Hope on the Edge – Prayer Our City

Wellsprings Together Bradford and Welfare Reform Impact Bradford are local organisation (or which I’m a part) help inspire and coordinate poverty responses among the faith groups. Twice a year they put on an event called Hope on the Edge at Bradford Cathedral which aims to bring together those working to alleviate poverty and transform communities.

On Sunday May the 7th our gathering this time will focus on HOPE for our Bradford Episcopal Area. Representatives of churches, groups and organisations from across the district are invited for a time of creative reflection and prayer.

You will be able to engage with a range of varied prayer styles – explore stillness; reflect through art and music; pray corporately, urgently and creatively.  Listen to Stories of Hope emerging in Bradford – seeds that indicate the new potential in times of adversity and disappointment.

Join us for an evening of creative prayer in Bradford Cathedral on Sunday May 7th from 7.00 pm to 8.30 pm.

Just turn up or let us know you’re coming on this link

More info info@wellspringstogetherbradford.org.uk

 

Reconnecting with ourselves, with each other and with God

I went to Wakefield today to do some mission planning work. Unusually I took a break to get lunch from a very impressive sandwich shop. The friendly owner was eager to share thoughts about how Brexit would impact on the local people. I took my sandwich to the cathedral which provides a welcoming and accessible space for prayer and reflection.

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Continue reading “Reconnecting with ourselves, with each other and with God”

Who is my neighbour?

A really wonderful discussion last night led by Bishop Toby Howarth and organised by the Thinking Faith Network in Thornbury, Bradford.  The bishop took the parable of the Good Samaritan and the question to which it responded.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ … and, Love your neighbour as yourself.

Continue reading “Who is my neighbour?”

Places of Welcome in Bradford

POW-smallAs part of my job I am working towards setting up a number of places of welcome across Bradford. Places of Welcome is a specific idea pioneered out of a city wide consultation in Birmingham about what makes a city welcoming. The Diocese of Birmingham then set up the Places of Welcome network.

A Place of Welcome has a sign outside a building saying come on in. Places of welcome is not a new idea but what I like about this version of it is that it’s a very clear and simple proposition based on five principles; It has a very clear set of values and an ethos to which supporters can readily subscribe. Continue reading “Places of Welcome in Bradford”

Voices in Craven

Getting back into the swing of work after our holiday in Venice. A tough transition!

A20422118284_a71f54989c note from Rev David Houlton one of our rural officer for the diocese gave me great joy.  All this month there is an initiative called Voices in Craven which is encouraging local people to engage with their local churches.  Throughout June there will be a number of vocal performance events of various flavours – these range from Jazz performances to traditional church music.

Continue reading “Voices in Craven”

Rejoice that there are spaces where people of can come together and begin to find a relationship

I was interested in the newly appointed Bishop of Dorking, Jo Wells’ comments about social media 

Twitter is turning the world into a place where people hurl abuse at each other quicker than they can think or even speak, the Church of England’s newest bishop has warned.

I think we should also rejoice that there are spaces where people of can come together and begin to find a relationship with each other. Continue reading “Rejoice that there are spaces where people of can come together and begin to find a relationship”

Appreciating the environmental activists

A very interesting Appreciative Inquiry session today with people involved in environmental mission around Yorkshire and beyond. The intention was to talk about their passions and what have been their best successes.  Here are my reflections while sitting in Asda in Keighley marking time before another meeting!

In a Christian context I feel that care for the environment is always warmly talked about but not always understood as an essential part of church mission – environmental issues take a back seat when we think of the call to worship God, make disciples and tend to the poor. “people put environment in a box” was what one person said.

Environmental issues take us beyond our immediate and local concerns and in many ways connect all of us. “Jesus died for the whole of creation not just people” was how someone put it reminding us that creation is not just global but cosmic. Our theology should be a cosmic theology – so let’s share a bigger gospel. As we are primarily called to worship God we can say that we are worshiping Him WITH all of creation.

Environmental groups are quite rightly associated with campaigning for greener energy procurement, the reduction of carbon emissions and other critical issues concerning the planet’s survival.

“Care for the environment is not an option – we are doomed otherwise” was one contribution. Christians and the church, though, can offer a different model of hope.

