20 alternative commandments for zoom worship services

After the proliferation and emergence of zoom worship services this weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to issue a set of guidelines for anyone who attends a zoom church service for the first time, just so that these service are appropriately respected for all.

  1. PDA (public displays of affection) is particularly awkward if you dont appear on the same screen, and the vicar can still see if you’re making extra glances at the person you fancy even if you’re not in the same room.
  2. The eucharist problem is now solved, agreed, whether it is the real blood or not, is less of an issue because you can now choose the drink of choice, so ribena, red wine, Bloody Mary, cranberry juice, whiskey with added raspberry, are all options, you can now choose.
  3. Yes you can sit in the same seat every week, its your couch.
  4. The welcoming team consists of the oldest son shaking hands with the whole family as they sit down on the couch
  5. alternatively type ‘welcome’ and ‘yes ive had a good week’ in the text box, as you sit on the couch- just to make it authentic.
  6. Commenting on the service needs to occur in text ‘private mode’ (preferably so that the vicar can’t see it) , mistakes here could be awkward, and rely on there grace of the vicar which at this time shouldn’t be tested.
  7. By all means when the vicar is preaching you can play your own background music, suggestions including comforting jazz or instrumentals are advisable, it is less so to use death metal or the eclectic somewhat underrated music of Eminem to accompany the exegesis of this weeks passage.
  8. During the grace, please all stand with your hands wide to look like we’re holding hands, then move your head to look around the room at no one in particular, dont ask why, but this is what we do during this.
  9. If going to the bathroom- please respectfully use the mute button.
  10. Please note; we can all still hear you snore.
  11. If you would like to wear provocative, suggestive or even no clothes; for the benefit of other parishioners, please select the ‘no video option’, you are all welcome to come as you are. Or do wear respectable upper clothing and select video, be mindful of the needing to get up and toilet option, and dont forget to select no video. The church, even on zoom, probably should not have to deal with that.
  12. Please no pets , we have some people, who even on zoom have allergies.
  13. Songs that require a round, please participate as your box turns yellow. Songs will soon be written for the requirement of zoom speaker view. So do join in, one screen at a time, maybe even take one line each. We are inclusive, and do sing loud at the back, give it your best. Family rounds will be the new thing.
  14. Please be mindful of the background that you decide to sit in front of, not everyone needs to see your drying laundry on a radiator, or the slightly awkward family photo on the book shelf. Sitting in the study is probably slightly too pretentious for many congregations, just a simple sofa in a conservatory overlooking a pond, and the birds, gives a perfect backdrop to worship it also mean the vicar who can see you all, has actually something interesting to see on the screen.
  15. During the talk, the children can especially take part in a range of activities on the kitchen table, and we do hope that they can show these pictures at the end of the service showing them to the screen, we would like all to use the reaction button to indicate whether you actually can tell what any of them are.
  16. Do turn up on time, although we do realise than even with one less car jounery some families will still struggle to get to the sofa on time, after all its always the nearest who are late, please refrain from marital argument on the couch, during the service, it was both of your fault that you were late, no, actually, both of your fault, no not the devil either, but both of you. If you cannot refrain, then zoom marital counselling can be offered, and please do indicate this using the ‘help me button’
  17. Do drink coffee, tea and eat snacks during the service, we would prefer that you have non noisy snack, so not crisps or nachos, preferably a soft roll with cheese, or meat, muffins, cakes, no noisier than a noise of a soft biscuit , such a Jaffa cake, or garibadi, but not a rich tea, or cream cracker- and be mindful that you may have sing soon and we do not like singing with your mouthful.
  18. There is no notice sheet during the service, so do check the website, but we realise for many of you the notice sheet acts as distraction from the sermon, so on this basis, feel free to instead of focussing on the sermon do click a link to the latest veggie tales instead .
  19. At the end of the service to replicate the movement of the church to the back, each person must stand synchronised, and then walk 5 times around the coffee table, as Mum waits at the front door, and thanks them all for coming as you all proceed out of the front door, and drive to the local coffee shop (take away only) – alternatively head back into the kitchen.
  20. After the service there will be a faith lunch, to take part all you need to is move the laptop or phone onto the kitchen table, where we will participate in zoom fellowship, zoom sharing of food, zoom quiche, zoom sausage roll ministry followed by zoom comparing who has made the best desert this time. Yes its often the pavlova do join in the chat , have a lovely time.

I am hopeful that adherence to these guidelines will significantly aid you in the ongoing worship during this difficult time for us all. This post is in no way to discourage zoom worship at all.

Its 2030: How might the church reach Generation C?

In this unprecedented time, I thought it might be an opportunity to do a little forward planning, especially for those of us involved in christian mission, youth ministry and church.

