Monday, 29 February 2016

Holy Habit - Breaking Bread - Simply?

In Birmingham the Methodist Circuit is following a discipleship programme called Holy Habits. It has been developed by the circuit from a foundation put in place by Andrew Roberts which is now available in abook.

On Saturday there was a day exploring the latest Holy Habit which is breaking bread. After a session using Godly Play to explore this theme we were invited to respond in a creative form and I wrote this poem which I am posting here because at the end during our closing communion service there was a sharing session. After sharing a couple of people said they would like a copy. This seemed the easiest way to share.


People, animals, hopes, dreams, despair

mingling in the field.

They are together here and now.

Friends and strangers gathering

around simple bread and wine.


The bread might be white or brown,

Handmade or processed, gluten free or gluten full.

Some mutter it matters,

perhaps wafers would be better.

There is a sigh as people gather,

so much for simple bread and wine.


The wine sits in a simple beaker,

rich and red it flows.

Then the muttering begins again.

Chalice or small cup?

So much for simple bread and wine.


A book is opened, words recited,

passed down from age to age.

There is a profound silence for a moment

as their power is absorbed.

But then the muttering begins again

about how to interpret meaning.

So much for simple bread and wine.

Then it’s time to share this Godly supper.

Making sure all can share together

in this unifying experience.

But the muttering is growing louder

About who should serve and who should eat.

So much for simple bread and wine.


Then a shepherd enters the scene,

holding a small child by the hand.

They sit and smile at each other

as he sits and breaks a piece of bread.

Handing it over saying have eat,

Remember me next time you simply eat.


The wine sits in the beaker,

the child’s mother looks worried.

The shepherd smiles and picks up some cherryade.

He hands it to the child,

Saying something is going to happen to me

but through it you shall live.

Remember me next time you simply drink.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

6 Months In

So it is now over 6 months that we have been in Birmingham and I have a few reflections and piece of advice based on the experience so far.
1)    Never make assumptions regarding church drama groups.
I thought these were all just a bit of a laugh. Something people did to have some fun and normally revolving around musicals or pantomimes.

Having appeared as Constable MacDonald in the Carrs Lane Players version of the Lady Killers I now know that is not the case.

Yes it was generally fun but it was something more serious than I imagined. It was part of a long tradition going back to just before I was born and this involved serious acting (ok comedy but proper acting not just having a laugh and hoping for the best).

2)    Getting involved in a production is a great way to get to know people in a new church

Ok so I got involved by not knowing how to say no when somebody got injured and they needed a replacement BUT it was a great way to get to know a number of people in church I am not sure I would have really spoken to. Now, this is not to underestimate the level of fear involved as I got a grasp on what was involved but it was a great experience overall. I discovered new depths in myself and was encouraged by a great group of people.

3)    Whilst you have to be careful of not committing to things more than will be possible it doesn’t mean you can’t get involved

When I arrived at my new church I was very aware that I am only probably there for 2 years and so involvement needs to be thought out. It was a bit of a surprise then when I found myself volunteering to facilitate a house group. The thing is that they needed somebody now and nobody was stepping forward. It is in my locality and meets once a month on one of my non-working days. I was clear throughout the discussions leading up to me taking on the role that it would be for one year and if I got paid work on a Tuesday that I would have to give up on it. They were fine with that and just glad that their immediate future was secure. So it is that I have found myself facilitating a house group where almost all of the pensioners are over the age of retirement – some being third agers and some being well into the forth age.

4)    Training is sometimes formal but can also be more informal

So Karl arrived to formally train for ministry. I have found myself going through my own formation process through an unexpected mixture of formal and informal training, although I don’t know what ministry it will lead to.

The house group facilitation I spoke of under point 3 is an example of informal training. I am learning on the job, so to speak, how to facilitate a small group of older people. The previous leader of the group is still there and in the handover stage has been very good at acting as a bit of a mentor. I have been encouraged to bring my own ideas whilst ensuring continuity with what went before. I am sure I will learn a lot through this group over the coming year or so.

However, as I say not all the training has been informal. I have found myself doing a vocational qualification. In the autumn I discovered that one of the smaller local universities did a one year part-time qualification in chaplaincy with young people. I was somewhat surprised when all the funding came together for this as easily as it did. Yet, I know this is an important course for me. It has come together in a way which indicates that it is the right thing for me to be doing. It is not research based but is rather focused on reflecting on my on the ground experience as a chaplain, what the theory and good practice around chaplaincy is and looking at the subject of spirituality particularly in relation to faith development and young people.