From a Christian point of view the motivation cannot be just be about survival but about worship. Our duty is to care for the environment not out of fear but out of love for the creator.

The question of church growth and evangelism is preoccupying the diocese. So does environmental concern equate to an evangelical mission opportunity? One person suggested that when it comes to the environment God is already at work in the hearts of many people – whether Christian or not. There is a natural God given longing towards caring for the environment which is shared by all of us; the church can help interpret that longing and help people understand God already at work in people’s lives.

On the question of care of the poor (which tends to gain resources and attention from our church communities), environmental concerns are relevant. The scourge of mental health problems brought about by repressive and unhealthy environments is shocking. The absence of green spaces where people feel safe, cramped and badly maintained homes and unclean streets all take a part in defining poverty. Ironically our church building far from enhancing the local environment are a hazard in themselves and draw resources away from poverty action. So yes, local environmental groups have a part to play in transforming our communities and those who live in them.

From our conversations today I can see that care for the environment has big part to play in healing and reconciliation within our communities. There are many examples of local environmental groups that have brought different sections of the communities together – growing and sharing vegetables, creating safe and beautiful community gardens, arranging for local people to walk and talk together. The work with young people and schools is commendable.

We can engage with our neighbours in helping to improve the local environment. In doing this we can build relationships which are essential to reaching people with the gospel message. “We have lost the practical agenda”, says one, but by engaging in environmental issues we can re-connect with our neighbours.

“It is really depressing where we are at the moment but we as Christians can bring a message of hope. We can be a catalyst in the community, inspiring the practical and spiritual”

Just Pray advert, is it in the real world?

The purpose of advertising is to gain attention and to put over a message that people will remember. Remember that.

I think the JustPray.uk ad is cheesy and really quite odd in the way it’s presented but I do get the message that prayer is relevant in our everyday lives.

justpray

I have been though some deeply terrible situations where I have been incredibly supported through prayer. Friends have prayed, I have prayed and the connection between people and God has been profoundly evident. For those who have not experienced prayer I can quite understand how strange it must seem. But I would say that for me prayer is not a ceremonial uttering of words during a church service but a dialogue or connection with God that is always open. The presence of God and our conversation with him is something which is there in every situation – we carry the presence of God into all situations no matter how small. For me the realisation that we can have a dialogue with God at all times was a turning point for me. I don’t get down on my knees or go into a linguistic spasm, I just talk. It works.

The Just Pray advert was supposedly intended to be shown in cinemas but the rejection of the advert can only have been a good thing. The emotional engagement with the film has been intensified and the attention it has gained has been significant. I used to produce promotional films when Mary Whitehouse was alive and kicking. A complaint from Mary Whitehouse was always considered a blessing because of the added publicity it would generate.

But all that promotional stuff is grubby isn’t it? It is possible that those responsible knew it would not meet the straight forward cinema policy and that rejection could be an advantage. The word “ban” being a stretch.

The reaction against the ad seems to suggest that people think it is imposing some false view of the world or that religion, to use that unimaginative term, is being “rammed down our throats”. Let me just say that the manipulative way commercial advertising plugs into our deepest needs and values is quite shocking. Our lives and values are being heavily manipulated by commercial advertising agencies. Let’s not be too harsh on a campaign which in my experience is plugged into the real world.

 

 

Keighley stands together to protect children and condemn grooming.

The Church of England is at its best when it can bring people together around shared values. I have had the privilege of working with the folk in Keighley to launch a campaign to protect the town’s children from sexual exploitation. The aim is to bring the whole community together in a statement of unity. I share the story with you here.

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The United Keighley Statement was launched tonight at Keighley Cougars stadium under the banner, ‘All our Young People Matter’

Community leaders and representatives from local organisations gathered at Keighley’s Cougar Park stadium to unite in support of children affected by sexual exploitation. The initiative, formed through a community wide partnership, invites all sections of the community to sign a statement of unity condemning grooming and committing to protect all the town’s children.

Instrumental in pulling together this community partnership has been the Reverend Jonathan Pritchard in his new role as Town Chaplain. Reverend Pritchard said, “we want to take a stand in here in Keighley and show how much we care for our young people. Whatever our background or religion or ethnicity, together we want to make our voices heard”

The United Keighley Statement sets out a shared commitment to condemning grooming and calls for everyone to work towards a town free of child sexual exploitation. Those gathered to give their support for the statement included the town’s mayor Councillor Javid Akhtar and Toby Howarth Bishop of Bradford together with Monsignor Kieran Heskin representing the Roman Catholic Bishop Marcus and Mohammed Saleem of the Keighley Muslim Association.

