Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reflecting using Critical Incident Analysis

I have used this system for reflecting on events in my life and ministry.  It comes from Chadwick, C. and Tovey, P. (2005) Growing in Ministry – Using Critical Incident Analysis. Cambridge: Grove Books Limited. Grove Book P84

For each event or incident to be reflected upon:

1 – Describe the events that happened
2 – What were your feelings at the time?
3 – What were your immediate reactions and judgements?
4 – What does this remind you of in the Scriptures?
5 – What do you think God might be saying to you through this?
6 – What does it tell you about yourself?
                   your strengths and weaknesses
                   your values and assumptions that you live on
7 – What new learning might you need from this?
8 – What might you do differently next time?
9 – How do you look at the incident now?

The Theology of Preaching

To consider the theology of preaching requires that you ask what the Bible says on the subject of preaching. Preaching is mentioned in many biblical passages and there is evidence of preaching in both the Old and New Testaments, some with reference to sermons.

Preaching starts with Scripture; develops through prayer and is delivered with the Holy Spirit. It is not about the number of people who hear the sermon but the subject of the sermon, the truth to Scripture and the transmission of the Word of God that matters. The Bible provides God’s truth; it is the Word of God.

Examples of preaching in the Bible include:
Mark 3:13-15 “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
Matthew 11:1 “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
Acts 10:44 “While Peter was still saying these things the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word”
Acts 5:20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life”

However this is only half the story, it is also important to discuss the preacher’s own theology since “our sermons communicate our theology” (Day, 1998) as well as our spirituality and life experience. It is therefore necessary to understand our own theology and how this influences our sermons, what David Day describes as a “map of our theology” (Day, 1998).

In order to ensure that our theology is understood and clearly mapped out, we need to understand how we see God and Christ, how we view sin and salvation, and whether we see our faith as being a matter of the head or the heart. The picture that the answers to these and further questions provide will be unlikely to be the same for two people within a church. However that matters less than the fact that a preacher understands the basis of their faith and theology and is able to think outside that map when preparing a sermon for others. Others with different theological maps.

In his paper “Enriching our theology” Laurie Green outlines the cycle of theology which we should all undertake if we wish to get closer to God’s word and the truth of how this can be made real in our lives. This is in fact a simple process of “Experience - Exploration - Reflection – Response” (Green, 2005).

This process starts with experience; that is experience of the biblical text in question in terms of its context, setting and meaning. You then move into exploration of the passage; analysing the scripture and reading any commentaries and writings that help its understanding, this then leads on to an analysis of how the passage speaks to today’s world. The third stage is theological reflection; using prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform you about the passage and the meaning to be given in the sermon to bring it alive and give it applicability for the congregation. And then the fourth stage, response; preaching the sermon and God’s grace with the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is the relation of scripture into our actual daily lives which is key, to provide a link for the congregation between their lives and the sermon. As the world changes this challenge may appear insurmountable, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, theological study and a knowledge of the world we live in it is possible to preach relevant and thought provoking sermons.

Theology should be where people “wrestle with the problems which radically affect their lives and the lives of those around them” (Green, 2005). Sermons should therefore help people to relate the Bible to their world and live out their faith.  Taking it back to Jesus’ own life it is important to remember that he used stories about the lives of the people he met, he taught how to preach.

What is the lectionary?

Since starting to write my daily reflections on the lectionary gospel readings I have realised it might be nice to provide some background to what the lectionary is. 

This was written in 2009 as part of my LLM Training.

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) was developed in 1983. It is provided so that every Sunday congregations across the Church of England hear the same biblical readings no matter which church they attend. The readings are prescribed on a 3 year cycle providing the following for each Sunday:

- Old Testament, Apocrypha or Acts passage
- Psalms passage
- Epistles or Book of Revelation passage
- Passage from one of the gospels

The RCL provides that Matthew, Mark and Luke gospels are heard in succession, whilst St John’s Gospel is included where appropriate, especially in the year of Mark. The majority of the rest of the New Testament books are also heard in large chunks. The Old Testament is longer than the New Testament and therefore can be read as extensively. To provide for this churches are allowed to choose from two tracks; the first, similarly to the New Testament readings, follows books week by week; where as the second track (related track) provides readings which relate to the Gospel reading for the week.

This system holds for the Ordinary Time in the calendar. There are exceptions to this system where different rules apply; namely during Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter where different lections are chosen. The church year is not just a simple calendar, it provides the opportunity to celebrate sacred times as well as in the other times providing an opportunity to tell the story of God's work in the world.

The 2008/09 calendar is provided below:
Advent Year B, 2008-2009 (Nov 30 - Dec 24, 2008)
Advent Season (Nov 30 - Dec 24, 2008)
Christmas (Dec 25, 2008 - Jan 5, 2009)
Epiphany (and Ordinary Time until Lent) (Jan 6 - Feb 24, 2009)
Shrove Tuesday (Feb 24, 2009)
Ash Wednesday (Feb 25, 2009)
Lent (Mar 1 - April 11, 2009)
Holy Week (April 5-11 (12), 2009)
Maundy Thursday (April 9, 2009)
Good Friday (April 10, 2009).
Easter (April 12, 2009)
Pentecost (May 31, 2009)
Ordinary Time (June 1-Nov 28, 2009
Advent [Year C] (Nov 29 - Dec 24, 2009)

The RCL is used for the main service, defined by individual churches as “principal service”, normally a Eucharist. Other material can be used for other services, the lectionary provides for this or the main service can be used if congregations differ in the majority.

As the year progresses the church colours change in churches which follow this tradition, as shown below. This allows the worshippers to see the changing seasons. The colours are changed on the communion table and pulpit and banners where applicable.

Does preaching still have a role to play in communicating the Gospel in a multi-media society? (essay written in 2009)

Written as part of the LLM Training in 2009; wow how the world has changed in 3 years.

This essay will discuss whether preaching still has a role to play in communicating the Gospel in a multi-media society. In order to do this it will define what is meant by preaching as well as exploring what a multi-media society actually is. It will then discuss the changes of the way the Gospel is accessed, understood and discussed; consider the role of sermons and then examine the way modern technology can enhance sermons. Following these discussions the essay will conclude whether preaching still has a role in society.