We need to start making preparations for the state of youth ministry in 10 years time, where there will be an emergence of a new generation, from Baby Boomer, Generation X, Y, Millenial and Generation K, all neatly diagnosed into generalisations, hubris and condemnation, and no diagnosis really helped anyway, but flick the digital clock forward 10 years and there’ll be a new generation emerging. And although Rick Bartlett wrote in 1997 about reaching millennials (and 23 years later nothing has changed) , Its pertinent to start thinking about Generation C.

So- what will be generation C? – well they’ll have the following characteristics…

Unlike previous generations that have a time span of 12 -15 years (1945-1970, 1970-82, 83-2000) Generation C are more specific, for they are born between December 3rd and December 25th 2020, by virtue of being conceived, at precisely 10.30pm on Saturday 14th March 2020, when there was an additional early bedtime in the TV slots due to no Match of the Day being shown.  (and who stays up to watch repeats of Mrs Browns boys). And 3000 babies as a consequence are now due to be born in the early part of December 2020.  Whilst there are a number of additional children born later into early 2021, it is these March 14th conceptions that are the spike in the demographic. Since 2021, there have been many conferences to ascertain whether ‘Generation C’ covers all of them, and if there’s a Generation C, and Generation C+ for 21/03/2020 onwards conceptions.

The early pregnancies of the Generation C babies are affected by the combination of heightened anxiety caused not by a bacterial virus that started to take hold, but by the narcissistic incompetence of the two main leaders of the free world during that time, and this fear transmitted through to these babies, and so, they became empaths in the womb, detecting emotion, and a desire for comfort and security.  (in case you hadn’t noticed every generation is produced under fear or mourning conditions, WW2, Cold War, Diana death,,,)

An internal resilience underwrites the capacity of Generation C, they have an inner resolve, for as they are born, their first few years are affected by an international community and make do attitude. The Virus, has raised the bar of humanity and the great waves of decadence that fit the previous 50 years and 3 generations is over. These children become loved. Loved because love has become more important than entertainment, money or ego (that, is after the two world leaders have been removed). These children are raised in shared clothing, have reused chairs and accessorises, and are raised in larger communities who have created bonds and stuck together through the 2020 outbreak. Neighbours help with baby sitting, like they’ve shared food from the garden during the pregnancy.

Unlike some generations, Generation C children have a craving for the outside world, to explore and be in the countryside, this is as a direct result of the self isolation of their pregnant mothers in 2020, who were unable to experience this, as soon as the wind hits the face of the baby gen c, it awakes. Nature is craved by Generation C like no generation before.

Like every generation before it, and so, this is probably a statement of the human condition, (or the call of many youth ministry leaders who seem to decry this as an ideal, yet barely fulfil it), its a generation that not only has a high value for authenticity, but so much, that as babies they can detect extreme situations of bullshitting. This is in part due to the visceral reactions of Generation C parents to the television when either of those unnamed world leaders appeared during the crisis.  The term Baby Bullshit detector is coined for Generation C babies who develop an acute vomit reflex when they spot a fake, or a narcissist anywhere close. It is the first generation where emotional capacity is passed through the womb, and evident in them as babies.

Unlike the Millenials, and the Generation before Generation C (B?) – this is not a generation who are able to receive the full nutrients that world wide commercialism has to offer in their growth. It takes 5 years for Generation C children to undertake the basic taste of avocado on sourdough for breakfast,  (some Generation B are weaned on this), quinoa is later, 10 years, and the luxury of fragranced toilet paper during potty training is something only afforded to the few (those who live so near to a supermarket that they see the delivery arrive). Generation C are not blessed with variety and choice, there is still rationing in the shops as they grow up, they navigate a weird dichotomy of their parents queuing up for toilet roll, whilst at the same time being able to have electric power cars that have internet connectivity.

So, reaching Generation C, the 10 year olds in 2030, is going to take some monumental efforts. Luckily by then, there will be other resources published like ‘mourning the end of baby boomer church’ , ‘leading as an Xer on your own, and pleading one millennial to pop by the avocado toast faith breakfast’ and ‘theres so many generations can we just not agree this is all a bit generalising’  by then. But this group of 10 year olds will attract significant interest. Channel 4 film makers will follow their progress for decades, sociologists will ask them questions for research, and YFC will find one who might be a christian and develop a resource.

This sense of community and limited spoiling means that Generation C are not clouded by materialism in a way that previous generations are usually said to have. They have a big regard for community and relationships, because they experience them, and not just in the immediate family. They are inclined to nature and spirituality, and value things that are more important that objects and things – such as personal connections and touch.

