The mystery of everything

The Mystery of Everything & The Magic of Stuff’ – Genesis 1:1-14

Christ Church Highbury, February 18th 2018

[Each year, Christ Church chooses a Lent course that is followed in home groups & in Sunday’s sermons. This year we used The Mystery of Everything, a course by Hilary Brand based upon the film The Theory of Everything. We use the course in our home groups and Sunday sermons – this was the first week of that series.]

The ‘mystery of everything’ is potentially quite an undertaking for just 6 weeks, but it’s broken down into five themes of mystery:

  • Our origins
  • Suffering
  • God’s care for us
  • Wisdom
  • Weakness
  • The cross

It acknowledges that faith requires us to engage in mystery. We never reach a point in our relationship with God where we know all the answers. No human in the history of creation has come close to fully comprehending the mystery of God, although many have tried!

The problem is that this doesn’t sit well with our human instinct of curiosity – we’d rather know the theory behind everything, rather than having to settle for a mystery. We seek answers to questions; we are created with an innate desire for knowledge within us. I’m not sure we ever fully depart from that phase all small children go through where every other question is “But why….???”

And, over centuries, humanity has tried to establish the answers to our questions. This course explores some of these questions, doing so through the story of someone who attempted to find answers in science: Stephen Hawking, and the film based upon his earlier career, The Theory of Everything.

Stephen Hawking is arguably one of the greatest scientists the UK has ever produced. His book A Brief History of Time, published in 1988 as an introduction to his work and ideas for the masses, sold over 10 million copies in 20 years. It’s been published in 35 languages and is one of the bestselling science books ever published. Covering topics such as the Big Bang and Black Holes, for many people it’s been their main introduction to some of the ‘big’ questions around our origin and how our world works.

Modern culture has a tendency of viewing science and faith as an either/or situation. Can you believe in Genesis and the Big Bang? Hasn’t modern science disproved monotheistic views of how the world came into being?

The Mystery of Origin

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” 

The most we are told about HOW God created the world is that his Spirit hovers above all, and that at his command, light, sky, land, and all that grows & lives on earth. The intricacies of exactly how this all came to pass, and a precise time frame is not part of Genesis’ opening chapters.

It’s generally understood that this account was written by Moses, in around 1445 BC. It is certainly not an eye witness account! There are also widely understood to be two creation narratives, this in chapter 1 and then a further narrative in chapter 2. They are complementary rather than contradictory, providing God’s people with an understanding of his centrality in their world.

God’s creation is shrouded in mystery, and the more that we have learnt of the world through scientific exploration, the more questions have been raised. Some would argue that theories such as the Big Bang and Evolution are indicative of Genesis being wrong. That there is no God, or that creation couldn’t have taken place in the way Genesis accounts for.

I don’t know where you stand on these questions. I am categorically not a scientist! It was not my strongest subject at school, and I don’t really have the greatest of interests in it – certainly not to the extent that I would buy A Brief History of Time and read it for fun! But I am a historian and theologian. I am interested in why and how things happened. I’m fascinated by the way in which our world has grown, changed and evolved. And obviously, I believe that God is in the centre of it all.

My father has a scientific background – he was part-way through a science degree when he realised he was being called to ordained ministry. As a result, growing up, religion and science were not regarded as an either/or – they were compatible rather than being mutually exclusive. I learned about evolution at school, but was shocked to discover that there were Christians who didn’t believe in the scientific theory because it was at odds with Genesis. Aged 9, I was rather hasty in my dismissal of these Christians (probably to my parents’ great amusement), but it resulted in a long conversation with my father about how to reconcile the two arguments with each other. As an adult, I still hold a similar view – that I can see God at work in these scientific ideas, and I don’t consider them to undermine my faith and beliefs.

There isn’t time to go deeply into the debate of which creation ‘story’ or theory is correct, or grounded in the most evidence. I’m sure many of you will have your own opinions on this. What we should not do is dismiss scientific discoveries and research as attacks upon God’s autonomy – because although there are atheist scientists, there are many who have a belief in God’s work in creation too.

I love this story about one of Einstein’s classes:

A class of students were saying they had decided there was no God. Einstein asked them how much of all the knowledge in the world they had among themselves collectively, as a class. The students discussed it for a while and decided they had 5% of all human knowledge among themselves. Einstein thought their estimate was a little generous, but he replied: “Is it possible God exists in the 95% you don’t know?”