Preaching is defined differently depending on who you ask, from “communication of a biblical concept” (Robinson, 1980) to “spirit-empowered explanation” of the word of God (Olford, 1988); however it is generally agreed to be the proclamation of God’s Word. It is perhaps also worth noting for this essay that the thefreedictionary.com provides a definition of preach as “To give religious or moral instruction, especially in a tedious manner” (TheFreeDictionary.com, 2009) which raises the question of whether sermons are meeting their audiences expectations and needs, the essay will return to this later.

Although preaching is different for each preacher, and different again for the congregation, it will tend to include teaching on the word of God, delivering God’s message and relating this to real life in order to move the congregation closer to God. It should be engaging, introducing difficult issues and explaining complex topics in order to get the congregation to think and feel what God is saying to them. The preacher acts as a window between God and the congregation.

Since one of the skills of preaching is to relate the Gospel to real life it is important that the preacher understands the society they inhabit. As technology is advancing, people are interacting differently, becoming a multi-media society. This is no new phenomenon; the invention of the radio brought church services into peoples’ homes, the television brought sight as well as sound. However the introduction and rapid development of the internet has had the greatest impact. Suddenly there are websites providing every version of the bible ever written and sermons for the whole world to access; discussion boards and chat rooms bring Christians together from all over the world to share ideas, debate contentious issues, pray and bible study; there are even live church services available online, in real life or in virtual worlds.

One of the most profound multi-media developments in past years has been the ‘building’ of a cathedral in the virtual world of second life, the virtual world where users socialise and connect using voice and text chat. This was undertaken by an Anglican priest from New Zealand, Rev Mark Brown who, building on the Church of England’s ‘Mission Shaped Church’ publication (2004) had a mission to “glorify God; where people are, so the church needs to be also” (Brown, 2008). The cathedral holds several services a week, attended by up to 40 people from around the world, for a non-Eucharist service; they also hold bible study and prayer groups. With provisions such as these it might be assumed that indeed preaching has no role today; and yet the virtual cathedral provides a sermon at each service, confirming its value for Christians today, be they online or sat together in a building.

The subject then raised is what a sermon provides that can not be accessed through any other route. To really grow in faith it is necessary to connect to the word of God; to feel the words, absorb the emotions and share that with others. David Day states that sermons have a basic framework of “point, illustration and application” (1998), it is this which initially separates them from reading or chatting. The point has been identified prayerfully, from Gospel and then provided to the congregation, providing a link to their lives and an application for them to take away into their week. In this provision the preacher interacts with the congregation, through eye contact at the very least and often with words and actions. Through preaching, God's words are made real; they're not just read but they're heard and pondered on and interacted with. The congregation can laugh, cry or gasp; together the meanings provided and gathered are enhanced. More than that, together they can debate and wonder, as a congregation or even with the preacher. In the majority of cases the preacher is known and therefore the context they refer to is appreciated and clear.

At the start of this essay one of thefreedictionary.com definitions of ‘preach’ was provided. The fact that the words “tedious manner” were provided raises the concern that many sermons do not connect with congregations. This might be to do with the subject matter; it has been established earlier that the contemporary world is changing all the time and this makes it ever harder for the preacher to relate the Gospel to real life, but it is not impossible. It is by using experiences and stories about people that sermons become interesting, by following Jesus’ example with his use of parables God’s word comes alive.

However it is more likely that the key issue concerning tedium could be turned around by the use of different forms of presentation. Rev Brown discusses how the “perennial challenge facing the church is to maintain cultural relevance whilst retaining the core message and identity” (2008); he saw the cathedral is second life as connecting those inhabiting virtual worlds but the same is true for real life churches. There are many different ways that a sermon can be provided in a church which are not possible online, by watching a television service or listening to a radio sermon. The congregation can become a part of the sermon; they can be involved in activities, be asked questions and really feel the sermon. When this is combined in the context of the whole service, with images around the church, music in the service and perhaps the flicker of candles, a true experience is provided which accesses a deeper part of the human psyche, creating memories and triggering thoughts which can later be accessed and pondered.

In addition there is the possibility of using the very technological advances which might be felt to interfere with established church and its impact on society. The world is getting smaller and societies are more aware of their influence on each other; learning is easier and yet there is less human interaction and associated pastoral benefits. The variety and depth of information available is increasing exponentially, this has benefits for sermon preparation, and yet individuals have less opportunity to speak with others about the information they hear and the concerns they feel. These are subjects which can be introduced into sermons, as points of thought about how Christians need to be in the world.

The other side of technology is that projectors can be used to provide pictures alongside words in a sermon, changing as the sermon develops and therefore adding to the value of the word alone. It is possible to show webpages on screens, to illustrate points about the world using googlemaps or Christian Aid. It is even possible to allow the congregation to Tweet onto a screen their thoughts and on a sermon, this is certainly a new and profound idea, but it is this interaction which will keep sermons alive and interesting for the congregations of the future. As Richard Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London stated in his speech on faith in the media, “the ability to put a message on a blackberry; to produce a two minute video artfully shot …. should be part of the Christian communicators today” Chartres (2007).

This essay has looked at the society which the church currently exists in. It has discussed the role of the sermon and the way preaching is part of Christian life. Taking it back to Jesus’ own life it is important to remember that he used stories about the lives of the people he met, he taught how to preach. By following his example, being there at each service and giving a piece of their lives into the sermon the Holy Spirit is allowed to flow to the congregation.

Yet the essay has also introduced some new concepts that should be embraced by preachers. Following Jesus’ example again it is clear that doing the unexpected and often unacceptable brings impact to the listeners. In the same way, leaving a question is always better than providing all the answers and technology allows the debate to continue through the week.

Of course the sermon is not the only way that Christians will learn about their faith and get closer to God, but that is not a problem. Congregations choose to come to church for the service where they can worship together and listen to a sermon (hopefully not tedious) with no (or few) distractions in a setting focussed on Christ. That human connection between the preacher and the congregation is a channel through which the Holy Spirit can work when modems are down, computers have bugs and life needs to get back to it’s true meaning; God is love.

One picture is worth a thousand words (essay)

How can we make good use of all of the senses of our congregation to enable understanding and retention of our message?

This essay will examine the various ways a preacher can make use of all the senses of their congregation to enable the understanding and retention of the message. In order to do this it will discuss the human senses themselves and the way they are used in learning. It will then look at the various forms of preaching which can be employed to access the different senses, evaluating their benefits and problems. The essay will also consider the concerns of all-age, all-ability and all-maturity congregations and how these issues should be contemplated and understood.

