the commonest question I am asked about online church is ‘What do you do?’ and it is hard to explain that we don’t ‘do’ church – we are church to each other, despite the lack of sacraments or a building, because we are committed to each other’s journeys in the faith and in Christ’s love.

I have been conscious while I have been writing this book that it may sound rather daunting, with large amounts of space given to dealing with the more difficult aspects of online life. The downside of online mission and ministry is no greater than the downside of anything we undertake for God, but there is also a great sense of excitement and enjoyment in exploring a new form of ministry with others who are equally enthusiastic. Because the digital world moves so fast, one of the most striking statements we can make about the  gospel and God’s love is to be there for people and to remain there, praying, welcoming, teaching, comforting and being the good news for whoever needs us.

In the words of the visionary Mother Julian of Norwich, ‘He did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’

In the ever-changing digital world, what will not change is the person and nature of Jesus, his ministry of healing, his teaching of God’s love and his death and resurrection. While we have those, we have nothing to fear. ”


 

A review by Joyce Hackney

This new book by Rev Pam Smith, the Church of England’s web pastor, is one of the most helpful books I’ve read for a long time. The subtitle ‘A theological and practical guide’ lives up to its name as far as I’m concerned.

 

In clear, plain, non-patronising language,  Pam Smith explains the use of the internet for Christians. She does not assume any reader knows anything, but takes us through the technology and theology in a way that a beginner – or expert – can understand. The reader is led through the history of the internet to the present day.

 

Whether readers already make Christian contact via the internet, or wish to, or have misgivings about starting, this is an ideal guide. There is advice for everybody, including clergy and others who are led to ministry. She describes the similarities between online and real-world interaction without forgetting to mention the need for caution. We are informed of the advantages and drawbacks of using the internet as a field for Christian work. At all times her information and advice is backed up with Biblical references.

 

I’m sure many of us here in Lay Anglicana will recognise what she’s saying. I was drawn-in more or less as soon as I began to read. Good job I wasn’t on a bus or train while I was saying, ‘ Yes. I did that’ and ‘that’s true’ or ‘I remember discovering that.’

Joyce Hackney


 Some additional thoughts by Laura Sykes

I met the Revd Pam Smith about four years ago, when I first ventured onto Twitter. As she had finished something she was doing and had a spare half hour or so, she tweeted ‘Entertain me.’ Ernie Feasey (@minidvr) and I took her at her word and we began a very silly, but very entertaining exchange about liturgical dance, Joyce Grenfell and her song which begins ‘Stately as a galleon…’. I felt I had found a friend, someone to laugh with in this strange, rather frightening world to a woman in late middle age (all right, old age) venturing into social media for the first time. It didn’t occur to me at the time that what she was offering me was pastoral ministry, but it was exactly that, as I came to realise. We continued to engage on twitter and Facebook despite the fact that, although we agree about almost everything in the Church, in ordinary politics we are at different ends of the spectrum. When we met face to face a few years later, we didn’t need to introduce ourselves and it was like catching up with an old friend.

The Church of England has a document called ‘Ministry in the Church of England’ which includes the following by ++Rowan Williams in the preface:

‘At the very heart of this calling [to ministry] is God’s invitation just to be there, in the middle of the Church, holding it in prayer, seeking God’s will for the Church’s future, trying to put yourself completely at the disposal of God for that future. It isn’t a role that lends itself very easily to self-congratulation, a nice clear sense that you’ve done the job, because there’s always more to discover of God and God’s purpose for the future. You have to become a certain kind of person, not just do a certain number of things. And that can be hard, since we all like to know we’ve done all right, that we’ve ticked the right boxes. But it can also be liberating, because this is a role in which God is helping you become yourself more deeply and fully, through your relationships with the whole community of God’s people’

You will look in vain for any element of self-congratulation in Pam’s book. But that is not the only part of the above description which could have been tailor-made to fit her. Pam, thank-you for all the help which you have been to me (mostly without your knowing it). Thank-you for all that you do, online and offline, to be at the centre of the Church and to offer inspiration to those around you.


Pam2‘Online Mission and Ministry’ is officially published by SPCK on 19 February. This is what they say about the book:

Clergy and churches are increasingly being encouraged to use the internet and social media to promote their ministries. But they may worry about some of the difficult pastoral and theological issues that can arise online.

