Sunday, June 29, 2008

Learning Journal 14 - 'The Church of England in the 20th Century'

I have found this module to be interesting but at the same time somewhat depressing. Depressing because it would seem, that for most of the 20th century, with a few shining exceptions, the Church of England has been largely out of touch with the lives and concerns of ordinary, working people.
I kept asking myself ‘where is the social conscience of this church?’
It seems to have spent a large proportion of its time embroiled in debates and controversies which are completely irrelevant to the vast majority of people in this country. Of course there have been priests up and down the land who have faithfully preached the gospel, served the poor, and stood up for the oppressed, but the positions of power within the church seem to have been have been restricted to an elite, Oxbridge educated few clinging on to the vestiges of privilege.

It was only towards the end of the course that my faith was restored as Bishop Roger Sainsbury gave a lecture on ‘The Church of England and Social Action’. He highlighted the important work of Charles Gore, William Temple, and David Sheppard amongst others in stressing the church’s responsibility in addressing the injustices in society. I am glad to see that the church has changed and is changing in that it has begun to rediscover its calling to ‘remember the poor’.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Learning Journal 13 - The Five Marks of Mission

In Ministry Formation Groups we did a session on the Anglican view of mission. I found this session to be very helpful and it was encouraging to see how holistic the Anglican view of mission can be. We examined the ‘five marks of mission’ from the 1988 Lambeth Conference, which are

1) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
2) To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
3) To respond to human need by loving service.
4) To seek to transform unjust structures of society.
5) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the earth.

This list seems to be fairly comprehensive to me and I would be glad to be part of a church that was taking all five seriously. If our church is to be shaped by mission, which I believe it should be, then these five marks of mission ought to be heard, read, marked, learned and inwardly digested by every man, woman and child who belong to it.

We looked at a case study from South America which was a wonderful example of this kind of holistic mission. If only we could fully take on board the fact that we are in a missionary situation in this country. I see part of my calling as encouraging, equipping and enabling the five marks of mission.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Learning Journal 12 - Personal Development

Since being at college I have found myself being reminded that first and foremost, I am a child of God. My identity and security are to be found in Him, not in what I do, what role I have or what badge I wear and when I neglect this simple truth I begin to struggle. There is a verse in Galatians that David Wenham highlighted during his course which keeps coming back to me. It is Galatians 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ A key challenge for me is holding on to the personal, whilst discovering the wider social and political dimensions of the gospel. In recent years I have had my eyes opened to the fact that the gospel is more than personal, but I must remember that it is not less. Here is Paul unashamedly talking in personal terms of Jesus who loved him and died for him. Miroslav Volf talks about this verse in terms of de-centering and re-centering. My old selfish centre needed to be and has been crucified with Christ. At the same time, however, it has also been re-centered so that it is now Christ who lives in me. This does not mean I have completely lost my own identity - ‘By the process of de-centering the self did not lose a center of its own, but received a new center that both transformed and reinforced the old one… re-centering establishes the most proper and unassailable center that allows the self to stand over against persons and institutions which may threaten to smother it.’ If I can learn to live in the light of this truth, that the self-giving love of Christ lies at the centre of my own self, it should radically affect not only my own view of myself but the way I relate to others. This must be the basis of all ministry.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning Journal 11 - Placement Church

This summer I will be doing my Block Placement at Christchurch in Clevedon. This is a Local Ecumenical Partnership which represents the coming together of a Methodist church and an Anglican church. Students from Trinity have done placements there in the past, and a mission was held there over Easter. By all accounts it is an interesting church with lots going on and it should prove to be a great place to do a placement.

On Pentecost Sunday we visited the church, and it just so happened that there were some Trinity students being confirmed there by Bishop Roger Sainsbury. The church seems reasonably lively with a mixture of contemporary and more traditional worship. The church seemed to be absolutely full and there was a good age range represented. The vicar, Clive Jennings seems to have a relaxed and friendly style which contributes to an informal and unpretentious atmosphere.

The combination of the churches seems to have been successful, something which I’m sure they have had to work hard at. One thing that was fascinating was to see the way they did communion. They offered the wine both in the large single chalice’s and in the small individual glasses. Communion could be received at the rail, or in the body of the church. This presumably represents a coming together of both church’s communion traditions.