The preacher provides the sermon but it is the congregation that listen and them who own it once it’s delivered. The preacher is merely a window between God and the congregation. There is no way of knowing what any particular member of the congregation will take on from a sermon; even those sitting side by side from the same family will apply their own filters impacted by their experiences and lives which will alter what they ‘hear’.

There are five human senses; sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. When it comes to taking on information in a formal environment sight and hearing are used predominantly; however that does not mean those are the best senses with which to learn. Robert Pike wrote on adult learning in 1989, he concluded that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say and 90% of what they say as they do. If his research is true then the congregation would only remember one fifth of a sermon even if they were listening carefully and fully engaged.

However the good news is that, the average congregation would remember half of anything presented by word and pictures and even more of anything they participate in. This in itself is a clear argument for multi layered sermons. Knowles, a specialist in adult learning, wrote about how experiences are the greatest ways of learning. He advised that focus should be on subjects of interest to the lives of adults, thereby allowing their “self-direction” (Knowles, 1973) to apply the lessons practically.

The majority of congregations will have the ability of sight, indeed “our society is dominated by the visual” (Day, 1998). Therefore any sermon which is based on sound alone is not making the most of a key sense; in fact the congregation may well be using their sense of sight to explore the church and thereby be distracted.

This research would point away from purely verbal sermons, towards interactivity involving the congregation. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, spoke about “delivering a mighty atom… a message or a story which gets under the radar and reverberates in the inner spaces of people who are programmed to turn off as soon as you say ‘I take my text from the Prophet Haggai’” (2007). Depending on the subject of the sermon this can be more challenging; likewise for some people the idea of interacting is terrifying. For example a sermon on ‘Jesus calms the storm’ is easy to apply in a visual and physical way; by laying a huge blue groundsheet down the aisle and asking children to climb on the preacher creates a boat on the lake. The adults take the corner of the sheet and make the waves as the Gospel story is told; it gets rougher and the kids are engulfed in the waves. Then Jesus calms the storm and the children stand there, relieved, excited and enthused.

To get the message of this Gospel across to the congregation, especially that of an all-age service, would take hundreds of words. Trying to get across the fear of the and relief of the disciples would be problematic at best, if not impossible. Yet the physical experience will stay with the children and the joy the adults felt at playing will be part of their memory and therefore retained. The benefits of participation are great however it must be balanced since too much action can loose the message.

Another example is the parable of the mustard seed. It is hard to imagine the size of a mustard seed and what it looks like when it’s harvested; of course it was the perfect medium in Jesus’ time when people were connected to the land, but in current times it needs further explanation. The use of words could help, applying it to a sunflower seed or a tomato plant but this still requires an interest in the subject. A better option would be to show pictures of the seeds along with pictures of the plants when grown, this would certainly have a greater chance of being understood and might be retained longer. But better still would be if the congregation watched, or helped, as the seeds are set down and long lengths of string used down the aisle to represent how tall the plants will be at maturity, representing the growth of the kingdom of heaven. By seeing a physical demonstration, and perhaps getting involved, the congregation would feel the miracle of growth, see what was meant by the parable and begin to realise how the church grows from small seeds into the large tree protecting and sheltering all. Of course there is a final option for this sermon which could make the most of all senses. By getting the congregation to actually plant seeds, feel the earth, place the seed and commit to tend and water it they not only hear the story, but they see the picture and feel the parable and after that they see it every day reminding them of the lesson and the love of God.

However services are not always compatible with this level of participation, perhaps the church layout doesn’t allow or the physical ability of the congregation would inhibit. These are issues which need to be taken into account when designing sermons; what ages are at the service, what abilities do they possess, do they have any physical limitations, how spiritually mature are they. If a congregation is broadly of a similar ability, interest and maturity then a sermon can be designed for them and their needs. However the sermon may be presented to a congregation with a range of intellects, interests, spiritual maturity and preferences of style. Some find it easier to understand words, others pictures whilst some need to partake to truly take on board the message.

These issues become greater when you preach to an all-age service. When faced with a congregation ranging from babies, through preschoolers, to school age, young adult, adult, middle aged and senior it can be difficult to know how to find the right pitch. Any wordy sermon would need to be simple enough to be understood and yet challenging for the spiritually mature. The use of a more interactive sermon could get everyone involved, engaged and thinking - allowing this to some extent to be guided by their own interest and ability, but might not be enough for those needing challenging.

Similarly when preaching to a congregation including people with sense or comprehension difficulties it will be important to ensure everyone can participate. To use visual material would exclude visually impaired, whilst interactive could impinge the less mobile. In this situation a range of methods could be brought together, although it's important to remember that less is more.

This essay has looked at the theory behind learning and the ways in which human senses are important for understanding a message. It has discussed the various methods that can be used in a sermon; from words, to pictures, through to involvement which at one end could include Godly Play or Messy Church. It has provided some examples of how sermons can be brought off the page and into the 3D space of the church for the congregation to see and experience. It has also highlighted the mixed interests, ages and abilities of congregations and how this makes sermons more challenging to pitch.

To conclude, the key skill of the preacher is to be able to connect with as many people as possible with the one sermon. Obviously it won't always be possible, but it is important to try on each occasion and to ensure that a series of sermons will meet the range of needs. By thinking about what the congregation needs, as individuals and as a group, the preacher can look at the message and work to make it accessible, understandable, interesting, engaging and memorable. Sometimes this will use simple words, sometimes complex words, sometimes pictures and occasionally action; it is by using the tools available that the congregation will come each week excited to see what lesson they will learn.

A briefing paper for the Galatian Church's PCC following receipt of Paul's letter

Following on from the receipt of Paul’s letter to us, the Galatian Church PCC, this year 53AD , a small group have been reviewing the contents and message and subsequently produced this paper to help us move forward with his advice. This paper outlines Paul’s main themes, identifying the points which we need to examine further in ourselves and highlighting specific areas where we need to develop.

We, the Galatian church, are founded and thankful to exist due to Paul’s mission in this land as Apostle to the Gentiles . Whilst he was with us he helped us grow, develop and nurture each other, fulfilling his priestly ministry to us as Gentiles whilst all other Apostles worked with the Jews. Since he left us to continue his ministry it has been difficult for us to settle into our fellowship and our relationship with the Jews is strained . We wrote to Paul telling of our progress as a church and the input we have had from some missionaries and teachers about us observing the Jewish law; his letter is his urgent response for which we are thankful.

