Regional discussion on human sexuality

This morning I went along to one of the regional discussions on human sexuality being hosted by the Evangelical Group of the General Synod, with Ed Shaw (livingout.org and a church planter in Bristol) and Stephen Hofmeyr QC (interim chair of Church of England Evangelical Council) giving presentations.

Ed Shaw spoke from personal experience on “Is God anti-gay?” and “How churches can welcome those with same sex attraction”.

Stephen Hofmeyr QC (interim chair of Church of England Evangelical Council) spoke about the “shared conversations” and the possible outcomes in the life of the Church of England.

Here are my notes – please excuse any spelling and punctation mistakes etc.:

Ed Shaw, Living Out

Grew up in a Anglican evangelical family, always professed faith. Brought up with deep convictions about the Bible being God’s word for us, and sex being for marriage and between a man and woman. An interesting experience having those convictions and during puberty being clear having desires for other men. Thought through it and during teenage and twenties thought it was just a phase. Reached mid-twenties and realized it wasn’t a phase and shared in an accountability group with other ministers, but kept it private, until 2-3 years ago when realizing some were going to have to ‘come out’ as the issue became a central issue for the church. Had a wonderfully positive response, and released a day a week to help with Living Out.

 

This will be a deeply political issue, and the danger is we get focused on the politics, can we stay within the CofE etc. We lose the focus that it is a personal issue for many in our churches, and one of the biggest issues for evangelism in the church today.

 

  1. What is our verbal apologetics – how do we answer is God anti-gay?
  2. How do our churches and church life that will engage people from the gay community – how can they be seen as welcoming and inclusive in the right sense.

 

Is God anti-gay?

In reply to the question often hear:

  • God loves the sinner but hates the sin – instinctive but problematic as it is really hard to make the distinction between me the sinner and the sin. The Bible says it isn’t just the sin, but it is in our hearts. For the gay community their sexuality is a massive part of their identity and so doesn’t work.
  • John 3:16, God loves everyone, he loves you. But people find it hard to understand how love can involve saying no to things. How can God be loving and say no to a loving relationship. There are answers today but it is difficult to work through in our culture.
  • God is anti all sin – not just anti homosexuality but a whole host of categories, God puts all of us in the box of those who have rebelled against Him. They should see fairness in that. It is seen as quite negative, and for unbelievers it can be hard work to help them see what sin is.

 

You want to nuance what you say. Want to say no and yes.

 

It is a very personal talk, evangelical Christian who believes in the Bible and trusts in Jesus but finds myself exclusively attracted to men, would call myself same-sex attracted, society would call me gay.

 

Didn’t choose to be gay. Some people thought I had to be made to be gay, it was done to me, I had a bad relationship with my dad or abused as a child – neither happened to me. What was natural for my friends to fancy women, was natural for me to fancy men. I thought it was a phase but I see now it is a permanent decision. So the question is a personal question for me.

 

Why do people think God is anti-gay? One of the definitions people know of God is love so how can they think he is against them. Maybe because they’ve experienced homophobia from Christians, the Stonewall definition of homophobia is helpful. That is wrong and Christians should be repenting, and if you see that you should challenge that.

 

They’ve read the Bible, they’ve read passages where gay sex is described as an abomination. Want to in one sense apologise for that, but one of the claims is that the Bible is right for us today and so cant get the tippex out and edit it, the Bible says difficult things. Leviticus 20 – they are to be put to death – very clear – God is anti-gay, in black and white in the Bible.

 

Want to say today it isn’t that simple. There is a big nuance if we’re to interact with this subject. He is anti gay sex but clearly loves gay people.

 

Clearly anti-gay sex – Leviticus passage might make that. Some might think the NT would be different but let’s read 1 Corinthians 6 – any sex outside marriage is not compatible with what a Christian should do. Saying to someone they can’t do something they want to do doesn’t mean you’re anti them or hate them. My parents stopped me doing loads of things I wanted to do things out of love for me, e.g. thumping my sister, punishing me out of their deep love for me and my sister. My father God in stopping me having the gay sex I want to have is doing that for me – it would not be good for me or them. It is possible to be anti behavior and still love the individual.

 

You might instinctively have objections. How can God be loving in stopping me having gay sex. Let me tell you something counter cultural – sex isn’t everything. It is a good and pleasurable thing but you can have a good life and not have sex – it is possible. Look at the life of Jesus, he is the example for a Christian as to how human life is lived to the fullness. All a Christian is being asked to do is to follow Jesus and live life to the full. Doesn’t that mean we have to live a lonely life – you’re condemning us to misery. No, because the NT tells us the Holy Spirit is creating a radical community called the Church. In my church I have spiritual uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters – it is the family that will last for all time. Not starved of love due to the network of love, often receive more than my married friends. Although the bible is clearly anti-gay sex, God clearly loves gay people, people like me.

 

Unlike our society today God doesn’t put gay people in a separate category. God doesn’t put people into different boxes saying to the straight people he loves you and the gay people he hates you. The label he gives me is the label he gives anyone who comes to trust in him is to be an adopted child – regardless of what has or hasn’t happened in our sex lives – I love you. God doesn’t put gay sex into a category of special, serious sin – he puts it in 1 Corinthians 6 in a list of things that everyone has done at some point in our life – not picked out as a particulary bad case of rebellion against God – put in the same category as everyone else.

 

Wonderfully Jesus died on a cross to forgive me for everything I’ve done wrong be it my sexuality or other things I’ve done wrong. And that’s what he’s done for you – having sex with someone of the same gender doesn’t mean God can’t forgive you. The cross shows he loves us all.

 

There are lots of questions but soon to focus on how you thrive in community without sex, lots of young people feel the world hasn’t delivered what it promised, they’ve tried sex and it wasn’t what they were told it would be. Lots that is hard but some stuff that they are intrigued about.

 

How can our churches be seen as pro gay people?

We have a massive challenge on this issue. Whenever faced with a massive challenge I need motivation. Need to turn to Jesus in the gospels where he was consistently welcoming and inclusive of those who weren’t by the religious societies of the day – women, lepers, children, Gentiles. We know that as Christians we know we need to be like him. We need to recognize that we’ve not done what Jesus would do for minority groups such as the gay community.

