Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Change or die

At the present time the church I am serving as Vicar is struggling with the idea of change. I am trying to persuade them that it is change or die but there are more than a few die-hards who don't seem convinced even given the rather disturbing figures released recently which speak of a decline in membership from 156,000 in 1959 to just 59,000 in 2011. that's why I was very interested to read the following following the collapse of Kodak:

"The recent announcement of Kodak’s bankruptcy  is a sad ending to the story of a once great company.  Kodak, the innovators responsible for all the bad pictures that your parents showed your high school girlfriends, has gotten to the point where they need to sell off patents in order to stay solvent over the next few months.

While it is easy for people to shake their heads, point fingers, and snicker at this “old fashioned” company, I think we need to take a closer look at what is going on in our own organizations and learn from Kodak… before the same thing happens to us.

Several months ago I was at the Cultivate Conference… a gathering of church leaders aimed at walking through new media and communication.  One quote were shared during that conference that I think are highly applicable here:

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.
General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

Add to that a recent post by Seth Godin :

"It’s painful, expensive, time-consuming, stressful and ultimately pointless to work overtime to preserve your dying business model. All the lobbying, the lawsuits, the ad campaigns and most of all, the hand-wringing, aren’t going to change anything at all. In fact, instead of postponing the outcome you fear, they probably accelerate it."

While many of us will read this and nod our heads in approval, how is it that so often companies, non-profits, and churches miss this… and ultimate die rather than change?  How is it that so many organizations, rather than embracing new realities, new technologies, and new paradigms redouble their efforts to make the old way of doing things work?"

As Albert Einstein once wrote: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Is that what Kodak did or tried to do? Certainly many - if not most - of the churches in Wales seem to be treading the same road to insanity and it isn't working. If the recent figures quoted above won't convince anyone then I don't know what will. 

Coming to Christ

“A person’s coming to Christ is like a chain with many links…. There are many influences and conversations that precede a person’s decision to convert to Christ. I know the joy of being the first link at times, a middle link usually, and occasionally the last link. God has not called me to only be the last link. He has called me to be faithful and to love all people.” Evangelist Cliffe Knechtle

Monday, 30 July 2012

Come healing


O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb
Leonard Cohen

Anglican TV

Came across this website called Anglican TV from our friends across the pond. Here is the link:
http://www.anglican.tv/

The Decline and Fall of the Church in Wales?

The figures about the decline of the Church in Wales make depressing reading. In 1959 it had a membership of 155,056 over 18's. Today that figure is 57,207! That is a two thirds drop in 53 years. In any book that is not a crisis but a disaster. If the Church in Wales was a company they would have sacked the board of directors, made a large number of staff redundant and closed a significant number of outlets. But as we are talking about a Church then what should be the appropriate religious or spiritual response?

First of all there should  be a call to repentance.
But what should we repent of? I can think of a number of things.
1. Disobedience. Jesus said "Go and make disciples....teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28: 19) We have made people members through baptism or Christening, and encouraged them to join our churches and worship every Sunday but there has been a distinct absence of teaching, training or equipping people for the life of discipleship where we are expected to "obey everything" that Jesus has taught us.
2. Idolatry. This is not to negate the love and devotion of many devout and hard-working Christians down through the years but the attachment to buildings and the things in them verges on the idolatrous, so much so that battles are fought over them and people have left because of them. With the Church needing to change and adapt the way it uses it's buildings this can be a major stumbling block to it fulfilling it's call to reach out with the gospel to those longing to hear it. So instead of our churches becoming a means to an end, they have sadly become the end.
3. Clericalism. Ministry is seen very much as a one man - or one woman - band with all the gifts centred on one person who is expected to do everything. This is underlined and emphasized by the growth of the Holy Communion movement which, quite rightly has taught us of the importance of the Eucharist but has over-sold it to the extent that nearly every service has to have one and that means an over-heavy dependence on the priest.

