Sunday, 19 December 2010

What is Worship? - Part Two

So, for the second year running we have failed to make it to Hawkshead Hill for our pre-Christmas celebration.
This year, however, we were prepared. We didn't even set out - the M61 and M6 having been closed for much of yesterday. Instead, we arranged with HHBC that we would do a video link during their service.
Amazingly, the technology worked perfectly.
We gathered at 10.30, had a cup of tea and had just started singing some carols when Kath called us. We had the computer plugged in to the TV, so the picture was more than visible, although one or two friends (Patsy & Mike) fell off the edge of the screen.
We shared news and introduced one or two new friends, then Pauline read an Advent liturgy as she lit the fourth Advent Candle.
We were about to hang up, when Olwen suggested that we should sing a song together. Spontaneity is wonderful, but sometimes presents challenges. There was a slight time delay, which made singing "interesting" - and as we hadn't planned, we were using Rejoice and Sing, while HHBC were using Mission Praise, so words diverged at times!
But we all finished together - and we did feel that we had been able to share fellowship together.

Having separated, we carried on with some favourite carols. But having read Catriona's posts from today - and having the computer set up, we couldn't help but introduce the concept of Flash Mobbing by showing three videos:

For Olwen and David in particular, this opened up a whole new world to them and discussion which ensued revolved around the 'miracle' of technology. Felt like worship to me.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

My contribution to the Hopeful Imaginationi, Advent blog, cross-posted here:

No one filled Tommy’s wellies
as we turned on Christmas lights
in the park.
No one forgets your name
while taking your loan repayment
on Thursdays.
No one gives you chocolates
way past their sell-by date:
a thank-you.
Tommy has moved.
Kath has died.
Elsie has died.
Jimmy is in Chorlton
but where are his kids?
Margaret, now well again
is in Withington.
Beryl, across the park
has regained her spring.
But where are the Nguyen’s?
Where’s Canadian Steve?
Where are the nameless Czechs
who loved to hear me play the guitar
over their garden wall?
What has happened to Phil, the dealer?
Or Angela or Janet, his terrified pawns?
Where is Jimmy, whose unpronounceable name
was never given?
And where is the church they were all drawn to?
Where is the church where community gathered?
Where is the church where people communed?
I will destroy this temple that is made with hands,
and in three days I will build another,
not made with hands.
Three days
Three months
Three years
A thousand years is like a second.
Two thousand years—a baby born
Two thousand years—a baby sought
Two thousand years—a baby forced to flee
Three days
Three months
Three years?
Asylum seeker.
Censused in Bethlehem
Dwelling in Nazareth
Hiding in Egypt
Lost to the system
Where are the Bar-Josephs?
Whatever happened to Yeshua?
A voice cries in Ramah
A voice cries in Openshaw
A voice cries across the demolition site
A voice cries in the wilderness

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Without Hope?

Clare's post from the Hopeful Imagination Advent blog, copied here:

“This is my church.
This is where I heal my hurts
For tonight
God is a DJ.”

The scene is not a church or cathedral, but a huge warehouse of an arena, packed with people of all different ages, juggling pints of beer in plastic glasses, taking photos with mobile phones and “bouncing” with arms waving ecstatically in the air. The music is loud and strobe lights pulse with the rhythm of the beat. An image gradually builds up across the light bank that forms the backdrop of the stage. Deborah thinks the image is a huge church or cathedral. I interpret it as skyscrapers forming a cityscape. Either way on the words “God is a DJ” the lights explode with a flash of sudden revelation.

After such a call to worship and time of praise, then comes the sermon, a powerful prophetic and poetic oratory, “misinformation… racism… fear… greed… inaction is a weapon of mass destruction”, underscored by moving words of light proclaiming the shocking world statistics of injustice and oppression and cost to human lives.

Then comes stillness and confession as we are humbled and challenged with the words of Salva Mea, “How can I change the world if I can’t even change myself?”
We are then invited to participate in a congregational sharing of a vision of how things could be, a vision of the kin-dom, “We come one” “Christian and Muslim, We come one…. Beneath the skin we are all the same, We come one”.

At the end, the skinny bare-chested, middle-aged singer/rapper bows low, not so much to the congregation but to something greater or deeper or maybe the divine image within, and sends us out with words of profound thanks and blessing, exhorting us to honour ourselves and each another and build a different kind of world.
Is this not the message of Advent hope that John the Baptist proclaimed a long way from the synagogue or temple hall? Is this not a glimpse of the Dancing Scarecrow? The poet, prophet and priest?

Maybe I should explain? Last Saturday, having spent most of the day preparing the Advent service for the next day on the theme of John the Baptist, we went, along with around 20,000 other people to see the misnamed Faithless live in concert at the MEN arena in Manchester.

Monday, 6 December 2010


Advent usually flows from one week to another, linking thematically as we light the candles.

One of the downsides to homelessness is that this year, we have no such rhythm. Last week at our house, we made Christmas cards for the churches we have visited. Next week, we have a joint carol service with one of our ecumenical partner churches, and the last week of Advent, we have our much anticipated visit to friends in Hawkshead Hill.

So yesterday stood alone as the only Sunday in which we would explore the Advent themes together. The last couple of services we have taken at St PJ's have been rather too chaotic even for us (see Clare's reflection on Remembrance below!) so we wanted to be well prepared in advance. We also wanted to do an all-age service as the last couple have included a reflection as well as an all age activity.