Young people; What would you like the church to do for you?

The original title of this piece was going to be ‘The Future of youth ministry..who decides?’  because it was what I was thinking about as I was reflecting on a number of conversations, conferences and meetings that I have been involved in the lot few months. They all seem to go like this:

We need to decide on our Aims and objectives and go from there

Young people aren’t attending churches, we need to ensure that there’s more faith taught at home

its great to gather a whole load of professionals into a room to decide how we might reach _______ people

Maybe our next step is to raise some funding for a role

We need to get back to the gospel

And however, worthy these conversations are, and they are many. Far too often, far too regular, the decisions about the future of any faith based ministry are conducted by the gatekeepers of the faith, rather than the participants and receivers of the provision themselves. The future of youth ministry is in the hands of those who benefit from it, survived it, became leaders within it, and are now invested in it maybe financially, or those who represent the agencies of faith – the church.

This occurs in the local and national levels. A charitable organisation, that delivered detached Youthwork in the north east of England only governed by church volunteers/clergy (organisation now closed btw) , a charity deciding on its future direction has only clergy making decisions, all influenced by other factors, and not the 1000’s of young people whom it has met with in the last 20 years. By the way, this isn’t new.

As Naomi Thompson illustrated in her expensive book, Young People and the church since 1900, churches made decisions on the future of Sunday schools based on a number of factors, but not one, was on the effect on the local community, or the long term of legacy of closing the door on swaths of the local community. Largely it was based on a retention statistic. If only 2% of attendees of Sunday school kept going to church, then Sunday school itself needed to be adapted. And, individual churches made a change. That statistic increased to 4% over the course of 30 years. Why? because Sunday schools stopped being available to everyone on a Sunday afternoon, and moved to Sunday mornings to be ‘creche’ for the church going families.  Churches didn’t change and adapt to accommodate the 2 million chidden in Sunday schools in 1900, Sunday schools changed to try and improve a statistic. And largely, this was achieved successfully, 🤔;

If an element of disharmony did exist between churches and Sunday schools, then the move to the ‘family church’ model provided a way for then church to seize power or even to sabotage or bury their affiliated Sunday schools. Cliff emphasises that Hamiltons observation that 80% of Sunday school members were from non church background were reversed when Hamilton died in 1977 to 80% from church backgrounds. This was not due to any growth and thus highlights the failure of there strategy to retain non-church young people. Cliff attributes this to the failure of the church members to become mentors (to non church families/young people) that Hamilton proposed. A church of England report (1991) report acknowledged, if viewed as an evangelistic tool, ‘family church’ was unsuccessful. However it argues that it helped to retain young people in churches longer (7 1/2 yrs from 6) and doubling the % of those children becoming church members 2.3% to 4.8%. Arguably these changes in figures were more likely due to the decline in numbers of non church scholars in Sunday schools, than any growth in actual numbers of young people attending church. (Thompson, N, 2018, p49)

A few things to note here. Family church was a reaction to a statistic and was catastrophic in changing the dynamic of Sunday schools, it was also strategically implemented by the church with no consultation to the Sunday school and… damningly, done to bury Sunday schools which churches wanted rid of. The Statistic was improved, but at what cost…. and did it focus the church on spending more time with the most likely young people… ? Though if in 1977 young people spend 7 years in Sunday schools… I wonder how long this is 43 years later…

The example is particularly telling in that for Sunday schools we could replace this with ‘faith based youth work activities’ that exist today. The gravitational pull can be exactly the same ; ‘how many of the 1000’s of young people do you see in school, ever come to church’ and if there are decisions to made about funding – what part might the same statistics play. Recent church attendance statistics have formed the basis of many a blog post and discussion recently.

Who decided the future of youth ministry /faith based youthwork in the UK?   – the reality is that the same culture of statistics and church attendance affects the decision making today – still 50 years or more on. The thing that has barely changed is the church. (there were guitars in churches 50 years ago- as if that makes a difference)

So – might we ask a different question – from who decides on the future of youth ministry – and leaders within holding the proverbial keys – might there be bravery and ask instead:

Young people ; what would you like the church to do for you?

For- the future of UK youth ministry is barely going to reside in the organisations and colleges, neither is on twitter on blog post clicks. If the church is actually serious about young people – it will bend over backwards to not only hear their voice but also make changes and receive young people as contributors. Maybe also the future of youth ministry is less about service to the organisation and its numbers – members – but about young people.

Its also the Jesus question. If the begging man, bartimaus is on his knees, and Jesus asks him this question out of respect – then maybe surely , if young people are cast at the powerless party in their provision- then maybe this is a better question, that trying to do something, and keeping doing the same something, or doing the same something but trying to be bigger than last weeks something. Without actually giving young people the same dignity and respect that Jesus actually would. Come to me he said.

