Jesus took a child…


…and showed him into a back room where Mary Magdalene gave him a colouring in sheet depicting the baby Moses in the Bullrushes and where they sang an action song whilst Jesus got on with talking about complicated things with the grown-ups.

One could easily spin a complaint along these lines against my previous post, pretty much giving up on the idea of real All Age Worship.  But that’s not my purpose.  I want to counter going completely in the opposite direction, which is “Church is really for adults so here’s something vaguely religious to occupy you while we do the real stuff.”

There are a couple of problems when this is what ends up happening.

Firstly, children pretty soon get fed up with colouring sheets, word searches and even the more fun cutting and sticking stuff.  They get to 10 or 11 and pretty soon they’re not wanting to do it any more.  Nor are they wanting to sit for an hour and a quarter whilst an esoteric ritual and/or didactic top down teaching activity goes on at the front.  We struggle to manage the transition between Sunday School and the main Church, and that’s exasperated when the Sunday School activities are thinly religiously veneered child-minding.  In our strongly liturgical neck of the woods, the transition has been traditionally managed by giving older children a role in the altar party, but there are plenty of kids for whom that’s about as attractive as having teeth pulled, and besides, if there are any significant numbers of children passing through that altar party is going to get rather large.  There are missing generations in our churches, and they’re the parents with older children and the older children, teenagers and young adults themselves.  I know a church where the Sunday School would make you think that the church was full of young families.  It isn’t.  It’s full of grandparents and young grandchildren.  The ones in the middle are in bed at home whilst Granny takes care of the younger kids.

Secondly, ideally a “junior church” should be doing what the main body of the church is doing – prayer, learning, worship and so on – in a child-oriented manner (the clue’s in the name).  Not time-filling activities whilst everyone else is doing these things.  This is because these things are done in order to grow, develop and sustain the faith of the congregation.  If children are not given the opportunities to do the same things, then they will not have a faith to grow, develop or sustain when they grow out of the Sunday School.  I’m about as far from a “personal relationship with Jesus” sort of person as you can get (the concept never made much sense to me), but I do think that the individual needs to come to own the faith for themselves – a process that our offerings should support, adults and children alike, if we consider children to be part of the church.

There are other issues of course – the tendency for the job to be fobbed off to the parents because of the mistaken belief that a good parent makes a good Sunday School leader (that’s the mistake you make when you think of it as glorified child-minding) – the fact that this limited group of parents lumbered with the job don’t actually get much chance to take part in the worshipping life of the church themselves as they either out in the hall with the kids or corralling a bunch of kids who’ve now returned to the nave and have got bored in 0.2 picoseconds.

To summarise:

What are we trying to achieve for our children?

How can this be actually achieved?

Who is in a position to achieve it, and to support those doing it?


“Worship which no age likes very much”

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This was the definition offered by Church-English Dictionary (out of print) for “All Age Worship”.  And I think that does actually neatly encapsulate a problem.  And it’s this.  Society has probably never been more stratified by age.  Go back a hundred years or so, and your life was likely to take much the same course as your parents’.  And their parents’.  If you were rich, you would idly idle the way they had in the same stately home.  If you were poor, you’d dig the same coal or work the same fields.  If you were in  between you’d inherit the same business.  But your lifestyle would not be massively changed.  There was no music industry generating new music for you to love and your parents to hate.  No large changes in societal attitudes putting distance between you and previous generations.  No youth subcultures offering an identity contrasted both with others of one’s peers and even more strongly with one’s predecessors.

And in such a homogenous culture, one size fits all church offerings worked.  People related to pretty much the same things, regardless of their age.  This is why, I’d suggest, All Age Worship is something we’ve only heard of in recent decades.  There was simply no issue in the past.  Now there is, and we realise that we have to do something about worship forms that don’t work across the generations.  But I’m less than convinced that we are very good at actually doing it successfully.  “All Age Worship”, “Family Services” and “Children’s Services” should be three very different things.  Generally, they aren’t.  They’re all the third one – and this isn’t surprising, because children have short attention spans so quickly switch off from anything that isn’t speaking to them.

I wish I was offering a solution to this one, but I’m not, because I don’t have one.  Perhaps there isn’t one.  Perhaps we need to accept that there is no form of worship that works for Ada Brady who’s 92 and also for the kids, teenagers and young adults of the parish.  Are we better off accepting that and providing a plurality of service forms?

Is the Church committing Suicide?


I enjoyed this cartoon from the Naked Pastor:

The reason is that I’m currently experiencing a degree of – erm – dissatisfaction with my local gaff.  Change is, it seems, a difficult concept.

Is he right?  I think he is, and I think the implications for the Church of England cut across the usual arguments about service styles, organs vs. worship bands , choirs vs. worship leaders and all the usual guff that usually polarises us into two opposing camps.

It’s no secret that bums on pews are fewer than once they were.  The Church is certainly leaner than it was.  Has it just trimmed the fat of “nominal Churchgoing”?  Or is it in danger of anorexia?  To what degree have we just let people go when there are other demands on their Sunday mornings?  Could we have considered rescheduling our activities to fit in with modern lifestyles?

