Category Archives: Books

Growing Through Church – Review

Before I start reviewing Growing through the Church: A practical and theological vision for all-age worship by Russell Herbert I want to give a bit of background on how I came to be reading the book.

Karl has been asked to write a proper review on it for somewhere and so that’s how we happened to have it in the house when I got back from leading an all age service on Sunday which I knew hadn’t achieved what it was supposed to – i.e. it hadn’t been all age worship. The prayer and preperation had all gone into it and I had worked hard to put something together which was appropriate but it hadn’t worked as I’d hoped. As a teacher it was a feeling I was familiar with – you know when something hasn’t engaged (in the intended way or not).

As a reflective practitioner I know the way to deal with this feeling – which is particularly hard for some of us to deal with – is acknowledge the feelings you have, be kind to yourself rather than beat yourself up and then look at why it didn’t work and what you might do differently. Once you’ve looked at why it hadn’t gone as you had hoped some further study/ reading/ thinking may be required to try and change what happens next time. And so that’s how I came to be picking up the group which I decided to do a review on – as a way to engage in some positive reflective practice.

Russell Herbert is a Methodist Superintendent who has sought to write a book looking at the theology of all age worship rather than the actual practice involved. As he states in the introduction “it is not a ‘how-to’ book”. That to a large extent is true, although the latter chapters – particularly those on music, prayer and message – do give some excellent practical advice.

Within the introduction he lays out why all age worship can and does go wrong for people – both within the congregation and those leading. As he says two common problems are when it is either “a service for children at which adults are present” or “a service for adults at which children are present.”

The first main chapter entitled The Need to Grow focuses on the need for qualitative growth through discipleship as well as quantitative growth through evangelism within any congregation. The writer explores the way in which over simplification which can occur in the desire to be seeker-sensitive as well as child friendly is problematic. He argues within this chapter and throughout the text that in our desire to be welcoming and inclusive we can hold people back from spiritual maturity and growth.

Within this chapter he begins to talk about alienation making reference to Alan Jamieson’s text A Churchless Faith, and Fowler’s model of the stages of faith which Jamieson refers to within his work. Herbert claims that whilst Jamieson paints a picture of churches which is extreme and fundamentalist but agrees many within congregations would be able to identify with the discontent Jamieson refers to. I think this comment is one which highlights that whilst this book is not written from a denomination position. It is written from the perspective of somebody who is located within a particular ‘mainstream’ theological position which whilst broadly evangelical is also rooted in a tradition which values the use of reason above experience and reads scripture through that lens.

He also critiques the work of John Hull and Pete Ward in this first main chapter to argue against a dependency chapter where people are filtered through a system which turns them into leaders or the led.  He argues most strongly that “there is a need for us to encounter the not yet familiar as well as what we already understand and relate to”.

Chapter Two The Generation Game: Towards and all-age Church is a clarion call for intergenerational church. Again he focuses on the qualitative rather than the quantitative within this chapter. He makes the point that spiritual maturity should not be measured against age or even the length of time people have been Christians rather it should be identified through thought and practice. That said he makes the point that the wisdom of older members of our congregations is often not valued, rather they are often marginalised.

He uses the work of Rob Merchant on the third and forth ages to show how demographic changes within our society relating to life expectancy are meaning that we have a new category of people within our churches. Living into your eighties or nineties is now often the norm rather than the exception. We need, he argues, to value older generations as the church of today rather than viewing them as the church of yesterday.

He has no illusions about the difficulties involved in inclusion and intergenerational worship. However he warns against the Homogeneous Unit Pricipal (HUB) strongly critiquing it and in turn the Fresh Expressions movement which he views, despite what Cray et al may say, as running the risk of producing HUB’s rather than a diverse and inclusive church. (My own view on this can be seen I think from this post I wrote regarding safe space and the Christian LGBandT community).

Chapter Three Church for all Stages: Towards and all-stage Church returns to Fowlers stages of church and critiques this in more depth as well as laying the foundation for using this in much of the rest of the book. Again this is a call for an inclusive approach to church and worship.

The book changes gear between chapters three and four. Chapter Four Imagining Worship looks at worship from a variety of perspectives: as service to God, as the mirror of heaven, as affirmation, as communion, as proclamation and as the arena of transcendence. The last of which he argues is one part often lost – and this is because he argues we can often lose sight of the importance of the presence of God in our worship. There can too often be a focus on what we do, how we do it and why do it without taking into account the reality of the presence of God in our worship.

It is within this forth main chapter that his focus moves to the importance of images and symbols and starts to talk a little more about practice rather than the theology and philoshophy behind it.

In beginning to talk of images he refers to needing to produce a spark and how this often comes from playing with different images to which people are able to relate and which have a link but which are not ordinarily associated.  He argues part of the role of the worship leader/ preacher is to produce a sense of intrege which can be nurtured enabling the familiar to be presented in a way which seems fresh and new.

Within this section where he talks of the value of story, projection and drama he makes several points he goes on to underline. The first is that there is a danger in too much explanation. The second is that symbols are important but they have their power through a sense of participation and interaction with them. If this sense of participation is lost then the congregation is robbed of the necessary meaning of the symbols.

He then talks about comedy and how it can work on the same level as symbols. Whilst being careful to give the required health warning regarding humour he shows it is useful. He does, however, make very clear that we need to know when to mourn and cry as well as when to laugh.

Music is often a contentious subject within churches and this is something he deals within in Chapter Five. He begins by making an important point that you can not assume a preference for a particular type of music based upon a persons age. This is a problem which I think many of us fall into.

