Friday 29 June 2018

Leadership in mission

I can’t quite shake off a parallel which has emerged in my mind between the way the Government has long invested its hope of raising standards in education with the way the Church of England is now investing its hope of reversing decline, much of which is visible again in this week’s paper from the House of Bishops about the principles of church planting.

For a long time, the Government has been robust in centrally shaping stronger inspection regimes which focus on specific definitions of success.  Mechanisms are sought for the expertise of successful schools or academy chains to be shared with failing neighbours.  New powers allow the creation of additional Free Schools and the expansion of those Grammar Schools which are visibly the best performers according to the criteria it has set.  New funding streams are made available to be bid for to make these developments possible.   

The House of Bishops’ paper speaks of its own responsibility for ‘disruptive leadership’.  I’ve noted before the way the patterns of ministerial development review involved in the last changes to terms of clergy tenure (2009) narrow down on identifying specific objectives.  There is encouragement for growing churches and for the networks of which they are part to act as ‘resource churches’ reinvigorating declining neighbours.  The mechanism of Bishops’ Mission Orders has been available since 2011 for the direct episcopal authorisation of church provision additional to that of the local parish.  The Church Commissioners now has Strategic Development Funding into which dioceses can bid.  

There is always the fear that we are unconsciously influenced by secular norms around us, but perhaps we are simply catching up with self-evidently best practice.

Meanwhile, the field next door to our house has been mown this week.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Kings in your desires

This abandoned nest is in a holly bush in the rear courtyard at St James', Cross Roads; we have no idea what happened to the mother.

Meanwhile, Refugee Week events in Bradford have been feeding me (in some cases, literally).

Among it all, the discovery that that the only surviving sample of Shakespeare’s handwriting appears to be a passage from The Book of Sir Thomas More.  More is given these words speaking to a mob bent on provoking the expulsion of Huguenot refugees:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

Alongside which, I've begun to wish I knew the literary source of the Taizé chant which includes the evocative words ne laisse pas mes ténèbres me parler (do not let my darkness speak to me); it seems to be a prayer in which we are of need.

Sunday 17 June 2018

St James', Thornton, Bradford

The Bronte sisters were not born in Haworth but five miles away.

And they were baptised in this font in an older church.

Which would have been earlier than this unusual Churchwarden's stave.

And earlier than the William Morris windows in the present church, showing St John the Divine with St John the Baptist here.

And showing St Columba and his companions crossing from Ireland to Iona here.

Saturday 9 June 2018

A Key to the Heart

Emergency hospital admissions in Frome have fallen by nearly a fifth in three years.  In the rest of Somerset, they have increased by nearly a third.  It seems it has been done by prescribing not medicine but community.

One imaginative doctor has worked away at a ‘Compassionate Frome’ project.  It points people towards the support or community group they need.  It notices gaps in provision and badgers people and churches to fill them.

Some of us in some of the churches along the Worth valley have been praying and thinking about this. 

First we noticed how much is already going on.  The Place of Welcome on Monday mornings at St James’, Cross Roads, part of a scheme across the whole Bradford Council area.  Christians Against Poverty’s local debt advice centre in Keighley being in touch about support it can give in the Worth valley.  A group of those with learning difficulties being invited to serve the local community out of a weekly session at West Lane Baptist Church in Haworth.  And those are just three examples someone has spoken to me about this week.

Secondly we noticed how willing people are to talk about the possibilities, at our local Medical Centre, among those fundraising for better mental health care provision in the Worth valley, by Bradford Council’s Ward Officer, in the activities of the local Methodist Circuit, and so on.

If you hear things soon about work for a ‘Healthy Haworth’, remember you first read about it here.  Or rather, you may have already read about it in the history books.  I’m proud to be the successor of the Revd Patrick Brontë.  In the nineteenth century he had schools built in Haworth and in Stanbury.  His work to get new sewage systems for Haworth saved literally thousands of lives.