 

Tim Keller in The Prodigal God: “Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious and offended the religious, our teaching today doesn’t do this … it can only mean one thing, we must not be declaring the same message Jesus did.”

 

Andrew Marin: “I’ve never met such a loving community as the gay community – there is room for everyone – they want to give the same love to others as they want to receive. … I was being out-Jesused by gays and lesbians, they put a bullet in my soul.”

 

Three things that need to massively communicate, three big truths that we all believe but failed to broadcast:

  1. We are all sinners. The world needs to hear that you will be welcomed as you are all sinners. We give the impression that the sinners are out there, and the salted are in here. Very good at doing 1 Cor. 6:9-10, and people have got that they don’t belong if they’ve done one of those things, but what hasn’t been heard is v. 11.We’ve somehow managed to hide the fact that we have people who have done all those things that mean we shouldn’t be here, and continue to struggle with things and because of the grace of Jesus can be here. They think you have to be perfect to belong and so they know they don’t belong. We enjoy self-righteousness – not happy with any specific analysis of what our sins and struggles are. We need to remember that Jesus’ harshest words were for those who were self-righteous and his warmest words were for those who recognized their sins.

 

Some thoughts: the Anglican liturgy helps us as the service begins with confession of sin – but we’re not good at reflecting and explaining that. It would seem to be a formula we go through rather than a reality we accept. If we are more specific, not necessarily asking people to stand up and confess their sin, but naming sins like self-righteous, consumerism, idolatry of the nuclear family. Let’s use our sermons – your church probably know what your sins are – they’ve lived and worked with you so they know what your sins are – but have you confessed them in the pulpit so they know you consider yourself to be a sinner. It would be helpful if the people at the front get that you are a sinner, you are broken and a mess like them. We need to not just condemn gay sex, Justin Welby did us a great favour when he turned our attention to Wonga and the consumerism that sits behind it. We need to condemn gay sex, but all the other sins in those lists so people get we’re not sex obsessed, but bothered about anything that is not good for us.

 

  1. God’s word is good for all – one way for being inclusive and welcoming is to say that gay sex is fine. Why can’t we say that? Because the Bible is quite clear. Psalm 19 helps us when we reflect that God’s word is out to get us and screw us up. God’s word is perfect, trustworthy, right … .   Look at the affect it has – it revives my soul, brings light, endures forever, in keeping them there is great reward. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, reflects on this – the Bible is good even when it sounds like it is screwing up our lives.

 

We have got to resist the attempts to say God’s word is bad on this issue. We’ve got to be unapologetic that God’s word is good on this issue. God’s word is often hard for us in it’s initial application and yet will still be in the long-term a good thing for us. We can best do that in our churches by sharing the reality – those who are stuck in a difficult marriage, knew what God said about divorce, they see the benefits from that; when people give self-sacrificially it is really hard but that is good and good things come from that – the most generous givers consistently testify to the reward that giving brings.

 

  1. Church is family – one of the biggest pressure points is that we can’t ask people to live alone, a lonely misery so we have to embrace talk of gay marriage. Church is a family but we often only use that to enable the oldies to cope with the noise the children make. It is a realistic idea: Matthew 12:46. The NT redefines family – it is no longer biological – but spiritual. Not those we are biologically united to but those we are united to through the cross. Cf. John Piper, Marriage is temporary.

 

The truths are very counter cultural, especially in evangelical churches, we have idolized biological family in response to family breakdown. We haven’t communicated that they are not the be all and end all – they won’t necessarily last – but our spiritual family will. No Christian should walk alone, every Christian should feel part of a family, good news for the single, the childless, the widows. We need to restore the idea of church as family.

 

We need to treat church family like family. Churches need to function and feel like family. When I go to church I will always be embraced by Ruth, a lady in her 70s, treat each other as honorary aunt and nephew. Chatted with his goddaughter before church about the last week, her parents paid for the deposit on my house. The sort of thing families do, the sort of thing church families should do. Reflect on what would be particularly hard for single people, especially those with same-sex attraction:

  • Birthdays – people get together and plot for my birthday so something happens
  • Holidays – holidays for single people – you don’t have anyone to go with, you don’t have anyone to help make decisions. Go on holiday with a family, and now widened to two other families and several other singles.
  • Making decisions – who do you make it with? The people who listened and helped make decisions, and shared their decisions with me.

 

The challenge is great, but the solution is just the gospel. It will get us to think about the things we haven’t had to confront for a while – key truths that we’re all sinners, God’s word is good, and church is family. We’re certainly in danger of forgetting and definitely applying these truths.

 

When we find it really hard we need to remember how welcoming and inclusive Jesus was and is of you and me. How deep the Father’s love was in welcoming us to his family, for us to bring our mess into his family.

 

Stephen Hofmeyr, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council

What are the possible outcomes, and how might they play out in the Church of England?

 

Western society is currently experiencing a moral revolution. Our societies moral code has undergone a complete reversal. That which was once condemned and is now celebrated and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned. It is taking place at an unprecedented velocity.

 

The current debates on sexuality presents to the church a crisis that is inescapably theological. It is similar to the crises of Gnosticism or Pelagianism. It challenges our understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation and more. Biblical theology is indispensable for the church to craft a response to the current sexual crisis. It needs to read scripture with a historical context, an understanding of the meta-narrative, and the progressive revelation from God. Evangelicals need a theology of the body, and God’s plan and purpose for the body which is grounded in that Biblical framework.

