Blog Archives

The Recession Is Hitting Everyone

Why, some people can’t afford to dine at The Ritz anymore.

Thanks to Sally Coleman, who posted this article on Facebook.

The Press And Danniella Westbrook’s Conversion

Former EastEnders soap star and notorious cocaine addict Danniella Westbrook has become a Christian. Read this interview in The Mirror, which is utterly devoid of the cynicism Christians often expect from the press. Not so the Daily Mail, often the self-proclaimed defender of Christian values, from the snide title of its piece to the snarky comments about finance. Is this a class thing? Westbrook more neatly fits the Mirror’s demographic, yet that section of society generally has a lower attachment to Christianity.

Some Health News And Some Links

Tomorrow is a big medical day for me. I’m nervous, but I shouldn’t be. I have the pre-op assessment prior to my nasal surgery on the 19th. I’ve been taking blood pressure readings all week at home, in case I do my usual of getting hyped up when I see a doctor or nurse and inflating my score. Then I’ve been called to see my GP, because a routine blood test has shown my cholesterol is still high, and the receptionist muttered something about the renal score, too. However, it is a routine appointment.

Today has been unspectacular. We’ve had the new cats speyed and microchipped. I’ve been starting to get some things ready for return to duty from Sunday onwards. Amongst other things, I’m going to be hosting several groups of children from a primary school at one of my churches – about ten half-hour slots in a day – talking about ‘my job’ as part of their RE Week.

Here are a few more links that might interest you.

The Evangelical Alliance issued a press release in which it encouraged churches to set up networks of ‘flu friends’ if swine flu takes hold. They suggest partnering with local surgeries and other appropriate organisations. Note, the full text is a Word document download.

One of my circuit colleagues, a URC minister in charge of an ecumenical church, has begun blogging today. Welcome to the blogosphere, Nigel Warner.

N T Wright on parallels between Luke 2 and 24.

Lots of blogs on men and singing in church, following a Daily Mail report. Here’s one to start you off.

Read-Write Web reports on the United Methodist Church listening and responding to social media.

The 150 best Hubble space images ever.

The best take on the introduction of ID cards in Manchester?

Sabbatical, Day 45: The Gospel At The Post Office

You don’t go to our local Post Office when it opens on a Monday at 9 am. Not unless you need your benefits payment. The queue slithers out of the door and along the street. You’d better have something to occupy your mind.

For although our manse is on a prosperous estate, the nearest Post Office is across the park in a deprived area of town. It’s the only part of Chelmsford to have a tower block.

And, it turns out, you also don’t go there on a Tuesday at 9 am for the same reason. I know, I did that today. To keep things manageable in our small manse, Debbie sells toys, books and clothes the children have grown out of on eBay. She has sold about two dozen items in the last ten days, and I have been taking most of them to the Post Office for her. 

As I waited today, distracting myself with music on my MP3 player, I looked at the variety of people waiting. The tracksuited teenage couple with their toddler. Already, the mother was getting irritated by the child’s independent exploratory jaunts. The mother and adult daughter. Was one of them long term sick? The short, elderly lady immaculately turned out in a red coat far cleaner than any garment most other people were wearing. It was her public signal of dignity. The preponderance of up-to-date mobile phones, clutched by people whose demeanour suggested they couldn’t afford them.

And I thought, what is good news in a culture like this? I lived in such a place for eight years before moving here. Often, there was terrible low self-esteem there. People had been  rejected, dismissed and ignored by governments and commerce. You would have thought it were a simple case of ‘good news for the poor’.

But it wasn’t. For just as the good news is preceded by bad news as Wesley put it (preach law and then preach grace), there was the attitude that society owed them a living. 

Somewhere in between those two attitudes locally is something my local vicar friend Paul has described to me. His parish strides across half of our middle class estate and half of the deprived area. In one half, he has competent, educated, professional people who will volunteer for activities and get things done. In the other, he has people who either cannot or will not take the initiative to do things, because they swim in a culture where everything is done for them. Either they are disabled by that, or they have reason never to grow as people by taking more responsibility.

So what is the shape of the Gospel in such a place? I’m still wondering.

…………

This made me laugh: British nurse told to ‘take English test’ before she can work in Australia. The Daily Mail has gone all morally superior over another easy target case of ‘political correctness gone mad’ (™) but it is crazy. However, it does make a change from the Mail criticising people in this country who can’t speak English. 

Anyway, Happy St Patrick’s Day to you. I commend May We All Be Irish by James Emery White as a suitable Christian reflection for the day.