My piece in the Keighley News this week; the opportunity to contribute a three hundred word reflection only comes round about once a year..

Meanwhile, the photographs are one of our favourite flowers in our garden at the moment and one of the Bishop of Bradford gesturing towards the 'Key of Return' when he opened my wife's first solo textile art exhibition this week; the flow of interested and appreciative people through Haworth's Old School Room has been the real pleasure of the week.

Monday 4 June 2018

Your servant is listening?

There are a few stories in the Hebrew Scriptures which have captured the spiritual imagination of Christian people in a quite a different way from the other stories in what is our Old Testament, stories which, as often as not, provide particular phrases which shape our personal devotion.

There is Moses at the burning bush: take off your shoes for you stand on holy ground.

There is Elijah on the mountain side: speak through the earthquake, wind and fire [perhaps a slight misrepresentation of the thrust of the story], oh still small voice of calm.

There is Isaiah’s vision of God (we were reading this at our services again a week ago): behold this has touched your lips and your sin is taken away; here I am, send me.

But there is a huge danger in simply locating these stories in this personal devotion.  The temptation to wallow in them as a nice spiritual experience can be deeply challenged by reading the next few verses in each case.

Why was God appearing to Moses at all?  What message did Elijah’s encounter with God give him?  Where was Isaiah being sent?  As soon as the questions are asked, it is obvious that standing reverently in inspiring silence ready to make an act of personal dedication isn’t the end goal at all.

Moses, in self imposed exile having undertaken what today might even be called an act of terrorism, is told to go back to the dictator from whose reach he has fled and become the instrument to liberate a whole enslaved people.

Elijah, a member of a tiny hunted remnant of those opposing another oppressive regime, is told to create a resistance cell before his own time runs out.

Isaiah, being commissioned as a prophet, has the picture of an utterly desolate land opened up in front of him.

So, last Sunday, the church gave us two options to develop our spiritual imagination when reading 1 Samuel 3. 

We could read as far as verse 10, get a spiritual fix when remembering the boy Samuel being helped to discern God calling and responding ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ - and sing the chorus ‘Is it I Lord? - I heard you calling in the night’ several times over.

Or we could read on a further nine verses and be challenged by the message God has for Samuel – something so strong that it was to ‘make the ears of those who hear of it tingle’.

Years earlier, Eli the priest had reproved a distressed woman who had come to his temple apparently drunk; she was to be Samuel’s mother.

Now, he turns a blind eye (almost literally – he is much older and we are told his eyesight is going) to the corruption of his own sons who exploited those who came to sacrifice at the temple.

The message to Samuel is to confront Eli, perhaps his own supervisor and mentor, with God’s judgement and punishment.

And perhaps the purpose of reading on these nine verses is not just to notice yet again the rigour and challenge. 

It is also to notice the uncomfortable similarities with what the Church of England (and I) can be like: we can very easily be more concerned about trivial external morality (such as suitable decorum at worship) than fundamental internal morality (such as collusion with injustices endemic among those like us).

This week another diocese has published another report about another safeguarding failure, and again the core cause of the failure appears to be church leadership setting aside concerns about an individual close to them and liked by them.  Like Eli.

And a strange thing is that Eli is not wicked.  Reproving Samuel’s mother and ignoring the exploitation perpetrated by his own sons is, of course, a fatal part of the story.  

But he is also the experienced priest without whose guidance Samuel would not have recognised God’s voice being spoken.  He is the one (we see if we read as far as verse 18) who appears to recognises God’s justice when finally confronted his own failings.

Perhaps we should stand reverently in inspiring silence ready to make an act of personal dedication.  And expect and heed the call to confront the oppressors and colluders.  

And then hold both our own compromised and flawed efforts and our partial spiritual insights before God’s fire and judgement.

My attention was drawn last week to the face, almost a green man, in the decoration around the south door at St Michaels’, Haworth.