 

The Pilling report from November 2013 recommended that the churches internal dialogue on human sexuality might be best done through shared conversations. This was endorsed by the College of Bishops in January. The House of Bishops agreed a plan in May but has not published this. They have agreed a central process, and authorized the standing committee of the House of Bishops to sign off final meetings. The Standing Committee met and reported in July to General Synod that the conversations would have two objectives:

  1. To clarify how we can most effectively be a missionary church in a culture which has changed its view on human sexuality. // We as Evangelicals want to say the truth of the Gospel is the truth for all people in all ages. So it is not about whether we are free to change what is taught by how we change how it is communicated. It presents a wonderful opportunity for the whole church to assess the effective proclamation of the Gospel.
  2. To clarify the implications of what it means for the Church of England to live with so-called “good disagreement” on issues of human sexuality. // This was foreshadowed by the House of Bishops said: “… In its discussion the House noted that the process of shared conversations needed to demonstrate primarily how the Church of England could model living together with issues of tension, where members took opposing views whilst remaining committed to one another as disciples of Jesus Christ – members of one church in both unity and diversity …” The second objective is astonishingly brazen – it assumes the answers to two prior questions, which are the real and fundamental questions.

It assumes that the Church’s teaching should be changed to make accommodation for those who don’t model and accept the church’s teaching on sexuality. An opposing view can only be practiced if it is formally accepted and accommodated. Evangelical Christians cannot tolerate this change under the concept of how to be a missionary church.

It assumes that it would be appropriate for those teaching opposing views to “live together” in the Church of England.

 

Should the Church’s teaching be changed? If so, would it be appropriate to continue to “live together” in a united Church of England? Neither of these will be considered or answered – they will have been pre-judged and the answers assumed.

 

Why do we need facilitated conversations to model living together with opposing views as this has been true for years, but quite inappropriately. In the light of the doctrine of our church nothing has been done about it. True to the promises of our Bishop’s at their installation when will they challenge inappropriate doctrine. For too long in the name of the broad church we have, like Lord Nelson, put the telescope to the blind eye! We have allowed institutional hypocrisy.

 

This disfiguring growth requires careful but invasive surgery – it demands drastic change. If as the Windsor Report suggested, we are dealing with a first order issue, a salvation issue, the answer from scripture is clear, no we cannot live together.

 

How will they be conducted?

Under the Archbishop’s Adviser for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, 20 facilitators will support a process of conversations around the Church of England. At the College of Bishops they spent two days with the facilitators, using resource material, with theological material from scholars with differing viewpoints. That material will be refined and then

 

The conversations will be clustered in areas of approximately four Dioceses, hosting nationally 12 regional conversations – each involving about 60 participants, with 15 from the Diocese of Winchester. The only restrictions is that the groups must consist of equal number of clergy and laity, equal numbers of women and men, with a quarter under 40, and at least more than one LGBTI person per group. The range and balance of views should reflect the range and balance within the Diocese – how will this be done – have surveys been taken?

 

The work will come to a conclusion in July 2016 when the recently elected General Synod will spend two days themselves in shared conversations.

 

What are the possible outcomes?

We need to have in mind where this could take, not where it should or will take us.

 

Objective one:

  • A renewed vision for evangelism
  • No renewed vision for evangelism

 

A renewed vision for the evangelization of England will only happen if the church will commit itself to the taught in the Bible. It is likely that there will be little change in the next two years between those who are gospel focused and those who aren’t.

 

Objective Two:

  • Anglican fudge – just enough compromise to enable most people to stay together – this is what most people at the centre seem to be hoping and praying for, as Justin Welby calls “good disagreement” leading to institutional hypocrisy.   Martin Davy says it is radically misconceived biblically and is anyway an oxymoron.
  • The traditional understanding is affirmed
  • The revisionist understanding wins the day

 

Realistically, short of revival, it is not going to happen. The Standing Group from the House of Bishops says there is no expectation in achieving consensus in either direction in the foreseeable future.

 

Two other outcomes involve division if traditionalists continue to believe that this is a salvation issue, stating it clearly and graciously. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, in Peterborough in April 2007, said “unity is very precious for believers. We cherish it. But we do not cherish it above truth. There are certain things which disrupt fellowship … One is persistent and systematic false teaching … And the other is persistent sexual immorality … those are the two things that do not disrupt fellowship, and we must take this very seriously in our present situation.” Love is hard, but love compels us.

 

The division may be messy – costly, divisive and an obstacle to mission like it has been in the USA and Canada with litigation and littered arguments. But division may be ordered – gracious, generous and facilitating mission. The idea that has been floated is parallel provinces with overlapping jurisdiction, with traditionalists keeping the current model, and revisionists changing Canon Law. Parishes would be able to self-select their home, with Diocesan Cathedrals serving both provinces.

 

If we are to be realistic, if we are to remain faithful to the truth of the gospel, if we are to embrace truth and love in equal measure, what the Church of England needs is not “good disagreement”, but “gracious division”.

 

We need to reflect on our part, and our leadership.

 

Q&A Session

 

How is it people come to same sex attraction?

A number of theories, some say it is a choice; it is something done to you through sexual abuse or a poor relationship with same gender parent. The shortest answer is we don’t know, and bound to be a mixture of biological and contextual. People seem to go for the theory that best suits them. Doctrine of original sin, says tendencies to behave in certain ways that aren’t necessarily right.

 

There is a danger of assuming a simplistic situation, not everyone is straight or gay, it is more complex, and helpful to think of a spectrum. Some people will always feel attracted to a particular gender, others will experience changes during their lifetime. No one has found any specific genes that provide a biological underpinning, and brain scans haven’t yet produced any particularly strong answers. Twins surveys – identical v non-identical twins – if it is biological then identical twins should experience it 100% – some studies show 50%, more recent larger studies varies between 10-35%, but even they are not recognized as being adequate.

 

We hear of people being healed from their sexual orientation, what do you think?

All things are possible with God but he hasn’t promised to heal you, that’s why not everyone recovers from cancer etc., so yes pray, but God doesn’t promise he will heal. Instead he promises to make you more like Jesus, we see that in cancer patients, and we see that with those who have same-sex attraction.

 

Lots of reports of those who have experienced change, sometimes with an obvious trigger, sometimes there isn’t an obvious trigger. A psychiatrist might see someone with same-sex attraction who isn’t happy with it, e.g. religious faith conflicts with it. The question is how should psychiatrists help in these cases. One is to put the same-sex desires as the priority, and to participative in gay-affirmative therapy. Another approach is to treat using the other aspects of your person in the driving seat, not the same-sex desires, so you may go down the therapeutic route which either leads to no change but has a better sense of acceptance, or it is seeking change. The question is is this therapy harmful – right expectations of the therapy makes a big difference. So in theory it should be possible to have therapy available to bring a possible change. There is not the size and quality of studies to allow for research on this, it needs Controlled Trials, which currently don’t exist. Yahouse and Jones looked at 100 people who attempted to change, 15% reported significant change, 23% found acceptance in their desires, the others experienced little change.