Sabbatical, Day 6

I haven’t really done any sabbatical work today. Friday is usually my day off, and I’ve kept it much like that. I think it’s good to keep the rhythm. So after taking the children to school, I stayed on, because on Friday mornings I do twenty minutes’ reading with a group of Year 1 children.

Late morning, Debbie and I headed into town. We needed some more bargain school uniform for the monkeys and struck gold at Marks and Spencer. Yes, really. Then we continued our recent habit of having a cheap lunch out together. Yates’s Wine Lodge (why do they put that extra ‘s’ after the apostrophe?) had a two-for-£7.95 deal, and it was good for the price. The downside was the company at the next table. Two young women with a pre-school boy. One was his mother, poor lad. All sorts of unsavoury conversation that youngsters shouldn’t hear. Debbie swears one of them got him to drink a mouthful of her shot. Some kids don’t have a chance.

Meanwhile, I have been following all week the case of Caroline Petrie, the Christian nurse who was suspended for offering to pray with a patient. She offered prayer, the patient declined, Mrs Petrie did not pray. The patient was not offended, but told someone else she thought it was strange. Next thing, Mrs Petrie is under investigation. She has previously been disciplined for offering prayer cards. The Daily Mail reported this on Monday,as did the Daily Telegraph. On Tuesday, the Mail reported support for her case from the Royal College of Nursing and the Christian Medical Fellowship. Today, the Mail reports her reinstatement, but – along with the Telegraph – also quotes a further potentially sinister development. The Department of Health published a document last month in which it warned that doctors or nurses who attempted to preach to patients or other staff would be treated as having committed harassment or intimidation under disciplinary procedures.

Furthermore, I have received a press release today from the Evangelical Alliance in which Hazel Blears, the Government’s Communities Secretary, told faith groups that if they accept money from the state, they must not use it to proselytise. They may speak about their faith if spoken to, she says, but clearly taking the initiative to mention it would be forbidden under a forthcoming ‘charter of excellence’. She then says she doesn’t want to strip away the very reason why faith groups show compassion! The Alliance’s Director of Public Policy, R David Muir, responded:

“The Government wants the social action and welfare that faith groups provide, but there is a danger that they also want faith groups to leave their beliefs at the door.

“Our faith is what equips us as Christians to provide support and compassion to those who are spiritually and emotionally damaged by debt.

“But we are glad that the Government recognises how integral our faith is to the services we provide, and is open to discussion on this critical issue. We look forward to working with them.”

All round, then, seem to be threats against Christians making the first move in sharing their faith and using it to offer comfort and hope to people. Here are a few random reflections:

1. None of this should surprise us. Whatever the faith of Blair first and now Brown, the Labour Party runs these days on a fundamentally secular humanist creed. Let’s here none of that ‘the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than Marxism’ mantra. It may have been true in the past. It isn’t today. Christians should expect such opposition.

2. Nevertheless, none of that should stop us crying ‘foul’. All these cases are about discrimination against the freedom of religion the Government supposedly signed up to when it ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. And while part of me is wary of the secular philosophies behind that document, the Government clearly doesn’t want to accept that sauce for the goose is a tasty accompaniment for the gander as well.

3. We also need to reflect upon ourselves. How much of this might we have brought upon ourselves through insensitive ‘witnessing’? Please note, I’m not saying Mrs Petrie was. I don’t know her, and the fact that she didn’t press on with a prayer for her elderly patient when the offer was declined suggests that while she is upfront with her faith, she is probably not the aggressive sort. Nevertheless, most of us know Christians whose demeanour in faith-sharing makes us cringe, let alone what the non-Christians feel.

4. However, an attempt to prevent us from taking the initiative is effectively a tactic to shut us up. I believe we have to earn the right to speak by loving, holy, just action, but that does not mean we cannot speak first or simultaneously as well.

5. The ‘public money’ argument is specious. It’s not Government money, it’s taxpayers’ money. And while we elect officials to use it, they are stewards, not owners. Do they think Christians should not pay their taxes? This kind of argument amounts to an attempt to strip us of our democratic voice.

6. There is a huge case of historical amnesia here. As today’s Mail article rightly points out, many of our hospitals were explicitly Christian foundations in their origin. In the church we would want to say more than that, in crediting the rise of the infirmaries and more recently the hospices to Christian vision. So to tell a nurse her faith must come second forgets the origin of much health care in this country.