How to sum up Advent in a single service, including folk in an age range from 5 to 90s?

An Advent Calendar, of course.

Now, for those who are immediately objecting that the whole point of an Advent Calendar is that is is about anticipation and waiting, and that to open all the doors in a single hour's service, I do quite agree - but in our defence, for some of our more junior members, the anticipation is very much about the end of the service!

However, that aside, Clare has an Advent Calendar with boxes - designed, I suspect, once again to subvert the Advent message of hope by filling them with chocolates to gratify immediate desires! However, we filled the boxes with symbols, messages and elements of the liturgy. So, for example, the first box contained a Call to Worship which whoever opened the box had to read out. The second contained a reference to our first hymn and so on. Others contained letter outlines for the children to colour in which spelled out the word H O P E.

If you know the children's newspaper "First News" it frequently contains articles which explain difficult topics in a manner suitable for younger children. Last week, in the runup to World AIDS Day there was a wonderful article about a boy who is HIV positive, but who, with the help of retroviral drugs is able to live a full active life. A real story of hope.

This was interspersed with the Advent hope readings from Isaiah and Matthew.

Yet another box contained a link to a video of the Children of Kabul from the Newsround website. The remaining boxes were filled with images of hope from the internet. Barack Obama's famous election poster and a beautiful (Photoshopped?) glass bottle of hope.

The only thing we would do differently another year is that rather too many of the boxes were filled with a tightly folded piece of A4 paper. The communion box contained a piece of bread which the opener had to guess meant that it was time for eucharist. This worked rather better than the paper messages. So, with a bit more time and imagination, we would look for more symbols to put in the boxes.

Number 24 contained a Barbie cup and saucer - and we all filed to the back of church for a warming cup of coffee!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Urban Expression Associates

A good day yesterday, Associating with other Urban Expression Associates in Birmingham.
Clare and I were asked to lead a workshop on worship in an urban context, based on Crumbs of Hope. So we took along the tiles as an example of the kind of thing we do. I think they were generally well received. If you would like to see them, click on the tile to the left. Personally, I recommend viewing them using the button.
As well of reading examples of our work and (hopefully) explaining some of the how and why of our writing, we also invited the groups to create their own, "Urban Expression" blessings, arising out of their journeys to Birmingham. It is wonderful how skilled people are at writing if only given the opportunity. Over the next couple of days, I'll get them all up onto Dancing Scarecrow, but for now, here is a taster:

The Sun still glares through the car windscreen, despite the dirt from the gritting lorries trying to block it out. May the light of Christ get through to you this week, despite the dirt in the world.

Sadly, no one wrote their names on the blessings, so we can't attribute copyright. If you want to use them, I suggest © Urban Expression, administered by Dancing Scarecrow 2010.

Advent Hope

An interesting, collaborative Advent project, orchestrated by Andy Goodliff. We'll be adding our tuppence-worth later in the month.

Hopeful Imagination

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Uncluttered LIves

We are well into the birthday season in Openshaw! Starting with Clare in October, Rachel, Imogen, Beth, Deborah and Joan all have birthdays in the run up to Christmas. So it was not inappropriate that we looked at the need to "de-clutter" our lives today. This was the last of our series exploring the values of Urban Expression and we focussed on the need to hold our possessions lightly - which is somewhat ironic as this post is being written on our new iPad!

Jesus asked Bartemaeus what he wanted. Bartemaeus replied that he wanted to see - but in giving the gift of sight, Jesus gave so much more - dignity, respect, the ability to earn a living etc.

So we looked at Simple Gifts (and also sang the almost impossible song of the same name!). We first drew up lists for Father Christmas of what we would like. My request for a Gibson Custom Les Paul guitar sat well with Joel's desire for £999,999,999,999! Neither realistic nor generous!

So we moved on to look at what our community really needs. Safe, creative play spaces; a bigger primary school; jobs and so on. These were written onto wallpaper.

And all our requests were sent to Father Christmas in the time honoured fashion of burning them up the chimney!

Prayers were wrapped in a gift box. When we opened the box it contained "Hope" "Joy" "Peace" etc.

And we closed with the following eucharist which Clare wrote:

Clearing Out The Clutter Eucharist

So much stuff!
clothes that no longer fit
stains that won’t wash
buttons missing and seams undone
toys which are broken and tangled
or with pieces missing
creased trump cards
odd marbles
party bag fillers
toys and books outgrown
craft projects half done
teddies which hold memories
and can’t be thrown away
toys never opened or played with
bits and bobs
lurking at the bottom of draws
messy toy boxes and book shelves
time for a good clearout!

So much stuff!
memories of the past
we want to cherish
and hold on to
scars we wish we could forget
thoughts which come back
to haunt us and weigh us down
voices inside our head
which damage confidence
and prevent us from moving on
people and relationships
we neglect and don’t have time for
guilt and shame
we wish we could banish
broken relationships
we wish we could mend
or leave behind.
Time for a good clear out!

Jesus asks,
“What is it you want from me?”
as he calls people
to leave their homes
and their families
their jobs and their friends
and to follow him
into an unknown future
travelling light
with few possessions
relying on the hospitality
and generosity of others
learning what is important
and what really matters
learning to trust God
building friendships
experiencing life
knowing what weighs others down.