Paul’s Main Themes
Paul’s gospel comes from God and is approved by the Apostles (1:6-2:14)
Paul’s first theme starts from the second paragraph of his letter, he immediately states “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” . Paul is telling us that his gospel came by revelation of Jesus to him and not from any human; it is a gospel of divine authority . He writes what he has told us before “God revealed his son to me” and that his call is to serve Christ through the conversion of Gentiles.
We are not a Jewish sect, Christians come from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds and are all welcome through Christ Jesus. Paul was given his authority to work with us Gentiles divinely and he now reminds us that it holds true. He tells us that God approves his ministry and that it was revealed directly to him by Christ.
Paul is reminding us that he was called by God, only meeting the Apostles after several years. He tells us how he met with James, Peter and John in Jerusalem and agreed with them that he would continue his ministry with Gentiles, not requiring us to convert to Judaism. Paul and the apostles agreed, he tells us so clearly, and yet we let other Christians persuade us otherwise.
Paul’s anger is clear on this matter and so might it be since he has three times confronted these issues, the first time in Jerusalem as just referred; the second time in Antioch ; and the third now at a distance working as our constant source of leadership. Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles, he believes that we are people of God, we should know this as Paul does, it is his life’s work. We must listen to Paul, we must continue to follow his leadership on this matter.
And if we fail… well then we add weight to the accusation that Paul is a second-hand apostle , an accusation we know not to be true. Peter and James know Paul to be an Apostle and accept him as such, so why do we doubt his teaching? We must return to his path and follow his divine ministry. We must stop listening to these false teachings and keep to Paul’s teaching.

We are saved by Grace; Christ freed us from the law (2:15 – 6:10).
This leads us nicely to Paul’s second, larger theme in the letter. We are saved by Grace; we are righteoused by faith; not by works of law; Christ freed us from the law. It is by grace through faith alone that man is justified, and it is by faith alone that he is to live out his new life in the freedom of the Spirit. So what does this mean? What is Paul saying to us? What does this mean in practice?

We have heard much teaching from others about the importance of keeping the Jewish law, of being circumcised, of observing Jewish festivals and following food laws. We hear the Jews refer to scripture and how Isaiah said that in the latter days all the gentiles would come to the temple to worship the God of Israel but Paul tells us that this is not an explicit statement of requirement. Paul also reminds us that God is in control; he knows all our movements and controls history and therefore God’s plan is being enacted.

Paul takes us back to Abraham. Abraham was accepted by God centuries before the law was given through Moses, he received the covenant promise. Paul therefore tells us that the law, given through Moses, could not have been the vehicle for being pardoned since it did not exist in Abraham’s time.

In fact Paul takes his argument a step further; he says that reliance on the law puts pressure on the Jews to keep the law, and because no one can keep it perfectly everyone will fail, being cursed. He says that the Jews, through the law, are in slavery; whilst we who have faith in Christ are released through his death.

Paul reminds us how Genesis tells us about Abraham and the blessings being for him and his seed; he tells us how that seed is Christ. The promise was made to Abraham and fulfilled through Christ. And we are part of Christ through our faith, meaning that we inherit the promises God made to Abraham . Paul tells us how we are part of Abraham’s descendancy through our baptism into Christ, we are one in Christ.

How can we have ever believed otherwise, Paul makes it so clear. We are saved through Christ, not the law; if the law could have achieved salvation then Christ would not have needed to come. But God sent Christ to save the world, it was necessary for our salvation. It is Christ that frees us, not the law.

Paul is telling us, through his own Apostolic ministry, through his understanding of scripture, through his agreements with the other Apostles; that we do not need to follow the Jewish law to be Christians. We are freed from the law through Christ and our baptism into him. Christ has set us free. Those who live by the law, live by the flesh and this leads to sin. Paul tells us to live by the spirit of God, in freedom, “freedom is too precious to throw away” . He tells us repeatedly to “live by the spirit”.

As Paul’s letter has demonstrated we are very much still within the care and nurture of our brother Paul. Though far away he keeps us in his heart and prayers and for this we are thankful. Paul ends his letter pleading for us to cause him no more trouble; we can read his pain at our unrest and confusion. We are tasked by Paul to return to the faith we had when he was with us, to retain our faith in Jesus Christ through which we entered in baptism and to support each other in these ways.

Paul has clarified for us how we do not need to listen to the Jewish Christians when they compel us to follow the law, he has reaffirmed in us that we are free in the spirit through our faith in Christ. And now we must go out and spread the word that we gentiles are Christians, freed through Christ, living in the spirit. We are a community, strong together in our faith, thanks to the guidance of our brother Paul.

Discuss the events leading to the Nicene Creed

This essay will discuss the events leading to the writing and agreement of the Nicene Creed. It will start with a brief introduction to Christian faith statements, their purpose and method of definition; before moving onto a historical synopsis of the 3rd and 4th century church in its culture, the heresies and debates around, the need for the unification and the pulling together of the Nicene Creed itself.

Christian Faith Statements
Why do we have faith statements?
Right from the resurrection there has been a need to have a concise, clear, unequivocal understanding of Jesus and his resurrection. This was the first doctrine of Christianity, the first identified need for a faith statement. In modern times, the Christian church, as many organised religions, provides statements which define the accepted understanding of the faith. These are provided both as a way of explaining the Christian faith but also as a way of ensuring that the faith is taught and preached correctly. McGrath explains how the “Christian faith has both epistemological and soteriological aspects.. [regarding] .. how things about God may be known, and how salvation may be grasped” (McGrath, 2009, p181). These are complex and are contained within the accepted faith statements in a way that can be read, digested and understood by all believers. The creed can be described as a “road map which indicates the beauties of this new world to whomever shares the sacrament of baptism has brought us" (Bezancon, 1993, p1). It is not a set of instructions or an encyclopaedia of faith knowledge, but a joining of the church together through space and time to the certainty of our salvation through Jesus Christ.

How do we define Doctrine?
Doctrine is the belief determined by the church from the study of God (theology); it is about teaching the truth of the church. The New Testament was compiled to reveal God’s nature “through the person of Jesus Christ” (Richardson, 1972, p31). As the church started to understand the significance of Jesus it needed to focus on the way of “charting his relationship with humanity and divinity” (McGrath, 2009, p272). This need resulted in the Christian doctrine of the person of Christ; ‘Christology’; which explores why the church believes that Jesus holds the key to the nature of God and human destiny.