We were made to feel very welcome and I look forward to joining them for a few weeks in the summer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tom Wright on Colbert Report - Here it is!

For those who may not know, Stephen Colbert is a comedian who does a spoof of a right-wing, republican presenter, a la Fox news. He used to appear on 'The Daily Show' with Jon Stewart, but now has his own show. He did a great job at the Whitehouse Correspondent's Dinner in 2006. Often his guests are sent up quite mercilessly, but I think Bishop Tom does quite well here to get across the important message of his book Surprised by Hope

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Learning Journal 10 - Cranmer's Revision of the Medieval Mass

As part of the ‘Christian Worship: Tradition and Practice’ module we have examined in some detail Cranmer’s revision of the Medieval mass which was at the heart of his prayer book and the English reformation. This has been a fascinating insight not only into the beginnings of Anglicanism but into a theological hot potato which still has implications today.

Cranmer’s revision of the Mass happened in three stages. The first in 1548 was ‘The Order of the Communion’ which added an English section to the Latin Mass for the people’s reception of the communion in both kinds. The second was the 1549 prayer book, which provided a full service in the English vernacular and the third was in 1552 which represented a more thoroughgoing theologically Reformed revision. Colin Buchanan has made a convincing argument that the 1552 liturgy is what Cranmer had in mind all along and that he used a staged approach to gradually get there. His aims were to correct the medieval doctrines of transubstantiation, the ‘local presence’ of Christ in the bread and the wine, and the practices of the adoration and reservation of the sacrament that went along with this. He also wanted to remove all trace of Eucharistic sacrifice.

In the 1552 prayer book there is no consecration of the bread and wine, there are no manual actions and a rubric says that the curate can take home any leftover bread and wine for his own consumption. The bread and wine remain bread and wine, and Christ is in heaven. The feeding is a spiritual feeding by the faithful in their hearts. The 1552 prayer book is therefore more Reformed than any other prayer book of the Church of England, before or since. The Elizabethan prayer book was slightly less Protestant, and in 1662 consecration is back in, along with manual acts.

I find it fascinating that the hard won Eucharistic reforms that Cranmer fought for, and ultimately went to the stake for seem to have been too radical for the English church and have been largely forgotten.

Tom Wright on the Colbert Report

Apparently Bishop Tom will appear on The Colbert Report tonight. Should be worth a watch.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Learning Journal 9 - Community Placement

Back at Lazarus house for what seems like the first time in ages. The last Thursday before the end of last term I visited an agency in Easton called Nilaari. Nilaari is a drug agency whose clients are primarily from the Black and Ethnic Minority communities. They mainly deal with crack cocaine addiction. As well as counselling they give awareness sessions at schools and youth groups.
Last week I visited the Community Action on Alcohol and Drugs (CAAAD). This agency offer various services to people with addictions to drugs or alcohol. During the afternoon I visited there was a ‘drop-in’ where people can just come and hang out and drink coffee etc. I met a couple of the clients who were in quite a bad way. One was a lady who was a recovering alcoholic. She had been sober for about 8 months. She was very upset because something in her ‘stage 4’ counselling session had opened up some past hurts. She felt a bit embarrassed but was quite open with me. Another chap was clearly having some sort of withdrawal symptoms and was suffering quite badly. Managed to chat to him a little bit though. Turns out he goes to Woodlands church. One of the surprising things I found about CAAAD is that they are quite into ‘Alternative’ therapies – acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology, even Reiki healing. Acupuncture is apparently especially helpful to addicts with cravings. I was offered the chance to have ‘ear acupuncture’ myself. Made me realise that I need to think some more about what is behind these therapies and whether it is possible to separate the spiritual aspect from the physical benefits. Also, what is the place of the church in offering real healing and recovery to those with addictions.
Are people turning to these therapies because of a failure of the church to offer help in these areas or are they just the flavour of the month in the culture? Is there any scientifically documented evidence that these approaches work or is it just subjective and anecdotal?
Is this area a ‘no-go’ for churches? What Christian programmes are there and what are their different approaches? I am aware of the 12 steps, Teen Challenge, Betel and the stories of Jackie Pullinger’s ministry where she basically seems to rely on praying in tongues and the filling of the Spirit. It would be interesting to do some more research in these areas.
Why is it left to the Salvation Army and the Jesus Army to interact with people with these issues?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Justice Mail