Jesus asks,
“What is it you want from me?”
and he gives freely
not of possessions or things
but of gifts
that have a deeper value
love -
for those that are unloved
acceptance -
for those that are rejected by society
justice -
for those who are wronged
friendship -
for those who are lonely
food -
for those who are hungry
peace –
for those who are tormented.

Jesus asks,
“What is it you want from me?”
as he invites
those who have learned to travel light
to share a last meal with him
perfume is poured out, extravagantly
to be used in love
not held back
for its monetary value
bread is broken
"This is my body
given for you",
wine in poured
"This is my blood
poured out for you",
not bread and wine
but body and blood
life itself!

In this bread
all humanity
are called
to be one.
[share bread]

In this wine
all humanity
are called
to a new way of life.
[share wine]

Jesus asks,
“What is it you want from me?”
and invites us
to God’s table
to share in the life
God gives us
Jesus offers us
a chance to clear out
the clutter of our lives
to be forgiven
and live free of the things
that weigh us down
and to travel light
to give and receive
gifts that last
gifts not of things
but the deeper gifts
of God and of ourselves!
© Clare McBeath, 2010

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Peace Jigsaw and Poppy Petals

On Sunday we had one of those mornings when everything that could go wrong did, ending up with me apologising to the congregation of our local URC church that we would need to put the clocks back 10 mins to OBTT (Openshaw Baptist Tabernacle Time) in order to have our 2 mins silence at 11.10 am when the rest of the world had resumed the business of daily life.
It is then rather appropriate that having started from a place where everything fell apart we then focused our service on re-membering and putting peace back together. While Tim preached a sermon on re-membering and the difficulty of remembering if you have not lived through the experience of war, a group of children and adults who wanted a more active way of reflecting went to the back of church and made a "Peace Jigsaw" by drawing a picture of poppies and a cross and then cutting it up into jigsaw-shaped pieces. We then challenged the rest of the congregation to put peace back together by remaking the jigsaw - it was a lot harder than it looked and we reflected on the difficulty of peace-making!
We followed this with our intercessions in which we sang "Let us spread the pollen of peace" while coming forward and taking a handful of poppy petals (cut from red card) and scattering them on the fabric that cascaded over the communion table as an act of both remembering and re-membering and a commitment to peace-making.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

What is Worship?

I recently attended a regional Baptist meeting which, as these things do, began with a time of "worship." The minister of the church hosting the meeting was not able to be present and another gentleman had been prevailed upon to lead the worship. 

The worship was unconnected to anything else which took place in what was, for me, an exciting and encouraging meeting. The congregation sang half-heartedly, had not opportunity to join in prayers or readings and sat in passive apathy as the worship leader gave us his thoughts.

I was left reflecting what place "worship" has within our church life. What we performed seemed perfunctory and tokenistic. Presumably, in a church with numerous musicians to judge from the equipment at the front, none were available at the beginning of the meeting. Why then, was it necessary to sing? Is singing an essential ingredient in worship? The reflections upon the Scripture passage were neither profound nor relevant. Is it necessary either to read or to study the Bible in order for the gathering to be defined as "worship?" The prayer was so short that if you had sneezed at the wrong moment you would have missed it. Yet for some reason our worship leader felt compelled to include it. Why?

The rest of our gathering was a joyous celebration of our common life together as an association, sharing news from around the northwest, receiving new churches into membership of the association and exploring together some of the challenges of mission in our various contexts and making some unexpected connections between our churches.

Was not that sufficient to be defined as worship?

This morning, OBT will gather around our table to decorate some ceramic tiles with symbols of the 28 values and pledges expressed by the Urban Expression network with whom we have recently begun to walk. I have put together a Spotify playlist of jazz for the background, but unless someone rebels and demands to sing something, that will be our only music. Towards the end of our time together, we will reflect together silently upon what God is saying to us, then we will break bread and share wine (which will probably be blackcurrant juice because the children prefer it!) in silence. Then we will go our separate ways, seeking to live out the values we have expressed through our creativity.

Perhaps this is not worship?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Back to school

Back to School

It has been a long time since I posted anything! The summer seemed to be a whirl of visiting family and friends and trying to keep on top of a very productive organic allotment - jam, chutney, freezing etc.

Since then I have been drowning under a pile of emails and requests to put dates in the diary. My son, Joel has also started high school which has involved lots of journeys to and fro and quite a bit of parental anxiety (Joel has got on just fine). So when Ken Sehested kindly circulated a litany for labor day (which is celebrated in the US and Canada) it seemed a good moment to pause and do some thinking, which naturally led to writing, which ended up with this reflection/Eucharist for September and going back to school. It'll be a while before I can get this on Dancing Scarecrow so I've copied it here.

Back to School Reflection/Eucharist

There’s a decided nip in the air

As the sun increasingly struggles

to get out of bed as dawn breaks

And the cooler nights begin to draw in

Balmy days of summer give way

To sudden downpours or endless drizzle

And the traffic on the old road

Crawls dejectedly towards its destination

As the rain leaves puddles in the ditch by the kerb

The sun breaks through with sudden brightness

As we ponder whether to take a coat

And umbrella just in case

The mobile phone alarm rings out its annoying tune

and John Humphrys reports yet another disaster

as we drag ourselves, bleary eyed from sleep

and stagger to the kitchen for much needed coffee

For in the cycle of the seasons

September is here

A time to think about

Work, rest and play.