 The chaplaincy course is not just teaching me formally though. I am having my first experience of being the racial minority as the course has more Afro-Caribbean students than it does white. Through being in this class I am becoming more familiar with one of the black majority church traditions in particular and the cultural differences which sometimes exist. This is something I think is a really useful experience for me.

Reflecting on what is going on here I have to say it feels as though I am going through formation as much as my husband is just on a different, less recognised and in some ways far less secure route and to a different form of ministry.

5)    Being a Local Preacher Helps You Get to Know the Area and New Ways of Doing Things

I am learning all sorts of things about Birmingham and the people here, in part through being a local preacher and getting out and about in the circuit. Being “on plan” (which means on the rota to preach in various churches) you get to know the area in ways you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise.

You learn aspects of history as well as more about the cultural and socio-economic mix of the area. I think this is a privilege we don’t often recognise as local preachers but it’s there.

In terms of the new ways of doing things I’m learning I’m really privileged to have arrived in the Birmingham Methodist Circuit as they are working their way through a programme called Holy Habits. This is intended to develop and encourage deeper discipleship. It was developed by Andrew Roberts who is one of the Methodist Church Learning Network staff and his book on Holy Habits has just been released. I note that there is also a shiny new website which is under the process of development to accompany this too.

6)    If You Have A Theological Library Provided by your Landlord Use It….You Never Know What You Might Find

So Karl has come here to study but for me, as his wife, Queens is pretty much just the landlord. Living here does have benefits though (and not just it’s proximity to Waitrose, a wonderful gelateria and good transport links) and the main one for me is the access to the library.

It’s not just the easy access to the course materials for my chaplaincy course I love about it. What I enjoy far more is the ability to just mooch and discover things, particularly amongst the feminist and black theology sections which the Queens Foundation library prides itself upon.

To give one example today I was having a recovery day after a small medical procedure and so I didn’t want to go far. Thus I just wandered over to the library and as I was looking through the journals I found an article in the December 15 volume of the Journal of Asian Women’sResource Centre for Culture and Theology entitled ‘Joanne: God’s Grace! – A Sharing by a Transgender Christian Woman written by Joanne Leung with Pearl Wong. This article told the story of the Christian trans woman who has set up the only NGO for trans people in Hong Kong. It was a fascinating article which I just happened to stumble across. I didn’t know this NGO existed but I now do which helps me in a couple of ways. Firstly, I can now pray in an informed way for the trans community in Hong Kong and secondly I am aware of another trans person of faith whose work needs to be recognised and supported. (Please don’t read from this I don’t also think secular initiatives and activists need supporting – that is not what I am saying. Rather we are all aware of the conflict that sometime arises between gender identity and faith and so knowledge of those working in this area is important particularly when it may be a particularly useful resource if somebody in one of our Chinese speaking churches were to require support – their online resources are published in English and Chinese).

So there it is some reflection on what has happened and what I've been learning since I came to Birmingham. I haven't mentioned my chaplaincy job at the university. This continues to go well and I love it.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Bit of Mapping the Changing Ground

The terrain has been moving again with regard to LGBT and faith in the UK. There are also some exciting things are also happening as a result of the current LGBT History Month focus on Religion, Belief and Philosophy. It therefore seemed like time to map the movement again.

Firstly, we have seen the launch of LGBTI Mission recently. This is a group which has come together to explicitly fight for change in the Church of England over the next five years (the time that members of the General Synod have recently been elected for). It is made up of various people including a coalition of other groups including: LGCM, Inclusive Church, AcceptingEvangelicals, Changing Attitude, Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and GayChristians and Sybils.

They have published a nine point manifesto under three headings: “living, loving and serving” and it is really positive to see within this the T and I are being taken as seriously as the LGB.

The exclusively Anglican focus may seem jarring to some and to be honest I have gone through a change of mind on this one over the last few months. The key reasons I think this approach is right are here:

1)    In LEP’s whatever other churches decide the Anglican policy will influence what can be done on the ground.

2)    Many of the other churches are generally ahead of the Anglicans in terms of what has already been agreed (for example in Methodism it has been agreed that being in a same sex marriage will not be a bar to ministry of lay preachers or ministers).

3)    The CofE is larger than the other denominations and so what happens in that Church has an impact for better or worse on the situation many of the rest of us are in.