Secondly, although the Church in Wales review has been a good one, there was one glaring omission from the report (unless I missed it), and that is the need to church plant. Why plant churches when we are having trouble filling the ones we already have? Several reasons:
1. New churches don't have the historic hangovers that existing buildings have in terms of existing membership and the likes and dislikes of the congregation, the insistence on maintaining choirs and music that are old and outdated.
2. Depending on what the church plant looks like, there are none of the restrictions that the shape and content of our present buildings have in the way of pews, lecterns, organs etc. These new premises, if carefully chosen, will have a flexibility to them that much of our current stock do not have leaving room for experimentation and new ways of being church.
3. New wine-skins are better able to contain new wine. New ways of being church are more likely to work if we are able to disassociate ourselves from people's wrong perception of a church that is out of date and at odds with where society is.

Thirdly, current clergy, especially the younger and more dynamic element, should, under supervision, be allowed the freedom to express themselves and be given as much support as possible. Young people attract young people. Also training should be given to help hone the skills and ideas they have. We need to be unafraid to experiment and make mistakes. The system of leadership within the Church in Wales is so rigid, so controlling and so bound by fear that it has stifled creativity or tried to restrict it within the legalities of a system of Canon Law which, while attempting to maintain orthodox and historic faithfulness, has made the church ill-equipped to relate to modern culture.

Fourth, prayer. Not prayers - the office or the set intercessions - but prayer from the heart that is spontaneous and expresses what I feel not what someone else has felt several hundred years ago. We need prayers for now and for what we are experiencing. Don't get me wrong I am all for ancient prayers written by godly people who knew how to pray better than me. But we need the rawness of our own at a time like this and we need to revisit the whole subject of intercession that expresses need IN THE NOW.

So despite the depressing news of failure and decline I believe that God has not finished with the Church in Wales yet and is giving us one more chance to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. But even God can't do anything if we determined to go it alone.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

I am

I am your father,
I am your brother,
I am your bridegroom,
I am your home,
I am your sustenance,
I am your clothing,
I am your root,
I am your foundation,
Everything you want, I am.
You have need for nothing.
I will work for you,
I have come to serve and not be served.
I am your friend,
I am your members,
I am the head,
I am your brother,
I am your sister,
I am your mother,
I am all things.
Only abide in Me.
I have died for you.
I have been rejected for you.
I have been placed on the Cross for you,
I have been placed in the Tomb for you,
Above, I am before the Father for you,
Below, upon the Earth, I intercede for you before the Father.
You are everything to Me:
My brother,
My co-heir,
My friend,
My member.
What more do you want?

I don't know who to attribute the above piece to except I found it here.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Conversion


Came across this interesting article from a blog called "The Network" which is geared to Pastors and those in ministry. You can access it here. The posits the question: Should there be more to conversion than conversion to Christ?

"There is no greater thrill in ministry to watch a person move from death to life and put their trust in Jesus. We preach the gospel and pray the Holy Spirit illuminates hearts to respond to him in faith- and when people do it reminds us why we labor each day for the sake of the gospel.

But is conversion to Jesus and his gospel enough? What I mean is that while we proclaim the gospel so that people can have a renewed and right relationship with God through Christ- is this the only conversion that needs to happen in the life of a Christian? Or could there be more “converting” work that needs to be done in the life of Christians and our churches?

Jonathan Dodson in his book “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” argues that at least three conversions need to happen in the life of a Christian. Martin Luther talked along these same lines as a conversion of “head, heart, and purse”. If Jesus is Lord and Savior over the life of a Christian he wants all of us not a segmented portion.

What are the three conversions that need to happen in the life of a Christian and the church at large?

Conversion to the Gospel (Jesus).
Conversion to Community (Church).
Conversion to Mission (Cultural Mandate/Great Commission).

First, at the foundational level there of course needs to be repentance and faith in Jesus for salvation. That is where all of these conversions must begin. But, if we are not careful this conversion to Jesus can be seen as an individual response that is devoid of Christian community and the Christian church. It becomes my “personal” walk with Jesus devoid of involvement in a local Christian community where ministry takes place.

Second, God is redeeming a “people” for his name and glory. It is not a bunch of spiritually minded individuals- but rather a new community (church) where Jesus is the center. The Christian community is where the gospel is heard, lived, and demonstrated to the world. There needs to be a conversion from “I” and “me” to “us” and “we”.