Yet this is the time of new starts

And getting back to the familiar routine

The pattern of working 9 – 5 days

or irregular pre-determined shifts

This is the time to learn to tie a school tie

To pull on new, shop–starched uniform

Blow dry freshly showered hair

And search for that illusive PE kit

As we race against the ticking of the clock

We grab a quick bowl of cereal or slice of toast

Stuff books and pencil cases into school bags

And panic over packed lunches still to make

Scrunched up letters to be signed,

Lanyards with photo cards to be topped up,

Work papers to read and pack with lap top

Must remember to charge the mobile phone.

For in the cycle of the seasons

September is here

A time to think about

Work, rest and play.

And yet in the excitement of starting a new school or job

or of meeting old friends and colleagues

back at school or office or construction yard

and sharing stories of summer exploits

Help us to stop in the chaos of the morning rush

And give thanks for the work that gives rhythm to our days

Work and school that give a sense of purpose and meaning

Of achievement and well-being.

Help us to pause in the midst of the excitement and stress

And give thanks for work that sustains our lives and communities

And school that gives us knowledge and skills

And the promise of a career to come.

Help us to rest at the end of each day

To give thanks for tasks completed

the new things we have learned and accomplished

the challenges we have overcome

For in the cycle of the seasons

September is here

A time to think about

Work, rest and play.

And we give you thanks for your work

Of creating our world and the cycle of the seasons

For the abundance of veg on the allotment

And the squirrels hording chestnuts in the park.

And we give you thanks for your work

Of creating humankind and our diverse community

For the people around us in whose faces

We catch a glimpse of your myriad of feelings for us.

And we look around us and realise

that not everyone is rushing to get to school or work

and we remember those who have no work

or nothing to get out of bed for

And we look around us and realise

That others are overworked trying to provide for their family

or struggling with disabilities that make travel difficult

or learning and uphill task

For in the cycle of the seasons

September is here

A time to think about

Work, rest and play.

For we think of the person of Jesus

Who balanced itinerant work and the demands of crowds

With withdrawing to quiet places to rest

And time to enjoy eating and laughing with friends

For we think of the person of Jesus

Who challenges us to think about the work we do

To pay a fair wage and treat colleagues with dignity

To live sustainably on the earth

For we think about Jesus’ stories of the righting of injustice

Of the relationship between land owners and labourers

The need for acceptance of tax collectors and prostitutes

And the inequality between rich and poor

And we confess that we are part of a system

That perpetuates injustice and supports the bully

That encourages work at the expense of family life

And prefers burn-out to longevity.

And so we remember that on the night

before Jesus’ work was brought abruptly to an end

he took the bread made by human toil and human hands

gave thanks, broke it and shared it with them

[break and share bread]

And so we remember that on the night

Before Jesus’ work was brought abruptly to an end

He took the wine of celebration and community

Gave thanks, poured it and shared it with them

[break and share wine]

And so we commit ourselves

As the new school year of September unfolds

To use our work or rest or play

Labours paid and unpaid

To work for the common good

To ensure that all may find work

That pays a fair wage and brings fulfilment

And enables us to live in harmony with the earth

And so we commit ourselves

As the new school year of September unfolds

To use our work or rest or play

Labours paid and unpaid

To balance our work, school and home life

To enjoy time with families and friends

To take the rest to which your Sabbath calls us

To walk in the rhythm of your Shalom

For in the cycle of the seasons

September is here

A time to think about

Work, rest and play.

© Clare McBeath, 2010

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The spirit and the book

Revd Mike Smith, in this week's Baptist Times attacks the recent review of the SPCK Book of Prayers and the whole notion of a 'book of prayers.' Smith attacks written prayer as un-Baptist, arguing that in attacking the Book of Common Prayer our Baptist ancestors were insisting that only extempore prayers were a genuine expression of the Holy Spirit. He ends his attack with a resounding call, "Don't let the written text crush the Spirit."

It is easy to respond with caricatures. I am sure that some people genuinely have a talent for extempore prayer and are able to express their deepest desires in eloquent words worthy of the creator of the universe. But even Mike Smith must admit that many - most - do not. Extempore prayer is, for the most part, dull and repetitious. Tired formulae are trotted out week after week, while intercessory prayer degenerates into a shopping list of unachievable dreams and platitudinous generalities. If I pray "God bless Mummy and Daddy," it will be impossible to prove whether God has answered my prayers or not, so I won't have to deal with the awkward silence of God.

Prepared prayer has the advantage of containing the author's crafted words, sculpted and shaped to fit the precise meaning and context out of which the author is writing. When it works, written, poetic prayer can take on a life beyond that intended by the author, just as any work of art takes on a meaning beyond that intended by the artist.

A collection of written prayers - such as the SPCK one, or, indeed Dancing Scarecrow, seeks to capture this and make it available beyond the confines of the context out of which it was written.