What might young people want the church to do for them? 

And if they say to **** off, then fine. But why might they say that – what’s the hurt? 

And if they say – we want a safe space… then… create it with them?

And if they say – we want you to help us with changing the world – then develop this together

And if they say- can we just sit and chat – then bring out load of activities, games, talks and ……. no just sit and chat….

But what’s the point you say? will it preach the gospel? will it bring young people into church?  

Im just not sure numbers and statistics and strategy have the greatest of track records in their influence of youth ministry, and neither church as the destination or presiding decision maker in the process.  Maybe those that hold power need to give it away…

Dear Young people – there’s a few thousand empty church buildings in the UK, and a group of people in churches who have no idea that you even exist at times, and presume a whole load of things about you. But they do often mean well, and would love to begin listening, and have a building, and sometimes a heart and time – what would you like us to do for you?  Could you tell us what we could do, with you, to help your life be better, to develop your passions and gifts, to build a community where you and we feel safer, to respond to the things that you’re struggling with? 

We might be small – but could you trust us with your answer and be part of making it happen together? 

What if we treated young people (in the church) as Human?

What is it about young people that seems to be that they’re treated as something other that human?

And, before someone in the church responds to say that they have a healthy and positive respect for young people, it’s the church that whilst it generates and maintains a good number of youth work and ministry provision, might also be in danger of regarding young people as subhuman.

My recent case in point is Neil O Boyles book ‘Under construction’ which – if you read my most recent two pieces, details and shows examples of where young people are patronised (told that sex is for having babies), given simple answers to complex problems (you’ll not become a child killer, if you don’t watch video games) , restricting their view of sin, shame and maintaining a cultural view that the individual is responsible (whatever the horror situation is dealt with) and infantalising young people (something is interactive because it has ‘puzzles’ and join the dots). On one hand I had many issues with that book. Not least its view of God. But its view of young people is equally as odd.

And if this is endemic – what does this say about how the evangelical church – and the wider church view young people?

Its as if young people are less than human people…- a few examples:

Talking of Sub-human – There can also be a view that young people (for arguments sake the over 11s- the post primary schools) are somehow a weird, alien, arrived from space species – this was picked up by Christian Smith in 2003 (p259), when he urged US churches to not hold this view, seeing that those who are over 11 upwards are closer to the adults who read or write blogs like this, or run churches or are congregants, than the children in Sunday school and messy church that seem to be viewed as treasures and darlings. All of a sudden theres a collective defeatist disempowering thst ‘we don’t know what to do with them’ yet, ‘them’ has been known for 6 years already. The challenges is the attitude fuels the approach, and approaches are often lacking. Of course changed young people aren’t going to like what they had aged 9, but they’re not necessarily going to like high energy games or simple bible stories or moral talks either. But they’re not aliens, just changed…

What they might like – is being treated as a human – not an alien

Or maybe even – not a project, or a puzzle to solve and then boast about.

These pages, articles and theres blogs everywhere on how to reach, teach, keep, pass on the faith to young people. Young people (once the church has stopped putting its foot in its mouth about sex) is also on high alert for the quick win, model, method, way for arresting the decline of young people in churches, and now that project ‘employ a youthworker’ has changed to ‘employ a resource church faith enabler for millenials’ or ‘an outreach worker for the 25-40’s’ its as if the church, worry stats included this week, has given up on trying.

However. Whilst young people (the 11-25’s) in this case are mentioned. What about the over 65s or under 11;s – are churches bursting their seams with them? No- thought not…

Then, as Andrew Root suggests, the desire for young people in the church is not for their sake anyway, its so that everyone else can feel not only that the institution may survive, its also that Youthfulness=Authenticity in todays culture – so increasing young people can help those involved in it to feel as though its up to date, its real. Somehow. (Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a secular Age, 2016) Young people then, aren’t treated as Human, but as signifiers of institutional relevance.

In few parts of these discussions – of church growth and young people , does the subject of actual young people, actual processes, mission, values, and human dignity appear. Its high reaction, responsive, soul searching and trying to do better. But what if the following…

Instead of trying to project, solve, judge , patronise or reach young people (no one talks about reaching the over 75’s…)

Because, as my most read piece, since it was published, suggests, young people are treated as human, when it has been established what role they have in it – just like everyone else – or more so.