4)    The Methodists and Anglicans already have a covenant in place which commits them to seeking to move closer to each other. The Anglicans at the moment have policies in place which discriminate in a way in which Methodist ones don’t which would be a serious barrier against closer working together for some of us.

5)    Most of the main denominations have ongoing discussions going on around the whole area of marriage. In some ways it seems a bit like they are playing who’ll blink first and if the CofE positively moves then that will have an impact on our own discussions.

As I said this is a group which has involved a number of people coming together to work together including

These are the campaigning groups. However, we know others have less of an activist purpose to their work and it is good that they have been moving forward in their work too. The Two:23 Network has moved into a new venue and Diverse Church continues the excellent work they are doing with young people and their parents and continue to offer churches the chance to hear their stories, particularly through a new piece of art work they've commissioned. Email them via their website for details.

Following on from a similar event last year Oasis have an Open Church conference in June. The focus of this conference is positive because it seems more focused on mission than the activism.

The website for the event says,

While the debate around the Bible, sexuality and inclusion is likely to continue across the Christian Church for a generation, those already convinced of the need to embrace LGBT people must act now.   

Through contributions from the world of public health, equalities specialists and representatives from different church communities, together we will explore how our churches can become safe havens of welcome and healing for LGBT people and how we can win back the trust of those who may feel they have much to fear.”

This to me points to the fact we are coming to accept that we need to live whilst the debates continue to rumble on in the background and people continue working to get to that point when we can have good disagreement.

As I’ve mentioned before the Methodist Church have produced some excellent resources to help people reach that point of good disagreement.

This is all positive to see in LGBT History month with its focus on religion, belief and philosophy. There are a range of exhibitions and events going on as part of this month including Christian Voices Coming Out, an exhibition at the LSE. Stonewall have also produced a range of stories from different people of faith together with some posters.

I have wondered whether to blog on this stuff because I have a couple of worries which I am sure other LGBT people must share:

1)    Am I going to be pigeon holed in the LGBT box? My interests, involvements and faith concerns go far beyond this area but I find myself talking about it far more than I would like should I shut up and leave it to others to raise their voices about it.

2)    I am bored by talking about this and so would rather we change the subject. By posts like this one am I contributing to the problem and the wider fatigue around the subject?

3)    I don’t want to be seen as a trouble maker. I am somebody who wants to positively work with others and I don’t want to be doing or saying things that can put that in jeopardy.

Yet at the same time I know I have friends who might read this stuff who only find out about it by occasionally reading the blog. It has been a quick glance about who has been coming to this blog whilst it's been less active which has alerted me to the fact people read these posts every so often. This means some might accidently find it and as a result be signposted to groups which might help them. Finally my husband has been involved in the Stonewall stuff and  talking with him has led me to ask myself again if I am to live with integrity and speak out against what I see as injustice which is harming mission do I have any right to shut up?

Lament for the Modern World?

We're a bit naff at lament in this country sometimes. Perhaps that's why when I first listened to Lucinda Williams The Ghosts of Highway I was a bit taken aback thinking how miserable is this.
We listened to disc two of this double CD first and to say it made the Smiths seem happy is a bit of an understatement. However whilst not a happy album it is a moving set of songs several of them including Louisiana Story, Death Cake and Factory could be regarded as genuine songs of lament. If you like we could describe them as modern day Psalms which speak the truth of pain.

My own favourites on the album were Factory which has a real intensity to it and Doors of Heaven where the gloom lifts in the music at least (although the words are still deep and Psalm like).

If you want to read more of a review of the album feel free to flip over to my other blog where I have reviewed it more fully than here. I just wanted to flag it up on this site though as the lyrics do speak of death and faith, including the misuse of faith in a way which I think is quite deep and as I say almost Psalm like. This could be useful listening to some who want something that reflects how they are feeling.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Hope in the Methodist Model

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about the “Facilitated Conversation” I’m off to tonight with dread. Do I really have to sit through rehearsing the same old arguments again? I know more than one person who has decided the whole thing is so boring now they are just opting out of being involved. However, over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking and reviewing some new resources which have come out and have changed my mind.

Firstly, this is not just about hearing the same old arguments about same sex marriage, Methodist Conference have given us the chance to ask ourselves if we want to go on a different journey to the one most of the  other denominations have chosen to go on.

Let me explain myself. The questions that Methodists are being asked in the consultation are:

Whether the Methodist understanding of Christian marriage should be revisited

Whether the 1992 Conference Statement "A Christian Understanding of Family Life, the Single Person and Marriage" should be updated.