‘Virtual vicar’ the Revd Pam Smith guides both new and experienced practitioners through setting up online ministries, and considers some of the questions that may arise, such as:

Are relationships online as valid as those offline?
Is it possible to participate in a ‘virtual’ communion service?
How do you deal with ‘trolls’ in a Christian way?
What is appropriate for a clergyperson to say on social media?

 

Online Mission and Ministry
A theological and practical guide
Author
Pam Smith
ISBN
9780281071517
Publisher
SPCK Publishing
Additional information
144 pages. Paperback. (216 x 138 mm)
Our Price
£9.99

 

“Of The Making Of Many Miscs…

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there is no end, and much study is a weariness of flesh,” as Ecclesiastes might have said had he been writing in 2015. Are you sitting comfortably? Refreshing beverage to hand? Very well, then, I shall begin.

The Church has prepared (at least) 39 GS Misc papers for the three-day General Synod which begins on Tuesday. Restricting our interest (for the sake of our collective sanity) to those documents which refer to the laity and lay ministry, they derive from the quinquennial review of November 2010:

GS MISC 995
GENERAL SYNOD (November 2010)
CHALLENGES FOR THE NEW QUINQUENNIUM – NEXT STEPS
1. ‘Three main themes have emerged with absolute clarity. We are called –
i) To take forward the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church of England including the growth of its capacity to serve the whole community of this country;
ii) To re-shape or reimagine the Church’s ministry for the century coming, so as to make sure that there is a growing and sustainable Christian witness in every local community; and
iii) To focus our resources where there is both greatest need and greatest opportunity.’
2. Those words from the Presidential Address to the new Synod in Novermber 2010 shaped the report which the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops brought to the Synod for debate in February – Challenges for the New Quinquennium (GS 1815). The report was well-received in a take note debate, but a number of speakers asked: ‘now what?’

Extract from the agenda for February 2015 highlighting the relevant documents

AGENDAGS 1973

Tuesday 10 February

GS 1977 – Discipleship

GS 1978 – Resourcing the Future Task Group Report

GS 1979 – Resourcing Ministerial Education Task Group Report

GS 1980 – Simplification Task Group Report

Thursday 12 February

GS 1985 – Mission and Growth in Rural Multi-Parish Benefices and GS Misc 1092 – Released for Mission [item 16]

 

As discussed on the previous blog post, Wikichurch: The Next Big Thing? (and its 23 comments)

On almost every page of the papers for this General Synod is a reference to placing greater reliance on the contribution of lay people, and GS 1979, for example, talks of ‘an aspiration to see numbers of volunteer lay ministers of different kinds grow by 48% (to over 17,500)’ (para 45). The numbers of paid lay ministers would grow by 69% to over 2,000.

The huge increase envisaged in the number of lay ministers (to 20,000) is likely to change the character of the Church and power structure within it considerably. At the very least, it would be unwise to assume that such a body of people would simply form a docile lumpenproletariat. . Similarly, if the people in the pews are to be asked to dig ever deeper into their pockets, it would be wise to recall that he who pays the piper often expects to call the tune.

 

And yet, in the interview on R4 this morning with Bishop Steven Croft and Professor Linda Woodhead, only Professor Woodhead mentioned the laity. Given that none of the GS Misc papers I have seen goes into any detail at all as to what sort of lay ministers these are to be,  how on earth we are to increase their number to 20,000, and what responsibility they will be given, it is hard not to form the impression that the laity are the last rabbit to be pulled out of the hat in a would-be conjuring trick by a desperate Church of England hierarchy. Although Professor Woodhead did not use this metaphor, she did point out the oddness that more research had not been done into an analysis of the problems and potential solutions before coming out with these papers announcing decisions which have already been made in principle.
A number of people are still asking ‘now what?’

Wikichurch: The Next Big Thing?

communication

It is possible that the Church of England is about to invent Wikichurch.

It seems highly unlikely that it is intending to do so but, as we know from the law of unintended consequences, the original drafters of a programme do not necessarily long retain their control of its development.

What makes this extraordinary proposition a possibility? Well, having kept the aspirations of the laity successfully repressed for a couple of millennia, the Church is now so desperate about its prospects for survival that it seems to have concluded that only the laity can save the day.