The most heart breaking part of ministry are Christians that have not been converted to community and simply try and live apart from a local church body. It actually short changes their sanctification because they are not able to use their gifts, hear the gospel, encourage one another, and be called to repentance in places where their lives are out of sync with the gospel. Living apart from Christian community never leads to deeper intimacy and knowledge of God in Christ.

Third, as people are converted to Jesus and his church there must be a final conversion to mission. This takes on many shapes and sizes but must involve the “Great Commission” by making disciples, baptizing, and proclaiming the gospel in word and deed to the entire world.

Our local church communities are by their very nature “missional”- a place where people will hear the gospel proclaimed, but also see the gospel demonstrated in how we love one another, forgive one another, show unity, and care for the needs of others. Our communities should be “gospeling” one another on a regular basis.

When Jesus showed his infinite kindness to sinners like you and me he did not do this for us to sit back and wait for heaven. He saved us because he had “good works” for us to do (Eph. 2:10). He rescued us from sin and death so that we would be “ambassadors” and re-present our King well in the world. This mission “to make disciples” is the responsibility of every Christian and local church community.

We also must not forget that God is renewing “all things” through Jesus. In other words he is not simply saving souls but renewing all of his sin-scarred creation. That is why the cultural mandate given to us in Genesis 1-2 is vital as we join God in his re-creation work in the world. We need conversions of souls and the cultivation of God’s kingdom in all spheres of our culture.

It is vital that pastors of the CRC and pastors in the greater evangelical world not assume that our people have been converted to all three of these areas. We must call people to repentance and faith in Jesus, his bride, and his mission. To forget one is to only have part of the gospel message we proclaim.

What conversion would you say is lacking most in our lives, communities, and churches?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Only love will help

From a report on the shooting in Denver, Colorado 
Among the many new witness accounts to surface online, Jamie Rohrs, 25, chillingly summed up the moment the action on the screen turned to chaos in the theatre.

“Am I in a dream? Am I in a nightmare? There are flashes. Everything is so loud,” he said. “I am thinking, ‘Is this the day I die? Will this be the bullet that kills me?’”

His girlfriend, Patricia Legarreta, had been sitting a few seats away with their four-year-old daughter and baby son. Each thought the other had died until Rohrs found her being treated for her wounds in hospital. Bearing a makeshift ring, he asked her to marry him — and Legarreta accepted. “There is no more time in our lives to waste,” she said. “Only love will help us put all this evil in the past.”
Sunday Times 22.07.2012

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Morning Prayer


O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.
Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.
In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.
Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day
with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all.
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.
In unforseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You.
Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others.
Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring.
Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen.
Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

When God calls


A former girlfriend of David Cameron has become a nun.

Now known as Sister John Mary, 44-year-old Laura Adshead met the prime minister when they were undergraduates at Oxford.

The pair went out from the spring of 1990 until summer 1991, while working at the Conservative party’s Central Office. Adshead went on to become correspondence sercretary to John Major, then prime minister.

She appeared to have a brilliant career ahead of her, studying at the Wharton business school in Philadelphia before working for Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency that inspired the hit television series Mad Men. But then she began a downward spiral into drink and drug addiction.

Sister John Mary reveals in a documentary, God Is the Bigger Elvis, which was shortlisted for an Oscar: “I feel like I tried most of the things in life that are supposed to make you happy. That journey took me down into alcohol and drug addiction.”

In 2008 she swapped the social whirl of New York for a Benedictine convent in Connecticut, saying: “I did think my life would progress on the normal tracks of meeting someone, marrying, having children, but that’s not the path that God has led me.” Her day starts with prayers at 2am before carrying out chores such as mopping the chapel floor and tending to a herd of dairy cattle on the remote 400-acre farm at the convent she shares with 36 sisters.

Resurrection


The Vicar of Dibley, a TV sitcom featuring a woman vicar played by Dawn French, is based on the life of one of the first women vicars – Joy Carroll Wallis.  A few years ago we met Joy.  She told us a story about her time when she was an Anglican Priest in Brixton.

