Saving the Church of England

Photo via Wylio, copyright: Bengin Ahmad

Someone wise once said to me ‘don’t go into the Church of England trying to save it, because you will die trying’. At the time I was quite taken aback as actually I think that is part of my calling, well, not to save the CofE single handedly of course, but certainly to make a difference, to be part of the future, to definitely see change happen. Not just for the sake of change, but in order to see the church grow into the future rather than wither away. Every now and then when I get really wound up by the CofE (which let’s face it for those of us working in it can be a regular occurrence) I remember that phrase and I remember how it made me feel: it made me think ‘well so be it, that’s no reason not to try’. (And I should say it is not my life’s work to save the CofE, my life’s work is to tell people about Jesus).

Over the last few decades (well probably longer) there has been continual talk of the decline of the Church. Every now and then it wanes a bit and then it builds up again, usually based on someone, somewhere mouthing off about the church. Either way, it is true, the CofE as we know it, is in decline and if we want to see it in our future then we need to act. This is not a surprise of course, people have been saying it for years, but in recent times the pressure has certainly been on. 

Right now there is a lot of hope in the CofE. Certainly the appointment of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury has pleased many both in and outside the church. There are lots of exciting things going on and people in high places talking of the future. However… in the last 20 years or so there has been a lot of talk, but not enough action, and not enough money put where the mouth is. And there has been a lot of people sticking their heads in the sand. There have been some fantastic ideas but no backing. Pioneer Ministry is a prime example – fantastic idea, training people to actively get out there and do new things, thinking of new forms of church – exactly what we need if we want to survive – and yet there are not enough funded places for Pioneer Ministers, hardly any in fact.

Of course it is not just about pioneering new things, a recent (and excellent) report, ‘From Anecdote to Evidence‘ highlighted the fact that growing churches are not necessarily new ones, although they did feature a lot, but they are places that are committed to what they do and know exactly what their style is.

This week Bishop Julian Henderson said outright that we need radical change. Archbishop Cranmer’s blog commented on this: 

“Bishop Julian is right to focus on the young, but the real job is to convince churches that they seriously need to take a long hard look at what church is and should be. Unless a church fully understands the need for mission to be part of its culture and is actually willing to do something about it, then the battle has already been lost.”

He also goes on to talk about how obsessed we are with Sunday services and how we need to get beyond that. It is an excellent post so do go over and read it. 

I really hope that this increase of talk about the future is the start of something new and not just talk. We have seen enough of that with not enough action. The danger is though, that we are essentially still a democratic church. We saw with the vote for women Bishops, that initially it was scuppered by the ‘lay’ vote – i.e: the people in the pews. The media speculated with “quotes” from Justin Welby apparently saying if need be he would force it through or even change the way Synod worked. Whether they were accurate or not remains to be seen but thankfully it wasn’t necessary and we are well on the way to seeing women in mitres in this country. But it does go to show that if we want to see change we need to get the wider congregation on side. I can think of countless conversations I’ve had with people frustrated by traditionalists digging in their heels and refusing to make change, even in some cases at the detriment or demise of their own churches.

And I would like to say, as I have said countless times before, I am not anti-tradition, in fact I’m all for difference, after all God made us all differently and it makes sense that we would meet with him or want to worship him in different ways. I’m not saying we need to turn every church into an all singing all dancing ‘show’, not at all. But we do need to be open to change, open to trying some different things to reach people who are not being reached.  
Today on the way home from church I had to pop to the supermarket (Lord, forgive me!). As I drove in, I was amazed at how busy the car park was – busier than at any other time I have been in. Sunday morning and Tesco was heaving, all tills open, even the self serve checkouts (an invention I’m sure put into place to drive us all round the twist) had big queues. That says it all really. We are no longer a nation where Sundays are sacred. They are just another day. Tesco is more popular than church. So what does that tell us? Well it says to me that if we want to see people meeting Jesus, it we want to see the church continuing to play a part in our society, then we have to think differently about what that means. We cannot sit comfortably in our pews (or less comfortably on plastic stackable chairs) on a Sunday morning and be happy with what we are doing. We have to do something different…

As always, I’d love to know others thoughts so do comment below…

Encouraging the Spirituality of Children

Photo via Wylio / Ivan David Gomez Arce

So last weekend at Vicar School we had some excellent teaching on stages of development and on stages of faith development. I was really fascinated by the teaching on children’s spirituality and how open they are to things of a spiritual nature. Open that is until we shut them down.

(and when I talk of spirituality, we had a whole discussion on what that means to different people, but essentially I mean here, in referring to matters of a spiritual nature, things that are outside of this world, seeking something outside of ourselves)

We learn from a very early age what we share with others and if the response is negative we learn very quickly not to share that again. Even as an adult I am careful when I share my own beliefs. I mean, I am a natural evangelist so I talk about Jesus all the time, but when it comes to things of a spiritual nature, for example, believing God can heal through the Holy Spirit or that I can feel God or in referring to ‘spiritual warfare’ then I test the waters first, because let’s face it can all sound a bit bonkers. And none of us want people to think we are bonkers do we, because then people won’t listen to the message we have to share…

So as children, it doesn’t take much for them to be shut down and yet research shows that an openness to spirituality is far more evident in children. In fact one research study showed that 50% of people have had a ‘spiritual experience’ and it mostly happens in childhood. 

I like to think that in this house we are pretty open to hearing from our kids on spiritual matters, in fact we try and encourage it, encourage them to be open about it. But even then, this week I was telling my youngest about the stuff I had been learning last weekend and she told me an example of someone at school (she’s just 8 by the way) whose friends thought she was lying because of something she said she had seen. Even at 8, they question things, even at 8, they learn to keep quiet, even at 8 they are wary of who to talk to. And I find that so sad. 