I happen to agree, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

 

What would Wikichurch amount to? Well, here is Wikipedia’s definition of wiki:

A wiki  is an application… which allows collaborative modification, extension, or deletion of its content and structure…While a wiki is a type of content management system, it differs from a blog or most other such systems in that the content is created without any defined owner or leader, and wikis have little implicit structure, allowing structure to emerge according to the needs of the users… Wikis can serve many different purposes both public and private, including knowledge management, notetaking, community websites and intranetsWard Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as “the simplest online database that could possibly work”. “Wiki“… is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick”.

My evidence for this sweeping statement? Well, I am gradually ploughing through the vast mountain of paper that has been produced for the General Synod which begins on Monday. ‘Re-imagining Ministry’ is one of the aims of the quinquennium (see GS Misc 1025 and 1054 for starters). And Archbishop Justin began his archiepiscopate by declaring: we live in a time of revolutions.

On almost every page of the papers for this General Synod is a reference to placing greater reliance on the contribution of lay people, and GS 1979, for example, talks of ‘an aspiration to see numbers of volunteer lay ministers of different kinds grow by 48% (to over 17,500)’ (para 45). The numbers of paid lay ministers would grow by 69% to over 2,000.

Let us round this up to 20,000 lay ministers operating in the Church of England. Wow! I can see alarmists heading for the hills, but sometimes it is worth taking a risk. And the risk is what exactly? Lay ministers can be presumed all to be followers of Christ. Whether or not they have any financial reward, they are sticking their head over the parapet and risking criticism by their peers (congregations, fellow lay ministers and clergy) if they get it wrong. Some may be more gifted than others, but it must be a working presumption that they are well-intentioned.

What do you say? About time we made full use of the whole Body of Christ? Or doomed to failure?

“Between the probable and proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the Word
That opens up the shuttered universe.”
Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Let us pray…

‘Developing Discipleship’ paper for General Synod February 2015

GS 1977

The following is an abbreviated version (for copyright reasons) of the full paper.

What does it mean to be a disciple?

[passage omitted]

20. Lay and ordained together share a common discipleship… Together as the Church we are the Body of Christ, a community of missionary disciples… the foundation of every Christian’s vocation to work and service.
21. Nurturing this sense of discipleship across the Church is therefore vital as the Church of England seeks to serve the common good through the life and service of every member. Nurturing discipleship is the very essence of promoting spiritual and numerical growth. Nurturing discipleship lies at the heart of re-imagining both lay and ordained ministry.

Discipleship in the tradition

22. As we look back through the history of the Church, it is possible to identify periods of significant reflection on the central importance of discipleship in the life of the Church.
23. These periods of reflection are almost all in times of significant change…These resources from the past form deep wells of inspiration and reflection for the Church today as we reflect in our own times of change and transition …
24. The monastic movement was a renewed call to discipleship…
25. The Reformation …

29. The Methodist covenant prayer, now incorporated into Common Worship, expresses powerfully the sense of dynamic, fruitful discipleship focussed in a life offered to God in response to God’s grace:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
30. The Church in the twenty-first century faces different challenges from the early monastics in the fourth century, the Franciscans in the twelfth, the Reformers and Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth or the early Methodists in the eighteenth. As the Church of England in 2015 we face the challenge of calling one another afresh to follow Christ in the face of a global, secularised, materialistic culture, often experienced as a desert for the soul. We need to draw on the deep wisdom of the past but also to apply ourselves afresh to an authentic and Anglican understanding of discipleship for the 21st Century.