One of the congregation members was a very godly eighty-seven year old woman called Flory Shore, who underwent serious surgery.  Flory had been told that her prospects of recovery were very slim.
Thankfully, she survived the surgery.  As she opened her eyes, one of the first things she saw was the blurred image of her doctor, dressed in his white jacket.

She smiled and said, ‘Hello God!  I’m Flory Shore.’

Joy commented that this demonstrated two things.  First, it showed Flory’s humility.  She did not expect God to know who she was.  Second, it showed her absolute certainty about the resurrection and where she was going.

Her certainty about the resurrection was based on the cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first Easter day.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Praise the Lord


"The most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or anything-strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless ...shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise - lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game - praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least...Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible....I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: "Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?" The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can't help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed... If it were possible for a created soul fully... to "appreciate", that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beautitude... The Scotch catechism says that man's chief end is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him."
C.S.Lewis: Reflections on the psalms

Closed Church?

John Stott tells a story about when he visited “the huge central square of the capital city of a Latin American republic. In the middle was the statue of a national hero, who had rescued the country at the beginning of the last century from the Spanish [soldiers, explorers, and adventurers]. One side of the square was entirely occupied by the Roman Catholic cathedral. I tried to get in, but it was closed. On the steps leading up to its main door, however, were three human beings – a drunk who had vomited copiously, a blind beggar selling matches, and a prostitute who was offering herself to passers-by in broad daylight. A drunk, a beggar and a prostitute, three symbols of human tragedy, and behind them a locked cathedral, which seemed to be saying, ‘Keep out! We don’t want you.’ I realize that there may have be good reasons why the cathedral was closed. My concern is with the ‘vibes’ which were given off by that scene.”

The meek - and weak - shall inherit the earth


Paul's emphasis (1 Corinthians) is that God's power operates only in the salvation of the weak. Therefore, if the strong hope to be saved, they must acknowledge their weakness. Otherwise the grace of God cannot reach them. As Jesus put it, the kingdom of God belongs only to to children. If therefore adults want to enter it, they have to become like children themselves (Mark 19:13ff)

Luther understood this well. He wrote:
Only the prisoner shall be free;
Only the poor shall be rich;
On,y the weak shall be strong;
Only the humble exalted;
Only the empty filled;
Only nothing shall be something.

John Stott: Calling Christian Leaders p52

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Strength from above


I remember one time when I was speaking at a conference.  I had been speaking for several hours each day (no doubt boring people to distraction!).  Eventually we reached the tea break.  I felt completely exhausted and totally drained.  I went into the pastor’s study and picked up a copy of Eugene Peterson’s translation of the New Testament.  I happened to open it at Ephesians 1:19 which speaks of God’s ‘incomparably great power for us who believe’ or, as Eugene Peterson put it, he gives us ‘endless energy and boundless strength!’

This is the supernatural energy, power and strength which come from God through Jesus by his Spirit who lives in us.  Father Raniero Cantalamessa points out there are parallels with what is happening in terms of the physical environment.  The church is facing the same problem as the world as a whole, but on a different level.

It is the question of the supply of energy.  How do we ensure sufficient energy supplies to sustain life?  Where will we find this energy, from below or from above?  In the case of physical energy, to seek it from below means to drill wells for oil.  However, we know that oil is not only a non-renewable resource, but its use also causes all sorts of pollution.

For this reason we are searching anxiously for power ‘from above’.  In this case, how to harness solar energy.  The energy of the sun’s rays falling during one year on the roads and streets of America alone could deliver twice the energy received from all the world’s consumption of fossil fuels in the same length of time.  The energy ‘from heaven’ is immeasurably more powerful than the energy ‘of the earth’.

On the spiritual level too, we stand before a choice: Do we look for the energy we need ‘from below’, in ourselves and the resources of our intelligence and our entrepreneurial spirit, or do we look for it ‘from on high’, from the risen Christ, the Sun of Justice?  The world is frantically trying to convert from one source of energy to another, from fossil fuels and nuclear resources to solar power which is infinitely cleaner and also free.  The church is also in need of the same ‘conversion ’.