Even within science, there is still mystery…

When we read the creation narrative set out in Genesis as readers dwelling in the 21st century, we do so in our specific time and culture. We bring to our reading myriad questions that would not have crossed the minds of those hearing Moses’ account centuries ago. But we see God at work at the beginning of time, just as we see God at work in the world in which we live today.

A sense of awe:

In the mystery of creation is a sense of awe. As we ponder these questions of how, when and why, we are struck by the majesty of what God has done and is doing. Where do we find that sense of awe at God’s creation in our lives?

There has been more than one depiction of Stephen Hawking’s life over the years. Just a couple of years before The Theory of Everything came out, the BBC made a film of his life starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I happen to be more of a Cumberbatch fan than an Eddie Redmayne one, and in this drama was a scene between Hawkings and Jane – who he later married – where they lie together in a garden, gazing at the stars. As they do so, Stephen attempts to explain some of his ideas about black holes and the universe – very romantic!

But as I was re-reading Genesis, I was struck that I have a similar response to the stars. Not a scientific weighing up of possibilities, but a sense of awe at the vastness of God’s creation. Living in London, it’s not something I get to do every day – but I think of when I’m on holiday in rural France, sitting outside late at night, looking up at a sky that seems so huge and full of infinite possibilities. That the stars I’m looking up at began burning bright centuries ago. That people I care for far away can look up at the same stars. That, these lights in the sky were created at God’s command…

This sermon was preached just a few weeks before Stephen Hawking died. In the days following his death, many tributes appeared that included some of his work on stars. (Credit.)

As I look back on my life I can think of plenty of other moments where I’ve felt a similar sense of awe:

  • Holding a newborn baby & marvelling at this tiny, perfect creature who’ll grow up to be someone.
  • Watching a child do something for the first time.
  • Standing in the waves of the Pacific Ocean, overcome by the vastness of water.
  • Catching sight of a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

I could go on, and I’m sure you would all have plenty of moments to add to that list. I would encourage you to find time to think about those that have come into your mind. Thank God for his creation, and for the way in which it has reminded you of his presence.

Perhaps you have questions? Lent can be a time in which you choose to intentionally engage in the mysteries of our faith and our world – through a lent course, through conversation with others, or through intentionally finding out more about an area you’re curious about.

Despite all our questions and wondering, in the midst of the mystery of everything, there is one certainty: God is at work – yesterday, today, and forever.

The challenges & encouragements of the talents

Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the talents

Christ Church Highbury, November 19th 2017

Have you ever participated in a challenge based upon this parable? Where you’re given a sum of money and challenged to do something creative with it…

Several years ago, Tewkesbury Abbey – where my sister worships – did this with its congregation in order to raise money for a worthy cause. Every participant was given £10 and challenged to use it to raise more money for the church. She spent the money on ingredients for Christmas mincemeat, selling the jars to friends and family and giving the abbey back not just the original £10, but also a tidy profit.

Obviously, this wouldn’t have worked as a fundraising strategy had everyone at the abbey buried their £10 note in the ground and returned it when the abbey asked for it back. It’s a pretty good contemporary illustration of Jesus’ parable.

***

We know this parable best as ‘the parable of the talents’ – but our modern translation has exchanged ‘talent’ for gold. A ‘talent’ was a measure of wealth equivalent to more than could be earned over 15 years as a labourer, but we can probably visualise bags of gold more easily. Either way, the servants are entrusted with a phenomenal amount of money by their master – and acquired a good deal of wealth on their master’s behalf.

In Jesus’ time, servants were often expected to care for their masters’ properties and businesses while they travelled – potentially for long periods of time. The masters needed to be able to trust these caretakers, and expected faithfulness in return. In addition, it was important for the servants to do their job, but not to inflate their own status – believing themselves to be stand-in masters.

In this parable, not only are the servants trusted, they are given the extra responsibility of caring for their master’s money. Verse 15 states that the gold was given to each ‘according to their ability’ – so one could argue that the master already held the last servant in low esteem!

The third hapless servant is overcome with fear. That is his motivation for burying the gold. Perhaps he was concerned that he might be tempted to spend his master’s money. Perhaps he feared that he wouldn’t manage to keep it safe from thieves. He doesn’t trust his master for giving him this responsibility and seeks to protect his own interests. In contrast, the two other servants are ready to take a risk – for themselves and for their master – and it pays off.