Reflection on discipleship in the contemporary Church of England

31. How effective is the Church of England at the present time in nurturing and sustaining this call to discipleship?
32. In May 2013 the Archbishops’ Council commissioned a review of current provision across the dioceses in forming and sustaining disciples.
33. The survey found many good things. Some excellent work is being done and some fine theological leadership is being given by individuals. However, the survey also identified some significant obstacles to further growth and development. According to the survey, lay development and discipleship are not clearly articulated as strategic priorities in most dioceses. It was widely perceived that the biggest obstacle in lay development is the clericalised culture of church and ministry.
34. The Church of England has not devoted a great deal of time and energy to reflection on the discipleship the whole people of God in recent times.
35. In the whole 20th Century there were just three national reports on this issue.14 The best and most contemporary of these remains the 1985 report, All are Called: Towards a Theology of the Laity. The stress throughout the document is on developing vocation and discipleship not in the Church alone but in the world: in families, workplaces and neighbourhoods. All Are Called appeals for fresh and deeper theological reflection on what it means to be a lay disciple; a more visible affirmation of lay discipleship and vocation in the world, in liturgy and worship; and greater investment in equipping God’s people for their vocation in life and in the world in parishes, dioceses and the National Church Institutions.
36. As part of the preparation for the 2015 Synod debate, Jeremy Worthen, (Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Theology) undertook a piece of research on sources we might use in developing a contemporary Anglican theology of discipleship (including liturgical sources and common ecumenical statements).
37. Jeremy’s conclusion is that “there is no well-developed authoritative source for the theology of discipleship to which the contemporary Church of England can readily look to inform its teaching here”. This does not mean, of course, that there has been no writing on this subject by Anglicans and others. There are some excellent and recent studies, particularly at a popular level. However the thinking they represent has not been fully absorbed into the lifeblood and culture of our Church and our understanding discipleship and ministry.
38. The lack of a coherent and concisely stated common understanding of discipleship has a number of consequences for the life of parishes, of dioceses and of the Church of England as a whole.
Our vision for the Church and for discipleship is not as clear as it could be. Many churches and dioceses include the goal of making disciples in their vision statements. But what does this mean beyond conversion to Christian faith? Where do we find a compelling vision for lay discipleship in the world?
 Our understanding of service becomes restricted to the life of the Church. A full theology of discipleship, of course, embraces the world and the kingdom of God in the whole of creation as the horizon and the sphere of Christian service and mission. There are many kinds of callings for Christians: the majority are concerned with living out the Christian faith through daily life and work, in the family and the wider community. Without this deep and wide understanding of discipleship, our understanding of ministry and mission becomes too narrowly focussed on the Church.
 Our theological understanding of ministry becomes lopsided. An immense amount of reflection has been invested over the last 25 years on ordained ministry; there has been some reflection on licensed lay ministry but very little on the service offered by the majority of Christians for the majority of time through their discipleship. If we are not careful, the language of discipleship contracts to cover only those who have a recognised ministry.
 Finally, and most seriously, the witness and mission of the whole Church is impoverished as Christians are neither encouraged nor sustained in the living out of their Christian faith in daily life. The 1945 Report, Towards the Conversion of England recognised the vital role which lay disciples could play in witness and evangelism. The 2014 Report, From Anecdote to Evidence, connects the growth of the Church clearly to lay participation and leadership and being intentional in nurturing discipleship. Yet this vision has yet to be fully realised.
39. We have a clear vision as the Church of England to contribute to the common good of our society, to seek spiritual and numerical growth and to re-imagine ministry. If we are to fulfil this vision, then we need as a church to pay greater and deeper attention to the discipleship of the whole people of God in the next quinquennium of our life together.
40. We should not be surprised or discouraged that we need to do further work in this vital area nor should we blame others or ourselves for the present situation. Rather we should recognise that the changing times in which we live call for a changing and evolving understanding of discipleship within the life of the Church. Over the past generation, the Church of England has sought to set the mission of God at the heart of our common life: we are seeking to become a mission-shaped Church. One of the next, and critical, steps in that journey is a deeper and stronger call to missionary discipleship and for the Church to see itself and to become a community of missionary disciples.

What should we then do?

41. Further reflection on discipleship is needed, but where is it to take place and how will it impact the life and the deep culture of the Church of England?
42. There are many things which can be done by individuals and within local churches to strengthen and develop our common understanding of discipleship. This General Synod paper might helpfully be studied by PCC’s and small groups as a way of beginning that conversation.
43. This paper outlines three ways of moving forward in dioceses and nationally. Others may emerge from the General Synod debate.

Ten Marks of Developing Disciples

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Published by the General Synod of the Church of England
Copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2015 £3

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You can read the whole document on a PDF, which is linked to the Church of England website here.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, Nascetur Pro Te, Israel!