We all need ‘power’ and ‘strength’ in our lives.  They are attributes of God.  However, he does not seem to keep them to himself.  He gives them to his people.  In the passages for today we see something about the extent of God’s energy, power and strength and the means by which we obtain them.
Nicky Gumbel: Through the Bible

A prayer for growth


Bob Jackson, a retired Anglican priest and former member of Springboard, gave a talk at a Continuing Mission Education day for the Diocese of St. David's, Wales, and mentioned that a church in the Norwich Diocese had written a prayer for use by the congregation asking the Lord for growth. The result was that they could not keep up with the new people coming into their services. Here is the prayer - adapted for my Parish - which I commend to anyone reading this:

Lord Jesus, you promised that you would build your church.
So, then, please build your church amongst us in St. James.
Help us all to grow deeper in our relationship with you,
and please increase the number of new Christians in our congregation week by week.
For your glory in this city. Amen.

But before you take this and try to use it as a sort of magic formula for growth please stop and think. We don't believe in magic we believe in a God who has called us to work with him in the salvation of others. We don't believe in special forms of words that are calculated to bring perfect and instant results. We believe in a God who is sovereign and King over all. We are HIS servants not the other way around. Besides God does not listen to our words so much as our hearts. "Better that that your heart be without words than your words without heart" wrote John Bunyan. In a recent book by W. Bingham Hunter on prayer called "The God who hears" he writes:

"God does not respond to our prayers. God responds to us: to our whole life. What we say to him cannot be separated from what we think, feel, will and do. Prayer is communication from whole person to the Wholeness which is the living God. Prayer is misunderstood until we see it this way."

If you belong to God and your will is his will, and vice versa, then I have no doubt that a prayer like the above will 'work' because it puts us - body, mind and spirit - completely in sinc with God's will.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

America today, us tomorrow?


The American branch of the Church of England is struggling. It is being deserted in droves by an angry or ambivalent membership. Six prominent bishops are ready to take their large dioceses out of the American church and align with conservative Anglican groups in Africa and South America.

According to recent figures (quoted in a BeliefNet article see below)" U.S. Catholics out-number the Episcopal Church 33-to-1. There are more Jews than Episcopalians. Twice as many Mormons. Even the little African Methodist Episcopal denomination has passed the Episcopalians. 
Among the old mainstream denominations reporting to the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church suffered the worst loss of membership from 1992-2002 — plunging from 3.4 million members to 2.3 million for a 32 percent loss. In the NCC’s 2012 yearbook, the Episcopal Church admitted another 2.71 percent annual membership loss."

The above article continues: “The accelerating fragmentation of the strife-torn Episcopal Church USA,” writes Christian author Charlotte Allen. “ in which large parishes and entire dioceses are opting out of the church, isn't simply about gay bishops, the blessing of same-sex unions or the election of a woman as presiding bishop. It is about the meltdown of liberal Christianity.

“Liberal Christianity has been hailed by its boosters for 40 years as the future of the Christian church. Instead, as all but a few die-hards now admit, the mainline churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating.” 

Among the chief protagonists is pr
esiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. She, according to Dr Sarah Frances Ives who was present for an address given by the Bishop (July 8, 2012) "mocked most of the crucial doctrines of the Christian faith, including the God of creation, the Incarnation, and the Trinity. She accomplishes this through her demeaning use of rhetoric. She taunts the Lord by the use of the name ‘Big Man’ and then points her finger at everyone listening and tells them that they have ‘missed the boat.’ 

She continues: “Jefferts Schori leaves a wide wake of destruction behind with this sermon: the eternal triune God has been torn down, human beings are to boldly claim our place as God, and the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism have been turned into things our hands make. In other words, Jefferts Schori accepts that now humanity, animals and God are one undifferentiated blob. This is essentially a form of solipsism, the belief that self is all that is known to exist. Anyone can see that this is both pure heresy and utter nonsense.

“Episcopalians need to loudly affirm that we are created in the image of God and redeemed by the sacrifice of the Son of God, but no, we are not God ourselves and we are not erasing the boundary between God and humanity. That Jefferts Schori is encouraging humans to cross the frontier into becoming God should be immediately repudiated by all believing Christians.”