Heresies and debates
Where there is teaching about truths and faith, there will be debate. For the most part these will be part of the development of the faith and thus valuable; however some of these become a risk to the church and its teaching through the confusion they may cause. This has been as true for the early church as it is now. Heresies within the church itself “are one of the most serious obstacles to the successful preaching of the Gospel…the early church discovered the need to present a united front” (Richardson, 1972, p32). It was necessary to keep the gospel true and clear.

Heretics in the second and third centuries included the Docetists, who believed that Jesus was “a phantom, an appearance” (Richardson, 1972, p35) and the Gnostics who “attempted to give the church’s faith an intellectual expression” (Richardson, 1972, p40). In order to counteract these heresies the Catholic Church was conceived “as the main body of Christians distinct from the heresies.

This moved beyond Ignatius’ meaning of ‘catholic’ as ‘universal’ and became to be used as meaning the orthodox, non-schismatic church” (Richardson, 1972, p39).

As those before them, the Alexandrians were attempting to “present the challenges of the person of Christ in terms of their own lives” (Richardson, 1972, p42) in order to bring the Christian faith real purpose, meaning and relevance. Alexandria was the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the “centre for leaning and science” (Richardson, 1972, p42) and the following of Plato’s principles. One of the heads of the Alexandrian catechical school in the second century was Clement, a keen platonist who “attempted to explain the Person of Christ by the Rational Principle” (Richardson, 1972, p43). His pupil Origen was a Christian but thought as a Greek, attempting to provide proof and rationality for all his life including his faith. Origen “subordinated Christ to the Father and taught that the Son existed for all eternity with the Father” (Richardson, 1972, p44). This started the discussions, debates and friction around the relationship of Jesus to God.

The need for church unification over the Person of Christ
When Constantine, Roman Emperor, converted to Christianity in 312AD following his direction “in a dream to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers and thus to join battle" (Stevenson, 2002, p284); the Christian Religion began expanding again, following previous persecutions and decline. He and Licinius granted "to the Christians and to all others, full authority to follow whatever worship each man has desired...,that no man be refused toleration" (Stevenson, 2002, p284).

He further made provisions for the restoration of property which had been taken during persecution. Following this “Christianity became fashionable” (Richardson, 1972, p51) and people converted to become respectable, not as a faith conversion necessarily. Thus, ‘Christians’ converted for social reasons brought in pagan ideas of God. Thoughts that God is unknowable and unreachable, led by the founder Arius, became known as Arianism. Arius was a priest in Alexandria who preached his views on the divinity of Christ and subsequently quarrelled with his Bishop in 318AD. Arius’ teaching verged on “polytheism and stood little chance of acceptance … [but]… he had powerful friends and was a master of propaganda” (Kelly, 1989, p231).

Athanasius upheld the accepted doctrines and understanding of Jesus as part of God; he quarrelled with Arius leading to a rent in the church which had to be settled to establish peace within the church. The debate centred on two terms as possible descriptions of the relation of Father to the Son; ‘Of like substance’/‘of like being’ and the rival term ‘of the same substance/being’. The latter prevailed but the Arians could not come to terms with the concept of Jesus being God; they saw this as inconceivable, understanding that he must have come as a creature created by God.

In 324AD the Emperor Constantine “called his attention to the affair, determined to re-establish the doctrinal unity in the church” (Kelly, 1989, p231). For the Roman Emperor, power was key to everything; this required a stable society and for a Christian society, a stable church. Constantine’s confidant on ecclesiastical matters was Ossius whose sympathies were anti-Arian. Ossius “chaired a synod in Antioch early in 325AD” (Kelly, 1989, p231); after this Constantine called a Council in Nicaea to “end the rent and controversy” (Richardson, 1972, p52).

At the council “Arius emphasised the self-subsistence of God” and Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria’s Deacon, defended his superior’s orthodoxy, stating that only God can save and bring eternal life [therefore] Jesus is God incarnate” (McGrath, 2009. p285). The council, with the 318 bishops in attendance, agreed with Athanasius and condemned Arianism.

Agreeing the Nicene Creed
The council of Nicaea in 325AD discussed the creed as a faith statement. They took Paul’s writings and the work undertaken in the interim and developed it to bring full clarity to the knowledge of the faith. The issue of the person of Christ was a key one, discussed at length, forming the doctrine of Christ and a faith statement. In the end the council removed the word ‘Logos’ meaning Son or Word from the creed since it was thought to be too impersonal in the Greek. It is important to note that the council was not where the Nicene Creed was finally agreed. However it is thought that the ‘Nicene Creed’ as we know it, was discussed at the council; it is found in its present form in a treatise called ‘Ancoratus’ written in 372AD by Epiphanius.

The Nicene Creed includes details relating to the person of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as affirmations of Christ’s unity with God. “This creed was intended to affirm the full divinity of Christ against the Arian understanding of his creaturely status” (McGrath, 2009, p15). In the fifty years following the council of Nicaea the Christian world continued to side either with Athanasius or Arius on Jesus and his relationship with God; the church remained divided. Athanasius was exiled five times for his faith and died before the issue was ever resolved.

In 381AD one hundred and fifty bishops met in Constantinople and Arianism “was abandoned” (Richardson, 1972, p54). The council of Constantinople “ratified the Nicene Creed, parts of which were taken over from the creed affirmed by the Council of Nicea in 325AD” (Richardson, 1972, p55). By the end of the fourth century the church had decided that Jesus was “truly divine and truly human; of two natures” (McGrath, 2009, p273). This is the Chalcedon definition as set out as the council of the same name in 451AD.

As this essay has shown the Nicene Creed was written, developed, discussed and finalised amongst much debate, controversy and church conflict. It was always accepted as important and this very fact increased the stakes for all involved, that their understanding of the faith be retained. The Person of Christ became the key area of fracture for the church in the fourth century when it was finalised and through the political actions and church movements it was confirmed that Jesus is part of God. In this light it is important to remember that although the church had to convene the council of Nicea, “it was not a new doctrine, it was defending what it had always believed and experienced" (Bezancon, 1993, p57). In fact the start of the creed dates as far back as Paul and his peers who started writing faith statements based on their knowledge of Jesus, his life and resurrection. The creed exists so that as Christians we can fully understand what we believe, that we know therefore how to spread our faith to others and so that we might be united.