 

How easy is it for those are promiscuous bi-sexual to change?

Ten years ago the soap opera had the gay character, now it is focused on bisexual characters. There is very little discussion around bisexuality and the ethics would be quite problematic, there was no one who would talk about bisexuality on the panel to the Bishops. The binary model is dead, although in true fashion the CofE is 30 years behind.

 

Is the Royal College of Psychiatrists still campaigning against reparative therapy?

Yes currently they are.

 

On the matters of origins how does that impact our pastoral work?

The Bible has everything to make sense of my lived experience and other peoples lived experiences. Genesis allows for biological, psychological, social and spiritual problems that are behind a range of issues. But we do need to find out someone’s context to help meet their needs, it is dangerous to have one model in dealing with a pastoral situation.

 

What happens when people challenge the authority of the Bible or reinterpret the passages that focus on

Not just do theology on proof text, but look at the meta-narrative. It only makes sense if it is unity and difference rather than unity and sameness which is what gay marriage would represent. Marriage is so important from Genesis to Revelation it is a pointer of the relationship between God and his people for eternity. Need to emphaises the Psalm 19 the Bible is good, the hard things are good for us. Hard doesn’t make it bad, but Mark 8, we are called to suffer and take up our cross.

 

How do you include unrepentant gay people in our church families?

How do you deal with those who actively promote gay relationships?

Presume we think through this issue in a heterosexual context. The answer should apply across, if you’re not consistent then you are homophobic and the world rightly judges you. It is difficult as we could now be challenged in the CofE for example if you withdraw communion.

 

What would you do if you are presented with a couple with same-sex attraction for Holy Communion?

The legal position to consult the Diocesan Bishop, they are the person who ultimately decides sacramental discipline. In a local context you could suggest it might not be wise, or right, and you could ask them not to take it. In 2005, the direction said people should be requested to give assurances about their relationship in the context of baptism, confirmation and communion. In 2014 neither they or the children they care for should be excluded from the sacraments. The 1987 vote in General Synod makes it clear the same sex practice falls short of God’s design. Issues in Human Identity, 1991 changed this a tiny bit but in effect stayed the same. Lambert 1998 developed on this context. So the question is what would a Diocesan Bishop do, and does it become a post-code context.

 

We have the believing and belonging issue and we grapple with this issue regularly in regard of a range of sins. It is easier to be clear if you have a position on sexuality generally, rather than homosexuality specifically.

 

When was the last time church discipline preached on and seen as a good thing. If I fell into sin I would be encouraged that my church would love me and care for me. They show their love for me by showing me there is behavior that is not good for me.

 

The comparison of a gay couple with a heterosexual cohabiting couple is not fair. The cohabiting couple is saying they love one another, but they aren’t doing it right, and marriage is the way to resolve this. For gay couples we are asking them to split up in the next few years. Yes but the issue is still what God ordains in scripture.

 

People need time to understand and learn behavior and to reflect on their own behavior. How sure are we as to who is truly repentant on any issue?

 

North America had a very messy and aggressive division – is that inevitable in the CofE?

We are culturally different so it will be done in an English way. Nothing is inevitable. The key issue will be evangelicals working together, to prevent some of the messiness of being picked off one by one. It is key that people come and support one another – how can you despite division have fellowship? The reason to raise division at the outset, as sometimes discussion can lead to people becoming more entrenched in their views, so rather than enabling that, asking how we could graciously split if division does come.

 

The shared conversations are designed for compromise and reconciliation so we need to be clear at what point we are willing to walk away from the deal. Parallel provinces would be a dead duck in the Synod. Lay members of General Synod are critical to this discussion.

 

Do you have a short sound bite to encapsulate grace and truth on this issue?

  • If you are looking for the perfect church don’t join it as it won’t be perfect anymore.
  • Jesus calls everyone to himself, and everyone to change.
  • Why? The context is so important so that you speak to the person in front of you rather than the person you last had this conversation with.
  • Let’s pray for this is not a human battle.

 

“The Church is inclusive upon repentance” + Peter Hancock

Saying goodbye to students

goodybe - michael-phelan

As our young people leave for uni we try to give them a little goody bag.  This year it included:

  • Pot Noodle
  • Bag for life
  • Pens
  • Post-it notes
  • Notebook
  • Corkscrew
  • Baked beans
  • Highlighters
  • First by Matt Carvel

Some of these are fairly useless and jokey presents, others have a more serious use and meaning to them but for us it is important that we mark this rite of passage as they leave home for the first time.  We want our young people to know that as they leave our youth ministry, as they leave our little village on the edge of the New Forest and head out into the big wide world we still deeply care for them.

As part of our goodbye we also run an event for those going off to university for the first time where we eat lots of pizza, and chat around topics such as accommodation, finance, lectures, friendships, relationships, social life, CU, church and more using a mixture of youth leaders and some 2nd and 3rd year students.  We had lots of feedback this year that this was a really helpful event giving lots of practical information and helping to deal with their fears and nervousness.

With all our students we try to keep in contact – over the first term we plan to send a couple of parcels to each of our students, and send fortnightly emails keeping in touch with each of them.  We’re looking forward to a Christmas social when they’ll all next be back together as a big group.

Job opportunity: Youth Ministry Officer – Diocese of Leicester

Leicester-Diocese

The Diocese of Leicester are advertising for a new Youth Ministry Officer:

With the appointment of the present Diocesan Youth Ministry Officer, Mads Morgan to a role as Pioneer Development Worker within the diocese, the diocese is looking for a new YMO to take forward this exciting work, located within the vibrant and nationally acclaimed Mission and Ministry Department.

Below you will find links to the Job Description, Person Specification and an application form.

