Thursday, April 30, 2009

Night Vision

Church for the Night.
St Peter’s Church is slap bang in the middle of the club scene in Bournemouth, and is usually closed during the night. However, a group of club chaplains (by which I presume they mean they’re chaplains to the clubs) decided to open up the church for a night, with decorations, mince pies, music, lights, visuals and heap more. Before they’d even got the doors open at 11 pm, a young girl sitting on the steps with a group of teenagers was desperate to get in, and kept on asking if they could pray with her. As soon as the doors were opened, a stream of people, including bouncers from the clubs, came in to look around, to ask for prayer, to seek counseling and help, and to show a host of other needs. The chaplains were constantly busy, and couldn’t even close at the time they’d decided on.

Since then the church has been opened on other occasions, with similar results.
There’s a full version of the article here, and a website with more stories here, plus there’s a book, Night Vision, that was published in February this year.
Here's the blurb:

Jon Oliver was involved in mission to the club scene long before anyone thought up the term 'mission-shaped'. Here he reflects on the kind of mission that everyone is now talking about - the church going out to where people are, in this case to the clubs and city streets in the early hours, when most churches would be locked up. Part One: looks at the changing face of mission among young people, asks whether clubbing has a spiritual dimension and makes the case for mission and evangelism in places that are about as far removed from most people's idea of church as you can get. Part Two: tells some great stories from the front line by others working in mission to the club culture, e.g: Turning a typical parish church into a 'Church for the Night' - a spiritual oasis for dehydrated clubbers, bottled water and pastoral care, how to be a Christian and a clubber or DJ, engaging with young people who have no contact with the church,and more.

A N Wilson 'returns' - albeit slowly

In a recent edition of New Statesman, novelist and biographer, A N Wilson, explains why he has decided that his 'conversion' to atheism was a foolish mistake, and that he has come to realise that God, religion, spirituality, are the realities rather than the atheistic arguments. His coming back to faith has been slow and full of doubts, but he now believes he's on the right path rather than the wrong.

A few sample paragraphs:

My doubting temperament, however, made me a very unconvincing atheist. And unconvinced. My hilarious Camden Town neighbour Colin Haycraft, the boss of Duckworth and husband of Alice Thomas Ellis, used to say, “I do wish Freddie [Ayer] wouldn’t go round calling himself an atheist. It implies he takes religion seriously.”

This creed that religion can be despatched in a few brisk arguments (outlined in David Hume’s masterly Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and then laughed off kept me going for some years. When I found myself wavering, I would return to Hume in order to pull myself together, rather as a Catholic having doubts might return to the shrine of a particular saint to sustain them while the springs of faith ran dry.

But religion, once the glow of conversion had worn off, was not a matter of argument alone. It involves the whole person. Therefore I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Love those old people

Matt Chandler, who isn't an old person, led a church of 100 through substantial change - and now has a congregation numbering some 6000. There's a short interview with him here on the site. What I appreciated were these two paragraphs, though he has some other very good things to say too.

There were a lot of older people in the church, and here's what I did not do: I did not walk into that place and beat up old saints and demand that our way was our way and they could just deal with it. I'm mortified at how often it plays out that way. And I don't know what young guys think they're doing; I don't know how they think they're pleasing God by beating up people who have been nothing but faithful to Him.

So first I started taking all these old guys out—to coffee, lunch, and dinner—and the message I communicated over and over again was the same: We need you, we need you, we need you. I immediately started putting 20 year-olds together with older folks. "Hey, this guy can show you how to live life; he can teach you about the Bible, he will have you into his home…" There's a hunger among twenty-somethings for that type of mentorship. And at that point the old saints don't care about peripheral things any more. They're not arguing about music and style and whether I'm wearing jeans or not any more.


The Sunday after Easter, around 1500 people gathered in the Dunedin Town Hall for a Resurrection service. There were plenty of young people, but also a large number of oldies, and the enthusiasm was full on.
During that service, Bruce Elder, from Dunedin City Baptist, called for volunteers to help with a number of 'service projects' around the town. The aim was to get around 800 Christian people going out into the community to pick up on jobs that needed doing, but wouldn't get done otherwise. These varied from street cleaning, to painting playgrounds at schools to restoring the Wakari Hospital's duck ponds.
The project had been advertised at various churches around the city already, but another bunch of people signed up for it at the Resurrection service.
In the end the number who went and worked was about half the number called for, but most of the projects that had been set up got done - and the weather stayed fine for the afternoon...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

So you thought you just bought and sold on TradeMe?