The Rt Rev Toby Howarth told the gathering, “Keighley has a name for coming together at times of crisis, standing together shoulder to shoulder. We can’t just hope that someone else is going to deal with it. This is our issue, this is our problem because it affects all of us together”

In the coming weeks the whole town will have an opportunity to sign the statement at venues across the community. People in Keighley will be able to sign the statement through churches schools, mosques and community centres that display a ‘All our Young People matter’ banner.

The ‘United Keighley’ statement which community groups, schools, colleges churches, mosques and many other groups have signed up to states:

Grooming children for sex is wrong: any sexual abuse of children is wrong. Whoever does it, whenever, wherever. It is morally, legally and spiritually wrong. It harms our children, it harms all of us. There is no place for it in Keighley or anywhere else. And we utterly condemn it. We want to live in a town where all children are safe from sexual predators. We want our children to be safe from abuse. We want to be safe from abuse. We, the many different peoples of Keighley, commit ourselves to work together to make this happen.

Be nice if the CofE could do some proper brand advertising

It concerns me that the Church of England for whom I work sometimes equates the transfer of text based information with communication. A word written or read out loud is not the same as a word received.

The written or spoken word in a religious context is often a kind of legal transaction which establishes the terms of membership. The words are a statement of what we are signed up to. We are connected in a formal sense but it requires creative expression to bring the meaning to life. I wish we could be more like the advertisers, or at least learn from them.growing-younger-header.png.576x260_q100


In fact, I spoke too soon! Birmingham diocese has grasped the advertising thing with both hands in this message – “we’re growing younger”. In an unconventional move the diocese wants to install significant numbers of young people in positions of leadership.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.
Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.  An accessible and creative brand. A live product demonstration.

It has been said that St Francis of Assisi urged his followers to preach the Gospel, “use words if you have to”, but maybe he never said those words, I don’t know. The point is that it’s the stories that make the communication – every colourful detail of how we live our lives becomes our sermon.

We are compelled to tell our story by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is no use saying that words are better than pictures or any other medium for that matter.

What matters is the connection. The famous theme at the start of EM Forsters Howards End is “only connect”. That’s just it – THE CONNECTION. We live in fragments searching for a connection and in the end that’s what we strive to achieve.

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds
Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds positioning banking as part of your life story and values. It takes no time at all to read.

I think it is fair to say that we live in a time where the captured image is the medium of choice when it comes to communicating stories; from films to magazines, to websites.  The power of the photograph to connect with people is extremely powerful.  But we must remember that according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. I understand from this that the words on the printed page can be spoken, and that the voice may convey images, and that the images can embody the stories.

Pictures have always been engaging and in our busy, mobile world pictures are now also extremely convenient.  An image can communicate an idea far more quickly than a paragraph of text. It is this convenience in our speeded up world that is the important thing to remember. This surge of interest in photography is not to diminish the power of words at all, it is simply to say that in our busy lives we need to keep it short. In fact pictures can assume tremendous power when accompanied by a few words of text. Poetry is a wonderful form. This leads me on the Twitter.

Twitter is a social media channel that restricts posts to 140 characters with the option of accompanying image, as you may know. The two most striking observations we can make is firstly that brevity (both in expressing and reading) is important and secondly that the message does not persist, by which I mean that it is designed to be visible only for a short time.

iPhone 6
The on-screen image is the message of this iPhone ad. Design and creativity.

So, the way we consume messages today is in the fleeting moments available to us.

As a society we are expected to be in sync with the conversations going on around us as they happen. These fragments of conversation are connected to other fragments of conversation and eventually coalesce into coherent ideas. We must be alert to the conversation.

The ideas are forming collectively with many voices participating. There is a flow and a rhythm to the dialogue which can be a beautiful thing. The connectedness of these conversations is a step towards being connected as humans and so here lies a wonderful prospect.

Yes I love photography and I love advertising because those who excel in these arts have understood that communication is about connection and  relationship not simply the transfer of information.