Piero_di_Cosimo_053

The Incarnation of Christ: Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522), also known as Piero di Lorenzo

 

Holy and incarnate one,
at whose unexpected touch
the ordinary world
is charged with God:

we pray for those
whose hardship is overwhelming, who cannot find you;
who live in poverty, anxiety, and hunger;
whose lives are fearful or lonely;
who are exploited, exhausted or ill.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

We pray for those
whose ambition is overwhelming, who do not want to find you;
whose lives are choked with overwork or consumption;
who have chosen an unreal path;
who have hardened their hearts.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

We pray for those who have begun to find you, and are overwhelmed;
for whom the risk of healing is too painful;
who are afraid of your embrace,
and fear your energetic power to reconstitute the world.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

John 1.14

From ‘All Desires Known’, by Janet Morley, p. 80

 

 

Training For Leadership In The Church Of England

ITN

Courtesy Upland Path Management: http://www.snh.org.uk/uplandpathmanagement/5.1.shtml

Unless you have spent the last fortnight on a Pacific atoll, you will know that the Church has had what it no doubt believes to be A Bright Idea about how to improve the management skills of the next generation of Bishops and Deans. If you have not already done so, I urge you to read Psephizo’s blog post on the subject, which summarises the comments that have been made, as well as offering his own useful insight.

I had not thought to add my pennyworth. However, something that is glaringly obvious to me does not seem to have been mentioned, viz It Won’t Work!

Assuming you do not object to the idea of training bishops and deans as managers (which of course many do, but that is not the point of this post), there are three important characteristics of managers which the report does not address:

1. Managers are individuals, with individual strengths and weaknesses, and individual training needs.

2. Managers need practical training/coaching/equipping at the moment of need, not theoretically in advance.

2. Managers are part of a team – not every team member needs the same skills.

 

Identifying Future Leaders

Come off it! This is not a new idea – it has always been done, sometimes from the comfort of the Athenaeum, sometimes apparently in the gents at Church House. This is the way of the world, and the Green Report is not going to change that.

Equipping The Chosen For The Task

What is needed is helping those who have been chosen for leadership through these tried and tested methods to carry out their new role. Remember the Peter Principle?  The Church of England is about to conduct an experiment costing £2 million pounds which most of us expect simply to provide further evidence in support of this principle:

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in his or her current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

Not to mention ‘those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it’.

Reflect On Your Own Experience

For example, supposing you were not born wired up to a computer monitor, do you remember when you first realised this was a skill you needed to master if you were to remain effective in the workplace? I hope you did not go on ‘a computer course’, which taught everything from Ada Lovelace and Babbage up to COBOL. If so, I doubt whether you took much in. People learn best when they are being taught how to solve a particular problem they have encountered at a particular moment.

How To Train A Church Leader

Do not, I beg of you, on bended arthritic knee in case that helps, offer training to high fliers on the way up. Wait until they have arrived in post. Then offer tailor-made ‘equipping’ to help with situations as they arise (or even better, as they are identified on the horizon). For instance, we are all agreed that the future Bishop Libby Lane is going to face difficulties, simply because she is the first woman in this role and all eyes will be on her. I hope that she will make contact with one of the other female bishops in the Anglican Communion and ‘buddy up’ – this is likely to be the most effective form of support. I also hope she will be offered training support as and when she needs it – probably a short course of a week at a time, say, at one of the management colleges on specific issues faced by all managers.

Not Nones, Not De-Churched, Just Dones

Reblogging:

John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.

This is an extract from an important and fascinating blog post called ‘The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population’ by Thom Schultz on Churchleaders.com. You can read the whole post here.

Thom Schultz’s post is of interest in connection with the thoughts published on Lay Anglicana by me, but more particularly in the comments on Fuzzy Church, Anyone?

‘Fuzzy Church’, Anyone?

shutterstock_196549964

The Great Commission

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. –C. S. Lewis

We Have A Gospel To Proclaim

dog jumping up

courtesy http://www.woodshumanesociety.org/pet-care/wood-c-h-i-p-s.php

In our more enthusiastic moments, all convinced Christians feel an urge to shout from the roof tops ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’ – we have discovered a secret of living that makes an enormous difference for the better in our own lives, and we naturally want to share it with everyone.

Head and Heart

But even if they share your ebullient nature, the people on the receiving end of all this exuberant enthusiasm  were almost certainly thinking about something else when you made your pitch, since you probably did so at a time and place to suit you rather than them.

 

Hard Sell or Soft Sell?