The latest justice mail request from John Hull -

The Government has backtracked on making companies report their carbon emissions. It has signalled that it intends to drop the amendment won by our campaigners that makes it compulsory for UK businesses to report their annual carbon emissions. It's imperative that we act now to save this essential amendment as the Climate Change Bill goes through the House of Commons. So please email Environment Secretary Hillary Benn now:

climate change action

please take a moment to do this now if you can.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Learning Journal 8 - Mission

For my ‘mission’ week I was part of a team which led a ‘holiday week’ kids’ club at St Mary’s church, Shirehampton. I chose to do this mission because I had no experience of working with children and I thought I ought to get some. The prospect of a week with up to thirty 5-8 year olds both excited and scared me! As a team we had decided to use some material from Scripture Union called Champion’s Challenge which tied in the Easter story with a sporting theme. Jesus as trainer, physio, team-mate, substitute and victor.

The team worked really well together in planning and everyone played their part in the running of the morning sessions. We had songs, games, drama, bible stories and lots of activities to keep the children interested and hopefully give them some memorable Christian input.

One or two interesting theological issues raised their heads during the course of the week. For example, on day 2 the theme was Jesus the physio, which examined the healing ministry of Jesus. We were very aware that one of the children, a 5 year old boy, had just recently lost his father to cancer. We had to try and address the subject of healing in simple and sensitive way which allowed for the fact that God doesn’t always heal in the way we would like him to and teach that God is there with us when we are sick or suffering.

On the fourth day, which dealt with the cross, the Scripture Union material used a fairly basic model of penal substitution in its explanation of the cross, hence the theme ‘Jesus the Substitute’. Some members of the team weren’t happy with this model of the atonement, much to the surprise of some other team members who didn’t realise that there were different models of the atonement. Much theological discussion ensued. In the end we decided perhaps going into the finer points of more nuanced understandings of the cross was going to be lost on the children and so we went with the material.

The week was lots of fun but was quite hard work. I came away with a new found respect for primary school teachers. We only had the children for 2 hours each morning, they have them all day. It was a real privilege to work with these children, many of whom were from quite deprived backgrounds and single parent families. It was particularly touching to have kids who turned up half an hour early and who didn’t want to go home at the end. I realised that, with the right team, and some good material, holiday clubs are quite doable and can be an excellent service to offer the community.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Learning Journal 7 - Galatians and 1 Corinthians

This is the first biblical module that I have taken at Trinity, and it is the first module taught by David Wenham at Trinity, and it has been excellent. Of course, I am biased because New Testament studies is my field, and David is my supervisor, but I think this might be one of the most important modules I do at Trinity. Although I have studied both of these books before, it has been a real privilege to revisit them and have them opened up by an expert. What I have found especially helpful is how contemporary the issues facing these early churches are when you examine them, especially in 1 Corinthians. There are issues of unity, problems to do with sexuality and gender, problems of how to do mission in a new context, how to deal with inequalities between rich and poor and how to be faithful to Christ in a multi-faith society. A careful reading of the text gave us a springboard for discussion on all these subjects and more.

I understand that there is a lot of ground to be covered in training for ministry, and there are constraints on the curriculum which mean that not everything can be covered in detail. There are important modules on pastoral theology, church history, liturgical theory and practice, missiology and much more, hopefully all informed and underpinned by good biblical theology.
What is tragic is that people can train for ordained ministry in the Church of England, at an evangelical college like Trinity, and do as little as one biblical module in their time here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Learning Journal 6 - Community Placement

When I arrived at Lazarus house this week I met two of the other support workers, A and D. Neither of them were expecting me or knew anything about my placement. When they discovered I was a ‘trainee vicar’ they were keen to stress that volunteers were not supposed to talk about ‘spiritual’ matters with the residents unless they themselves bring them up. The ethos of the houses is that, although they are run by a Christian organisation, and most of the staff and volunteers are Christian, there is to be no expectation of the residents to follow a particular spiritual path. Indeed, one of the residents is a Muslim. If the resident asks questions or expresses an interest in Christianity then we may share our own beliefs with them but it must be initiated by them. I reassured them that I had no intention of giving my views where they were not requested. I will play things very low key, just chat to the residents and get to know them and help out around the house in any practical ways that I can.