7. Furthermore, no Christian can put her faith second. I am fond of telling the story of an elderly Local Preacher from my home circuit. He was interviewed for the post of Secretary to the local Co-Operative Society. “Where will you put the Co-Op in your loyalties?” the panel asked him. “Second,” he replied, “to the church of Jesus Christ.” I don’t think he meant that all his time would be spent at church, I think he meant that his faith would determine his life. He got the job, and did it well.

8. Nevertheless, putting our faith second puts us under suspicion in society. There is huge historical precedent for this. It’s what Daniel did, praying towards Jerusalem while serving faithfully in Babylon. It’s the centuries-long suspicion of Catholic loyalty to the Vatican. In the name of what is currently calle ‘community cohesion’, authorities call people together to a common loyalty that is effectively a secular creed. Hence other phenomena in our society today, such as the opposition to faith schools, or the legislation that has made it increasingly difficult to have organisations that are exclusively staffed by Christians. Do we cave in? The biblical answer seems to me to be ‘no’. However, that means accepting the consequences. We’re not remotely near the situation Christians found themselves in when communism ruled eastern Europe, but there it was well known that people of faith would not get on well with their careers and would suffer economically for their beliefs. Might we be seeing the thinnest end of that wedge here, or is that alarmist?

I think that’s enough from me. What are your thoughts?

Removing The Cross In Coronation Street

Last week we discussed the church that removed a graphic crucifix in Horsham. This week, a similar issue has hit British television. The Daily Mail, Times and Daily Telegraph all report the case of a wedding scene in soapland, where the television crew wanted to remove a cross from a church where they were filming said wedding. On learning that the cross was fixed, they obscured it with candles and flowers.

Why did they do it? It certainly wasn’t for realism. Dry ice wafted through the scene – so just like any church service, then. According to church sources, they said they didn’t want to cause offence.

I didn’t see the show. Not only do I see very little TV, I’m allergic to soaps. I’ve been catching up on the issue after two church members told me about it.

In fairness, the television company has since apologised for the error and conducted an investigation. They believe there has been a misunderstanding over their intentions and motives. I wonder how the story would have been reported if the church had protested directly to Granada first and not gone public until after this investigation.

However, my main interest here is this: it’s curious to see the language used by the church leaders in protesting, and what it might imply. I’m particularly interested in the language of ‘offence’. In the Daily Mail report linked above, Stephen Regan of the Diocese of Chester is reported as saying,

The cross is universally accepted as a symbol of Christianity, and should offend no one.

Er, hold on? The first part of his sentence is correct, but from the beginning of faith in Jesus the cross has been an offence. If the cross has been reduced to symbol in the sense of a corporate logo, then I suppose it wouldn’t offend, but that isn’t what we’re about.

Similarly, James Milnes, the rector of the parish, quoted in the Telegraph story linked above, rightly says that Granada Television had 

emptied the church of the very thing that makes it a church

in that the Cross is what makes us the community of God. Absolutely. I once wanted to design a church letterhead as not showing a line drawing of the building, but people around the Cross.

However, what is strange is the extended quotation from his church magazine:

How can people think it offensive to see a cross in a church, in the same way as you would normally see the Koran in a mosque or the Torah in a synagogue? That is the emblem of this faith.

This has a resonance around the country. It plays into who we are as a nation because I do not think we have a clear idea as English people. We do not really know where we are going.

There is constant attrition to our way of life. You can’t say this or you can’t say that for fear of offending. Who can we possibly be offending?

If ’emblem’ has become ‘logo’, then again one can understand the shock at the sense of offence. But the Cross itself is offensive to many who do not know the power of the Gospel. Muslims would see the death of a ‘prophet’ such as Jesus as being demeaning to the dignity of God. To traditional Jews, one thinks of Paul quoting Deuteronomy in Galatians, ‘Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.’ To the Greeks of Paul’s day, it was foolishness, and it remains that to many people today.

To Christians, it is the glory of God’s love and grace. And that is what I understand the Revd Milnes and Mr Regan defending. However, they cannot expect it to lack offence. Here’s just a thought: do they take things this way because they have an ‘Established Church’ mentality? I’m just guessing, and may be doing them a disservice. If I am, I will apologise. However, Milnes clearly links the issue to the confused current destiny of being English, so I don’t think I’m too far off the mark, even if I am wrong.

Yet as the Christian Church in the UK seeks a mission rôle as a minority group in society, I can’t help thinking that more helpful models of church are needed. I’ve spoken and written before, as others of a missional theological mindset have, of ‘exile’ as a helpful biblical model. From the perspective of church history, I find myself heading more in Anabaptist directions all the time. I don’t pretend that’s easy, in fact it risks being painful, but I do think the changed and changing society in which we live means we need to look for some different paradigms on which to model our witness.