Assembly: Communication

communication

This morning we did an assembly on the theme of Communication in our local junior school.

Ways of communication

Start the assembly by saying something like this. While you are all getting settled, I’ll just have time to phone my friend who lives in London, about 130 miles away’.  Speak on the phone/to the laptop, saying something like:  “Hello, Mum, how are you? Just a quick call to remind you to remember Daniel’s looking forward to ice creams with you this week! (Pause) You had remembered – fine! (Pause)I’m in school, just about to take an assembly. I’ll talk to you later. Bye!”

Continue by saying that if everyone can wait a little longer, you’d just like to email (or text) your friend Sarah, who lives in Chile in South America. Then tap away at the keyboard, speaking as you (pretend to) type. Hi, Sarah Hope you’re having a good week, and enjoying some sunshine. Weather here is chilly, but the summer was good.  Take care and talk to you soon. SEND!

Ask the children when your friend will get the message. He might even get back to you before the assembly finishes, unless of course she’s in bed. Suggest that this type of communication, although now commonplace, is amazing. We hear about things happening all over the world within minutes of their actually taking place:

Message in a bottle

Ask the children for examples of the way people send messages today, such as text messages, email, phone, etc. Discuss ways of sending messages through the ages: messengers, post, telegrams, pigeon post.

Have the four bottles displayed on a table in view of the children. Ask if anyone has sent a message in a bottle. Discuss with the children whether they think this is a good way to send a message?

Explain that it is impossible to predict the direction a bottle will take in the sea.  An experiment was carried out tracking two bottles dropped off the Brazilian coast. One drifted east for 30 days and was found on a beach in Africa; the other floated north-west for 190 days, reaching Nicaragua. (Track these on the world map if you have one.)

Explain that, fragile as it may seem, a well-sealed bottle is one of the world’s most seaworthy objects. It will bob safely through hurricanes that can sink great ships!  Glass also lasts for a very long time. In 1954, 18 bottles were salvaged from a ship sunk 250 years earlier off the English coast. The liquid in them was unrecognizable but the bottles were as good as new!

We are going to think about what kind of message might be sent in a bottle by looking at some actual messages which have been found. Volunteers can be chosen to come out and open a bottle and read the message. Track the journeys on the world map.

Bottle 1: Thrown in to the sea at Morecambe Bay by a four-year-old girl as part of a nursery school project on ‘Beside the Sea’. This bottle ended up in Australia. Message: ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’

Bottle 2: Dropped overboard by a Swedish sailor called Ake Viking. Picked up in a fishing net by a Sicilian fisherman.
Message: ‘If any pretty girl finds this, please write!’ 
The fisherman gave it to his daughter, Paolina, who wrote back, and the couple subsequently married!

Bottle 3: Tied to the long line of a fishing net that was found by 88 refugees who had been abandoned in the seas off the coast of Ecuador. The boat had started to take in water and the men they had paid to take them to the USA had abandoned them three days earlier. As a result they were saved. Message: ‘Help, please, help us.’

Bottle 4: Picked up on a beach somewhere on the west coast of Africa, along with a New Testament of the Bible. Message: ‘God loves you very much.’ It had been sent by a charity called Bread on the Waters from the USA.

So you could put all sorts of messages in a bottle and who knows where it might end up and who might read it. It might be a cry for help, it might be a proposal of marriage, it might bring you a pen friend, or it might be good news for someone.

God is always there

Talk about the ways the children have already communicated today, e.g. talking, maybe a phone call, smiling, pulling a face, answering the register.

Show the children some of the forms of communication that you have brought. Ask what is good and bad about each one. For example, a mobile phone is a great way of communicating with people even when they are not at home; however, it can be easily lost, and there are times when it needs to be switched off, making the owner not contactable. An email is a good way to contact someone if you don’t want to disturb them at a busy time, but some people may not check their emails for days on end.

Explain that all forms of communication have their good and bad points but none of them gives immediate access to someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Christians believe that God is available for us to talk to him at all times. They believe that there will never be a moment when God is not listening to us. This can bring people great comfort as they feel that they are never really alone.  Psalm 121 verse 4 tells us: ‘He who watches over you will never slumber or sleep.’

Misunderstandings

When we think about how we communicate it’s really important to take the time to understand the feelings of others and what those around you really mean. Otherwise we might upset them, start arguments or just get very embarrassed.

Show the letters WC and ask your audience if they know what these initials stand for. (Answers may include Winston Churchill, West Central, etc.). Hopefully, you should eventually get the answer ‘water closet’ – an old-fashioned term for a toilet.

Now tell them the following story: A lady from England, while visiting Switzerland, asked the local schoolmaster to help her find a place to stay where she could have a room for the summer. He was a very kind man and took her to see several rooms. When everything was settled, the lady returned to England to make final preparations to move. When she arrived back home, however, the thought occurred to her that she had not seen a WC in the apartment. So, she immediately wrote a note to the Swiss schoolmaster asking him if there was a ‘WC’ in the place.

The schoolmaster only had a very limited knowledge of English and was not familiar with the term, so he asked the local priest if he could help in the matter. Together, they tried to find the meaning of the letters ‘WC’ and the only solution they agreed on was that the letters must be an abbreviation for ‘Wayside Chapel’ – a small church common in the Swiss countryside. The schoolmaster then wrote the following letter to the English lady:

My dear Madam, I am delighted to inform you that a ‘WC’ is situated nine miles from the house in the corner of a beautiful grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people, and it is open on Sundays and Thursdays only. As there are a great many people expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early, although there is usually plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation, particularly if you are in the habit of going regularly. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good many bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others, who are unable to go in their car, arrive just in time.

I would especially advise you to go on Thursdays when there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest attraction is a bell, donated by a wealthy resident of the district, which rings every time a person enters.

It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the ‘WC’ and indeed it was there that she first met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat usually reserved for one, and it was wonderful to see the expression on their faces.

Sadly my wife is rather delicate so she can’t go regularly: it is almost a year since she went last. Naturally it pains her not to be able to go more often. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by all.