TradeMe isn't just a place to buy and sell - it turns out that the message board area has a life of its own, quite unrelated to retail therapy. tells us:

* Between 5000 and 20,000 messages are posted on the message board every day.
* The average age of someone who posts a message is 35-plus.
* The boards are largely self-censored, with 98 per cent of threads monitored by the online community and every member able to ''vote'' to remove a thread if they believe it is not suitable.
* Message topics are most active on personal or social issues, be they grief or happiness.
* There are 20 different categories for messages, from books to parenting. General and Opinion tend to be the most frequented.

Greer McDonald, in an article entitled, Web of support for the grieving, writes about the way in which Julie Adams happened on the TradeMe message board almost by chance, and discovered a world of fellow New Zealanders who were prepared to go the extra mile, offer support and encouragement, and even try and discover what had happened to Julie's missing husband. (His overturned car was eventually found on its roof in dense bush 50 metres down a steep bank just below the summit of Rimutaka Hill, Upper Hutt.)

It may not be 'church' as we know it, and it may not be 'community' as we know it, but it's certainly a place for Christians to be keeping tabs on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Inside the World of Executive Pastors

Inside the World of Executive Pastors a (January) 2009 survey by Leadership Network.

This is an intriguing survey. It included respondents from 41 US States, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, (unfortunately, it’s not possible to differentiate the Australasian responses). Executive pastors are also known as Administrators, Directors, or Chiefs of Staff.

At first glance it seems to be talking about a world that is a long way from the NZ scene, but a quick skim down the pages soon shows up evidence that what’s happening here is what’s happening elsewhere. ‘Feeling emotionally drained and overwhelmed are the two top stressors regularly felt by executive pastors,” for example. Nevertheless, most of them felt happy in their role. However, the bigger the church, the more time executive pastors spend on administration. 'For some, this is a definite drawback: “I don’t feel very pastoral,” wrote one respondent. “I want to touch people more. I want to impact the world.”'

The report also says:
While most people in the pews are familiar with the roles and duties of a teaching pastor or a worship pastor, executive pastors are a relatively new addition to contemporary church culture. Often seen only infrequently in a weekly worship setting, the executive pastor role is one that is still misunderstood amongst many church members—and for that matter, even among other church staff.

Who are executive pastors? For starters, they’re not necessarily male. In fact, 11% of survey responders were female. While that number is likely somewhat higher than the national norm since female executive pastors were specifically sought out for the survey, it’s still an interesting finding—especially given that 100% of survey respondents indicated their senior pastor was male.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Old people and mental health

In a national study of older peoples' mental health services in Britain - Equality in Later Life - the following paragraph stands out:
As a result of the ageing population, the number of people with dementia in the UK is set to increase significantly. At present, there are approximately 700,000 people with dementia and it is estimated that there will be over a million people with dementia by 2025. The financial cost of dementia to the UK each year is over £17 billion and is set to increase.
While younger people in Britain have been increasingly assisted in terms of mental health issues, older people have received the short end of the stick. In fact, the framework for mental health only addresses the mental health needs of working people up to the age of 65. Part of the issue is cost: it's estimated that eliminating age discrimination in adult health services in England could require an additional £2 billion, against a current spend of £8.4 billion.
The situation is unlikely to be dissimilar in New Zealand. Here is another area in which churches could begin to think beyond their current approaches to older people, and become innovative.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

More from Baronness Cox

Back on the 4th March, 2009, we posted an item about the visit of Baronness Cox to New Zealand. While she was here, Baroness Cox gave two lectures, one in Auckland and one in Christchurch. The Auckland lecture was to be recorded and put online, but apparently isn't available yet. (We'll try and keep tabs on when it comes online.)

In the meantime, if you want to see Baronness Cox talking, you can see a clip from the Breakfast programme that appeared on the 25th March this year, in which the Baronness talks to Paul Henry about modern-day slavery. The clip seemed to me a bit fiddly to get up and running, but maybe I'm having a bad day. Suffice to say, it can be viewed - with perseverance - once the brief ANZ Bank ad has flitted by.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

People who love gardens

In a recent Books and Culture magazine, Alan Jacobs writes on Governing and Gardening, a book review of Tim Richardson's The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden.