Mike Smith seems to deny the Holy Spirit any role in that process, limiting the Spirit's work to the unthought out and spontaneous. I beg to differ. The Spirit works beyond the confines of human imagining. Folk use the prayers on Dancing Scarecrow in contexts very different to our inner city Openshaw context and find that the Spirit gives our words new meanings beyond those we put into them in the first place. Most people choose not to use our material, but for some it is meaningful and helpful. That surely is the work of the Holy Spirit.

In attacking the Book of Common Prayer, it seems to me that our ancestors were not attacking the notion of written prayer. Rather, they were attacking the power and control which insisted that everyone had to use the same worship material. In publishing their Book of Prayers, which I confess I have not yet read, SPCK seem actually to be moving us away from this kind of control, giving us even more resources to choose from, to interpret and to use in our own context. Whether or not I find this particular collection helpful, I welcome its publication.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Strange feeling today, when I would normally be looking at readings for next Sunday, to realise that I won't be leading Sunday worship again until 12 September! I probably won't even be attending church during that time.

At many levels, of course, I will miss it. Even though I am increasingly frustrated by traditional models of church, I do still feel that the church is where I belong. A couple of weeks ago, at an Inner Manchester Mission Network event, we reflected upon why we gather together for worship. The group I was in was dominated by clergy, and the overwhelming message was that worship was something which was intrinsic to who we were. It isn't something about which I have any control. I simply have to worship - because that's what I do. It is where I belong.

The question as to whether I enjoy worship is, therefore, a redundant one. Even if I hated church (which I frequently do!), I would still belong there.

So, even if I take a break for the summer - and let's face it, I am burned out at the moment - I will still be back because this strange, bruised and often bewildered little community in Openshaw is where I belong.

None of which should be interpreted as saying that what we actually do when we worship is unimportant. There is little in contemporary church practice which will attract the 96% of our population who never set foot in a church. Watching a programme like Rev, it is increasingly clear that the media - and therefore the population at large - have little idea of what the church is - or what it is for.

When September comes around, then, you should find the Scarecrow refreshed and able to dance with a lot more vigour.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Atora Suet and Robertson's Jam

So, Clare and Andy are at the Larmer Tree Festival with their children. Our girls are at grandma and grandad's plotting and scheming, and Joan is away.

So 'church' this morning was just David, Deborah and me. I did have a plan, but we just got chatting about the local area and how it is changing. Which led - naturally enough - to the fact that the Robertson's Jam factory has now been completely demolished (now there's a site for a new church building! Shame it's not actually in Openshaw). From there, we started wondering who owned what. Which led us to Duerr's - which is also a Manchester firm. Then David remembered a photograph of a bull cart, used to advertise the local suet firm.
And lo, and behold, it turns out that Atora Suet began life less than half a mile from our front door on Ogden Lane.

All of this over a cup of tea and an internet connected laptop - culminating in a prayer from Urban Expression's values booklet, focussing on our inter-connectedness. And we even persuaded David to stay for a jam butty - although the jam was Clare's homemade strawberry, which is, if I dare say so, much nicer than Robertson's!

You couldn't do that in a church of 500 members!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Imogen's Prayer

God’s Spirit

This prayer was written by Imogen who is 8 who, on hearing we were going to have a Eucharist meal the other Saturday evening, announced she had an idea for some words for Eucharist and disappeared to work on my laptop. We used the prayer that evening as the two families gathered to break bread, Imogen decided who would read what and broke bread and shared the wine with us at the end of the prayer.

I have reproduced it here virtually as it was written but have reduced the font size somewhat!

You can never escape

from God’s spirit.

You can never escape

from God’s spirit, in

the day or the night

You can never escape

From God’s spirit, in

the day or the night,

in the light or the dark.

You can never escape

from God’s spirit, in

the day or the night,

in the light or the dark.

in the noise and silence

in the city or the countryside.

When there is chaos God is there.

When there is happiness God is there.

God is there in space and on land .

God is there in the sea and in the air

You can not escape from God when you are running.

You not escape from God.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Building the City

We're working our way through Urban Expression's Praying our Values booklet. Today we came to the story of Nehemiah setting out to rebuild Jerusalem, so, after praying, we set about re-building our Lego city.
We're still doing it, so I can't be certain how the "service" will finish, but both David, Joel and Rachel who all seemed rather out of sorts when they arrived have all engaged in worship with enthusiasm.
The plan is that we will use a prayer which Imogen wrote for Eucharist last night. Hopefully, I'll put that up on Dancing Scarecrow tomorrow.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Dancing Teddy Bears

So we're looking at Naboth's Vinyard at church tomorrow. A passage very dear to my heart.

Naboth tends his ancestral vinyard, but King Ahab wants to extend his organic, sustainable allotment over the vinyard. Queen Jezebel taunts him with his lack of power, and they plot and scheme for Naboth to be killed so they can take the vinyard. Elijah arrives and proclaims God's judgement on Ahab who comes to a very sticky end.

All well and good, but Naboth is still dead!

So many layers of meaning and theology. But how to explore this in a way that includes both adults and children?

With teddy bears.

We've invited the congregation - we're at a neighbouring church - to bring their old, precious Teddy bears (or other toys). We'll share stories of teddies and what they mean to us. After which I will offer to swap them for a Steiff teddy (worth about £150) provided I can burn their teddy. Hopefully no one will take me up on the offer!