Another attendee Angela O'Brien also reported: “the House of Bishops of the Episcopalian Church approved a new provisional blessing for gay unions, while the full General Convention voted in favour of general acceptance for transgender clergy.

“Some Episcopalian bishops spoke out against the resolution on same-sex blessings. Bishop Bauerschmidt, of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, urged the bishops to defeat the resolution. 


“The Reverend David Thurlow advocated rejecting the resolution. ‘For two thousand years the Church has had clear teaching regarding Christian marriage and Biblical norms of sexual behaviour,’ he said, pointing out that ‘through previous statements and resolutions the Church has pledged itself not to make any change to this traditional teaching.’ 


Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana also stood against the resolution. 
“The Christian world is going to understand us as having changed the nature of the sacrament of holy matrimony,” Bishop Little said. “The Christian world will look at that liturgy world and see vows, and exchange of rings, a pronouncement and a blessing and they will understand that to mean the Episcopal Church has endorsed same-sex marriage and changed a basic Christian doctrine. I do not believe that we are free to do that.” 

These transgender and same-sex resolutions are not surprising given that a few years ago, the annual national Episcopal convention overwhelmingly refused even to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord! No wonder that upon returning home from that meeting, Bishop Peter H. Beckwith, leader of the Springfield, Illinois, diocese, wrote in a pastoral letter that the Episcopal church was “in meltdown.” He was 
joined by bishops in the dioceses of Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, California, and South Carolina in asking their church’s top official, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England, for permission to pull out.

Beckwith says the failure of the resolution introduced by conservatives to declare the church’s “unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved” was extremely disturbing. 


You can read the article from BeliefNet
here. The decline of the Anglican Church in America sends a warning shot across the bow of the Anglican Church in Britain with growing pressure to go down the same path. Let's hope one does not follow the other, although the signs are not good.

Friday, 13 July 2012

If Churches Can Change, They Can Grow


The following is from The Lewis Center for church Leadership and can be found here.  Although it is from America there are some basic lessons that can be learnt.

An exceptionally revealing report on church growth is now available from the Faith Communities Today research project. Drawing on extensive survey data, noted researcher C. Kirk Hadaway paints a compelling picture of factors leading both to church growth and decline. Churches have differing degrees of control over these factors. 


Factors Beyond the Control of Congregations

Region. If your church is in the South, it is far more likely to grow than churches in any other region.

Population growth. The strongest demographic correlate with growth is an increase in the number of households in the area.

Location. Churches in newer suburbs are more likely to grow than churches in other locations, followed by downtown metropolitan churches. But central city churches are also more likely to decline than those in other areas, followed by those in towns and rural areas.

Congregation’s age. The more recent its founding, the more likely a church is to grow.

Household makeup. The proportion of households with children in the home is positively related to growth.

Factors Over Which the Congregation Has Some Control

Age of members. Churches with a healthy mix of ages tend to be growing, but those with more than 40 percent of regular participants over 60 are much less likely to grow.

Racial ethnic makeup. While most churches are composed of a single racial ethnic group, congregations with two or more racial ethnic groups are most likely to have experienced strong growth.

Gender makeup. Churches able to attract larger proportions of men than other congregations are more likely to grow.

Factors Over Which the Congregation Has Much Control

Conflict. Churches experiencing major conflict are likely to have declined in attendance. Congregations with no major conflict during the previous two years are most likely to grow.

Spiritual vitality. There is a strong relationship between growth and the sense that the congregation is spiritually vital and alive, a place where people encounter God.

Character of worship. A congregation that describes their worship as “joyful” is more likely to experience substantial growth, and churches where worship is described as “reverent” are least likely to grow.

Change. Congregations that say they are willing to change to meet new challenges also tend to be growing congregations.

Worship change. Congregations that changed their worship services moderately or substantially in the past five years were more likely to grow than those that changed their worship only a little or not at all.

Congregational Identity. When all congregations are combined, there is very little relationship between growth and theological orientation. More important is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose.

Children in worship. Congregations that involved children in worship were more likely to experience significant growth. Whether a congregation has relatively few or more than a few children and youth, not involving them in worship is associated with decline.

Website. Congregations that have started or maintained a web site in the past year are most likely to grow.