In typing this, I am mindful of an interview in the February 2009 issue of Christianity Magazine, with Ann Widdecombe MP (the interview will probably not be online for another month). For anyone reading this who doesn’t know British politics, Miss Widdecombe is a Conservative Member of Parliament who famously left the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church in opposition to women’s ordination. In the interview, she is asked about the current vexed issue of the establishment of the Church of England. She replies:

I would die in a ditch for the establishment of the Church of England. The last people I would expect to find in the ditch beside me are the hierarchy of the Church of England. If we didn’t have an established Church, the last fig leaf in our claim to be a Christian country would have gone.

But there’s the problem. Claiming the UK is a Christian nation is a fig leaf. Widdecombe would doubtless wish to protect establishment (even though she went over to Rome) for political reasons of constitution, and certainly some of the reasons advocated by politicians for disestablishment are weak and unChristian. But right now establishment is not protecting the rights of Christians in the courts when religious freedoms are trumped by other freedoms, so that some Christians cannot exercise their consciences and keep certain jobs. In that atmosphere, it’s hardly realistic to expect that people won’t find the Cross offensive.

In saying all this, I may of course be putting too much weight on the use of the words ‘offend’ and ‘offending’ as used by Stephen Regan and James Milnes. Perhaps what Mr Regan really means is ‘surprised’. However, Revd Milnes uses his language in a context of objecting to ‘political correctness’, and so I am a little more sure that he really does mean to be concerned about the problem of offence. Certainly, the risk of offending people provided it is with the substance of the Gospel rather than just by being aggressive Christians (step forward Stephen Green of Christian Voice, who inevitably responded to requests for a quote) is a risk we must take today. If we do not, we shall not be faithful to the Gospel.

Interestingly, the Telegraph has this week carried the story of an Asian Christian minister in Scotland who claims he was sacked from an Asian community radio station for supporting Christianity and criticising a Muslim’s understanding of the Christian faith. The station disputes his account, and asked for questions to be put in writing. However, the Telegraph received no response to its fourteen points. If the case has been accurately portrayed in the newspaper (and I don’t think the station’s failure to respond looks good), then sadly this is the climate in which more and more British Christians live. Mr Milnes and his parishioners may have had a rude awakening into it, even if it was a misunderstanding and Granada Television meant no offence. This is not to seek persecution or develop some unhelpful persecution complex, which some Christians play on, but it is, I think, to be more realistic.

Over to you.

Father’s Day Was Naff

The kids hardly saw me on Father’s Day. 9 am said communion at one church, straight on to 10:30 am at a second, back to the first for 12 noon to approve a document, 4 pm had to obey a three-line whip to be at a service to mark the closure of another church, 6:30 pm take a service at yet another church. Every time I went out my daughter said, “Daddy come back”. I notice since then I’ve stopped saying, “I’m going to church,” because I don’t want her to think that church is what takes Daddy away from her. I’ve been saying, “I’m going to see some people and try to help them.” But the fact is, that on days like Father’s Day, the church does take me away from my children. Some of you will remember that old Daily Mail headline where they attacked the Moonies: ‘The church that splits up families’. The Moonies sued, and lost. But maybe the headline could be applied to mainstream Christianity sometimes?

Father’s Day Was Naff

The kids hardly saw me on Father’s Day. 9 am said communion at one church, straight on to 10:30 am at a second, back to the first for 12 noon to approve a document, 4 pm had to obey a three-line whip to be at a service to mark the closure of another church, 6:30 pm take a service at yet another church. Every time I went out my daughter said, “Daddy come back”. I notice since then I’ve stopped saying, “I’m going to church,” because I don’t want her to think that church is what takes Daddy away from her. I’ve been saying, “I’m going to see some people and try to help them.” But the fact is, that on days like Father’s Day, the church does take me away from my children. Some of you will remember that old Daily Mail headline where they attacked the Moonies: ‘The church that splits up families’. The Moonies sued, and lost. But maybe the headline could be applied to mainstream Christianity sometimes?

The Dickens Festival Revisited

Went back to the Dickens Festival today (see my entry yesterday). Had a nice welcome when we went for lunch at Rochester Baptist Church, whose premises are close to the High Street, where much of the festival takes place. In conversation we discovered that this year Medway Council had banned them from doing outreach at the festival. How close are impositions on religious freedom coming in this country?

See my previous post about hospital chaplains and the news that the University of Leicester NHS Trust want to ban the Bible from bedside lockers (here in the Daily Mail and here in the Daily Telegraph).