Why not instead work on thinking about young people as humans? Fully human, fully who they are in the sight of God at this present moment- not in need of change, but as they are…

Think of them as not them – but us

Think of them as spiritual – and actually religious

Think of them as gifted – and our task to harness those

Think of them as having passions – and adding resource to enable these passions to be realised

Think of them not as without, not as deficit – but with character, with determionation – who already in the midst show a kind of resilience, resourcefulness that would put adults to shame

Think of them as not ‘the youth’ with a ‘youth’ room – but part of the church

Think of them not as tokens to be paraded, a group to have sympathy for – but like every other human – with a contribution to make within the places where contributions are made by everyone. Think of them as not done to, but those who create for themselves, and to be heard

Matt Haigs Book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’ says the following – in relation to all of us, and the state were in on the planet we currently occupy, what if we reminded young people, and we remind ourselves, of the collective humanity that we are all part.

‘Remind ourselves that we are an animal united as a species existing in this tender blue speck in space, the only planet we know containing life. Bathe in the sentimental miracle of that, define ourselves by the freakish luck of being alive, and being aware of being so. That we are all here on the the most beautiful planet we’ll ever know’

What if there was something about the very young people in your church and parish whose humanity imight be revealed to you? What if their place on this glorious planet was no more or less significant than yours – what if young people are aware of participating in something much bigger than they know yet – and they dont have those dreams and stories and actions quashed by the very adults who say that are working with them, because there’s a drive to be pure from sin all the time.

Maybe the first thing is not to talk about young people as if they’re not in the room. But they are. Not in the room about them…. and where their involvement is too purchase attendance tickets to the thing we think they might like. Hmm, some humanity there.

What if there isn’t a new model, method or idea – but what if theres just something to be said for listening, inviting, sharing space and enabling young people to belong, to do, and to be challenged, and have opportunities to flourish and make decisions.

Maybe if churches thought about young people as the humans that the other humans would like to be treated – then this might be a good first step.

Do I really need to make a theological case for treating young people as Humans, from the biblical material? No thought not, most of you youth workers recite it all anyway, and adults hear the same messages…; Created and made in the Image of God, Loved, gifted, persons who can be in conversation with God, in community, capable of feeling, emotion, intellect, generosity.. and participants in something God is calling them to – and that needs a conversation, respect and time – not a programme, a method or a model.

What if we began to reflect seriously about the humanity of ourselves, and the young people who are part of our communities, parishes, churches and groups?

And took what we might find seriously..?

Bryan suggests that ‘We understand who we are primarily through reflecting on the story of our lives. Every day we share stories about what happened to us and what we are anticipating or hoping for in our future, but each of these narratives is embedded in the broader stories of our family, the social groups we belong to , society, and beyond that to the unfolding history of the world’ (Bryan, 2016)

Locating and regarding young people as Human, and developing their true humanity is what we are to do – again, and as Bryan writes, and I conclude, with this to reflect on

‘An essential part of who we are is rooted in human beings as co-creators and participants in the unending story of God. It is the living story of God which defines who we are and who we become’  (Bryan 2016, p5)

How might young people be part of the stories of the church as they are?

How might church be part of the stories of the lives of young people?

How might church encourage the stories of young people as they participate in Gods call in the world?

And not just that, creative, quiet, loud, questioning, faithful, determined, thoughtful, considerate, loyal, you know – just like the rest of us…

 

References:

Christian Smith, 2003, Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Bryan, Jocelyn, 2016, Human Being

O Boyle, Neil, 2019 Under construction

Root, Andrew, 2016, Faith formation in a Secular Age

Haig, Matt, 2018, Notes on a nervous planet

 

 

Has the church lost its dream – if its just measuring growth?

I want to write something about church growth and people who I work for in faith organisations and churches still talk to me, and yet whilst contentious I think, its needed to be said.

Image result for church growth

Statistics about the decline of the church and anecdotal evidence have pretty much meant that church growth is the only game in town, (and this is reflected in a previous piece, on bottoms )the yardstick in which every initiative is measured, and where funding applied for has as key outcomes, and even where research by Social justice groups (CUF,Grace project) has to assess whether social justice projects ‘help with church growth’ – to inform that conversation – regardless whether they are good or not.

The same was in the evaluation reports for the fresh expressions over the last 10 years, indicating where growth (numerical) occurred and the causes of this – the key headline being where a vicar was in charge of 1 church, and the employment of a youth worker.

Image result for fresh expressions

I just wonder whether we’re measuring growth in the right way.

What about the following question…

How do you know if a country is showing signs of growth? – what statistics might you have heard of or know about to indicate this?

One is GDP and this often used and this is the measure for much of the government debate on growth – but have you ever thought about what is or isnt included in GDP and what influences it..?