This is as true now as it was at the resurrection, for the early church fathers, through the third and fourth centuries and for eternity. The creed was written to unify, and together we stand as children of God knowing our faith through the words they wrote.

The historical development of St Nicolas Earley - written June 2010

This was one of my assignments from the LLM Training; I have decided to share some of these assignments since they might be of interest to people. 

This is a presentation on the missional history of St Nicolas Earley.  It was written in June 2010.  Each slide is provided with my presentational notes underneath.

Today we are going to look at the historical development of Earley St Nicolas.  I have picked the theme of mission as the main discussion point through the presentation, allowing us to look at what mission started St Nicolas, through to our mission today.  Although the church was only founded 63 years ago there have been three mission focussed building projects; I will focus on the initial planting of the church and building of the original church hall.

why is the first section entitled mission?

The Church of England’s mission and public affairs council produced the document “Mission Shaped Church: church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context” in 2004 (Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, 2004, CHP). It starts in the introduction by defining what is meant by church planting; and having researched the history of St Nicolas Earley I was amazed to see that it was as true in the 1930s for the congregation of St Peters as it is now. Realising this I decided to focus my presentation on the history of St Nicolas on the mission aspects of it’s concept, building, development and ongoing work.

Of course the 2004 document moves far beyond the discussion of church plants in a geographical context, it being written for the 21st century; but it pays homage to the preceding periods when planting new churches in developing areas geographically was a forward thinking and extremely valuable activity. And this is what those at St Peters did in having a mission to provide a church for the new developing areas of Earley.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at what the culture of the UK was like in the 1930s.

War and disasters always dramatically speed up change and create a readiness and acceptance of cultural changes. This was the case in the period between the two world wars (1918-1939) in the UK. Once undisputed and strongly held social and class barriers started to come down as the whole population suffered together.

And as the depression hit and continued, so the country bonded together; building a stronger sense of community and developing a need to care for each other as had been in the past; the stable past.

Strangely, even through the depression living standards were rising. Electricity was more widespread and available, the petrol engine was revolutionising the transport industry with more cars and faster buses. Jobs were created in the new industries including chemical production, and this counter-acted the job losses in heavy industry.

Entertainment and use of free time now became a new aspect of life which was embraced readily. People started to value what they could do in this time; for themselves, their families, communities and church.

In 1935 the St Peters PCC bought 1.25 acres of land on Sutcliffe Avenue, amongst the lots that were being sold for housing development. In 1943 a centenary committee was appointed by the St Peters PCC to make church plants. The main recommendation, from this committee, was the “erection of some kind of premises on the new church site in Sutcliffe Avenue for the extension of the church’s work in that district”.

The district had grown by 2000 people since 1935 and needed spiritual and community attention. It was expected that Reading would expand after the Second World War and St Peters was already caring for 10,000 souls; twice that envisaged in the planning of 1910. It was therefore proposed that “the time has come to build and extend the work of God’s kingdom”. It was agreed that a church could be built in the future, but that for now it was time to provide a general purposes building for Sunday services, Sunday school and to host the social life of the Christian community.

£7,000 was the estimated cost of providing the church plant building for general community use; this was established in 1944 and put on hold, with the rest of the plans until the conclusion of the war. In the meantime the Centenary fund was opened and the following words published in the fund letters “Here within the bounds of our own parish, on our own doorstep, opportunity stands, and I ask you all to help us to take it by giving our effort your prayers and blessings, and also to contribute of your substance. Of all the things upon which we might spend our wealth on earth, none could ever give us such priceless satisfaction as the knowledge that we had in however small a part extended the Kingdom of Christ in this suffering world. That, as these pages have shown, our forefathers ably did and now it falls to us to follow their example, let us therefore thank God for the opportunity which is given us, and ask His blessing upon our deliberations and efforts.“

Victory, as we all know, was achieved in 1945 and the plans for the church plant were re-started. The ministry of works offered a plaster board hut to the church and this officially started the building scheme. The process of building at this time was extremely complicated, there were huge building projects needed to repair the country and therefore labour and materials were both in short supply. After jumping through many hoops and exploring all options it was decided that the only way to build the building would be to use voluntary labour. At this time the local community to the Sutcliffe site became closer, slowly forming a more active community; to assist them in this they approached St Peters to see if the church would help them in sustaining the formation they had started. St Peters were thrilled to have a community who were keen and arranged to meet with them to discuss both the purpose and the running of the building. The result of this meeting was that a new committee was formed for the church plant.

Raising money was the number one stumbling block to the project; but eventually after a year and many, many donations averaging about £10, the targeted £1,000 was raised to erect the hut on site. Unfortunately, at the same time, the costs of licences increased and more money was needed; then the licence permissions were lost; and then, the final nail in the coffin, the hut was found to have become weather damaged . Many within the project team felt disillusioned and would have given up if it had not been for the community eagerness and the positivity of a few determined souls. Not long after, another hut was offered and the Earley community themselves were the ones to push the plans forward.

And so the church plant was finally able to go ahead. Construction started in July 1946, with a team of volunteers dismantling the hut from its location, moving it to Earley and then re-erecting it on the church site. Miraculously, despite the wettest summer for many years, the building was completed in December 1946. The first service was arranged for 22nd December 1946 and 100 people attended. The official opening of the building was held on St Peters Day 1947, that’s 29th June.

It is interesting to go back to why St Nicolas was chosen as the name for the church. It was named after the chapel of St Nicolas in Whitenights Park; the precursor to St Peters and a fitting name for the new church plant.

A year after the first service the church plant was already thriving. It had built a real community with those in the surrounding area and was now providing the following:
Sunday schools
Full services
Brownie pack
Cub pack
Youth club
Women’s friendship of young mothers
Toc H group
St John Ambulance group
Social events every Thursday

The amazing thing was that each and every one of these provision was self supporting within three months.

The plant had worked, St Nicolas church was thriving and growing and fulfilling the hopes and mission planned.  But St Nicolas did not rest on their laurels.  Through the years there has been ongoing mission.  At first this was to grow the congregation and strengthen the community.   Then to use the £700 left in the Centenary Fund to go towards a permanent building, the now church hall.  And then to be strong enough to support an Assistant Priest – Priest in Charge.