Then for our prayers, I have just finished making a batch of teddy bear shaped biscuits. We've got some tubes of writing icing, so they can ice their concerns onto a biscuit then swap their biscuit with another member of the congregation - a sort of non-eucharistic offering of love.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


For a few weeks we are simplifying our Sunday worship. We are working through Urban Expression's book of Values - but today decided to watch this year's BUGB Home Mission video, Making Peace.

What a refreshing change. In previous years, all too often, there has been a focus on 'good news.' Churches which receive a Home Mission grant are usually depicted as being 'successful,' with a focus on lots of people being baptised and coming to faith.

This year the video focuses on the way in which churches are supported to engage with the difficult - and overtly political - issues which affect the whole of our society. From the point of view of Abbey Road Baptist Church in Barrow - in the shadow of the shipyard which builds Trident submarines, the video explores the way in which individual churches can feed into the debates and discussions which lead to Baptist Union Council's pronouncements on such issues.

In the light of the recent furore over whether BUC has the 'right' to speak out and affirm women in ministry (as it has done), the video is both sensitive and timely.

Many thanks to all those involved in making the video. One church, at least, has had its worship enlivened as a result!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Thanks to Neil Brighton for finding this!

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Jericho's Backyard

As I was hanging the washing out this morning, listening to the incessant beeping from a smoke detector in one of the part-demolished houses - it has been going off for over a week now - I realised that I had never got round to putting any pictures of the demolitions on the web.

So I have created another blog. Beth has set the church camera up in her bedroom and we have taken a picture every day - we're three weeks behind already, but I'll catch up soon.

You can find it at Jericho's Backyard - or you can click on the title of this post. If you want to view all the pictures as a slideshow, they're on my Picasa site. Eventually, I'll stitch all the pictures together to create a time-lapse movie of the demolition process.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Where has today gone?

First day back and a desk to find. Somehow it is time to collect the kids from school and I've only scratched the surface of what I wanted to achieve today. Still, I have managed to get a few more prayers onto Dancing Scarecrow. I've also added a page on the theme of Wisdom. We found we had lots of prayers based on Sophia, so it seemed right to give her her own page.
I may get a chance to put some more up if the kids are in a good mood and I have some time tomorrow too.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Reflections on Baptist Assembly

I'm writing this on the train on the long - 51/2 hour - trip back from Plymouth to Manchester. The internet connection is very dodgy - my laptop is tethered to my iPhone - but at least it is working intermittently.
I think it will take a few days for us to work through our reflections of this year's assembly, but without a doubt, for us, it has been the best Assembly for many years!

Prism - the alternative assembly - is really maturing now, and took us on a journey exploring the theme of One World, One Mission from the margins of both church and society. What was particularly exciting this year was to see folk from much more 'mainstream' - and even 'Mainstream' - contexts, sharing this exploration. During the Prism seminars on Saturday, there were around 150 people who acknowledged that the church has moved from a position of power, influence and respect in our society to a position of marginalisation and irrelevance. While for some folk present this was clearly a matter of some pain and concern, the majority seemed to embrace this new situation as a prophetic opportunity: a little scary, but really where the church should be.

What was astonishing was to hear this affirmed from the main stage.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes (how good was it to have her back?) urged us to set aside our Mission Strategies and neatly pre-packaged, off-the-shelf solutions and to jump into the flowing streams of the river of life.

Anne is taking a year out, living in a caravan, by the Thames and it was upon this context she drew when she urged us to jump into the unpredicatable, chaotic waters, quoting Ratty from Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows:

`And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!'

`By it and with it and on it and in it,' said the Rat. `It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing...

Anne's carefully crafted reflection was surrounded by worship which, if not all of it was to my taste, had, at least, been carefully shaped to reflect her words. Finally, it felt as though someone at Baptist Assembly was taking worship seriously.

Even more remarkable was this morning's public issues session. We voted to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation talks, and to support the Thursdays in Black campaign against violence, aggression and trafficking. After which, the microphones were handed over to a variety of voices from around the hall to sum up their experience of Assembly.

These thoughts were summed up by David Kerrigan, the General Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, no less, from the main platform at Baptist Assembly, who spoke of the need to hear the diversity of voices and to ask what Good News would look for those of other faiths, the unmarried couple, and the gay couple. There was an audible gasp across the auditorium, but there was no denying that he had said it.

So the question now is what we, as a denomination, will do with all of this. Will we have the courage to dive into Ratty's river without clinging to the lifebelt of certainty? Or perhaps we will have to devise a Mission Strategy, Health and safety assessment of the plan to dive into the river.

There were signs of this. Kwame Adzam's address in the closing eucharist attempted to close down all such debate by urging us to "Stand Firm" and hope for the promised revival which will see the church return from the margins to its position of authority in our land. This was greeted by loud - if somewhat forced - "Amen's" and "Hallelujah's" from around the room, in with which I'm afraid I was not able to join.

So, still a very long way to go, but all in all what an encouraging and inspirational event.

More reflections tomorrow when the internet will hopefully be more reliable!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Something of a change of tack at church this morning.

Earlier in the week we met with Juliet Kilpin of Urban Expression to begin to explore how we might 'walk together.' This was a very early conversation, a long way from anything concrete at this stage. But we seemed to understand each other.