Some priests put up hoardings saying ‘All Are Welcome’  (as if the presumed default position of the Church were the reverse), with unknown degrees of success. Other priests refuse to ‘sell’ the Church at all:

It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love. Billy Graham

(Of course, this is a little disingenuous on the part of Billy Graham, who was the greatest evangelist of recent times). At the other extreme,  people  ring doorbells of complete strangers, or walk up to them in shopping centres, asking whether they know Jesus. If the success rate of these confrontational approaches were high, we would  have heard about it by now. American advertising agencies have examined the two approaches.

‘Spiritual But Not Religious’

Dr Wendy Dackson has analysed this amorphous group of people,  first here on Lay Anglicana and then on her own Past Christian:  surely these are the people we should concentrate on reaching if we hope to extend the existing Christian community? How do we do this? Well, sticking up a sign saying ‘All Are Welcome’ must rate as ‘could do better’.

The shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line.

Robert Twigger writes:

It could be a spiral, a slow spiral around one point and then a loop into the other. Or a zig zagging path … The more I observed my own …setbacks… and successes, the more I saw there was NO correlation between directness of route and success, or rather, there was: a negative correlation. The direct approach was the more likely either to fail or take twice as long… Straight lines are not to be found in nature. Look at the cracked mud of a field recently in the sun…Water is curved as it lies in a glass- surface tension. Trees branch, even very straight trees waver at the top.

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions

seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church. We work with Christians from a broad range of denominations and traditions and the movement has resulted in thousands of new congregations being formed alongside more traditional churches.

There is already a course called ‘Puzzling Questions’ which encourages those attending to discuss the four last things and so on, but the directing staff solution is a Christian one. The Fuzzy Church concept does have a common point of departure with Fresh Expressions – see  ‘Interest in spirituality is widespread’-  but takes it a step further.

 

The Proposition

Fuzzy Church would be an outreach of each participating community (parish/benefice). It would host a series of discussions (in the village hall or pub, preferably not the church?) on the meaning of life aka ‘puzzling questions’. (It would probably NOT be overtly called ‘Fuzzy Church’, but something more anodyne, perhaps ‘Puzzling Questions 2.0’?). The USP of Fuzzy Church is that these would be completely open-ended discussions, ie they would not seek to impose a directing staff solution or Christian answer to the question, but enter discussions with the rest of the audience with no preconceptions. Again, this is not completely original:

Mission Statement of St Stephen, Walbrook (after ‘Proclaim, celebrate and promote the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone in the City’)

Provide, without prejudice or expectation, a safe and welcoming place where people of all religious faiths or none can find spiritual inspiration, guidance, encouragement and support.

 

Why ‘Fuzzy’?

You’ve heard of fuzzy logic – its predecessor, Boolean logic, saw everything as either true or false, one thing or the other. Fuzzy logic allows for gradations of truth. For example, if you begin eating an apple, it begins as an apple and by the time you have finised eating, it has become an apple core. At what point in between did it cease to be an ‘apple’ and become an ‘apple core’?. Calvin College Engineering Department have put forward an explanation of fuzzy logic which even I can understand.

Machines that use fuzzy logic take the ‘truth’, fuzzify it in order to talk to the machine, and then de-fuzzify at the end.

 Why Fuzzy Church?

  • If atheist churches are increasingly popular, we would be tapping into the zeitgeist.
  • The idea costs nothing – at least nothing financial. It simply needs us to engage with people on the basis of  where they are and what they need. It would be a slower way of making Christians, but possibly one with more lasting foundations. It would be  fly-fishing (think Isaak Walton) rather than simply casting our nets and hoping for the best.
  • The discussions could be combined with a  liturgy in church, perhaps on the fifth Sunday of the month (ie four times a year) using prayers, songs and readings like those selected by the Templeton Foundation in ‘Worldwide Worship‘ .
  • The discussion groups could be based on existing house groups and/or those temporary groups which form for Lent and Advent study. Between Lent and Advent, (some of) the same people would engage with the agnostic but spiritual amongst the community who were willing so to engage.
  • There seems no need to hide the fact that it is a Church initiative – we are seeking to inform ourselves about the way others think, to debate our reasons for holding the beliefs that we  do,  and to seek after the truth.

 Is there any mileage in this, do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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