Archive for the “United Reformed Church” Category

Why? How?  What?

Why do we do the things we do in the way we do them?

I wonder what the most important part of the question is?  Is it the things that we do?  Is it the way that we do them?  Or is it the why?

For me the ‘why’ is the most important part but it’s also the part that I fear we think about least.

I have this picture on my whiteboard to remind me.

As a church, both in the local and the larger scale, we are known for what we do and how we do it.  So, at St Ninian’s when I ask about who we are the answers might be ‘friendly’ or ‘hospitable’ or ‘welcoming’.  The how and the what of that look like weekly coffee mornings and the Guild and the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade and hosting the Hope Cafe and the Folk Club.  As far as worship goes we have a pretty standard hymn/prayer service with a sermon in the middle, and morning prayers on Monday and Thursday and Night Church through the darker winter months.

Those are good things.  They are our ‘doing’ church.

But what do they say about ‘why’ we do or are church?

Making a case for  being ‘friendly’, ‘hospitable’ and ‘welcoming’ is pretty easy.  Loving you neighbour surely involves putting the kettle on.  But friendly to whom?  Hospitable to whom?  Welcoming to whom?  Do we just put the kettle on for people we know?  Do we bake just for our friends?

We’ve actually been talking about our ‘Why’ at St Ninian’s for a year now.  We started the day I started.  That’s what all the questions are about.  That’s what all the ‘so, you think this is about this… but what if it is about that…?’ has been for.  To help us think about what we believe and about why we believe it.  A safe space to be free to think and question and doubt and change our minds and play with new ideas and keep some of them and throw other ones away.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at the 10 Commandments.  I’ve suggested that they might be our high level strategic plan because they tell us how we should relate to God, how we should relate to each other and what it means to be fully ourselves.  These 10 words from God create a space for all of us to be free.  

All of us.

Not just some of us.

All of us…

Free from fear.  Free from violence.  Free from worry.

I wonder if creating that kind of space is our ‘why’?

And if it is our ‘why’ then surely that pushes us out beyond what we do now to bring that freedom to more and more people.

The next question is ‘how’?  How do we know who we are dealing with?  How do we make contact and build relationships?  How do we choose our priorities?  How will we work?  Will we do things for people or should we do things with people?

And only then, once we have worked out our ‘why’ and our ‘how’ do we think about the ‘what’.  

What will we do?  What will we need?  What will it look like and smell like and taste like and sound like and feel like?

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The Gospel of John is about revelation.

Who is Jesus?

Who are we?

All the encounters we have witnessed as we journeyed through this Gospel tell us the truth about Jesus, the people he met, and about ourselves.

The trial before Pilate lays bare humanity.

Our humanity.

It shows us just where power really lies

what love really looks like

and just how much we need God’s grace.

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Several years ago I began a chapter in a book about the state of the Church of Scotland with these words, “This isn’t working!”.  I was talking then in particular about how as adults we don’t take learning very seriously in the church, but I think the statement applies more widely to the general malaise we find ourselves in.

And that bothers me.

A lot.

Because it’s not the case everywhere… but we seem to be plunging headlong into policies that will make things worse, not better.

Multi-church pastorates or hubs or groups or whatever you want to call them are only about spreading a resource (ministers) more thinly.  There is NO evidence that they stimulate church growth.

2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 sets of everything.

No room for relationship.

No space or time for innovation.

Just spinning the every more wobbly plates of what is.

The Church of Scotland wants every parish to have a fresh expression of church by 2020.  The URC is promoting fresh expressions with great enthusiasm.  Brilliant.  Except the timescale shows that there is no real understanding of what a fresh expression is or how developing one works.  A truly new expression of church is a community that gathers and grows to a point that they might want to create their own culturally appropriate version of church.

There are two parts of that which are vital; creating community and innovation.  Those take time, lots and lots of it, and space.  (And coffee)

So, I’m now a minister.  I’m not about to complain that I’m too busy.  If I am then that’s my fault.  But I work with just one church.  Just one set of meetings, one building, one set of organisations and one place to be on a Sunday.  And I could spend as much time as I have just keeping that all working.

Throw in another church and all space for creating community goes out the window.  Throw in any more and innovation goes too.

Of course we should involve people in helping lead worship.  Most Sundays I announce the hymns and preach.  Other people do almost everything else.  But the preaching part is the bit I’m trained for.  Not that others can’t do it.  They can.  Of course they can.  But what’s the point of me if not to do that.  I’m a minister of word and sacrament after all.

Perhaps it comes down to this…

Spreading a limited resource ever more thinly has never been the solution to anything.

Should we deploy some ministers to one church and have others to maintain the rest?  Like a midwife and palliative care model?

Should we hold our hands up and admit that training people as theologians with skills in Greek and Hebrew but no community work training or serious input on work with children and young people might not be the best model of training, important though those things are?

Should ministers be facilitators?  Has the one person show de-skilled and debilitated our churches to a point where we are so stuck we are paralysed?

The answer to all this lies somewhere in our experience.  I wrote a series of posts a few years ago where I wondered if the church was similar to someone living with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Interestingly people who had experienced those thought I was onto something while those who had not thought I was completely wrong.  I mention this because recovery almost always begins with a decision to get well.  To change.  To take control.  Without that decision things often stay the same.  Often that is helped by talking to people who what already made the same journey.

So, are we ready for recovery?