In terms of music he makes the point that ethos and atmosphere is important as is participation and ritual. There is an importance he reminds us to strive to avoid “performance”. I think that whilst there is a growing recognition of the second part of this the former is equally important and may provide some explanation for why we are seeing a growth in cathedral worship (something the Church Growth Research Programme research currently being undertaken may help us explore further).

A very practical point he makes within this section before underlining in the following chapters is the overuse of any form/ element can be a problem. That said he argues that it should be engaging imagination rather than a quest for balance which should be our starting point.

Chapter Six Let Us Pray looks at symbols, participation, ritual, play and laughter again. It gives a few practical ideas and examples but essentially reinforces what has already been said, whilst focusing it around the subject of prayer.

Chapter Seven The Word Made Flesh again acts as a mix of reinforcement and practical ideas relating to the giving of “the message”. Within this chapter he brings in the importance of quality in what we do. He also develops further the conversations on images and symbols and identifies why the two are different. Within this he talks about the way in which an image doesn’t point beyond itself in the same way in which a symbol does. The health warnings in this chapter against “over use of novelty” is a useful reminder.

The final main chapter is called Calling Everyone: Services with Respons-ibilty talks of the need to find innovative ways to allow creative ways to respond. Within this chapter he makes the point that one needs to know what best suits the local context. This is an important point which I think he could have explored further, particularly in relation to the denominational context he is coming from. Local Preachers who travel around the circuit and who may only visit a chapel once or twice a year don’t have the same knowledge of the local congregation which he advocates.

This lack of knowledge of the local context becomes a problem not only in terms of finding the right way for people to respond to the message but also in putting some of the good advice into practice. If one has regular and direct contact with a congregation, rather than working through a steward on infrequent visits it is easier to include drama, etc. The visiting local preacher does not have the same knowledge of the toolbox of gifts within the congregation and this is something I am increasingly aware of. One way of encouraging participation is knowing about and being able to use gifts within the congregation – the average local preacher lacks this knowledge.

Going back to my own experience on Sunday, briefly, after reading this book I was able to identify exactly where I had gone wrong as well as what I had done which was good practice for this type of service. Whilst seeking to be child friendly I had relied too much on technology which it turned out there wasn’t a confidence in. I had not looked at how to fully engage people in a participative way. Where I had sought to ensure participation much of it had been adultcentric. I had also sought to explain too much rather than give space for the individual to unpack the wonder of the scriptures. Russell Herberts book ends with a list of practical resource material which I can refer to in the future to help me in the planning of such services.

For me being able to write that last paragraph is the test of a book like this. Does it enable me to reflect on the nature of all age worship and to come away with a greater understanding which I can then reflect upon and relate to my own experience, seeking to serve those congregations I have appointments with in the future in a better? If as in this case the answer is yes then this is a good book worth purchasing and referring back to in the future. On this basis I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Been Reading….

The most recent book borrowed from MK Library wasn’t one of their “blind dates“, it was ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. Not a new title, but one which looked like it might be interesting.

Reading it was an interesting experience. I found myself getting really into it and reading random bits of ‘wisdom’ out loud and in turn being asked what ‘hippy stuff’ I was spouting by Karl. Once I’d got the message that it was best to digest it inwardly without exclaiming “listen to this” every five minutes I did have to contain my excitement about the contents every so often.

Part way through it struck me that this stuff was things I knew anyway but which I’d become familiar with using a different language. The principles of reflection and keeping notes of your goals, etc was simply journaling. That’s something I try and keep up with doing anyway.

The reading for 30 minutes a day was similarly something I know Christians are encouraged to do. Regular daily reading of the scriptures and looking to read other books which are enhancing to them.

The meditation and silence is a tool we use for listening to and connecting with God.

The importance of self-control is something reinforced through the scriptures as is the fact we are all called to serve.

The material in this book then was stuff I already knew I needed to be doing but as the book says there is a difference between knowing and doing. We need to create discipline and new habits and that comes through overcoming our thoughts. This is where Sharma and I would diverge in view I think. He talks about the power to overcome these things coming from our minds, whilst I think that is true to some extent we can be helped to do this, I believe, through the Spirit. God can enable us to do things we feel to be impossible but it does require an act of will on our part.

Something I found interesting was the diarying in of time for yourself to nurture yourself. It’s something I know that I have taken the wrong way in the past. It has in the past become a bit of a “I must relax and do good stuff” thing, and that has failed. Being with Karl has helped me to see that within our lives we need some level of spontaneity and openness to experience the unknown.

So is it The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari worth reading? Answer yes.

Left Wing Radicals and Real Life

Reading Alexei Sayle’s Stalin Ate My Homework was an interesting experience for me. Reading it was fun but a little unsettling in places, finishing left me with a bit of an OMG have I been an awful parent moment.

To put this in context I better start by summarising the book which outlines Sayle’s childhood. Alexei’s parents were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and left wing political activists in Liverpool. There were various things which Sayle was and wasn’t allowed as a result of his parents ideological beliefs. He went on exotic family holidays to Eastern Bloc countries and lived a bohemian lifestyle in working class Anfield.

There is a strange analysis of the politics and the reality of his own erratic behaviour, as well as his mothers but within it is a clear love and respect for his parents.