It’s a frequently noted but less frequently addressed issue that our children leave the moment they are old enough to be left at home on a Sunday morning.  Or find a football club.  Or take up dance classes.  Have we failed to engage them and develop their faith, and then failed to provide a form of service that makes church a desirable option amongst all these other activities on offer?  Have we hived them off to Sunday School when they’re young enough, but have nothing engaging and meaningful for them once cutting and sticking and colouring in Bible stories starts to pale?  Are we, as it says above, letting life out?

My analysis – for what it’s worth – is this: the established, traditional Church in this country is too wedded to expressions of faith that served well for hundreds of years – but not well for the last fifty or so.  It is my belief that society has changed more in the last fifty years than it did in the previous five hundred. People’s horizons, opportunities, expectations and choices are massively expanded compared with those of but two generations ago.  It is no accident, in my view, that it was the 1960s and 70s which saw modern language liturgy, new hymns and ultimately movements in thought which make the Church of England today quite different to that of 1962.    But I would ask whether our tinkering with services – translating the “thees” and “thous” but leaving the basic structure and pattern of Church life unchanged – has been much more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? Some have found the changes quite radical.   Others might ask whether they have been radical enough.  Are we merely altering the externals a bit, but, in the words of David Hayward, refusing admission to new kinds of people, ideas and ways.

I would aver, however, that if the Church is to survive far into this new century, and, dare I say it, grow, it needs to change far, far more.

This is not about replacing organs with guitars and throwing out hymns for modern worship songs – that would merely replace one set of alien and esoteric practices with another.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s about more than asking whether 11am is better than 9.15am.  it’s about asking how the Church of the future needs to look if it is to still be there.  Is communal singing really something people are comfortable doing?  Are Sunday mornings the best time to meet together?  Is the Eucharist really the service that must happen every week, rain or shine?  What will actually enable modern, 21st century people to encounter God?  Because all too often, what the Church is offering fails to do this.  And that is why, if it’s not killing itself, it’s seriously neglecting its health.

First content post – why I think Fundamentalists are wrong.

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Because they are creationists?  Well, it points that way, but it’s not the main reason.

Because they believe in inerrancy?  Well, it seems a silly thing to believe in to me, but it’s not the main reason.

Because they’re generally somewhere to the right of Attilla the Hun?  No, not even that.

Because it doesn’t work.

Let’s just for a moment assume the core Fundamentalist belief – inerrancy of Scripture – is correct.  That Scripture is God’s Word, God speaking directly to us.

I’ve known a lot of people who believe this, and sometimes it’s the only thing they agree on.  Some are preterist, some look forward to a great tribulation.  Some are fiercely Calvinist.  Others vigorously Arminian.  Some hold to a strong paedobaptist tradition.  Others insist on believer’s baptism.  Some insist that the dramatic gifts of the Spirit are for today; others equally that they died out with the Apostles.

And every one of them is convinced that the Scriptures prove that they are right and going against them requires a failure to believe God’s Word.

So there’s a problem.  If the Scriptures are God’s Word and inerrant, nevertheless those who believe this to be the case can’t actually agree what God’s Word says

I have to conclude that to whatever extent the Bible is God’s message to humanity, then God isn’t desperately worried about us getting our theology right.  Which would be fine if Fundamentalism didn’t tend to require that one does get the theology right.  There are loads of Fundamentalisms out there, all convinced that they alone have the exact truth, although they might differ about how right you have to be, nevertheless I’ve been told, for example, that if I had “saving faith” then I’d recognise the truth of the speaker’s particular brand of Fundamentalism.

So either (a) Fundamentalism – all flavours – is false, or (b) one of them is correct and God’s the sort of trickster who hands you a pack of cards, says “Pick a card, any card.” and if you get the wrong one torments you for all eternity in a fiery Hell.

I feel reasonably confident therefore in writing off the probability of Fundamentalist Christianity being the truth without even having to point out that scientific illiteracy of creationism, the historical and literary incompetency of inerrancy, and all the rest.

Which is good, because I’m a right negative bugger and it’d be easy to spend my time rubbishing Fundamentalists on those bases.  But I don’t think I need to.  I can’t really give Fundamentalism a proper consideration as the truth because the first question has to be which one?

This of course all raises a rather fundamental (ha ha) question, for another post I think.

So now I have a blog…

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…surprised no-one already had the title!

This is my musing space.  For donkey’s years I’ve joked that I believe in God every other day.  But that’s not really true.  I believe in God and don’t at the same time.  On the one side there’s a rational part of me that says that there’s no real evidence for God, no reason to believe other than a fear of death and a desire not to be alone in a Godless universe.  But it’s a habit I don’t seem able to shake off.

Because it’s too good a story – the one about God becoming man and reconciling man to himself by dint of his combined divine and human natures – to reject without a damned good reason.  And while the reasons for believing may not be all that strong, the reasons for giving it up don’t amount to much either.

Pascal’s Wager?  No, I don’t think so.  After all, there’s always the possibility that God exists and the Fundamentalists are right about what He’s like! A true Pascal’s Wager approach should lead to a Fundamentalist position, because if Fundamentalism is false, then it’s OK, the more liberal God’ll let you in.  But if Fundamentalism is true, then if you’re not one, you’re stuffed.

Then again, I have some pretty good reasons for thinking fundamentalism is false – for another post.  And I digress anyway.

Enough for now.  Posts with content to follow.

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