One of the reasons for this ongoing mission was the very nature of the people who had planted St Nicolas; mission focussed, driven, Holy Spirit filled people.  But it is also likely that the society they found themselves in was a factor.  Post second world war Britain was broken economically, broken structurally and broken as an empire.  Yes the war had been won, but so much had been lost.  The people came together and kept strong and battled through the hardships, they were determined to build their winning nation back to strength. For the people of St Nicolas this had already been achieved with the new church building, but it needed to be completed.  And so they pulled together and volunteered and raised money in the delivery of ongoing mission.  I was not there, but I know this to be true both from speaking to those who were there and from looking at examples of mission of all sorts around the nation at that time.  Change lay ahead and the people led the way.

In the proceeding sixty years the St Nicolas congregation and local community built a real church community. They built the new permanent church building, our church hall, sustained priests in charge from 1947 to 1976, opening the church building we now use as our church in 1971 and have sustained vicars ever since.  St Nicolas’ numbers have waxed and waned, but St Nicolas stays strong.

It is as if our history is repeating itself economically, as I now get to 2010. We are back in a recession, the modern word for a financial depression, and every sector of society is struggling, not least the church. Church giving is down, one off gifts are less, costs are up. Worry is a part of a treasurer and PCC members life.

And yet, unlike in the decades previously, the fighting spirit which seems to have been a key part of those who delivered the mission of building St Nicolas seems to be lacking in society. There is a loss of a sense of community with many neighbours never speaking to each other, let alone helping each other. There are reported reducing numbers of church attendance and this is all said to be pointing to a decline in the social value of church.

Is this true? I don’t think so.
Now more than ever we need mission.
Now more than ever the Word of God tells us how to act.
Now more than ever we need to remember the mission of the church, as told through the bible, shown by St Paul and acted by previous generations.

St Nics would not be here today if it were not for the vision, passion, time and monetary giving that those people at st peters gave 65 years ago. Today we take for granted that we have a church in Earley; if it were not for the people who, despite hardship and upheaval, followed through the mission of spreading the church we would most likely not be blessed with this place.
We owe them; we owe them thanks but we also owe them a continuation of their mission, to reach everyone with the word of God.

What are your favourite bible verses?

Bible Gateway have published their most popular bible verses of 2011 as searched for using their system.
I am quite surprised by the results; the verses wouldn't even make my top 10 list:
1 - Jeremiah 29:11
2 - John 3:16
3 - Philippians 4:13
4 - Proverbs 3:5-6
5 - Romans 8:28

Which of course means I started thinking about my own top five Bible verses.  It's been interesting trying to narrow it down, but this is my current top five:

1 - Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

2 - Genesis 9:16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth

3 - Luke 1:38 "I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her

4 - Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them

5 - Psalm 23:6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

What would your top five bible verses be?

How I choose blog post subjects

I'm often asked how I select subjects for blog posts and today the Faithful Bloggers prompt is on exactly this subject so here goes..... These are some of the ways I choose what to blog about.

1. Prayer
I get all sorts of ideas for blogging through prayer; ideas for posts, series, responses to others. I write them down and keep them for when they feel right to write about. I'd say my current list of God given ideas is well over 100 long.

2. News stories
I am interested in current events and use google alerts to keep up to date with specific areas of reporting that don't hit the front pages. Sometimes news stories give me ideas but mostly I feel moved to respond to bad news or bad reporting or something which pushes my buttons.

3. Questions from people
If someone asks me a question about my life, experiences or faith then I try to answer it straight away; but me being me I tend to revisit the conversation many times in my head. One of the great things about blogging is that I can now ponder and make a more considered response in written form. This had helped me understand myself and my faith even better.

4. Sermons
I love reading people's sermons and in guessing other people do to, so if I've written anything down in detail I share it on the blog. It's also a great way of keeping them safe, better than my filing systems anyway.

5. Ministry Experience
This was my primary reason for starting the blog, I felt that the training and provision of Kay ministry was lacking in the blogosphere. Funnily enough though I tend to find this the less easy or interesting part of my blogging.

6. Other blogs
I enjoy reading blogs and will sometimes respond or link up or get follow on ideas; it's pretty much the same as the news but with a community and more interaction.

That's where my ideas come from, if youre a blogger I'd love to know yours.

#365photoproject day 31

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Title: An empty road less travelled
Date: 30th January 2012
Location: Lower Earley

31st January 2012 Mark 5:21-end

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.  Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,  because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.   At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”  “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”  But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”  While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”  Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.  When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.  He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.  He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

So many miracles, so much faith and a whole heap of blessings.
I adore the story of the woman who had faith enough that to touch Jesus cloak healed her; it speaks to me of our situation at a physical distance from Jesus yet still able to symbolically touch his cloak through faith and prayer when we need healing.

Jesus we thank you for your ability to heal, let us believe in this more and allow you to work through those you send to heal us. Amen

Monday, 30 January 2012

Therapist prays to turn gay man straight

I have held off making any comment on the story that hit the news yesterday that
"Former Archbishop of Canterbury backs therapist In row on gay conversion".

I didn't know the facts and really wasn't sure what was going on. Of course a therapist should be struck off for offering gay conversion. But entrapment skews the issue. It wasn't clear whether the therapist offered and pursued or it was requested.

So this afternoon I dug through the reports over the last two years in the case, yes it's been going on that long.

In May last year this article included an interview with the man who was "seeking help" who stated that the therapist tried to find out what had gone wrong in his past to make him gay; said that homosexuality is both a mental illness, an addiction and an anti-religious phenomenon; and even more inappropriately asked him to pray for forgiveness and healing.

You might be surprised to hear I don't agree with advising someone to pray. I obviously believe in prayer, but in secular therapeutic relationships it is not appropriate to bring your own religious beliefs to a client. The therapist had in this point alone broken her professional standards.

Tracking the case back to February 2010 and more facts come to the fore. The initial article by the journalist, who worked under cover, makes for disturbing reading. This therapist, as well as the others mentioned, are trained, registered and employed to provide psychotherapeutic help for people with emotional and mental health concerns. In this role they must leave their own beliefs and prejudices aside. Never should they share their own lives, they are purely there for the good of the patient. Reading the accounts it is clear to me that this was not the case.

So how do I feel about senior church of England clerics supporting this therapist? I am appalled. Yes she was caught through entrapment, but she was wrong none the less. She could have set herself in the business of gay conversion (and been prosecuted) but she could not work as a counsellor and work in such an unprofessional and inappropriate manner.