He describes how as he grew up and got involved in revolutionary politics within the late 1960’s there came a point where he had to deal with the feelings of dissonance which were emerging. Those were the most unsettling bits for me. In the book he says, “My only real problem with being a Marxist-Leninist was that I didn’t believe a word of it, or rather I totally believed it and totally didn’t believe in it, all at the same time. The trouble with any kind of fundamentalist organisation is that it cannot be big on subtlety or nuance…..Unfortunately your mind will not allow you to get away with the kind of split-brain thinking I tried to stick to. Psychological tensions rise to the surface and tend to find outlet in erratic behaviour.” (P232)

I would remove the word fundamentalist and perhaps replace it with ideological and then say this sums up exactly why many of us have had a problem with church over the years and sometimes/often still do.

As I say my own reaction to the book was also to smile in places. I wasn’t bought up in a communist household, but my father was, what Sayle describes in his left wing classification system, ‘a fellow revolutionary’. So I understood something of what he was talking about on a level which was slightly more than just this is well written and funny. It also gave me some good memories.

My dad didn’t ban things like Sayle’s parents did, mine being an anarchist who believed that we should be allowed to choose but he did give us political lectures to help us make good choices. For example because my friends were I took the 11+ and got offered an assisted place at the local private Girls School. My dad took me off and gave me a talk on how it was entirely up to me and if I insisted on going they would somehow make it work but I did have to take into account my class history and the fight for free education in this country, realising that I would be betraying my class if I did go. It was enough to put me off going to a school which would have been wrong for me for a range of reasons.

Then there was the time when my mum was in hospital with my younger brother, who was having an operation to correct his cleft lip and palate, and so unable to physically stop us. I was interested in CND and so against my mums wishes dad took me and my friend off to Molesworth to protest against the stationing of nuclear weapons there one Easter. When I went back to school our Geography teacher asked us to write about something we’d done in the holidays. We then looked at how much of the class had done what – there was only one of us in the category of ‘political demonstration’.

Then there was the “OMG have I been an awful parent?” moment. Reading through I was aware that whilst I am not a communist and did not go on exotic holidays as a left-wing Christian I did subject Third Party to a “different” childhood. I knew and have always acknowledged it wasn’t average but have always looked on it as having taken her on a series of adventures she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

On the political side there were the various demonstrations she was taken on. There was time we dressed up as dinosaurs and stood outside the council offices to protest at cuts to the museum service, then there were the anti-fees actions she went on as a toddler (I remember vividly the day after one national demo when she marched out of church and into Sunday School singing education is a right not a privilege). Peace wise there were the anti-war demo’s, (not sure what her school friend I was looking after the evening war broke out made of being dragged on the local action in Canterbury). Then there was this trip to Aldermaston which I guess a teenage Third Party saw very differently to me. And so I could go on.

Perhaps two of the maddest adventures of all involved Surfing as well as myself around the time of Make Poverty History. There was our London all nighter at Wake Up to Trade Justice  which didn’t go quite to plan when we didn’t get into Methodist Central Hall because it was full and ended up spending the night with another friend and three kids on the green outside (see this post). Then was the big demo in Edinburgh when we did the night coach up and back, going on the demo and listening to Gordon Brown at a Christian Aid rally in between (one post on it all here). Photo at the bottom, which I notice also has next years vice-president of the Methodist Conference smiling away in the background, was taken that day, when I thought it was a great idea to rush over with Third Party and get her photo taken with the chancellor (as he was then) – just as a bit of a memento of the day.

To be fair I did often try and make national demo’s a bit more fun for her by taking a detour into Hamley’s or Hard Rock Cafe or some such other capitalist enclave to try and turn it into a bit of a treat.

The discussions on what and didn’t come into our house and what she was/wasn’t allowed to do normally just involved ethical shopping and buying fair trade. However, there was I remember a big thing when she was about 13 because her friends were all getting playboy merchandise and I said no, probably giving her a feminist lecture in the process.

Then there were the holidays she went on with me. Apart from the time I got a tax rebate and took her to Disneyland Paris, these were trips to Christian conferences or music festivals (or in the case of Greenbelt a hybrid of the two). There were also for a few years our annual trips to the Isle of Wight for the Wib/Ship meet.

To put this in context for those not familiar. Spring Harvest, (which was what we did when she was really little), involved a trip to a Butlins in Skeggie or Minehead (or in one case somewhere in Wales) where she was taken off for children’s activities for part of the day. As with Detling which she went to through her junior school years there were ‘family celebrations’ which would involve lots of action songs in the early evening. Then she would be left in the chalet/ tent area with somebody, (most of the time not me), in the evening whilst the main adult celebration was taking place. The thing was we always went in assorted groups and so the adults would take turns in doing the childcare.

As she got older and we went on the wib/ship meets and to Greenbelt she would invariably end up camping / staying on a boat with mums friends off the internet.

The music festivals were different, that’s when she got to spend time with grandad and her uncles too. This always had the aspect of being ‘grandad’s work’ though.

As I say until I read Sayle’s book I don’t think I realised how different the childhood I had given Third Party might be. I knew that the other people, with money, took their families on other ‘normal’ holidays as well as off to these festivals and conferences but we didn’t have the resources, and to be fair I’m not sure what I would have done as a single mum on one of these ‘normal’ holidays where things to do weren’t included and set out for you. Reading Stalin Ate My Homework enabled me to see it all was different, not wrong….but different.

Me and Third Party with Gordon Brown

Simpsons Style?

If you watch the Simpsons you’ll see that beneath the apparent dysfunction there is a solid foundation which is based upon family and friendship. The same could be said if you read either Denise Welch’s second volume of autobiography Starting Over  and Jo Whiley’s My World in Motion, both of which I’ve read recently.