The Marriage and Relationships Task Group has asked the Connexion to particularly consider and feedback on:
What missional and pastoral opportunities and challenges could result if the Methodist Church decided to revisit its definition of marriage?

What missional and pastoral opportunities and challenges could result if the Methodist Church decided not to revisit its definition of marriage?

Yes, these questions do include looking at the impact of the government changing the definition of same sex marriage and whether we should change our definitions in line but they also go beyond it. The church is also asking whether we need to re-examine our previous understandings on family life and singleness more generally. This gives us the opportunity to build upon the We Are Family research that the Methodist Church published last year which focused on the changing face of family in relation to children and families work.

The Church are also asking explicitly about missional and pastoral opportunities and challenges. My understanding is whilst other denominations may be touching on these things they are not explicitly asking them to be discussed. So whilst I have clear views on the first session which I will come to in a moment I am excited by the second question and I hope in the conversation I attend tonight there will be opportunity to discuss that in detail.

The second thing that has made me feel less cynical about the whole process is seeing the resources which the Connexion has recently made available as well as knowing they have more materials on the way to foster genuine debate and understanding between different views with an equality course (covering a whole range of equality issues not just sexuality).

The resources recently published include clear guidance on what is and isn’t homophobia. This is a particularly useful resource which I think will help people on both sides of the debate because it gives a framework in which people can talk to each other knowing where the appropriate boundaries are. As far as I understand it we are the first denomination to publish such clear guidance about what is and isn’t acceptable for those who disagree with same sex marriage, particularly, to say.

They also include a really helpful video cast conversation between two members of the working group the Methodist Church currently has on this.(The resource list linked to earlier has short and full versions). The conversation outlines both the breadth of the discussions but also what is really at the root of the debate – the question of which scriptural passages we should regard as of primary and fixed and which we should regard as secondary and more contextual. The video also makes the point that we need to learn to live with difference because whatever happens that difference is going to be there for many years to come. I find this resource exciting because it makes the point that if the church were to really engage with this we will find ourselves going much deeper into scripture and thinking about how we handle it as well as learning more about how to live with contradictory understandings (something I think is ever more important).

The other things which have excited me about the process as I have thought about it is the way in which questions about mission are being focused upon as well as pastoral understandings.

I am excited by this conversation because it has the potential for us to enter much wider discussions about mission in different contexts. In some situations we know a change to the current definition would cause significant challenges whilst in others it would open many doors. Thus, in even having this conversation we are thinking about contextual mission rather than generic mission.

So as you can see the Methodist Church discussions have a creative potentiality in them which I have not seen in the discussions from other denominations.

I have also been excited to see on the Alton Methodist Church site which Google helpfully directed me too Roots (a resource for preachers and worship leaders I am not often overly keen on) has produced some excellent resources to help various ages (including children) talk about how to live with difference. This resource has been produced to accompany the conversations but I believe is certainly very useful independently of them.

Now, within this I do not want to diminish the importance of the campaign for a recognition of all legal marriage by the church but I am saying that a conversation which stops at that and continues with the well-rehearsed debates is missing the opportunities which the Connexion is showing can come from the discussions.

With regard to the missional opportunities my own view is that whilst I can see they become harder in some communities I know that a revisiting will provide some really positive opportunities. The one good thing to come out of the mess we currently have and the campaigns to promote equality seems to be that the secular LGBT world is taking religion and faith more seriously and seeking to be more open to it. The theme of the current LGBTHistory Month is Religion, Belief and Philosophy. As part of this the LGBT campaign group Stonewall have produced a series of short biographies on LGBT people of various faiths. It has been humbling that through this my husband has been given the opportunity to share his testimony and faith with a larger number of people.

* post yesterday evening comment.....disappointed! The conversation was very positive - too positive in many ways as it was clear not all voices had chosen to come along to be heard.

Most worryingly the conversation was only on the first question and only looked at marriage not marriage and relationships. There was no reference to the 1992 Conference Statement. What I must gather from this is that there is not consistency across the Connexion on how this has been handled on the ground. The facilitators were very good it just seems that messages have somehow got a little mixed up on what questions Conference wants feedback on. If somebody could clarify is it just the one question our District is addressing or is it both as is inferred by the introduction to the main web page on the Methodist Church page and as explicitly referred to on the Alton Methodist website, linked to above it would be useful.