Hoping to have been of some service to you, I remain, Yours truly, The Schoolmaster

Comment that, as you see, it is so easy to misunderstand those we come into contact with if we are not careful.

Obviously we hope to see you in the nearest WC – that’s Wayside Chapel, of course!

 

Reflection

Do you ever feel lonely? Do you ever feel scared and alone? Christians believe that God is always with us and that we can talk to him at any time.

Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you that you are always there for us to talk to.

Thank you that you understand me when other people don’t.

Amen.

Assembly: Sharing and Working Together

Sharing

We did this assembly on sharing and working together last week in one of our local junior schools:

Preparation and Materials

  • Equipment: two spoons, sticky-taped onto long canes; some small sweets such as Smarties, or crisps; two shallow dishes; two bananas; two bags of cookies.
  • You will also need a travel bag and a couple of books. Put one book and one of the bags of cookies in the travel bag – along with other items to ‘hide’ the secreted bag of cookies.
  • Before the start of the assembly, place three chairs at the front of the assembly space with the travel bag on the middle chair and the other paper bag of five small cookies out of sight behind the travel bag. The three chairs are the airport departure lounge. Put two further chairs to one side of the ‘stage’: these will be the plane.

 

The Long Spoons

Ask for two volunteers to come out and eat some sweets. Tell them they must use your ‘Special Spoons’. The children try to eat the sweets, but fail as the spoons are too long.

 

Stop the children after a few attempts and tell them that the theme of the assembly is ‘sharing’. Give them a few clues if necessary, so that they get the idea of feeding each other with the spoons. Stop after a few successful attempts.

 

Ask the children for any examples of times when they have helped someone to do something, or needed someone to work with them. If appropriate, have some children act out their ideas, or use the ideas above.

 

Discuss the need for working together to make life better, for offering to help rather than waiting to be asked, for being open to help and ready to receive it.

 

Have a Banana

Explain that you are very hungry because you missed out on breakfast/break/lunch (whichever is appropriate to the time of day). Say you hope that, while you are talking, no one minds if you have a snack.

 

Produce a banana from your pocket or bag and say how much you like bananas and how healthy and delicious they are, etc. Begin to peel it.

 

Part way through peeling it, stop and say that perhaps you are being a little selfish, and maybe someone would like to share your banana with you. Ask for a volunteer who really likes bananas. Choose an older child who is emotionally robust(!) and say you will ‘go halves’ with him or her. Continue to peel the banana, and then give the skin to the child while you begin to eat the fruit, saying: Half for you and half for me.

 

Look disappointed that the child isn’t eating the banana-peel, and say something like, I thought you liked bananas – what’s the problem? Hopefully the child will say something along the lines that s/he can’t eat the skin, and so hasn’t really had half, etc.

 

Make the point that sometimes we think we are sharing and being generous, when really we are keeping the best for ourselves and giving away rubbish. Can the children think of any examples, such as sharing sweets but only giving away the ones we don’t like? Christians believe that everything we have really belongs to God, and we need to be responsible with it and not greedy. In the Bible we are called to be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6.18).

 

Finish by apologizing to the volunteer and giving him/her the second banana.

 

The Cookie Thief

Ask for two volunteers to act out the story that you are going to tell. Tell the volunteers to sit on the two outside chairs. Explain that they are passengers waiting in an airport departure lounge for their flights. They don’t know each other and are waiting for an announcement to board their planes. The man is reading a book (give one to the volunteer).

 

The lady is getting a bit bored. She decides that she will get her own book out to read (she gets it out of the travel bag).  An announcement comes over the speaker system that her flight is delayed. The lady is getting a bit peckish so decides she will have one of her cookies. Without looking up from her book, she reaches down by her bag and takes a cookie (the child reaches into the paper bag behind the travel bag).

 

To her astonishment, the man also reaches down and helps himself to a cookie and eats it all (child gets a cookie out of the same paper bag). The lady is shocked and thinks what an awful man he must be. She chooses to say nothing but gives him a look of disdain. She has a further cookie and again the man takes one and quickly eats it. (Lots can be made of this – how the lady must be feeling – her shock and surprise. Get the children to imagine how they would feel in her place.)

 

Then to her disbelief, the man reaches down and takes the last cookie in the bag, looks at her, breaks it in half, offers her half of it and he eats the other half. The lady snatches it off him and with a scowl eats it. Another announcement is made and it is the lady’s flight that is being called. She pushes her book in to her travel bag, puts the bag over her shoulder, grabs the cookie bag, screws it up in anger, throws it in the bin and with an angry look at the man, storms off to the departure gate and her plane (child moves and sits on one of the other two seats: the plane), leaving the man behind to wait for his own flight.

 

Settling in to her plane seat, the lady prepares for the flight. She reaches into her travel bag to get her book. (Give a gasp of astonishment and shocked disbelief.) To the lady’s horror, she discovers her bag of cookies! (She pulls out of her travel bag an identical paper bag to the one just screwed up and thrown away. Hold this up.)

 

Depending upon the age of the children, remind them of what has happened and point out that the man had offered the lady half of the last cookie even though they were his cookies.

 

Time for reflection

What a terrible situation to be in! But reflect upon what the man did. Even though the lady was eating his cookies, he graciously let her have half of his last one.

 

Would we have done the same?

 

Just as that lady did, do we think bad thoughts about people when they act strangely? Perhaps we should sometimes turn around how we think and respond with kindness even when we feel we are wronged.

 

In a moment of silence, ask the children to think especially of someone they might share things with, choose to work with, play with or help in some way today.

 

Dear God,

Please bless our school,

that by working together and playing together

we may learn to serve you

and to serve one another.

Amen.

 

Mentoring needs to start with children

Mentor Children

Mentoring has been a trendy area of youth work and youth ministry over the last decade, however I’m not convinced that most of us have realised the full potential of mentoring.

In the church where I work mentoring is an exciting, purposeful relationship that helps young people grow, develop,  learn and share the journey that is life. Some want to work through specific issues such as anger management; others just want somebody to talk to. Whatever the purpose, our mentoring scheme can help to create trusting and lifelong friendships for any young person.