I start with Welch’s book which is a fascinating insight into both the breakdown of her marriage, the media treatment of her and the nature of celebrity as well as her experience of being on and winning Celebrity Big Brother as well as competing in Dancing on Ice.

The book is, as indicated, a second volume of autobiography and whilst there is a short break in time between volumes it picks up in many ways where her first book Pulling Myself Together left off. That said the exact starting point of this book is when she discovers the press are about to announce the break up of her marriage. Like the last book it contains her battles with depression and continues to discuss the way in which she is both very much family woman and party girl. Hedonism mixes with traditional family values in a heady cocktail of apparent contradiction at times.

The book makes the point, which I would argue the Simpsons does in many ways, that real life is often much more complex than we often appreciate. In many ways Welch has publicly displayed a range of subterranean values which exist in our society but which we seek to portray in a negative way. The result is the press have vilified her at times for being x,y or z.

Now I don’t wish to romanticise some of the hedonistic aspects of her lifestyle or indicate that I personally hold some of the same moral codes that she apparently does or has regarding sex. However, I do want to say that she is very obviously not the person who the media sometimes seek to portray her as.

The Jo Whiley book acts as a complete contrast to the Welch book in some ways whilst having a range of similarities in other senses. Both books focus very much on the importance of their families (including both their parents and children) and the centrality of these figures in their lives. However, whilst Whiley’s book indicates that she has her moments of hedonism her writing shows she has lived a very different life to Welch in many ways. Part of this is the different nature of their jobs and the different levels of ‘celebrity’ involved. This discussion of celebrity and the different levels of it is something Whiley explores as a general sub-theme with her book.

Whiley’s book begins by an extremely moving description of her sister who has Cri du Chat syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder and the caring responsibilities which have been associated with her care. The sheer level of love within this chapter without seeking to romanticise the situation in anyway is something incredible to read. It made me
realise this is not your standard biography, it is neither ‘poor me’ material or seeking to avoid making the personal public.

Throughout the book, as she discusses her family, life and work Whiley also puts together playlists of tunes she associates with particular people, periods or aspects of her life. The mix of music mentioned is, as probably expected, somewhat eclectic.

As already mentioned I found this book moving to read. However, I also connected with it in a way I haven’t with any other celebrity autobiography. The key reason for this is that whilst Whiley’s life is a world away from mine in many ways in other ways it wasn’t.

Her eldest daughter is only a couple of years older than Third Party and so when she was talking about some parenting it was within a time scale I understood.

Secondly, she is a member of the festival culture, a proper one rather than a celebrity one. Her description of Glastonbury highlights this. Whilst there are the backstage descriptions she talks about how much of her time has been spent in the kids field, for example. She writes about the Glastonbury which I know and which, as I have spoken about before, Third Party grew up within.

The next reason this was different was because it took me back to the places I was when I heard certain records or radio shows. I can tell you exactly where I was on the evening of the chaotic early Newcastle Oasis show she talks about. I was in my student room listening to her and Steve on the Evening Session.

The geography of much of the book helped too. I know what it is to rush down onto a train at Milton Keynes station hoping you’ve got on the right one and managing to leave something important on it when you get off.

Finally, within the book was a description of extended family which resonated with me. The multi-generational love of music, particularly live music is something that I understand.

I have been inspired by the Jo Whiley book to come up with my own short playlist of important music/ gigs.

Earliest proper gig (i.e. not one my dad took me to which I can’t really remember) – Toyah Wilcox (my 10th birthday treat).

Music of my early secondary school years – The Riddle by Nik Kershaw.

Music of my later secondary school years – Happy Hour by The Housemartins and Panic by The Smiths.

Music of my later teens – Only Living Boy in New Cross by Carter USM, This is How it Feels by Inspiral Carpets, Billy and Jackie by Fat and Frantic and Mary Mary Run DMC

Music of my BA years – Def Con One by PWEI, Caught by the Fuzz by Supergrass, Size of Cow by Wonderstuff

Music when Immy was tiny – Fire Starter by Prodigy, Wonderwall by Oasis and Parklife by Blur and Year 2000 by Pulp

Festival favourites – One Way of Life by The Levellers, God is a DJ by Faithless, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport by Rolf Harris and N17 by The Saw Doctors

Music as I’ve got older – Roots by Show of Hands, Meet On the Ledge by Fairport Convention and St. Jimmy by Green Day

Most precious stuff – Anything by Billy Bragg, anything by Ralph McTell, Boys Don’t Cry by the Cure, This is Us by Martyn Joseph, anything by Grace Petrie and Come As You Are by Nirvana.

Best gigs – Green Day Milton Keynes Bowl 2005, Manic Street Preachers Brixton Academy 2000/2001 (just know during PGCE year), Dire Straits Portman Road, Ipswich 1992, My Chemical Romance Belfast Kings Hall 2007, Kirsty McColl Northampton Roadmender 1995 and Wonderstuff Leicester De Montfort Hall 1995. And a late addition Prodigy Cambridge Corn Exchange October 1997.

Comfort Reading

Happy New Year. I ended 2012 by indulging in some comfort reading of the sort one tends to do at this time of year when you’ve decided to use your Christmas Waterstones voucher on something indulgent. By comfort reading I mean I settled down with a book in the early/mid afternoon and with only a brief break for food consumed the whole text which was read purely for pleasure in one go, finishing sometime mid evening. I personally find biographies and auto-biographies particularly good for comfort reading and in this case the text being savoured was Clare Balding’s My Animals and Other Family.