***

I wonder which of the servants you find yourself identifying with? Entrepreneurship is a gift that I don’t think I possess, so I’m not sure that I could have thought of a way to double the master’s money!

 

This parable is an invitation from Christ to us to take up the gifts we have been made responsible for, and to do the best with them for the good of the kingdom. It is one of a series of parables Jesus tells to illustrate what will happen when he returns and brings about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

The message is stark: ill-treat what God has entrusted to us, and face miserable consequences. The unfortunate servant is thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

But it is also an encouragement – I promise!

We should be encouraged that all of us have been entrusted with gifts by God. They take different forms of course – for some it may literally be bags of gold to use wisely and for the benefit of others. For others it may be practical gifts that can be used to give our society a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. The parable tells us that each servant is given money according to their ability. God does not call us to tasks or situations without also equipping us with the gifts we need to fulfil his calling.

Each of us, as Christians, have the opportunity to multiply the gifts God has entrusted to us – in turn, growing the Kingdom.

The challenge is to overcome the fear that is the third servant’s downfall. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task that God has put before his church. When we are overwhelmed – as I’m sure we all have experience of – the temptation is to bury our heads (or our gifts) in the sand, and to put off offering any kind of contribution to God’s mission – the proclamation of the gospel.

But, as I said, the encouragement is to be found in the faith and trust that the master placed upon his servants. We have been entrusted. God has confidence in us, his children. All we have to do is act!

***

I had one further thought that struck me as I thought about this familiar passage was how helpful it is for Christ Church, during this season of being in vacancy. While we are without a vicar, we are responsible for the church and the resources that God has given us. I’m not suggesting that Jonathan (our previous vicar) was our master, but that it’s an interesting parable to draw comparisons with. We have been entrusted with keeping Christ Church going – all of us, not just the staff team and Church Wardens – and, to each of our abilities, God has given us even more.

Vacancy periods are great times to give people new responsibilities, particularly those who are not ordained. So  a few members of the congregation, have had training in how to lead some of our services and over the next few months this will be a really valuable contribution to keeping our worship going. Similarly, a group of people have taken on the responsibility for our monthly Jazz Vespers service.

In this way, when a new vicar is appointed, they will be greeted with more than was left behind when Jon left us in July. Many of you will have acquired new skills; developed new responsibilities; and grown in your relationship with God. A church that buried its riches during a vacancy period would stagnate, even regress – but I am very confident that this is already not the case with Christ Church.

***

I asked you earlier which of the servants you identified with this morning – and that’s a question that I would love you to leave today pondering.

If you are confident that you are using the gifts you have so well that you’re multiplying them – great! And thank you! Perhaps you could do some encouraging of those who are apprehensive of the responsibility.

If you are feeling apprehensive, perhaps disbelieving that you have been given anything, may I encourage you to take just one small step. Perhaps that’s reading a book that will deepen your understanding of God and your faith. Perhaps it’s volunteering with the church or in our community in some way. It could even be taking the time to sit down with someone you trust to talk through what gifts you may have that you don’t even realise you possess – often we need other people to point them out to us.

An alternative church

There is an alternative church. One which is global, diverse, and to which all are welcome. One that upholds a code of behaviour, as determined by its leaders and members. Occasionally, it claims the credit for miraculous healings. There are rituals and language incomprehensible to the uninitiated. It meets on a weekly basis, but its teaching permeates the day-to-day lives of its congregants too. 

Unlike the Body of Christ, its leaders cannot said to be God (nor do they aspire to be). It doesn’t offer the forgiveness of sins, nor does it hold the imbibing of certain substances to be holy. But there is a warmth of community, and a sense of communal purpose. 

The church is actually not so much an alternative as a complementary one. In a venn diagram of the members of the church of Wittertainment (founded by Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo) and those of the venerable Church of England, a not inconsiderable number would be in the overlap.

I over-egg the comparison somewhat, but the Church of Wittertainment does have its similarities to the church that ordained me back in July. And it was that ordination, and an email I sent in, that has brought out these characteristics in recent months…

My earlier blogpost chronicled the immediate aftermath of my moment of Wittertainment ‘fame’ (someone else’s word, not mine!) six months ago. I thought things would die down after the initial flurry of new followers on Twitter from the congregation; the random tweets from random people; and messages from friends of friends on Facebook, including ‘Colonial Commoners‘ far away in New Zealand.

