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”

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”

A perfectly formed circle. The social responsibility network

Another enlightening day with the CofE this time with the Social Responsibility Network, SRN, at Church House in London. A grand entrance just round the back of Westminster Abbey with lots of marble and polished brass. Doors with numbers and important looking inscriptions. It reminded me of my first day at the BBC at Broadcasting House more than 30 years ago, those mysterious corridors with important things going on behind slightly ajar doors.

Room number five was the setting for our meeting, a medium sized conference room. The group was sitting in a large circle. Forgive me, but pretty well all the meetings at the Church of England have taken place sitting in a large circle. I thought at first it was to achieve equality but I’m beginning the think it is in fact to maintain the maximum distance between participants. I was a late-comer on account of being a Northerner and so had to get the entire circle to shuffle outwards by a small but disruptive adjustment calculated by Pi.

The group was made up of Church of England officers, a title I don’t altogether warm to. The social responsibility officers are there to make sure the parishes take proper care of their poor, as all Christians are called to do. Exactly how this is done will be resolved when the cows come home but in the meantime we were there to bond and behave as one.

There seems to me to be four disconnected groups of people – ones who talk about mission, those who decide how it’s to be done, those who deliver mission and then finally the beneficiaries. This list is in ascending order of importance but is often transposed. Wouldn’t it be good if we could merge them a little bit or at least have a drink together?

The conversation at one point sailed dangerously towards those organisational promontories called power and decision making – do we do our mission top down or bottom up? How does the Church of England maintain one big glorious national identity while at the same time being a myriad of independently minded parishes?

Let me put on my old BBC producer hat for a moment. I would say that the only way to produce meaningful content is to get as close as possible to the stories. BBC journalism is constructed around the presence of reporters in each of the communities. To properly understand people you have to live with them, or even be one of them. I heard the term journalism of attachment mentioned once by Martin Bell. The Church of England has as its glorious strength a presence in every community – this in much the same way as the BBC aspires through its local reporters. The link between national and local is critically, critically important.

The BBC needs these local connections as does the Church of England. The role of the BIG organisation is to equip and protect those ground troops in order be present in people’s lives. The organisation at the centre pulls together the global picture and helps put the stories into a broader context – to be able to explain what’s going on. To help people in their small corners see the big picture; to help those with power work for the greater good and to call them to account. We need both the BBC and the Church of England at both national and local level. I believe.

The concept of the BBC is possibly more important than its organisation. The BBC – the most creative producer of high quality television and radio on the planet. The BBC stands for truth, creativity, inclusivity and exceptional quality. It is independent and not swayed by commercial pressures (wish). It is bound by the licence fee in a contact with its viewers to be inclusive, and without the BBC the world would be a less secure and more uncertain place. Gosh.

How am I going to end this blog post? Well, I think there is a challenge to connect the Church of England in a single identity clearly expressed. What’s it for and why do we need it? There is lots of talk about structure but I think the concept of the Church of England is more important. The people and the languages they use carry the message of the Church of England and importantly the Gospel message. If we really do have a presence in every community then we will have a diverse membership and a diverse leadership. We will be fluent in a range of lingos and celebrate difference. We will bring people together while affirming independence. The way we talk will be inclusive and respectful and we will demonstrate love by welcoming and serving all members of our communities. Our theology will formed with a local accent.

I am now in a packed train carriage practically sitting on the the lap of the bloke next to me. There are people standing in the aisles spilling coffee. Maybe that’s a better image than a perfectly formed circle.

Inclusive Church (or the Oceans 11 model)

Yesterday I went to a conference on inclusive church held at All Saints in Keighley – many thanks to Bob Callaghan, David Austin, Jonathan Pritchard, Elizabeth Millwain and others. So what do I now think about inclusive church?

My ideal model of church would be an Oceans 11 church. Oceans 11 is a crime thriller staring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. A bunch of misfits who would otherwise not have anything to do with each other find themselves all mutually dependent. They each have their own particular talents – a safe cracker, security specialist, structural engineer, electronics expert and a getaway driver. Danny Ocean wants to score the biggest heist in history. A shared mission.

I’m jesting of course, not suggesting church and criminality are necessarily linked but I do find some inspiration here. In Christ’s deepest hour of need his closest ally was the criminal with whom he was crucified – the criminal who was redeemed.

The organised and brazen Hatton Garden robbery was a crime which grabbed the attention of the world’s press for obvious reasons. The crooks hatch a technically demanding plan to break into a seemingly secure bank vault over the Easter holidays. The comparison with Oceans 11 is clear to see with the newspapers characterising the criminals as Mr Ginger, Mr Strong and so on. Whatever else you can say about it the story will be remembered.

The really great thing about the Church of England is that it is open to all sorts, and it should be easy to break into. On Sunday morning services across the land bring together people who otherwise may have little in common – social workers, city bankers, doctors, factory workers, children, retired people and maybe repentant bank robbers. Ideally we will set aside any prejudice or thought for power or status and celebrate our equality as children of God.

The aim of the Inclusive Church Conference was to think about the ways in which we can welcome people into the church and accept them for who they are (not what they are). What does making people feel accepted really mean in terms of our attitude and practical accommodation? How do we value what they bring? Disability, sexuality, mental health, ethnicity – all these and other considerations can make demands on the way we organise and conduct church. We were introduced to the concept of radical welcome which involved valuing the contribution and identity of people beyond simply being tolerant.

There is no question that including all people is at the heart of Christian theology. The rag bag of people Jesus associated with and embraced should inspire us to value all people and especially those whom we find challenging. To hold such a conference suggests there is work to be done, which of course there is.

The Church of England will do really well if it has a really strong sense of purpose and mission, if it values diversity of experience and rises to the challenge of working with the outsiders. The cost will be to embrace those who are difficulty to work with, a commitment to reconciliation and some serious risk taking.

Jesus didn’t break into a secure vault, he broke out of one – on Easter morning.