My Animals and Other Family comes into the category of auto-biographies which are carefully crafted to be a good read but maintain much of the writers privacy. The tool which Balding uses to do this is animals which she had relationship with during her childhood and adolescence. Upon this theme she hangs specific incidences and reminiscences particularly about her childhood, growing up around horses and her brief time as an amateur jockey. It really is an excellent read for all ages; whilst in no way dull it is straight forward and gentle in a large part because of the boundaries Balding has drawn. Have to admit when I purchased it I was looking forward to reading her coming out story, but it wasn’t in there. I found myself glad about this rather than disappointed though, its exclusion was very much in keeping with the gentile nature of a book which granny or grandchild could equally enjoy.

So that was my latest bit of comfort reading, what’s yours?

Church for Every Context – Review

Church For Every Context by Michael Moynagh with Philip Harrold, published by SCM came out earlier in 2012 and was one of three books published this year which can be seen as official assessments of where Fresh Expressions and Pioneer ministry are as we come to the end of the first phase of official backing. The other two are: Fresh by David Goodhew, Andrew Roberts and Michael Volland and  Fresh Expressions in the Mission of  the Church a report by the joint Anglican and Methodist Working Party. (This is the first I have been able to get my hands on – having had Third Party get it out of the college library for me to read whilst she was home).

This text takes a theological look at the movement as well as providing a sociological framework to examine the structural basis of the movement.

At 21 chapters and 447 pages of actual text it is on one level very, perhaps too, comprehensive. However, as each chapter takes a different theme it could, in some ways, be argued not to have the depth that it appears on the surface to have. However, it is designed like this for good reason. It is essentially a text book and each chapter ends with questions for reflection as well as signposting the reader who is looking for that extra depth towards further reading.

In taking a macro rather than a micro approach to the subject the book lacks much of the ethnographic material which can be found within other books in the subject including those within the Ancient Faith Future Mission series. That is not to say it is missing but rather mention to it is brief and where reference is made it is to illustrate a much larger point rather than to reflect on a specific form of Fresh Expression or Pioneer Mission.

The key term which Moynagh focuses on within the book is “contextual church” as opposed to Fresh Expressions or Pioneer Ministry, thus getting to the root of what they are talking about.

The first two chapters give a persuasive argument that “contextual church” was the from that new testament worshipping communities took.

Chapter three describes how through the Fresh Expressions movement in particular “contextual church” has re-emerged as a way of approaching church within contemporary Britain.

Chapter four seeks to outline, using sociological material, the nature of culture shift in late modernity and the move to network societies. It is also where a sub-text of debate, which is obviously an ongoing discussion, between the author and academics from the University of Nottingham who have advocated a more radical orthodoxy starts to emerge. This critique of their work and of their criticisms of the Fresh Expressions movement is interesting in that it highlights the way in which academic reaction has not been as homogeneously positive as sometimes portrayed.

Chapters five to ten deal with ecclesiology, the nature of church. Within this section the discussion relating to what is mission and what its relationship to worship should be are particularly interesting.

The book changes nature and tone half way through. It moves from a focus on the foundational theology and theory to examining the theory surrounding and hallmarks of good practice.  The writer reflects on the Fresh Expressions organisation and the wider fresh expressions/pioneer movement together with social entrepreneurial to draw out a set of principles of good practice. In doing this section three essentially becomes a six chapter manual on how to approach forming and sustaining a fresh expression/pioneer initiative.

The final five chapters entitled “Growing to Maturity” change gear again. These chapters engage with some of the critiques and practical issues relating to the Fresh Expressions/ pioneer mission movement which have emerged from within the wider church, (as opposed to within academic theology), over the last few years. Issues such as communion and discipleship are discussed and what is said is useful within a text giving the wider picture, as discussed earlier. However, to fully engage with the issues discussed in this final chapter the reader may find it more useful to look at the  Ancient Faith Future Mission  series which looks at the problems which have emerged through reflection from practitioners. (see here for my review of the most recent book, Fresh Expressions of Church and the Kingdom of God).

The final chapter Towards the Mixed Economy Church is essentially a call for the continued development of “contextual churches” within established denominations alongside “inherited” churches.

Overall I think it is an important and useful text which I highly commend and I agree with much, indeed most, within it.

However, reading this book did reinforce some concerns which have emerged in the wider context of looking at this movement over the last few years.

The first concern relates to the tension which exists between the DIY culture/ethos of the movement and the power exerted by the “permission givers”.  Is Fresh Expressions an organisation or a movement?  This debate is something Moynagh acknowledges, in passing, as an issue but he is firmly rooted in the language of the “permission giver”. It was something I found interesting comparing the content of the Fresh Expressions conference and ADVENTurous events I went to earlier this month.

The second concern relates to the mixed economy discussion and the way that the focus is almost exclusively centred on people going out to form churches in teams.

Whilst this is what Fresh Expressions and pioneer ministry have focused upon I think we are now at a stage where wider issues are emerging which need to be addressed but which are being lost. The key one is how do we help people navigate between spaces?

The discussion within this text and others has been almost exclusively based around how do we move to building “contextual church” but I think it is time to address how we help people who are philosophically and spiritually tied into the “contextual” mindset but who feel called to remain part of the established church to navigate between these spaces and incorporate fresh expression thinking, appropriately, into established church contexts.

Additionally, we need to explore what it means to be called to engage in fresh expressions and pioneer ministry without being called to start a church or community.  For example if looking at chaplaincy there are clear overlaps between this and fresh expression/pioneer mission as it is being articulated here. However, there are also differences as chaplains are external people who go in after negotiating access and who seek to support rather than build intentional new communities.