A quote from Jacob's review:
Classical—or more specifically Palladian—buildings like Stourhead's Pantheon were common features on the larger estates, but there were also many kinds of pseudo-temple, the aforementioned grottoes, and, increasingly as the century wore on, hermitages. Usually the hermitages would contain statues or books, but it was sometimes thought that hermitages should be inhabited. Curiously, this becomes a major theme in Tom Stoppard's magnificent 1995 play Arcadia, during which Lady Croom hires a bumbling landscape designer named Noakes, whom she comes to refer to as "Culpability" Noakes [as opposed to Culpability Brown, the famous landscaper].
When Noakes tells her that he is building a hermitage, and she inquires where he plans to get a hermit, he stammers—not having considered this point—that he could perhaps advertise in the newspaper for one. To this Lady Croom replies, "But surely a hermit who takes a newspaper is not a hermit in whom one can have complete confidence."
A wonderful scene, and we learn from Richardson that it's not wholly fictional. The Hon. Charles Hamilton, in the course of creating what would become one of the masterpieces of the age at his estate Painshill, in Surrey, actually did advertise in the newspapers for a hermit to live in his hermitage. He offered said hermit not only (a very small) room and (meager) board but the princely sum of 700 guineas—about $50,000—upon certain strict conditions: for seven years the hermit could not shave, cut his hair, trim his fingernails, or speak to anyone.
On the plus side, he would receive a hermit's cloak, a human skull, and a Bible. Hamilton got a taker soon enough, and was quite pleased until—just three weeks into the experiment—the hermit was found carousing in a nearby pub and was fired on the spot. Thus confirming the wisdom of Lady Croom's suspicions.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mission - using Tarot cards

Trinity College, Bristol, recently gave a warm welcome to John Drane, one of Britain's leading mission thinkers and practitioners in relating the gospel to western culture. Drane told a packed hall of students and staff about his creative and inspirational use of Tarot cards in building bridges for the gospel to many in today's world who are fascinated with symbolism and alternative spiritualities. He has been doing this for some years and has built up a great deal of experience.
You can read the rest of this (fairly brief) report here. Drane, along with Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, wrote a book on the subject of Tarot cards called; Beyond Prediction: The Tarot and Your Spirituality. It was published in 2001.
Part of the blurb notes: ...the Tarot was not originally designed for the art of prediction, argue Drane, Clifford and Johnson. Instead, the cards were packed full of Christian symbolism to help us understand the spiritual backdrop to life. With a revealing look at the history of the different packs, together with illustrations and descriptions of each card's meaning (and suggested examples to try), this book shows that there is far more to be gleaned from shuffling the deck than mere fortune telling.

This is quite an innovative approach to mission - though perhaps not one every mission-minded person will be keen to try...! However, if you want more detail about it, check out this report on the John Mark Ministries website.

Love versus Lust

Here's a resource your Youth Group might find useful. Actually some adults might well find it useful too. It's been produced by the Grainger Community Church, and it's well produced too.

A simple idea, very well executed. (Not quite sure why it's taking up more room on the blog than videos usually do!)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The patient is as well as may be expected

Massey University, in a survey of a 1000 New Zealanders, says results show there has been a 'sharp rise' in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation. However, the 'sharp rise' has taken place over 17 years, and the rise is 11%, from 29% to 40%. Naturally, this survey result has had all sorts of anti-religious bodies telling us that religion is dead, from people on the site to Jillian Whyte, who forecasts the future, to the Society of Atheists, Rationalists and Skeptics.

According to the survey, just over a third of New Zealanders describe themselves as religious, even though the last Census has more than 50% of people saying they have a religious affiliation, be it Christian or Buddhist or Muslim and so on.

As always it would be good to know what questions were asked of the respondents. We can get some idea from these 'results': Fifty-three per cent say they believe in God (although half of those say they have doubts), 20 per cent believe in some form of higher power and about third say they don't believe or don't know.

However, 60% (of parents, presumably) say they would prefer children to have a religious education in state primary schools - with strongest support for teaching about all faiths. Hmm, your children can be religious, but you as an adult don't have to be.

In the media release, Professor Philip Gendall, who led the research team, says the view that New Zealand is a very secular country is supported by the relatively low levels of active involvement in religion. “The survey shows that God is not dead, but religion may be dying," Professor Gendall says. This quote from Professor Gendall has made its way across the Internet in a couple of days. It's catchy, has a ring of truth, and is oddly ambiguous. The survey shows that God is not dead. Well, that's good for God to know!

Professor Gendall adds, “There is evidence that New Zealanders have become less religious over the last 17 years; however, most New Zealanders believe in God and there has been no change in the proportion of those who say they believe in a higher power.” So that bit about the 'sharp rise' was a bit of a headline rather than a reality? New Zealanders have become less religious but most still believe in God: does this mean that believing in God doesn't mean you're religious? I guess it could well do...

“So perhaps the apparent decline in religiosity reflects a decline in traditional religious loyalties - rather than a decline in spirituality as such.” And that may be much closer to the truth, a truth which churches are finding everywhere. People may not align themselves so readily to a particular denomination these days, and there is evidence that many people still regard themselves as Christians (as others probably regard themselves as Buddhists) without actually going to a church (or a Buddhist temple).

The study found that significant numbers of New Zealanders believe in the supernatural with 57 per cent believing in life after death, 51 per cent believing in heaven and 36 per cent believing in hell.

A quarter of those surveyed think star signs affect people's futures, 28 per cent say good luck charms work and 39 per cent believe fortune-tellers can foresee the future.

If religion is 'dead,' superstition is alive and well!