She broke the BAPS code of conduct, she needs to be struck off the register until she can work professionally leaving her personal beliefs outside of the therapeutic relationship.

The mp3 shuffle

I've seen loads of bloggers doing the mp3 shuffle game and this morning, whilst finding it hard to decide what music to listen to during some church planning, I decided to play the game myself. Here are the first ten tracks that my mp3 player provided; I'm not sure what they say about me, all comments welcome.

1. Nirvana - Lithium

2. Jesus Christ is the way - Walter Hawkins

3. Christ in me - Lou Fellingham

4. Flying without wings - Westlife

5. Oh happy day - the power of gospel

6. Old before I die - Robbie Williams

7. Waterloo - Abba

8. Paradise - Coldplay

9. Here I am Lord - Prom Praise

10. Reach for the stars - S Club 7

Native American Christian Art

I have been spending some time today on pinterest and collating some more christian art into my christian art board.  Amongst the many wonderful pieces of art I've discovered those by Native American and Canadian Christians including this one.
 This is a painting depicting Native American Christian worship and I absolutely adore it.  The way the woman is concentrating whilst reaching out; I'm not sure whether she's giving in praise of receiving, but that ambiguity helps draw me in.  The dove is flying whilst also watching, the peace all around.  And then to see the sun, of great importance with the cross within; this is just beautiful.  I love this piece of art and will be using it for some prayer in the future.

I then found this amazing piece which speaks to me so much about the creator God who was there at the beginning and promises always to care for us.

I can't write everything which this says to me, but it takes me right back to creation, through time and life from swamps to land.  The cross in the centre speaks to me of a heart which seems perfect and the rainbow halo is just perfection of hope and love and triumph over death.

There are so many more pieces of art like this, these are just two; this is why I love pinterest and the ability to seek out new things and then retain them for the future.  There are lots more of these sorts of images at my pinterest christian art boards.

Fish Crafts

I seem to be doing a lot of fish related craft at the moment so I thought I'd bring them altogether in one place with a bit of background about each.

Within the shared fish you find the cross

Fish of Love

Tissue Paper stained glass fish

Paper plate fish for toddlers

Toilet roll sparkle fish

chalk background fish

computer craft fish

CD fish

Handprint fish

Zelda as a way into Christianity

I read this article reviewing a book about the Zelda games and christian theology and it made me smile; not because it is a bizarre idea, but because it means a lot in my marriage.

Mike has always enjoyed computer and video games, I have never really "got" them, but that's fine because he gets time to play the games whilst I am out on church business. 
It's a perfect situation for us both. 
Mike has Zelda, I have Christianity.

And now it seems that through all these years we were closer in our activities than either of us could ever have thought.  We might just have to buy this book to explore the idea further. 

30th January 2012 Mark 5:1-20

Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him.  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.  He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”  For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”  Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”  “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.  A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.  The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.  Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.   As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

There is so much in this passage which speaks to me.  There's the mental illness which this man was clearly suffering with and the healing of the many personalities which were torturing his mind.  The putting of these demons into pigs and sending them to their deaths.  The fear from the people at such a massive and miraculous act.  And there's the sending out of the man to spread the news of his healing.

I suppose the part which I'm struck by the most is the fear; why were the people so afraid of seeing someone be healed?  Surely this should be a point of rejoicing.  Jesus put the demons into pigs, unclean animals, so I doubt this would have been a problem. 

Why all the fear? 
I guess it comes from the unknown and we still fear the unknown today.
People fear seeking or getting close to God because they don't know what will happen.  Others fear the church because they do not know what happens inside it.

I believe Jesus tasks us with breaking down these fears; taking away the unknown and throwing our doors wide.  We are meant to share his love with everyone and show them the hope which they mask with their fear.

Father we ask for your help in working with those who fear your church and your love, give us the words and actions to guide those we meet through the wilderness and to your heart.  Amen.

#365photoproject day 30

Title: weird ice
Date: 30th January 2012
Location: Roof of the car

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tweets on Gay Marriage

My post about gay marriages in the church sparked a debate online last night and I thought I'd share it.  I start the debate, the respondent's tweets are hyphened.

Let's accept Gay Marriage http://nblo.gs/thoXa
- hmmm dont agree scripture is clear on that one

And it's in the lack of clarity that grace and love must meet and grow
- i agree the issue is difficult but grace cannot override clear guidance on what is expected of church leaders
- i think its pretty clear in scripture on God's pattern for relationships. We all fall short of God standard...

So all those in gay relationships are automatically sinners? That can't be true
- every human being is a sinner. Its our default position. Gay or Str8 to lead we have to accept bible inc difficult bits.

But clear guidance seems to be extremely divided as well
- the church means doing it Gods way. After all church was His idea
- we cant change because societies views have changed. We are free to choose own path and everyone is welcome in church but leading..

But a priest might be an alcoholic (non recovered), is that not the same?
- its exactly the same. Just as it would be wrong for a drug user, womanizer or someone who doesnt believe what they preach.

And of course there's the fact that most people (even in church) don't really get the sin thing!
- God sees this issue as no bigger or smaller than other sin but we make this bigger or more an issue.

And that's what needs to be corrected. It's a huge thing to have understood

The gay issue has got unnecessarily heightened importance I think due to societal condemnation in past!
- agree alot of the issue is the people have hid their homophobia behind doctrine

And that's my issue. If leaders can't be gay then possibly ok, but most gay people feel very unwelcome in churches
- if gay people feel unwelcome in our churches we have to get over ourselves & sort it out. Everyone should be welcome in church.

Hallelujah, now to get the whole church to realise this simple fact
- maybe we could work out the anglican churches issues on twitter. Would be a million times faster. Lol

- Gay people can have faith too and if we dont welcome them we are excluding them from knowing Jesus

on that note I'm signing off for the night. Thx for debate. God bless
- goodnight God Bless
So much good stuff happens through tweets and this is really a prime example of the discussion, debate and agree-to-disagree culture which twitter allows.

I think this interaction shows how complex the issue is and on so many different levels; there's homophobia within that, but there's also a desperate desire to do the "right" thing and that is always hard to figure out.

I hold firm on my desire to see gay weddings in churches and in time I hope that we can get honest about the fact that gay clergy are no more sinners than any of the rest of the clergy and therefore should be considered equal.  In time, just hopefully not too much time.