Then there is the question of how we help people develop their ministry within the cultural context in which they inhabit. What I mean by this is how do we help people who are seeking to simply live out your faith in a context which does not have the same gatekeepers to negotiate entry with, primarily because they already inhabit and are part of this context and they don’t wish to start a church within it. This is what Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger describe as “evangelism as a way of life, not an event.” In Emerging Churches  they have defined this as “evangelism that overcomes the sacred/ secular split of modernity [which] must be a natural part of one’s everyday life.”[i] How do people do this whilst also remaining part of established “inherited” congregations?

To illustrate what I mean regular readers will know that Karl and I live within the mixed economy. We are both “churched” and feel called to remain in and serve God within the “inherited church” through local preaching, amongst other things. Yet, our understanding of what it means to be Christians who are part of the wider church goes beyond this and is much more based upon what is associated with fresh expressions or pioneer ministry thinking. We get involved contextually and as a result find it difficult that we cannot transfer those skills easily into being local preachers, as the framework doesn’t exist to do the listening/ community building when you get sent around a circuit only going to a church once or twice a year.

This whole area is something which Moynagh touches on but doesn’t fully explore. It is something I would like to see somebody engage with because I think it is increasingly going to be important.

[i] Gibbs, E and Bolger, R, Emerging Churches, (2006), London, SPCK, pp79-80

Culture Vulture or Arts Philistine

The concrete cows are an iconic part of Milton Keynes. Recently, as reported in various parts of the press they had a makeover. Whilst this was initially talked about in a polarised language of community art verses vandalism the reality is that it was a wonderful act of non-violent direct action with a very specific purpose to try and restore and protect the towns art and the vision of community arts which inspired it, as this BBC News article explains.

Over the last 8 years and 2,499 posts art in various forms has been an important part of this blog. I have a long held appreciation of music, theatre and literature which I was bought up with.

Being the child of a poet and storyteller formed part of this I guess, although my mum who took me to the theatre loads whilst she was alive was a huge influence too. What probably had the most interesting and lasting influence was the role my dads involvement with punk driving various bands but particularly The Adicts around at various points in the late 70’s and early 80’s had on me. I was exposed to punk as a young child, not as something dangerous or a racket but as something which my dad would write home about on postcards. There was one I remember talking about a football match of some sort between The Adicts and Die Toten Hosen, written in that sort of way that indicated he was having a good time but I might also want to explore Die Toten Hosen’s music at some point. Tied into this was the left wing political side of stuff – one of the things I wish I could remember from being a kid was seeing the Clash at the Rock Against Racism concert in Victoria Park in 1978. Unfortunately as a 6 year old I didn’t realise the significance of what I was seeing. Thing is though my dad still took me and I can say, (even if I can’t remember a thing about it), I saw The Clash.

Some of the key posts on the blog which have related to art and culture are the following:

This one is about seeing the 2011 Turner Prize exhibition (amongst other things) in Newcastle last year. Didn’t seem to have much to say about the Turner Prize in 2009 when it was in Milbank. 2006 was a year when my post informs me that I much preferred the Degas, Sicket, Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition on in London at the same time to the Turner itself. This post reflects how, a few years before I started blogging, I got into the Turner Prize and more specifically on why I have the admiration I do for the work of Tracey Emin who is one of my favourite artists.

Perhaps the most important visual art event that I have blogged on was not some national exhibition but rather about a work of art I discovered at a small exhibition of the work of Egyptian tent makers, Stitch Like and Egyptian, in the Durham college where I did some mentoring work. This post describes my utter joy and thrill at seeing  Hany Abdul Kader’s  “The Revolution of 25th January”.  Another local example of art I fell in love with during my time in Durham were the Miners Banners, which I first encountered close up at this exhibition reviewed back in September 2008 when I’d only been in Durham a couple of weeks.

Music wise I could fill a page with various links I guess. There’s festivals, big concerts, small concerts and small hall events which I’ve attended and reviewed. Narrowing it down the best gig of my entire life (and I’ve been to a few) was Green Day  at Milton Keynes bowl back in June 2005 and so that was an early post. The Indigo Girls at the Sage in 2009 needs to go in there as a good gig I blogged about in a reasonably sized regional venue. Steve Winch in July this year was a great surprise at a local festival as this review indicated. As for the most surreal gig talked about on here that has to be Gareth Davies Jones at North Road Methodist Church, Durham (which has also been mentioned a few times in this blog), in April this year.

Book wise I could go for alot of things but I think Stella Duffy’s Theodora and the sequel The Purple Shroud  which was published this year are probably amongst the best I have read and reviewed on here. Perhaps one of the most passionate reviews and surprising books I reviewed on here was Howard Schultz Onward, how Starbucks Fought for its Life Without Losing it’s Soul. If I was looking at it now I think my review may have been different.

Theatre wise there have been a number of productions seen which I could comment upon. One great experience was seeing Sir Derek Jacobi playing Lear last year. So looking forward to Vicious Old Queens the new sitcom coming out next year, according to reports yesterday, which will feature him and Sir Ian McKellen (who the blog tells me gave the best speech I heard at Pride in 2008). The post for Lear has a range of artsy stuff talked about within it and I think the heading Soul Feast seems very apt. June 2008 had a lovely post about me enjoying culture on a shoe-string and includes reference to me going to see A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Globe. Getting away from Shakespeare the way I love to use art to recharge is documented with an excellent example, our trip in March to see Noel Cowards Hayfever. The Durham Mystery plays were an excellent example of community theatre as I think came across here.