The second world war had a wonderful effect on GDP. As do national disasters. Rebuilding a country after flooding in 1950s increased GDP by 2%, as the services required were utilised. GDP is also increased through the increase in Human suffering – therapy, solicitors, one company pollutes the other cleans up – all good for GDP. The families with the most poverty -and in need of services and spend money and consume- are the best for GDP.. those who go for walks and talk are worse for GDP… think about it.. yet how much we rely on GDP as a measurement – and yet probably dont stop to think about all the ways in which it is affected. Yet, its origins were for measuring an economy and its power during the time of war, in 1930. From being a yardstick of power during war, it became the ultimate measuring tool for a consumer society post war, but its prime success was in the war era – its still being used – for the sake of no other viable alternative being offered or created. Its a war time measure, still in operation and clung to. The problem, as Bergen states, with GDP is that simple rankings hide more than they reveal. He uses the metaphor of a violin piece, that if written in 1800 took 4 minutes to play, than in 2019, the same piece even with an orchestra and all the technology involved… still takes 4 minutes any adjustment ruins the tune – even if it taking 2 minutes makes it more efficient.

when you’re more obsessed with efficiency and productivity- its really difficult to see the value of education and care (Bergman)

Targets driving performance in the public sector start to sound ridiculous dont they?.. ‘we have a high graduation rate, therefore we offer good education’ or ‘the economy is growing therefore our country is doing fine..’ As Kelly suggests:

‘productivity is for robots. Humans excel at wasting time, experimenting, playing, creating and exploring’

Governing by number is the last resort of a country that no longer knows what it wants, a country with no vision of utopia (Bergman, 2019). And this isnt a political post during an election season. More to reflect on what might seem a standard measure that is uncritically accepted often – yet we rarely think about what it measures or doesnt or what it is affected by – and whether it in itself is good.

Does this resonate for you with ‘church growth’ at all?

I wonder if the warning of a country measured through statistical lenses and that has no vision of utopia – what it is dreaming for- might be stark, or appropriate. A church that statistically grows numerically – might only be increasing due to receiving new members from other churches that have closed. A church that is growing numerically – but who is attending – and are they from local estate communities of lower income – or the wealthier , not that its known – because this data is secondary often.

But then – is this in any way a real sign of growth in a church anyway? more services, and attendance – but what about faith formation, discipleship and how a church increases capacity, depth and responds to poverty locally? or – how might a church be involved in communities like school governers, voluntary groups, business and politics? Are they signs of growth too – as they impact and enable human flourishing in the world too? And not to mention funerals, weddings, ceremonies – and all the 100’s of encounters that people might have who have a moment of faith, lighting a candle, saying a prayer and feeling at home in a drop in. Then theres all the volunteering, the ‘performing’ – and the theological reflecting, growing and training that goes on..- not just for ordinands.

In a church I was in recently – they estimated that 500 people used the building each months for all its activities, yet only 100 attended on a sunday service. In another church its community work hosts more than 2000 per week, employs 7 people and receives £1000’s of funding for its community programmes – yet has less than 50 per sunday. A small church of 8 people, put on holiday clubs in one community that enabled over 100 families during the summer to have food and space to be, space to feel welcome and love and be community, in one of the most challenging estates in the north east. – are these churches growing – or being faithful – or doing good – or acting in a way which looks like the kingdom?

Just thinking about the effort, discipleship, growing that is going on in these- and then what might be measured on a spreadsheet.

Might measuring for church growth be a sign and also a pressure that creates unnecessary anxiety- and at the same time reduces the core function of churches to achieving productivity. If thats ‘the real world’ – then the real world is anti faith. The question is not just about what is measured in terms of church growth – but whether implicitly this has caused the church to lose its dream, its passion, its edge and what it is called to be. A place for spiritual flourishing, a place for goodness, and place that transforms the world. Maybe we have to dream differently about the church that is for the context we’re in- and not take measurements of churches that reflect a bygone way – does the current or future age need new measurements?

If measuring faith and virtue and discipleship is difficult – does that mean we dont bother and just measure the easiest indicator – even if its not complete? – it takes 722 pages of A4 to define GDP and yet its reduced to one figure- hiding so much through its simplicity. Church growth might be doing the same. An empty Sunday church might be a blessing after all, a place of expectation in the void, to not keep the pews full, but keep the altar empty (Craigo Snell, 2014) – a full church on a Tuesday afternoon might just be the spark of hope, faithfulness and goodness…

References

Craigo-Snell; ‘In praise of empty churches’ in Theatrical Theology, Van der Lugt- 2014

Bergman Rutger, Utopia for Realists, 2019

Is it more efficient to give people money at the foodbank – rather than food?

In an age when Neo liberalism has reduced all public services to the sum of their profitable and efficient parts, there could be a case to apply the same logic to the vast, and i mean vast, attempts to solve poverty across the UK.