Over the last decade I’ve seen lots of lives changed by mentoring – the changes in behaviour, self-esteem, spiritual maturity and more and it’s left me with one conclusion.  We need to start mentoring at a younger age.

We constantly hear the challenging and distressing statistics about how many young people are leaving the church.  There is lots of research about just why this is.  Most of the religious beliefs, behaviours and expectations that define a person’s life have been developed and embraced by the age of 13, according to Christian Research.  If there isn’t a firm foundation in the Bible and the Christian life before that, children are more susceptible to succumbing to peer pressure, to doubting the faith and seeing church life as alien to the real world.

The Sticky Faith research from Fuller Youth Institute shows that inter-generational contact in the church is critical for a child to developing a resilient faith.  Take a moment to think about your church. How does it ‘do’ children’s work?  Is it separated away from the youth and adult ministries?  One of the easiest ways to join them together is to have a mentoring scheme that includes children using a combination of young people acting as older sisters and brothers, and adults who can act as spiritual and pastoral parents and grandparents.

I want to challenge you not to see mentoring as a tool to work alongside older teenagers but to instead view as something that children, young people and adults all need to be involved in – both as mentees and mentors.

How do you do mentoring in your setting?

m4s0n501

Assembly: We are all special to God

You are special

We did this assembly in one of our local Infant schools this afternoon:

 

Start by looking through the binoculars as if bird-watching, with a bird book at hand. Pretend to follow a bird’s flight path. Every now and then say, ‘Wow, did you see that?’ Take out the bird book and pretend to search for the bird.

 

Notice the children and tell them that you are a keen bird-watcher and you have heard that there are some rare birds about. They have been blown off course in a recent storm. Suggest that the children help you. When you spot a bird you will try to describe it to them. If they think they have identified the bird they may put up their hand. 

‘Here comes one now.’ Pretend to follow its path. ‘Now this one is quite big. It is all white and has big wings. I think it is looking for fish.’ Take the first reasonable answer you hear and thank the children.

 

‘Look, here we go again.’ This one is making for the school bird table. It is quite small. I see a bit of blue on it. Oh, it is eating the nuts.’ Again accept an answer from the children.

 

Then choose an unusual bird, maybe an osprey, a kingfisher, or a bird from another continent if any class has been studying such a topic. Be very excited about this one. Lots of exclamation! ‘Imagine us seeing an osprey! Do you know how rare that is?’

At that moment another bird flies quickly past and you immediately stop talking to the children to follow its imaginary flight as before. ‘What is this one? Do you see it go? It’s brown and it’s small. Oh, quick, it’s landed on that gate.’ Keep looking. ‘I think it’s a … Oh, it’s a sparrow!’ Put the binoculars down.

 

Explain to the children that sparrows were once very ordinary in this country, one of the most common birds around, in fact. They are not very colourful. They don’t do anything very spectacular. But God speaks about them in the Bible. There is no mention of a seagull in the Bible. There is no mention of a blue tit in the Bible. Nor is an osprey even mentioned. But an ordinary, little sparrow. Yes, in fact it was Jesus who had something to say about sparrows. In Matthew 10.29, Jesus says that his Father knows when a sparrow anywhere falls to the ground. He cares about each common little sparrow. Christians believe that this means that God cares for everyone, not just the ‘special’ or unusual people.

 

Point out that recently the number of sparrows in the UK has dropped off so that in some areas they are not very common at all – they’ve become special and unusual!

 

Ask: how many of us feel very ordinary like the sparrows? Maybe we are very ordinary to look at. Maybe the things we are able to do seem very ordinary. Maybe we don’t think we particularly shine at anything. But just like the sparrow, the only bird that Jesus talked about, we are special. Each one of us is unique. Ask if anyone knows what unique means: we are the only one just like us.

 

Lewis Carroll

Ask the children if any have heard of someone called Lewis Carroll. Hopefully an older child will have read Alice in Wonderland and know that he was the author of the book. Spend a few minutes allowing the children to share what they know of the story.

Say that Lewis Carroll lived during the reign of Queen Victoria and is well known as an author. But probably not many people know that he was also a lecturer in mathematics. He invented something called the Carroll Diagram. We are going to find out what this is and maybe we will discover that the older children have been using these diagrams already as they have gathered and sorted information in mathematics.

 

Put the large pieces of white paper on the floor. To the left side of the squares place the labels Brown and Blond. At the foot of the squares place the labels Boy and Girl.

 

Choose a class or group with the smallest number of children in it, or the reception class. Explain that you are going to sort this class by their sex and by their hair colour. Bring each child out one at a time and see if they can work out in which square they should stand.

Ask the older children questions from the information on display. For example, how many boys have blond hair? How many more girls have brown hair than boys?

 

Explain that as we start the new school year many children have moved into a new class with a new teacher. In some classes there are new pupils. Some classes may even have been joined in with another class. There is a lot to learn about one another!

It is easy to be able to say what colour of hair we each have, whether we are tall or small, whether we are quiet or noisy. But there is so much we have yet to find out about one another, so many interests and talents that are developing in each of us. 

Very few people, including your teachers, perhaps knew that Lewis Carroll was not only a famous author but a famous mathematician.

Time for reflection

 

Reflection

Lewis Carroll was good at writing stories and at mathematics. Choose two things that you are good at. Maybe you could share these with your teacher when you go back to class.

 

Prayer

Invite the children quietly to look around at one another as you say this prayer:

 

Dear Father God,
Thank you that I am me!

Thank you that I am special, that there is no one else quite like me.

Thank you that you have made me in your image, which means that I am able to think and do and make and create and learn and enjoy.

Help me as I grow and change this school year, to become all that you made me to be.

Amen.

Help find a Strictly Come Dancing Star for Comic Relief

Strictly Come Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing professionals are set to put a sparkle into the lives of members of the public by training them to strut their stuff for a new BBC series.

For the first time EVER the BBC team that brings you ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is opening its dance floor to the public and they’re looking for inspiring everyday unsung heroes to go on this incredible journey. We would really like you to nominate your heroes or heroines for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – their very own televised Strictly experience for Comic Relief as part of the next Red Nose Day campaign!