As parents we have a key role in listening to our children’s experiences, especially when they are younger, so often they just talk and talk don’t they, and so often we just switch off! Or if it something we are unsure about ourselves, we doubt what they say, or we try and explain it in our own adult terms.

So how can we encourage our children to be open to these things, to encountering God in real and personal ways, to understand that it is ok to have these experiences even though the world doesn’t always recognise them? and how can we be more open, listening, hearing…

That’s something that I really want to do with my own children. As I said we are pretty open and we have a once a week bible or prayer session with them, where we do different things or activities. In the past some of the best times we have had have been just waiting on God, giving them pen and paper and seeing what they feel God is saying. They have had amazing words and pictures that are way beyond their level of understanding. They have had words of knowledge for people who are really struggling and have spoken so directly into the situation without really knowing anything about it.

Sometimes we just have to allow them to be open, to listen, to hear and to see without questioning.

I would love to hear others experiences – have your children had spiritual experiences, seen angels, had words from God…? Or do you a have great ideas of how to encourage your children in this area? do get in touch…

Talk // Parable of the Wedding Banquet // All Age // 9/10/14

All Age talk from Hurst College Chapel Prep School Service
The parable of the wedding
22 Jesus spoke to them again in
parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a
wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to
the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those
who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened
cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his
field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants,
mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his
army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is
ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and
invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the
streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the
good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he
noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here
without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and
foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”



Intro to me
So I thought Id better just
introduce myself – as you heard my name is Jules. And I expect some of you will
recognise me because I have 2 kids here in the prep school. But I also work for
a church in Burgess Hill called The Point Church and I’m actually training to
be a Vicar in the Church of England. Which is why I am here because I need to
get some practice in speaking and helping in services in places like this. So
that’s me…
So we’re going to look at the
Gospel passage we just heard from Matthew which talks all about a big wedding
banquet, or party doesn’t it? So how many of you know that when you read the
bible you get two kinds of meanings, one is what we call contextual – but
really means its talking about things at the time and the other is how we can
use it today – what does it mean to us today?
So here in this passage Jesus
is talking about a wedding banquet and he would have been describing a big
Jewish wedding as it was back then, and they were pretty full on parties let me
tell you. They would spend months preparing and once it was ready they would be
huge, amazing lavish parties, the kind that everyone would want to come to. So
then, I am sure lots of you have been to big parties, so if we were going to
have a party here what might we need?
Got some bits in my bag here,
but I need some help, what might we need…
Food (crisps/ biscuts etc)
Decorations streamers / party
poppers / balloons
Nice clothes – bling –
necklace, tiara
Music – ipod/ instrument?
Band – organist !
( see what other options they come up with)
What do you think? Is this
going to be a great party? Ok so what if this was your party and you wanted all
your friends to come – invites – we need to invite people –  who wants to be a servant and give out our
invites? (2 people)
Give out 6 invites – servants
to hand out.
(don’t open them yet)
So what happened to the
people in the passage – did they come to the party? No, not only did they say
no, they killed and ill treated the servants didn’t they.
Obviously were not going to
do that to our servants are we?! Don’t worry servants you are ok – ok so what
could we do to symbolize not wanting to come to the party?
Whose was given an invite –
stand up – ok I want you to rip them in 2 – just in half – once is enough.
Ok well the thing about our passage is its not just talking a out a
wedding banquet or a party is it? There’s a line at the beginning that tells us
– Jesus said ‘the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared  a banquet…
In the Isaiah
passage today it says this:
this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
  a feast of rich food for all peoples,
banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
well we haven’t got wine and meat but were almost there)
So what this is really about is the Kingdom of Heaven – now the kingdom
of heaven doesn’t just mean the place where we want to go when we die. It means
Gods kingdom, where God is and he is all round us isn’t here, he is everywhere.
Wherever we are.
And God’s kingdom is far better than the best party in the world. I can
tell you from the moment I choose to accept Jesus into my life, my life has
been one extraordinary adventure. Not to say it is always great, it isn’t, not
to say nothing ever goes wrong of course it does, but having Jesus in your life
makes everything so much better and easier and more peaceful and more joyful…
it is a little bit like being part of a big exciting party with lots of friends
around you.
And the thing about God’s kingdom, is who is invited? What happens in our
passage – some people get invited don’t they and they don’t want to come, so
the king sends out the servants to invite everyone. It says ‘ all the people
they could find, good and bad…’ Everyone!!
Everyone gets invited to God’s party.  We are all, every single one of you can get to
go to this party if you want to.
So who had the invites earlier – what do they say on the front (hold up)
RSVP – what does that mean – (response from kids)
Yes you have to respond…
So imagine if you held an amazing party and no one came, no one replied none
of your friends or the people you loved – how would you feel?
I think that’s how God feels about us, he longs for us to come to his
And so do we want to be people who get to go to his amazing party? Do we
rip up the invitation and push him out of our lives? Or do we want to say yes,
I want to be part of this amazing kingdom?
How could you respond to Jesus invitation if you wanted to?
Ask them and see what responses
…or you could very shortly come up and receive communion or have a
blessing, whichever you choose. Because when you come up and do that it’s a bit
like saying, you know what, I want to know more about your kingdom, I want to
know more about you in my life Jesus, I want to come to your party.
So just remember that invitation is always open to you. And you can
accept it any time you like… and you know what Jesus would just love to have
you at his party…