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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. (more…)

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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”

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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.

 

 

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Shared journey

Some years ago I was working in a department in which the boss was unhappy with the level of productivity. He was piling on the work and unhappy that not enough work was being done and not to a high enough standard. His solution was to send everyone on an inspirational time management course. His hope was that we would all get more work done and improve standards. Here’s why it didn’t work.

On the course we were encouraged to prioritise the work according to its urgency and in particular its strategic value. And so, we all became adept time managers.

At the time the department didn’t have a clear strategy and so we all worked to meet our own personal strategic objectives – these were to do with getting promotion, winning awards, working with our favourite teams. We became very confident in the art of saying no. Because there was no clear direction the staff would push back with hard questions about how the work would meet strategic aims. The boss got less done than before, and the staff became more difficult to manage.

Reflecting on this some 20 years later I can see just how valuable a shared understanding of vision and purpose is for the work we do. A failure to provide a clear articulation of purpose and values is disempowering for staff who will inevitably find their own direction. There is really no use in pointing a finger at difficult and under performing staff if there is a disconnect between the ideas and energy of the staff and the company vision.

Each of us is operating according to our own personal goals, passions and energies. When we talk about human resources we sometimes only count the numbers of person hours available. These calculations may look ok on the company dashboard but people need fuel to make them come alive. What we end up with sometimes is a strong, over paid manager trying to kick start an empty engine. Manipulative, bullying management doesn’t work. The ideas, passion, and goodwill of the people is the real resource we share.

Where people’s ideas and energies are valued and there is shared purpose time will be found.

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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.

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Islands within islands under siege

At the weekend I caught up with the controversial edition of Songs of Praise from Calais which included conversations with migrants determined to get into Britain. The programme reminded me that these were real human beings. It all seems very sad and unacceptable at so many levels. Here I am in a comfortable corner of England’s green and pleasant land, while not so far away life is relentlessly crap for these poor souls.

A common approach (which the programme may have challenged) is to 1. identify the people we want to get rid of, 2. paint them as black as possible and then 3. crack down on them. Hopefully if we have spun it right we will get a round of applause and re-elected. Politics of fear.

The government’s apparent strategy of making life hell for unwanted people seems mediaeval. I can get that an open gate would lead to chaos but allowing people to fall into abject poverty as a deterrent doesn’t seem right, does it?  It seems to indicate an absence of a compassionate strategy, and not for the first time. These people are not coming here as “tourists” they are people in desperate circumstances. They are labelled as “marauders” and “illegals” who are intentionally taking advantage of the system. The word illegal is used as though it is a fundamental part of their identity. True outcasts.

People who beak rules in desparation are unlikely to go away. Some might take the view that if the law comes into conflict with our basic human (or Christian) values then of course chaos is going to ensue. We either have to challenge the policy or adjust our values. This is where we are.

No matter what the right or wrong I can’t see that allowing refugees and asylum seekers to fall into deprivation is an appropriate form of control.  More broadly this kind of strategy could lead to a division between those whom we consider respectable citizens and the outcasts who inhabit dark ghettos.  We risk creating Folk Devils from which we must protect ourselves – islands within islands under siege. Once we use labels and repression to control people we are setting up division and encouraging conflict.

The “marauding” migrants whether legal or not are being forced to live as outsiders not embraced as brothers or sisters in need.

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Peter Byrne

Just back from the funeral of Peter Byrne.  Peter was a man of faith and a huge influence on me personally. I got to know him when I was 17 and at School at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, West Yorkshire. 

peterI was potty about radio and Peter was a producer at BBC Radio Leeds – and it was thanks to him that I got my first job at the BBC. As a teenager he trusted me to make short reports about community life in and around Leeds. I’d record interviews and edit them under his supervision. Although he was a gentle and kindly soul he was uncompromising in his mentoring. How to ask the questions, getting the best sound quality, setting the scene and so on. I can hear his voice now telling me to ease off on the sound effects.

I remember going with him to record the Huddersfield Choral Society in Huddersfield Town Hall. We set up the microphones with the choir and then realised we’d left the tape recorder back in Leeds.  Peter without loosing his calm drove to Leeds and back while I kept the choristers entertained for what seemed like an eternity.  Nothing phased him.

Best wishes and prayers for Janet and the family.

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For those who are stuck with email

Today a touch of déjà vu.

We were discussing the cripplingly high volume of CofE emails pouring through the system. This was the very same conversation we had at Oblong Leeds a few years back.  Then we formed a strategy of moving some business communications to social media which worked well.

Email is such a desperately boring way of transferring information isn’t it?  This especially so when there are now so many more interesting ways to communicate. So here for those who are stuck with email but would rather be on Twitter…

1. Reduce the number of emails you send

2. Check and re-write your email
Do this for clarity even if you are busy, it’ll save other people’s time.

3. Avoid using email for conversations
Long conversation threads are difficult to keep up with.

4. Raise it in the team meeting instead

5. Speak to someone first or as an alternative

6. Make it clear whether the email is sent for action or information

7. Is the email sent to the right person?

8. Avoid multiple topics in one email

9. Use of the subject line
For very short messages like “I’ll be ten minutes late” or “we won”.

10. Structure the email with important stuff at the start
A clear subject line and a short opening which makes the reason for the email clear.

11. Tone of voice
Anger and high emotion should be avoided in an email. Don’t use email to tell someone off.

12. Do not expect recipients to deal with an email straight away
We might, though, expect a short acknowledgement of receipt.

13. Avoid abbreviations and assumptions

14. Do not copy people in unless they really need to know

15. Don’t “reply all” unless required

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