Because – frankly – the burn out rate of foodbanks is going to be soon.

And, with many nearing their 5 year mark. Questions about their effectiveness in reducing poverty, food poverty have to be asked. It is undoubted that their need is greater than ever. But is there a better way to reduce poverty, other than the stop gap of a variety of emergency foodstuffs, sanitary products. clothes, shoes even and other items for a 3 day period of time.

Think for a moment how much human costs are involved in running some of the most busy foodbanks in the UK, warehouses, store houses, travel, collection points, cooperation from supermarkets, publicity and ongoing requests for items – its quite a lot when its added up. For – a number, a large number of people. Seems so, far alot of effort. Then theres the few people in each foodbank who are paid as overall supervisors. Funding for which has to be obtained.

A question – why, in the beginning of setting up this kind of provision – would there not be a question about just giving people money, and not the items?

Would it not be far far more efficent, in terms of time, energy, resource, effort to just give people say £50 or £100 when they came to the foodbank. Wouldnt this be a better way of solving poverty?

Sounds bonkers doesnt it – but what money do in the hands of someone who was already going to a foodbank for them?

A number of things.

  1. It would give them dignity, control and choice – about what they would spend money on. This was brought home to me recently when i talked with a homeless young person who recalled how having enough money to choose her breakfast, and buy some make up was hugely important, compared to the well meaning who handed her a sandwich or half eaten packet of biscuits. Money gave her choice, dignity and something of a level playing field.
  2. Money would eradicate poverty. And giving it to people for free would have a significant effect. Yeah, free money. Where poverty is not just money – in the vast circumstances, not having any, and the stress of that has a deliberating effect. As, the film, I Daniel Blake showed.

But thinking about it further, why is it ok to give people free tins of food etc and not the money with which to buy these things themselves?

Is it because there is a thought that this money would be spent on things that arent food related, maybe even fags, drugs or drink? or -what is there are fights outside when people start being mugged if people found out that there were people leaving with £50 each time?

Both seem slightly judgemental dont you think? – but what about the evidence – given that food to food bank recipients has been helpful – but poverty really hasnt gone away anywhere.

Strangely, the evidence, from research, is that people who are given money who least expect it, and who need so many things, spend it on… the things they need, and at the same time the human difference is significant.

A project in London in 2009 on homelessness, there was a realisation that 13 known regulars had cost the economy £400,000 on rehab, social servs, police, court costs etc per year over a period of 6 years. So in 2009, instead of handouts, these 13 were given luxury treatment, of £3000, and were asked ‘what do you think you need?’ Though social workers were initially sceptical. The reality was that in most cases each of the 13 men were thrifty and only spend £800. The reality was that money empowered people, and all 13s lives were turned around. The total cost of the ‘experiment’ £50,000 per year, including social workers costs.

So, not only did the experiment work for the individuals, it was efficient. The Economist newspaper wrote : ‘The most efficient way to spend money on the homeless, might well be to give it to them’  (Example taken from ‘Utopia for Realists’, 2017, Bregman)

We assume that poor people can handle money (Bregman), assuming that they once had money and spent it all so they cant handle it, some may never had any in the first place. Money may have arrived in return for completion of assistance programmes and job clubs -but this still suggests that people who are given free money will make people lazy. The evidence is contrary. Give the poorest money and they will more than likely know what to do with it to make them better, healthier and escape the situation they find themselves in, rather than be told and have no agency.

A program in Uganda that gave every poor woman £150, realised that within 2 years each of their incomes increased by 100%. Bregmans thesis, is that free money works.

The big reasons that poor people are poor is because they dont have enough money, and it shouldnt come to any surprise that giving them money is a great way to reduce that problem (Charles Kenny, economist)

Im not going to labour the point too much further. I realise that there might be restrictions on charities giving money – but might those restrictions be actually preventing people for alleviating poverty, and doing more to keep the charity in ‘business’ and activity instead. The University of Manchester concluded that after researching the cumulative of 110 million families in money give away programmes, they realised that the benefits were:

  1. households out money to good use
  2. poverty declines
  3. there can be long term benefits for income, health and tax revenues (people who have money spend it)
  4. the programmes cost less than the alternatives.  (Bregman 2017,p 31)

So – what about the homeless and poor in the UK – well £200 free cash in Liberia to the most desperate only caused them to spend the money on food, clothes and a small business. So if they knew how to spend free money – so  might people in the UK in a similar situation. When the poorest receive free money – they tend to work harder ( Lancet, June 27 2009)

If efficiency really is the name of the game and councils want to save money – then it might be more efficient to give money away – and alleviate poverty poverty that way, given that poverty might, no is, the key factor in so many of the issues in society. Escaping (or feeling like alleviating)  poverty causes people to do costly damaging things, so, maybe its poverty that needs to be addressed. I wonder if  the most efficient way to get people out of financial poverty is to give people free money.