Sponsoring public events. Congregations that sponsor events are more likely to grow. These programs attract both members and non-members. This adds value for members and gives non-members a low-key opportunity to visit the church.

Support groups. Among churches where support groups are a key program, two-thirds are growing.

Follow-up in multiple ways. Congregations that follow-up with visitors in multiple ways are those most likely to grow.

A subtitle of the report sums up the reality churches face. “If churches can change,” it says, “they can grow.”

Baptism - immersion or sprinkling?

I couldn't resist including this:
An Anglican Vicar says to a Baptist pastor, "If I immerse somebody just up to his ankles, is that enough?"
"No," answers the Baptist.
"How about up to his knees?"
"Nope."
"How about up to his shoulders?"
"No, sir!"
"You mean I've got to get the water over the top of his head?"
"That's right," says the Baptist.
"Good," says the Vicar. That proves that it's the top of the head that's the important part to get wet and that's what we do - sprinkle the head."
A Bundle of laughs" J.John and Mark Stibbe

Click here for some arguments for and against Infant Baptism.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Kingdom - R.S.Thomas

I love R.S.Thomas and he served, for a time, in this Diocese. Here is his poem about the Kingdom of Heaven:

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

Here R.S.Thomas holds over the conclusion of each sentence deliberately disrupting the reading of each line. The effect is to underline the paradox of the Christian life: we await the coming of the Kingdom, dreaming of it, but not yet seeing it fully...

Christianity

"Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this, that by its creed Joy becomes something gigantic, and Sadness something special and small."
From G. K. Chesterton: Habits of Belief, Essential Writings

A daily prayer

I can't remember whether I wrote the following prayer or borrowed it from someone else. If it's mine God bless those who use it. If not, my apologies for not acknowledging the real author and please let me know the source:

Dear Father, please show me today in every situation, circumstance and person I meet, how to seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness. Help me to trust You that whatever else is needed will then be provided. And in order to accomplish this grant me, please, the help and grace of Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Conversion


At a recent Alpha Conference, someone handed me (Nicky Gumbel) a scrap of paper with a note on it that went like this:

‘Sue (who was not a Christian) was attending a rehab clinic for people with severe respiratory problems.  She had a chronic condition (COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that was getting progressively worse.  The clinic meets at our church building.  She arrived for her clinic, but there was no one there (she had got the wrong date!).  She waited around and had a look through flyers on our next Alpha Course.

‘I received a message from her a couple of days later and had a conversation where she told me she had picked up a flyer and it was a funny thing because she had been thinking of doing an Alpha Course for several years (her sister was a Christian).

‘Sue turned up for our course on Wednesday evening.  She soaked it all up and was full of excitement and interest.  She came to church on the Sunday and was back again on the Wednesday.  It suddenly clicked for Sue that Jesus is God!  A huge piece of the jigsaw for her.  She gave her life to the Lord – dramatic.  She called her sister to tell her she had become a Christian and her sister was in the middle of a meeting with a friend to pray for Sue!  She had been praying for her for twenty-five years!

‘The following Sunday – Sue came to church, came forward for prayer for healing and was remarkably healed of her COPD.  [She has been] running up and down stairs at home, off her medications, etc!  She met with her physio at the medical clinic who was astonished at what had happened to her – remarkable difference.  She has been healed and has since prayed for and seen others healed, including one of cancer!

‘On 30 April Sue was baptised and brought over 150 friends and family to celebrate with her.  She is having a huge impact on people – evangelising to anyone that will stand still long enough to listen!’

John Wimber often used to say that we need three conversions: to be converted to Christ, converted to his church and converted to his cause.  Sue was obviously not only converted to Christ but instantly converted to his cause!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

John Stott's Daily Prayer

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I worship you
as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Saviour and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence
and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God,
have mercy upon me. Amen.
John Stott, quoted in Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Happiness

I love Fr Ranieri Cantalamessa. He exudes humility, love and Jesus. Here he is talking about happiness.

Thanks, but no thanks!

We had a wonderful day yesterday starting with the awards ceremony where Ruth, our youngest child, received her degree - a 2:1- after thre...