Reading through this is interesting because it shows how middle class I am in many of my tastes but at the same time it has highlighted how much I just love the arts in all their forms. I might not do opera and I struggle with classical and choral type aspects of “high culture” (see the end bit of this post on an interesting week for an example where I encountered Nick Clegg too) but I am quite obviously a bit of a culture vulture rather than a complete arts philistine.

Blue Day

Recently I read Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. It was one of those books I’d been meaning to read for a while but not got around to, but when I found myself with an unxepected book voucher I picked up. It was an easy, non-academic, read for the train when going on field work and to interviews and stuff. It’s one mans story of dealing with difference. I found it useful for giving an insight into synasthesia, which several of those close to me have in different forms.

His website discribes the book in the following way, which I’m not going to try and improve upon : “Daniel sees numbers as shapes, colours and textures and can perform extraordinary maths in his head. He can also learn to speak a language fluently from scratch in a week. He has Savant Syndrome, an extremely rare form of Asperger’s that gives him almost unimaginable mental powers, much like the Rain Man portrayed by Dustin Hoffman.

Daniel has a compulsive need for order and routine – he eats exactly 45 grams of porridge for breakfast and cannot leave the house without counting the number of items of clothing he’s wearing. If he gets stressed or unhappy he closes his eyes and counts. But in some ways Daniel is not at all like the Rain Man. He is virtually unique amongst people who have severe autistic disorders in being capable of living a fully independent life. It is his incredible self-awareness and ability to communicate what it feels like to live in a unique way that makes his story so powerful.

Touching as well as fascinating, Born On A Blue Day, explores what it’s like to be special and in so doing gives us an insight into what makes us all human – our minds.”

It is a moving book, but a book I also found useful in developing my understand and an enjoyable read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

TAZ + The Other (Pt 1)

The other day I blogged about, Other, the new book from Kester Brewin and the debate about TAZ which is brewing up from it. Today I start the first of a few thoughts I have coming out of it and in relation to the way Brewin talks about it in the book. I want to start by looking at the way Brewin uses it in relation to Greenbelt.

In the book Brewin equates Greenbelt with the canivalesque atmosphere that TAZ creates, and to some extent with the subversive element. In doing this he recognises the roots of TAZ within the anarchist movement and then seeks to remove these to reincorporate this theory within the church, particularly emerging church movement.

On one level I agree with Brewin that Greenbelt does contain elements common to TAZ and there is some room for the application of TAZ which may or maynot be utopian and naieve, (as Jonny Baker has argued in his review/ critique of the book). These are the very elements that I have in the past argued may well make Greenbelt a place of something akin to pilgrimage, but not pilgrimage. (See my post here on the nature of pilgrimage and here on how I think it relates to Greenbelt). I think this conclusion is the one I reach in relation to Greenbelt and TAZ for similar and overlapping reasons.

TAZ is related to resistance and a desire to see something more positive replace the existing. The temporary act is supposed to give a glimpse into the future and give space the planting of seeds to be realised in some more concrete way.

If we look at the key elements of the typology of pilgrimage we get from was Turner, V & Turner, E, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, (1978), Basil Blackwell, Oxford we can see an ideal type with the following being central:

1. Pilgrimage is not a static activity, rather the nature of the pilgrimage centre and the pilgrimage itself develops through time and is shaped by and indeed helps shape social and political history. Modern pilgrimage is seen in some ways as a reaction against the dominant secular ideas of the time. Within this pilgrimage is often seen as marginal and so can be endorsed or suppressed according to the time.

2. Within liminal pilgrimage there has to be an aspect of potentiality for change within the individual through undertaking the act of pilgrimage.

3. Pilgrimage is associated with miracle and revival of faith

4. Communitas, particularly focused around ritual is a key feature of pilgrimage.

5. Pilgrimage and the centres of pilgrimage are subject to a complex range of regulation (formal and informal) which develop as the pilgrimage becomes more established.

6. Whilst there are clear differences there are also clear links between pilgrimage and tourism, particularly as religion has become more individualised. Pilgrimage has a leisure element to it.

TAZ is also a non-static activity. Every action will differ and change over time, in part because of the changing tactics of the authorities trying to contain such actions.

TAZ involves liminality, that is every TAZ action is providing a potential for change to occur.

TAZ involves communitas. (Note for those wondering what communitas is – Turner, V & Turner E, (1978), pp250 – 251 define this concept of communitas and explain that it is, “spontaneous, immediate, concrete, not abstract”, “undifferentiated, egalitarian, direct, nonrational” and “strains toward universalism and openness, it is a spring of pure possibility.”)

Whilst seeking to be non-regulated TAZ actions, as with all anarchist actions, are actually quite highly regulated. There is much more informal regulation than formal, but hierarchies do exist and actions are taken on the understanding that they have specific purposes and will take certain forms.

TAZ through it’s caniveralesque type features can be seen to have a tourist type element to it. Through their very nature then both TAZ events and pilgrimages have to be both communal and individualistic. Greenbelt through it’s nature has these key elements, as do many of our festivals and conferences, (both secular and religious). In Other Brewin does not make this connection, which I feel is unfortunate because in failing to recognise the way that the same thing operates in many other settings beyond Greenbelt he seeks to give GB more unique significance than it infact has, if one looks at Glastonbury for example and the faith aspects that have and still to some extent occur there, particularly in the greenfields.