One of the things which Juliet picked up on was how tired Clare and I are. She suggested that instead of "doing full-blown church" every Sunday, we look at alternative patterns of gathering. She also gave us copies of a booklet UE have produced called "Praying Our Values" which explores - over a cycle of 31 days - the values behind UE.

So this morning we looked at the first value:
"We believe that, in Jesus, God is revealed locally, and that we should be committed to our local community or relational network and active members of it."

Using Google Earth, we soared over Openshaw, looking at the changes which have already happened in our community (although Google still have Mersey Street standing!).

We then focussed our discussion on one place in the community in particular which Clare, Joan and I visited on Friday. We are trying hard not to get too excited about it - we've had so many hopes dashed already, but it does look very promising.

Friday, 23 April 2010


Plenty more files uploaded to Dancing Scarecrow again today! Two days running. This must be some kind of record.
It was great to receive an email out of the blue from Mark Woods, Editor of the Baptist Times attaching one of his hymns for publication on Dancing Scarecrow. It's taken me a few weeks to get it uploaded, but I've started a separate "Friends" page. So if any of you are sitting on any worship materials which you think would fit in with the ethos of Dancing Scarecrow, please do get in touch. I should warn you upfront that there is no money involved. Sorry!

Thursday, 22 April 2010


I actually have a day at my desk today and have time to look at Dancing Scarecrow. We still have several hundred more prayers to edit and put up onto the site :(

I have, though, created a new way of indexing the prayers. You will now find a tab at the top for "Genre." If you click on that, you will be able to see which prayers are opening prayers, eucharists, blessings and so on. It is still a work in progress, so please be patient. But you will see that I have put a page of blessings up this morning.

More this afternoon.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


We seem to be getting quite a few Spam comments being posted to the blog. Although at the moment they seem harmless - most of them are in Chinese, and don't appear to lead to adverts or phishing sites - I am trying to delete them as they appear.
If I inadvertently delete a genuine comment, please accept my apologies. If this continues, we may have to restrict commenting a bit more.

Monday, 19 April 2010

I Dream of a Church

Several people asked me during the last Baptist Union Council for the words of a song I chose for the closing worship on the Monday evening. Needless to say I can't remember exactly who I promised to send the link to so I thought I'd post it here instead!

The song was Kate Compston's, "I dream of a church" which I don't want to reproduce without permission but it can be found here . As far as I can work out they have permission to publish the song.

What is Real?

At last year's Baptist Assembly, an exciting new venture was launched, entitled "Real Life Worship." You can find out more details from the list of followed blogs at the side of this page. However, it is now ten months or more since anyone posted anything to that blog and the initiave appears to have stalled.

Which is very sad as it had a huge resonance with what we are trying to do here in Openshaw - and with what others are doing across the country.

In an attempt to breathe some life into this initiative, Clare and I are presenting one of our usual, mad papers at the Baptists Doing Theology in Context consultation at Blackley tomorrow.

If the technology works, you can download the paper by clicking here.

Hopefully, we'll come back to the paper following the discussion tomorrow - but we'd love to hear your comments/ reactions.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

30 Years On

This photograph is a very precious photograph for me.

The three women are religious sisters – nuns, if you like – who, for one reason or another found that there was no room for them in the church to which they belonged. Maria, Carmen and, on the right, Marie Isabel. On our first visit to El Salvador, when the civil war and persecution of the church was still going on, we stayed with them in their Pequeña Comunidad – Little Community in the hope that the presence of a few foreigners might offer them some protection from the infamous Death Squads.

This photograph was taken in their little, open air chapel where each day we gathered together to pray. I particularly remember this evening, which was Carmen’s, in the middle’s birthday. We read from the Bible, sang a hymn to the accompaniment of Carmen’s terrible guitar playing, and shared a celebratory Flan – a disgusting gateau made mostly of confectioners creams, and covered in tinned peaches. All the while, in the darkness, we could hear the rattle of machine guns firing on the nearby volcano.

It was one of the most joyful evenings of my life. One which I will never forget.


But, to my shame, I must confess that I had forgotten the name of the young man whose photograph hangs just below that of Monseñor Romero on the wall behind their beautiful log altar. I wasted much of last Thursday ploughing through my records to try to find a reference to him in one of my old sermons. And there, in a sermon from ten years ago, it was.

Miguel Portillo.


Below Miguel is Ignatio Martín Baró, one of the six Jesuit theologians murdered at the University in San Salvador in 1989 along with their housekeeper and her sixteen year old daughter. Their photographs appear next if we move clockwise around the wall. At the top is Silvia Ariola. Silvia had been a member of this little community and was one of the 612 members of her church who were murdered or disappeared by the death squads.

And right in the centre is the face of the former Archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Oscar Romero.

Romero had been a conservative, academic-minded priest whose appointment initially dismayed the more radical sections of the church in El Salvador. But just days after Romero was appointed, another priest and friend of Romero’s, Rutilio Grande was murdered together with two of his parishioners as they travelled to Mass. Romero travelled to say mass on the spot where Grande was murdered, and began to hear firsthand the stories of unbelievable hardship and oppression from the villagers. And in spite of the many threats to his life and the stubborn refusal of the Salvadorean government to act, Romero began to speak out and demand first investigations into the stories he heard, and, as those demands were ignored, he began to call for justice for the poor and oppressed.

