Blue Top Christians and their place in the world

Much of my work time at the Diocese of Leeds is spent working out who we are, what’s going on and why we are here. It’s easy to mock organisations for struggling with these questions but actually these are really big life questions for us all to grapple with.

I can’t help feeling that global political events can be understood at a very personal level in terms of identity, belonging, freedom and generosity.  We want confidence in who we are and what we are good at; we want to belong to something we can call a national family; we want our independence.

The really exciting “want” or desire is to to be able to give. There is an instinct within most people to want to give something to the word and make a difference. Thank God for that. The only problem is that some people have a very small world, or a very selective world, so the challenge for me is to see bigger, see wider, see deeper.

I risk of becoming too serious, so here is something about growing the church.  The Church of England wants more people to come to church.  The question for me is not just about bums on seats.  Here I use the labelling of milk as a handy analogy  – and just to make it clear,  I’m no shining example, I think I’m stuck on Greet Top with an aspiration for Red Top.

Red Top: Skimmed Christians
They come to church for the exciting bits and skim off anything that’s difficult to digest; Perhaps when something big happens in their life like christenings, weddings, funerals and so on. Oh, and carols by candlelight is lovely.

Green Top: Semi-Skimmed Christians
They come to church most Sundays but this is largely a health routine in line with their philosophy of “everything in moderation”. The playgroup is great for the kids and after a busy week it helps recharge my batteries. 

Blue Top: Whole Christians
They live their faith seven days a week and leave nothing out when it comes to being guided by God. They pray and worship God every day each in their own unique way. They want to see everyone living as God intended – flourishing together, free from poverty, inequality and injustice.

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.

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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.