Sunday, 31 May 2009

Bubble Blessings

Last year, we actually forgot to celebrate Pentecost! So much has the wheel turned full circle from the Charismatic revival in Openshaw. This year, we were determined not to let the festival pass by. But it is actually half term and we are both technically 'on holiday.' So no new material, then.
But we focussed upon the Spirit as wind and asked the congregation to 'draw the wind.' This produced the expected variety of images which sparked some interesting discussion.
I insisted on singing the old - and rather naff - On Tiptoe by Maggie Duran and Jodi Page (Fresh Sounds for those too young to have come across it). It contains the wonderful verse:

If life were filled with bubbles,

they’d glisten and they’d burst;

if life were filled with jewels,

they’d line the rich one’s purse;

but life is filled with water

that flows from depths of love,

it flows to fill your weariness

with blessings from above.

So it was that we took our prayers of concern out into the car park and blew them out to be blown by the Spirit of God across the boarded up houses, broken glass and barbed wire of our 'community.' The blessing of God, indeed.
At that moment, of course, members of the Pentecost church, who use our building at lunchtime, arrived to be showered by the Pentecostal bubbles. Somehow, not, I suspect the way they were expecting to celebrate Pentecost!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Poetry Please

There has been a lot of cafuffal (if that's how you spell it) in the media this weekend about the Oxford chair of poetry. Ruth Padel, the first woman to hold the chair, has been forced to stand down after, apparently, admitting that she 'leaked' details of allegations of sexual harassment against her main rival for the post, Derek Wallcott.

Without wishing to get in to the details of the case, I was interested in the discussion on Today this morning. John Humphries (I think it was he - it was rather early on the day after a bank holiday!) was expressing surprise and shock that poets should be engaged in such 'worldly' practices. Poetry, he asserted, is supposed to lift us to a higher plane.

As one who uses poetry in worship, I found the debate fascinating. I use poetry for a number of reasons.

Certainly, poetry has the possibility of expressing sentiments which cannot be contained with prose. In this sense, it lifts us above the everyday and into the numinous realm of the other.

Certainly, poetry is much more open than prose. Prose seeks to define and label, where poetry floats and suggests. In this way, poetry can be far more radical than can poetry, expressing ideas which many may instinctively 'feel' without ever arousing the ire of the Daily Mail reading forces of reaction - for there is nothing concrete there to which they can take exception.

But does this mean that the poet exists in some 'higher plane,' immune from the realities of the real world?

One of the formative events in my university days was to attend a poetry reading by the Liverpool Poets, Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri. Their words soared, entertained and challenged the audience to a deeper understanding of early Thatcherite Britain. Which did not prevent me from observing that all three of them had consumed more alcohol before the performance than was wise. They continued to sup as they recited and by the end of the evening were in typically rowdy mood - degenerating into what can only be described as a fight!

Linton Kwesi Johnson's Sonny's Lettah from the same sort of era, or anything by John Cooper Clarke also spring to mind as examples of poetry firmly rooted, grounded in the world out of which they grew. More classically, one might point to WB Yeats, or the WWI poets - or even William Blake. All poets whose power comes, not from escaping from the real world, but in engaging with and seeking to transcend the reality of their contemporary situation. I would even suggest that William Wordsworth and the Romantic poets were not so much attempting to escape from contemporary reality as to re-attach an alienated, industrial society to its roots.

Too much modern worship is prosaic. The majority of modern worship songs are as 'dumbed down,' repetetive and unimaginative as a Stock Aitken & Waterman, Hit Factory pop record. Worship, if it is to reflect divinity, must strive for the poetic glories, whether they be Bob Dylan or Beethoven, Duffy or Shakespeare.

Friday, 22 May 2009


Well, I've just spent a very boring afternoon uploading another batch of prayers. We now have over 160 prayers available, sorted according to theme.
We've got a Sunday off for half term this week, so we've had a bit more time to work on the website.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Embracing Eleanor

Well, here goes - my first ever blog post if that's the correct term - isn't life exciting! 

Yesterday we turned Tim's office into an impromptu recording studio with the help of a laptop and the microphone borrowed from the children's Guitar Hero game. At one point Tim even donned large black headphones - so Stuart Maconie watch out! It was rather frustrating as we were very conscious of the traffic thundering up and down the old road,  with the inevitable police sirens, buses stopping and drivers who think they are in the Grand Prix. Tim's phone beeped and we collapsed into a heap of giggles. In the end we decided to leave the noise of the background traffic in, justifying it as part of our context (and we couldn't find a way to erase it).

Oh, yes, what were we doing playing at being DJ's in Tim's office? Tim and I decided to have a go at creating a podcast of a poetic paper we delivered at a Baptists Doing Theology in Context conference last summer, which several people have kindly requested that we make more widely available. The paper is called Embracing Eleanor: A Response the the Baptist Apology for Slavery.  You will though be glad to know that we haven't bothered to read out all the footnotes at the end - for those that are sad enough to be bothered we'll put the paper on the website in written form. 

Monday, 11 May 2009

Mustard Seed

We sometimes don't know whether to laugh or cry! This week, we received yet more legal paperwork from the council which seems to indicate that June 11th will have some kind of significance - they may, or may not, take legal ownership of our building on that date. They won't have agreed a compensation package, of course, and we think that the letter only means that they will have the right to begin the process of forcing us to co-operate. Which we are already doing!

Nevertheless, there was a lot of anger in church on Sunday. We feel like pawns in a great game of chess.

We've been looking at parables recently, so I wrote this eucharist based on the Parable of the Mustard Seed. What Jesus does not say is that the Kingdom of Heaven - or Shalom as we prefer to call it - is like a mustard tree, strong, mighty and fully formed. Rather, Shalom is like the mustard seed, tiny and full of potential.

Click the title to go straight to the prayer - or find it by working through the website

Friday, 8 May 2009

Going Live

Well, we've finally got Dancing Scarecrow up and running. So far there are only a couple of dozen prayers up there, but at least it'll give you a taste of what we're doing. Click the Title of this entry - or type into your browser.

We've got several hundred more, so be sure to check back regularly. And if you like what we do, tell your friends.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Dancing Scarecrow

For those who believe that worship can only grow out of the experience of God at work in the world in which we actually live, it can be difficult to find resources.
Dancing Scarecrow is part of Openshaw Connection, a community networked with the tiny Baptist chapel in Openshaw, Manchester. This is one of the most deprived inner city communities in the UK.
When the worship materials we then used suggested that we take the congregation on a walk through the lych gate to admire the beauty of God's creation, we looked out across our rubbish-strewn carpark at the vandalised empty houses and the broken-bottled debris of another urban Saturday night and decided it was time to start writing our own worship resources.
The firstfruits of this was Crumbs of Hope: Prayers from the City. The book was well received, but the whole process of editing all our prayers and getting them printed and published took up almost two years.
Since Crumbs of Hope was published, we have written over 350 new prayers. Electronic publishing seems to be a faster way of getting our very contextual resources into the public domain. It also means that via this blog and the supporting website others can share their resources with us.
We have discovered that there is a small but growing band of reflective practitioners who, like us, are attempting to connect their worship with the Real Lives of their community.