Famously, on 23 March, 1980 Romero addressed his Sunday sermon directly to the conscripts and recruits of the Salvadorean military who were conducting so much of the repression:

“…before any human order to kill, God’s law must prevail which says, “Thou shalt not kill!” No soldier is obliged to obey an order which goes against the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such and abomination…In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The Voice of the Voiceless.

The next day, thirty years ago this week, that voice was silenced by a single bullet fired from the open door of the chapel of the cancer hospital where Romero chose to live instead of occupying the Archbishop’s palace. Romero had just finished the sermon and was about to commemorate the shedding of Christ’s blood when his own blood was spilled.

The Voice of the Voiceless.

Fifty more, nameless, voiceless victims were murdered when troops opened fire on Romero’s funeral. Their blood mixed with the blood of the estimated 75,000 other nameless victims of El Salvador’s bloody, US and UK funded civil war.


Which is why it was so important for me to remember the name of Miguel Portillo. Miguel was a student at the Baptist college in El Salvador who, in the face of the ongoing bloodshed, abandoned his studies and went to join the guerrilla army.

For his pains, he was disowned by many within his own church and his own family. And when he was killed, just weeks before we visited, he became just another nameless, voiceless victim .


Thirty years on, in remembering Archbishop Romero, the Voice of the Voiceless, we remember Miguel Portillo. In remembering Miguel, we remember 75,000 other nameless victims. And in remembering the victims of El Salvador, we remember the victims of Chechnya, of Srebrenica, of Rwanda, of Northern Ireland, of Zimbabwe.

And in remembering the victims of human sin, we remember the one in whose name we meet together.

“We have never preached violence,

except the violence of love,

which left Christ nailed to a cross,

the violence that we must each do to ourselves

to overcome our selfishness

and such cruel inequalities among us.

The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword,

the violence of hatred.

It is the violence of love, of community, the violence that wills to beat weapons

into sickles for work.”

Oscar Romero 27 November, 1977

Monday, 1 March 2010

Waiting with pain

I am not good in the mornings - it takes me a while to come round even with the help of a strong coffee. But yesterday, I was woken up with a start by the voice on the radio announcing the morning service. Now usually at this point, I groan, switch off the radio and stagger through to the office to start writing the prayers for our own morning service. Not so yesterday as the voice to my amazement and delight clearly stated that the morning service was coming from Calgary Baptist Church in Cardiff and led by the Revd. Dr. Craig Gardiner himself!

What a refreshing change to listen to words that so clearly reflect the reality of our lives here in Openshaw. What a breath of fresh air to hear a Biblical reflection, woven throughout the service and spun in the thought-provoking sermon by Dr. Karen Smith, on the story of a woman as central, dynamic and deeply courageous. And what an affirmation to hear my own ministry, which I have often described as "walking with people in pain" validated and honoured in this way. For many years, as a church we have waited with, and walked with a community in pain, sharing its hopes and its disappointments.

We have often described our ministry as looking on as a community is crucified and over the last few weeks we have watched the interior of our old church building ripped open and exposed to the elements before finally being demolished. And now, we too are waiting, waiting with pain, waiting in pain. Like Mary Magdalene we are not sure how the story will end. But like Mary Magdalene, we wait by the tomb of our hopes and dreams and wait for the dawn of the resurrection.

Thank you Craig, Karen and the community of Calgary Baptist Church in Cardiff.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Where is the Sun?

About a month ago, some gentlemen in yellow vests and hard hats came and put up scaffolding around our house. They promptly covered the scaffolding with yellow protective sheeting, blocking all light from the front of our house. Then they left. Since then we have seen one workman, for one morning. He ground all the mortar out of the brickwork, leaving the house, garden and street covered in a thick layer of red brick dust. He had, at least, taped up the door and letter box.

Since then, we have seen no one. It is now three weeks since anyone actually did any work on our house and, quite frankly, we are getting rather fed up of living on a building site.

Ordinarily, we would escape to Clare and Andy's house - but, of course, that has been a building site since last June!

Even since I took the pictures linked to below in December, the area has been transformed. Where once there were houses, today there are empty spaces. In what seemed a rather desperate piece of synchronicity, the producers of East is East - which was filmed here 12 years ago - decided to come back and film the death throes of our community for their sequel, which I believe will be called West is West! We receive an almost endless stream of students on 'field trips' coming to 'study us.'

And today, when we were supposedly on holiday, I got a phone call to say that the demolition of the old Mersey Street church building had started. So, when we got back this afternoon, I dashed round to take some more pictures which you can see by clicking here. A suitable souvenir of what has been a horrible New Year for all of us so far.

Which is why we're not posting much at the moment. We don't want to depress you all. Roll on Easter, I say. We could do with a bit of resurrection!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Just a brief note to mark the passing of Edward Schillebeeckx and Mary Daly within the same week. The Guardian this morning is describing Schillebeeckx as the most influential theologian of his generation. I don't know about that, but as a young(ish) theology student in the 80s and 90s, his work largely passed me by, as being rather too conservative and church-focussed for my taste.
Daly, on the other hand, was a thought provoking source of constant challenge. If, ultimately, I rejected many of her conclusions (and I still struggle to see how any man could accept her radical separationist approach), her analysis of patriarchy has, hopefully had a profound influence on my praxis. So, even if I was not part of her world, I mourn her passing!