This isnt new by the way, I conclude with this:

Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness, it certainly destoys liberty and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult (Samuel Johnson, 1782)

Poverty isnt a lack of character… its a lack of cash.

Think of it another way – what would have happened in the last 10 years if food banks gave £50 per person rather than the food handouts instead… ?

Would this have been more positive or negative? – the truth is we dont know, but maybe theres got to be a change, and a change to make eradicating poverty in an efficient way. Currently its costing millions – and is it working?

References

Bregman, Rutger – Utopia for Realists, 2017

Thoughts on Liberation Theology Conference 2019; feeling theologically home

I wonder whether you have ever had the feeling of feeling theologically home?  Not being around people where theres a grating or an edge, or where its about justifying a ministry, an outcome, or even, where theology is best left for others, and only a proof reading of scripture is done.

Today I felt theologically home.

I have felt it before, and regular readers of this blog will know that I have felt this amongst the pioneer youth workers of FYT, at our national gatherings. But this was the first time i have felt this in a non youthwork related conference space. Big time.

A few notes on the outline of today, a beginning in which prayers where held an equally participated in the yurt, inside Sunderland Minster (yurts also feature at FYT, maybe theres a theme), a time of reflection and sharing. This was followed by a session by Symon Hill on the infleunce of the military in society and thinking this through theologically. A fascinating conversation.

Then Sue Richardson used liberation theology to facilitate a collective interpretation of the symbols and metaphor of the clay pot, in both the Old and new testament, the process of bringing experience to the text, and developing interpretation and trusting in God in the space to prompt and provoke was just amazing, with a number of threads of questions, inspiration moments.

After an amazing lunch, vegetarian soups, quiches and fruit

The afternoon session included a discussion from Church action on Poverty about developing church on the margins, and how this is about learning, reflection, being with, and time to share practices across the room. It feels as though this conversation is repeated often, usually emerging from all those who have sought to adhere to youth and community values, of participation and empowerment, democracy,inclusion and justice. The challenge will be how this has any traction, even collectively across so many organisations into culture shift of the church.

Following this we heard from 2 protagonists who took part in, and were arrested at the XR protests in London recently, and the daughter of one who took part in and led climate change protests in their local school.  Much of the incidents, but a stark reminder that there are causes worth being arrested for, and that it is a privilege to be able to choose to be arrested.

I left before the final Taize worship, but before this there was chance to collectively reflect on the day. The most inspiring was from a young person who passionately exclaimed that we should have the courage to do something.

Definitely with so many thoughts around my head as i drove home, so much to process, but an enduring feeling like this was was space that did provoke and challenge, that did bring people together doing some amazing things, whether protesting, whether working in communities, whether studying for ordination, whether working for charities, a deep richness of perspective, a deep and broad awareness of experience. It wasn’t that it wasn’t provoking, or challenging, but it was as if the process, and the essence behind it could be trusted. It was as if the common good, the goodness of the world is at stake and faith is the mechanism, indeed the story and drama that we participate in with others to try and make this happen. Today was about learning and reflecting on our collective lines for this.

Often a conference is rescued by its networking. Liberation conference 2019 didnt need to, there was depth in the talks, depth in the room, and yet, the breaks yielded some fascinating conversations, my introvert self didn’t pursue many, but those whom i did were of real interest, in which there was deep theological conversation, on theory, on practice, space in not too long to share and be part of a community and movement. A space to feel theologically home. When so often spiritual homelessness is felt, especially in the big get togethers. Maybe that’s it, maybe i find home in the small get togethers of reflective creative practitioners. With people for whom theological reflection is core to action, core to faith, probably no wonder i felt at home. Home in which there wasn’t an unease, and a space in which there was risk taking, invitations to genuinely participate, learning, value and reflection. Theological and theoretical homelessness might not be a bad thing, in the process of change and renewal, but always feeling like in those spaces and putting on a face can be significantly tiring. Its good to know whether theologically and spiritually, theoretically and in practice its possible to feel like the slippers are on, as is the fire and it feels home. Homelessness can be stressful, and tiring.

And as for some of the detail of the sessions, far too many to share here, subjects I hadn’t considered, subjects i seem to know only so well, and the inspiration of those who have acted. Just a brilliant, inspiring, hopeful, energising day.

Thanks to Chris Howson, for Ray Leonard who organised and promoted this, and for all the participants, new friends and community.