I spent a good part of the afternoon in the garden chatting to some of the residents. Of course, one of the first questions they asked me was why I was doing a placement here. I explained that it was part of my course. ‘What course are you doing?’ they asked. ‘er.. theology.’ I replied. ‘Oh, so you’re going to be a priest then?’, ‘er..yeah.’ So much for being low-key! One of them explained how he had been going to church, but he wasn’t quite sure about Jesus and all that stuff. He did, however believe in some kind of higher power, which had helped him through the 12-step programme. We had a very open conversation about church and reading the bible. They seemed quite happy to chat about such things. I am learning the importance of when it is and isn’t appropriate to speak about faith.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Learning Journal 5 - Taizé Worship

Ordinands are organised into Worship teams which take it in turns to lead the morning prayer in chapel, a week at a time. For our first week we led a week of worship in the Taizé style. I found the combination of short, repetitive, scriptural songs, the use of silence, the use of candles and the wearing of white robes to be deeply profound in their simplicity. I find myself attracted to this more contemplative spirituality and would like to explore it more.

Having said that it was simple, the Taizé worship did take more time in terms of preparation than the regular morning prayer. This was partly to do with the layout of the room, but also because we need to co-operate well as a team and work closely with the music group.

On reflection, we perhaps should have taken a bit more time to introduce the style of worship to people and explain what was going to happen. As it was we just welcomed people in, began the service and expected people to join in. People got the hang of it in the end, but it is worth remembering that even ordinands take a while to get used to a different style of worship.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Learning Journal 4 - Infant Baptism

In Ministry Formation Groups we have done a couple of sessions on baptism. The sessions weren’t necessarily about the theology of baptism, but about more practical issues of how to formulate a baptism policy, how to prepare candidates and families for baptism and how to make the most of the Common Worship Initiation services material. The theological and the practical belong together however, the one underpinning the other.

As someone who grew up Baptist, infant baptism is one of the things I’ve had to get my head round as I’ve become Anglican. One of the strands of thinking that I have found helpful is the ‘covenantal’ approach, whereby baptism is seen as the sign of entry into the covenant family, roughly comparable to circumcision. This is fairly straightforward where a family are looking to bring up their child within the faith, but what of the numerous cases where a child is presented for baptism by parents who have no connection with church and who have little or no understanding of Christian discipleship?

The sessions were helpful to think through the different options that can be offered to such families. There is the thanksgiving for the gift of a child service which may be more appropriate than baptism in some cases. There is the opportunity to offer baptismal preparation classes which may be in the from of a mini-Alpha course or something similar and there are a number of other resources which may help to unpack the meaning of what is going on in baptism. I agree with those who argue that requests for baptisms may be wonderful opportunities for mission, but I believe this must be held in tension with a view that upholds the importance of baptism for Christian beginnings and entry into the church.

Learning Journal 3 - Personality Type

All ordinands get the opportunity to assess themselves according to the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. This is a tool which is offered in order to help us with self-understanding and with how we relate to others. My results show that I am an INFP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). There are no great shocks here, although I was slightly surprised to see how high I was on the introvert scale. This does not mean that I am not a people person, but it does mean that I tend to get my energy, or recharge my batteries, by spending time away from the crowds. If I am not careful, people may burn me out.

There are two possible approaches to this personality-type result. One is to accept that this is how God has made me, to recognise what is true of me in this personality type and to take this into account in the way I work with people. The other is to recognise that personality type is not set in stone, that it is not a straightjacket or an excuse. People change over time, and we have to allow for the grace of God to develop our personalities in ways which may surprise us.

At college, my introversion seems to have been highlighted by the fact that most ordinands tend to be more on the extrovert side. It is a temptation for me to look around and compare myself to others and feel that I am too quiet or not dynamic enough to be a leader in the church. I need to remind myself that if God has called me to this ministry he can work with my personality type and equip me for what he has called me to do. Having said that, this will have obvious implications for my future ministry. I will need to build time into my schedule, not only for spending time with my family, but for retreat and reflection.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Learning Journal 2 - Community Placement

For my community placement I am spending Thursday afternoons at a place called Lazarus House which is a residential drug and alcohol rehab centre run by a Roman Catholic organisation called Alaboré Christian Care Homes. There are actually three houses, Lazarus, Thomas and Shalom. Each can take up to 5 residents. Lazarus is the first house that residents enter. Each resident is referred by an agency, which is often the prison service but may be the probation service or a charity. Most residents are ex-offenders, and all are recovering addicts of some description. There is a ‘progression’ system between the houses from Lazarus to Thomas to Shalom depending on how stable the residents are, and how well they are doing according to an agreed set of criteria. The residents are tested at least once a week for drugs and alcohol and failure of these tests results (officially) in the residents being asked to leave.