What do you think?

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Who else needs your space?

My churches hosting co-working revelation got me thinking…

Church halls have often been a hive of activity with anything from Boys’ Brigade to dance classes and slimming clubs.

That’s all good.

But who are you missing?

How can you help your community to engage with each other and make things better?  How could your church support community projects and create and nurture community at the same time?

Detroit SOUP – image by Dave Lewinski

 

 

Detroit SOUP inspires me.  Why? Because it’s easy and effective.

Here’s what SOUP say about SOUP:

SOUP is:

Detroit SOUP is a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects in Detroit. For a donation $5 attendees receive soup, salad, bread and a vote and hear from four presentations ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology and more. Each presenter has four minutes to share their idea and answer four questions from the audience. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think benefits the city the most. At the end of the night, we count the ballots and the winner goes home with all of the money raised to carry out their project. Winners come back to a future SOUP dinner to report their project’s progress.

Perhaps it’s easier to watch what happens:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

So, could you do something like SOUP in your church hall?

I think you could.

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I came across an article about church as a space for co-working yesterday.

It was one of those moments when you think that something is so obvious you can’t believe everyone isn’t already doing it!

We know that working patterns have changed.  Loads of people work from home now.  That’s great.  You don’t have to commute.  You can work in your pjs, listen to whatever music you like as loud as you want, video conference, email, work hours to suit your life… Home working has lots of upside, but it can also be a lonely existence.

That’s why you see so many people camped out in coffee shops with their MacBooks.  They are looking for company.  The presence of other human beings.  And cake.

nomad worker http://www.travelandworkonline.com

But we also know that being with others is a creative way to work.  Those conversations where people ask what you’re working on and then add some insight or suggest a contact that could help, or suggest working together on something…

So, why doesn’t your church create a space for these nomadic workers?

You have a hall that probably doesn’t get used much during the day.

You have tables and chairs.

You have a kitchen and toilets.

All you need is some good, reliable wifi, power sockets, a wifi printer and someone to be around to welcome people and put the kettle on and make a decent cup of coffee.  Stick in some whiteboards and plants and you have just created co-working nirvana.

It’s like a constant coffee morning for people with jobs.  And they will pay to use your space.

I’m not suggesting you become a start up incubator, yet, just a nice friendly place with space and a welcome.

There are some great examples of churches who are already doing it…

St Lydia’s in Brooklyn is my favourite.  They do dinner church so they were already half way there.

Sy Lydia’s Co-working

So, what’s stopping your church from being a space for co-working?

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Does church maintain the status quo?  We talk a good game about transformation and renewal but are we organisationally set up to avoid it?

Broken Rhythms

This isn’t a new question for me.

I remember thinking about it when I was training for youth work at Jordanhill in 1991.  Apparently other people had been thinking about organisational inertia it for longer than that because there were books written about it.

In youth work this questions appears in the guise of ‘Do we train young people to be good, middle class, well mannered high achievers?’ or ‘Do we just want young people to be like us?’.

There is some really interesting stuff around at the moment about how we might work with young people to develop an authentic expression of church with no expectation that they should or would even want to worship and gather in community in the same way we might.

There is another aspect to this question… Does the church maintain the political and social status quo?

I remember sitting in a Church of Scotland General Assembly where someone suggested a change.  The Principle Clerk stood up and stated that such a change would require an Act of Parliament.  The clear implication taken was that this would be too difficult and the proposer should sit down and shut up.  Which they did.  This is just one fairly extreme example but in many ways all of our decision making processes mitigate against change.  We consult widely, we need broad agreement, we take ages to change.

These can all be good things.  Taking time prevents lurching from one position to another, making snap decisions and encourage reflection and consultation.  It gives time for discussion, consideration and prayer.  These ‘safeguards’ prevent the loudest voice winning out, include a wide range of people in the process and hopefully listen to what God might be saying to the church.

They can also kill enthusiasm, limit growth and stifle innovation.

What really baffles me is when the church seems to be in agreement about the need for change but is completely unable to make that change happen.  Perhaps it is be cause too many things would need to change all at once.  Perhaps it is because we don’t have a clear idea what that change would actually look like.  Perhaps it is because we aren’t training people to be creative, risk taking leaders.

The recent Church Growth Research from the Church of England seems to paint a clear picture of the recipe for growth:

Church Growth

 

 

I’ve managed to get myself nominated to be on a United Reformed Church task group considering 20-40s.  It would seem to be ‘money where your mouth is’ time.

So, what do we need to do to become the kind of church that people in the 20-40s would engage in?  What might that kind of church look like?  What are the things that really stop people engaging with church?  Are they big philosophical issues?  Are they relational?  Are they about time and energy?

Answers on postcard, Facebook comment, tweet, email, text or more preferably over a coffee… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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YA2014 PCard f CropSo… here are my first keynotes from URC Youth Assembly 2014.

As always, your thoughts, comments and observations are welcome…

Here are the pdfs

URCYA14 Keynote 1

“When the world was dark…” Spill the Beans

“Exile is…” comes from Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

URCYA14 Keynote 2

“Open Arms” by Elbow

“And they asked Jesus…” Spill the Beans

“Vine grower…” Spill the Beans

URCYA14 Keynote 3

“exile is not always the darkest corner of the earth. Sometimes it is lush and plentiful, sometimes it is full of life…” Carola PerlaGibbin House

 

 

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