What is important with both pilgrimage and TAZ events is not what happens at the event itself but what the event then gives birth to, in both individual and community. The liminal element in conjunction with communitas is why both pilgrimage and TAZ are valid and important and are both reflected in Greenbelt. This I think Brewin picks up on.

What worries me though, and what I think Baker is picking up on his critique is how these can give unrealistic expectations and ultimately cause damage when dreams are left unrealised. I am increasingly aware alot of people who see another “world”/  “church” is possible at Greenbelt but then return home and find themselves further alienated because the “world” / “church” they are part of and have often been struggling with anyway further fails to understand them, or marginalises them because of their alternative ideas/ dreams. The potentiality of TAZ events can only be realised if the political/ community groups are in place to help them work in a range of ways, on individual and community levels, to achieve their dreams. Similarly the potentiality of Greenbelt can only be realised if people have communities to go back to help them build upon the specific actions of those few days.

TAZ events are subversive in nature seeking to create resistance. One of the key TAZ type happenings have been Guerilla Gardening events which have been linked to land reform and land use. What these events seek to do is to change space to provoke change. This is what Greenbelt does. However, TAZ events always have the potentiality for conflict to occur and for the crushing of dreams by force by those who oppose the reappropriation of land on either a permanent or temporary basis. One aspect of anarchist TAZ type things then is ensuring people are prepared for if those institutional forces seeking to oppose them turn up sooner than expected or seek to challenge individuals who have been involved. Those acting as co-ordinators will ensure that appropriate legal help and so forth are available and individuals are able to network with others they come into contact with. This preparation for the negative is not something Brewin has addressed in Other, and I would argue that Greenbelt has only slowly come to recognise (mainly through the sterling work of Jenny MacIntosh and the Spirited Exchanges team).

Another issue Brewin does not address is that Greenbelt is institutional and has always been so, because of its funding. Northup (2003) explains the original funding for Greenbelt came through the Deo Gloria Trust , which remained the sole sponsor for the first 10 years of the festivals life. As the festival developed the sources of funding changed and sponsorship started coming from other groups such as Christian Aid and through additional support from festival goers themselves through the Greenbelt Angels scheme. Recently Greenbelt has been sponsored by a range of groups including: Traidcraft , CMS , YMCA ,ICC ,  Ecclesiastical Insurance, Department for Development and Aid and most recently the Methodist Church. The funding for such projects means that Greenbelt is not/ cannot be a space for resistance in the way that TAZ’s are. The funding mechansims involved mean that Greenbelt is different on a structural level to TAZ spaces. There are much stronger and more obvious power relations involved and at play. Ultimately Greenbelt is working within the confines of what the institution will allow. I think the fact it is the Methodist Church which has become arecent major sponsor is significant. The Methodist Church through various conference resolutions includes within its policies affirming and supporting members of the LGBT community. Therefore, the debates around the alleged  “gayification” of GB are not problematic for this sponsor in the way they could have been for other potential sponsors. If no LGBT friendly sponsor could have been found I doubt that the festival would be taking the approach it has been to the issue. I don’t doubt many of those involved want to be radical, alternative or inclusive but the financial realities of the situation and dependance upon “the insitution” for financial and organisational support be that explicit or implicit do impact on the programming and availability of speakers and other resources for the festival. TAZ events through their nature are freed from these concerns and are indeed seeking to challenge these ways of being. Only if GB were a free festival, working outside the confines of the 1995 Criminal Justice Act would it truly be able to take on the ethos of TAZ.

TAZ and Other Cartoons

Sometime last year we  got, momentarily, into the “Pirate Debate”. The words flowing back and forth across cyberspace eminated from a Greenbelt session and subsequent set of posts from Kester Brewin. Well now it’s contextualised into his latest book “Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures.

I picked the book up at Buckfast Abbey’s bookshop last weekend and started getting over excited as I flicked through. This was a theologian engaging with TAZ theory. Now before I go any further it appears events in the blogesphere have over taken me and Jonny B and Kester have been debating this stuff. For reasons which will become clear later in this post I am going to enter that debate but not until next week.

On one hand the book over all is a bit of a let down. Parts one and two read way too much like either a undergrad lit review or a Guardianista justifying themselves through what they’d read elsewhere. However, part three onwards got far more engaging. Mind you TAZ theory is like that, you either get excited by it or think it’s pretentious bollocks. Me I remember exactly where I was when I first came across it. It was Spring 2000 and I was sitting in some comfy chairs in a classroom in Barking, coming towards the end of my course in Political Activism and Social Movements, when we got the handout. Anyway cutting the reminicing and getting back to Brewin, in the book he was relating this every so often to Greenbelt and so bringing GB together with TAZ I was hooked on the second half of the book.

Right I will basically explain TAZ theory here. It is the idea that spaces can temporarily be taken over and changed as acts of resistance. Think Guerilla Gardening or Reclaim the Streets as examples. Well in this book Brewin seeks to argue that it might be a useful concept to engage in when we are looking at church and/ or worship. Me I think he’s sort of right and sort of wrong. As I indicated for anybody who is interested in this I will be doing a sensible critique of Brewin’s conclusions on this next week, possibly over a couple of posts because I think it is too complex to do justice to in this post.

If you think you’re interested in what Brewin is saying and want some complementary secular easy read books to help you develop your own thinking on this type of area further I would recommend the following. They go beyond TAZ but all fit into the whole DIY culture, social movement theory bracket.

DIY: the rise of lo-fi culture by Amy Spencer 

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age by Pekka Himanen

The Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason

Practically anything by George McKay, but particularly DIY Culture: party and protest in nineties Britain