As this is the first time that Lazarus house has had students from Trinity on placement, there is no real prescribed structure of how I should spend my time and there are very few expectations at this stage. In discussion with P, my supervisor, we decided that I would initially spend my time chatting to the residents and getting to know them as well as helping out with any practical tasks that need doing around the house or office. We will keep things fairly ‘low-key’ as far as any ‘spiritual input’ goes on my part, but we will see how things go and if appropriate, as relationships develop and hopefully trust is established I can offer prayer as and when requested.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the back yard of the house and meeting some of the residents. It was good to chat with the guys and hear some of their stories. I look forward to getting to know them and it will be interesting to see how things develop.

Learning Journal 1 - On Coming to Trinity

Coming to Trinity college to train for ordination has been both an exciting and a daunting experience. After what felt like quite a long, drawn out process of going through selection, all of a sudden everything seemed to happen very quickly. I found out I had been recommended for training at the start of June, and over the course of the summer we chose our college, found somewhere to live in Bristol, found tenants for our house in Coventry, sorted out our finances and moved house. In other words everything came together remarkably smoothly and in a timely manner. It has been a real exercise in trusting God. At the start of the summer we may have been tempted to worry that everything would work out, but we have really known God’s provision and his guidance in getting us here. It gives me confidence that I am in the right place.

The first few weeks of college have rushed past. There was the initial excitement of getting to know people, finding out where everyone’s from etc. It has been comforting to know that everyone else is in the same boat, and reassuring to find that people are ‘normal’, from all walks of life, and don’t conform to any ‘Anglican vicar’ stereotype. Now we have settled in a bit we are starting to miss our friends and family from Coventry, which I guess is understandable. I am also starting to find out how busy I am. At first the academic timetable didn’t look too demanding, but I am discovering that once you add in all the other little bits of responsibility and expectations of college life, the week gets very full. I am learning about the tensions of balancing college and family life, something which I expect will be an ever present challenge as I go into ministry.

Monday, June 09, 2008

End of College Year

Well, today I gave in my last essay, last week we had our end of year 'Wild West' party, and on Saturday was the valedictory service when we said goodbye to all the leavers who are going off to their curacies, which felt very wierd. I can't believe how quickly this year has gone. It's very strange to think that in a year's time it will be me saying goodbye to the good friends I've made at Trinity and moving off to who knows where.

I now have a week of chilling (along with doing some research, of course) before I start my summer placement at Christchurch, Clevedon. I'm looking forward to it as they seem like a very friendly and encouraging church. It will be good to see what the day to day business of ministry looks like. Then we're off to Cornwall for a week's camping with friends which I'm really looking forward to.

This year has been quite a challenge for me. Whilst on the whole I have enjoyed my time at college, and it has been a real privilege to meet so many amazing people and be part of a fantastic community, I found myself quite early on having a crisis of self-confidence which knocked me for six. It has taken me all year to get work through it, and I'm not quite there yet if I'm honest. It manifested itself in me becoming extremely introverted and shy at times. When this happens I find it really difficult to express myself in a group, or even in writing or blogging or whatever. I then start to think that I can't express myself, or that I have little to contribute, or that I'm too quiet or not dynamic enough or whatever. It is a vicious circle which I'm sure may have a spiritual dynamic to it. In a strange way, training at college can be quite deskilling. Thankfully I have made some great friends at Trinity who have prayed for me and encouraged me. At the valedictory service on Saturday we had a fantastic sermon from the Bishop of Barking who was basically saying that the basis of all ministry is to know that we are loved by the Father, and that he is well pleased with us, like Jesus heard after his baptism. So simple but so profound. I need to know this in my bones if I'm to survive in my future ministry.

The other week I had to write a years worth of 'learning journal' in a day. 16 entries of reflection on various aspects of my training at Trinity. Never one to miss an opportunity to recycle stuff I've written (no matter how low the quality) I thought I might post some of the entries on here. Should take care of a couple of week's blogging.