We are looking for you to nominate inspirational people who genuinely change many other people’s lives – and of course, it is essential that they are Strictly super fans. The show is going to be a complete surprise to these individuals, so it is very important that they have no idea they are being nominated for the show. It should be an amazing chance to reward these amazing people, with an unforgettable experience that will be broadcast to the nation at a primetime slot on BBC One.

To nominate your hero, all you have to do is send an email to nominate@bbc.co.uk to receive an application form.

Deadline for applications is 31st October 2014. Good luck!!

Church of England Ministry Status Codes

Status Code 404

I loved the blog post on Waxing My Knees regarding CofE Ministry Status Codes, enjoy!

Here’s a list of Church of England Ministry Error Codes inspired by a recent conversation on a certain clergy web forum.

All are genuine http web error codes.  ***Simon Douglas has pointed out that these are in fact ‘status codes, but he is a self-confessed geek***

400 Bad Request
No. You cannot ask God to smite Mrs Miggins.
401 Unauthorized
Similar to 403 Forbidden, but specifically for use when authentication is required and has failed or has not yet been provided. The Archdeacon has not got back to you and you can’t be licensed.
402 Payment Required
Reserved for future use.
The collection has been a bit short recently. No one can leave the service until they’ve given some (gift-aided) donations
403 Forbidden
The Wardens have taken your Church keys away. Unlike a 401 Unauthorized response, authenticating will make no difference.
404 Not Found
The requested resource could not be found but may be available again in the future. The vicar is unavailable. It is not possible to leave a message on their voice-mail.
405 Method Not Allowed
That is not how we celebrate the Communion in this tradition.
406 Not Acceptable
This parish has passed resolution A&B (please provide proof of Y Chromosome before continuing).
407 Proxy Authentication Required
The parish is under the authority of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
408 Request Timeout
The server didn’t turn up to help with communion
409 Conflict
You shouldn’t have tried to remove the pews
410 Gone
You succeeded in removing the pews
411 Length Required
See “Paschal Candle”
412 Precondition Failed
The candidate is not baptised
413 Request Entity Too Large
You can’t pray for that!
415 Unsupported Media Type
You’ve picked up a copy of the Church of England Newspaper. Stop. Put it down. Walk away.
416 Requested Range Not Satisfiable
You’ve attempted to lead a Common Worship service. Please try again using the Book of Common Prayer.
417 Expectation Failed
Welcome to the Church of England
418 I’m a teapot (RFC 2324) – [[This is a real http error code!]]
You over consecrated at communion.  Go and sit quietly in a dark room.
419 Authentication Timeout (not in RFC 2616)
The Bishop is late for your licensing service.
420 Method Failure 
You are not licensed in this province
422 Unprocessable Entity (WebDAV; RFC 4918)
Multi-faith service attempted. Logic error. Syntax undefined.
423 Locked (WebDAV; RFC 4918)
You’ve forgotten the safe key and the service registers are unaccessible
424 Failed Dependency (WebDAV; RFC 4918)
The family won’t do the eulogy. Stock response needed.
426 Upgrade Required
Liturgical reform is in progress
428 Precondition Required (RFC 6585)
The candidate must be baptised to perform this rite. See Error#412
429 Too Many Requests (RFC 6585)
The Parish has sent too many requests in a given amount of time. [Common Error]
431 Request Header Fields Too Large (RFC 6585)
The Glebe land needs managing [Largely a redundant error]
440 Login Timeout 
Synod Error. Indicates that session has expired. House of Laity to blame.
444 No Response 
You’ve asked a question of the Archdeacon. Standard error.
449 Retry With
Automatic response to 444. Expect boot loop.
450 Blocked by Windows Parental Controls
Bad Vicar
451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons
Very bad vicar.
451 Redirect
Check out the Church Times job website.
494 Request Header Too Large
See 431 but apply to multi-parish benefice.
495 Cert Error
Crisisof faith. Try ‘retreat’ command.
496 No Cert
Sabbatical required
498 Token expired/invalid
Try using bread instead of wafers
499 Client Closed Request
Change suggested. Standard parish response.
499 Token required 
Only used in parishes where Children in Communion has been implemented.

What is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life

On Thursday as part of the Arrow Course, my peer cell did a street survey asking people on the streets of Woking what they thought about Christianity, the church and more.  One of the questions that seemed to make people pause was:

If you were asked by a teenager ‘What is life all about?’ What would you respond?

The concept of what is life all about is what the Alpha course bases all its advertising around, and yet most people were flummoxed by being asked that question.  It got me thinking about how do we get people to consider the Christian faith.  Asking the question doesn’t seem to be the right place to start, and yet that is where so many churches in the UK seem to start their evangelism efforts.

I was struck by one of my friends on the course who shared about a church she knew that had done away with any evangelistic programmes, as people in the church just didn’t commit or invest in them, but instead as part of their church membership, each person was challenged to eat and drink once a week with a non-Christian – to live life with them.  Over the course of a couple of years the church had seen much more growth through this relational approach then it had ever had with any evangelistic programme.

I think there are two reasons why this has happened:

  • People don’t have a confidence in the gospel – they don’t know their bible or theology to be able to give good responses to their friends questions about Christianity
  • They’re worried they might fail – and yet the Bible is full of tails of failure and success – we don’t need to worry about this.

So the challenge I’m wrestling with is how do we encourage people to live life together, to help them discover together what is the meaning of life. Any thoughts?

What is child sexual exploitation (CSE)?

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse and it is illegal.

It’s when a child or young person (anyone under the age of 18), engages in sexual activity as a result of receiving something such as food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, accommodation, drugs, money, or affection.

It’s a process of grooming where the abuser targets a child’s vulnerability, makes them feel loved or wanted as though the relationship is normal when in fact the child is being controlled through intimidation, fear or violence.

It can happen to boys as well as girls, from rich and poor backgrounds, of any ethnicity and anywhere in the world, including where I work here in Hampshire.

It can happen through direct contact and through technology such as mobile phones and the internet.

‘He makes me feel amazing… you do not meet guys like Jay at school.’