The first weeks in my new clergy role (having tried to explain the saga to my rather baffled training incumbent) elicited some classic Wittertainment responses on Twitter – particularly on the day I was asked in a staff meeting if I knew how to do a baptism. Cue multiple responses of “How do you do a baptism? You just do a baptism!” [It’s an in-joke. This kind of explains it.]

At church (my actual church), congregants would occasionally sidle up to me after a service and divulge their Wittertainment status via some form of code-phrase, like a Hello to Jason Isaacs or, in one instance, the bemusing “It’s a honour to meet a legend of the church…the church of Wittertainment that is!” 

Clergy corner is a thriving niche of the Wittertainment congregation, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that clergy (or soon-to-be clergy) would continue to come out of the woodwork as fellow Wittertainees. I’ve met them at Chapter, Post Ordination Training, on Twitter and at assorted other clerical gatherings. However, I never thought I’d see the day when a Wittertainee in training for clergy corner status explained my appearance on the show to both a Bishop and the wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury. That was the very definition of a surreal moment and one in which I think the church of Wittertainment would appreciate!

Then, last Sunday, I took myself off to the BFI for an evening’s entertainment where everything got a little bit dead amaze and totes emosh all over again…(and I’m not even joking!)

canongate-the-movie-doctors-banner.1024x500.mz

The leaders of the church, the self-styled Good Doctors, have written a book together and have been on tour to promote it. Miraculously, despite it being that most wonderful time of the year when all clergy are working their socks off, I was free on the Sunday night that the tour came to London. An alarm was set and a ticket acquired. 

The show was great, and from an initial flick-through, I highly recommend their book too. However, the real highlight was afterwards, when a book signing took place. I joined the queue just ahead of a girl in a Mary Poppins t-shirt who’d been an audience participant that evening. We chatted on and off (a friendly bunch these total strangers who belong to the same church!) until someone from the publishers came to sort out our book dedications. I felt that my whole name needed to be given (as it is in Clutterbuck that the humour lies), so gave it and then dashed off to buy the book. When I returned the ladies either side of me were chatting to each other and immediately greeted me with “I’m sorry, did you say your name was Liz Clutterbuck? Are you THE Liz Clutterbuck??” Much more conversation ensued, until we reached the front of the queue.

I’ll confess that I had hoped when purchasing my ticket that I would get to meet the Good Doctors, but that was pretty much the limit on my expectations of the evening. To quote myself as I emerged onto the South Bank later that, “Well, *that* exceeded expectations!” [Because I often talk to myself in such a way.]

When Clutterbuck met the Movie Doctors

Did I expect an exclamation from Dr K on realising who I was? No. Did I anticipate a kiss on the hand from Dr M? Most certainly not!! Was I expecting them to request a photo with me? Errr….NO!!

God bless the Clutterbuck

I left the BFI in a little bit of a daze, clutching both book and phone, lest a mugger rob me of my precious cargo! At Waterloo, I bumped into the girl ahead of me in the queue and we chatted all the way home to Stratford – another indication of just how warm and friendly this church of strangers is. It was thanks to Debbs that the following morning I joined the Mark Kermode Appreciation Society on Facebook (she’d been showing us it in the queue and it seemed a good place for film banter). When my request was approved, I received a special welcome…

MKAS Welcome

 Within a matter of hours, this had evolved into a multi-comment thread, in which it was pondered as to how one ‘does the Clutterbuck’. Chuckles emanated from my office during the course of the afternoon…

My reflection? The members of the church are only so nice because their leaders are – it sounds a bit soppy, but genuinely, that signing was one of the most authentic and positive I’ve ever witnessed. [I’ve worked in a bookshop, I’ve seen many!] It wasn’t a production line, and despite having been there for nearly an hour, they didn’t look as frazzled as any self-respecting person would have the right to be! 

So, good on you Good Doctors, thank you for being your fabulous selves and bringing much joy to discerning podcasters!

Postscript:

This post has been in draft for a couple of days (thanks to seasonal obligations). I meant to post it on Friday morning, but forgot, and then the lovely Doctors proved every word of this post to be true by mentioning our meeting (1:27 in) in the show. (Possibly the only time my name will be mentioned in the same show as JJ Abrams & the cast of Star Wars!) 

Thank you doctors (although, not to play favourites, especially Mark for your excitement & enthusiasm!), it was a delight to meet you both. You helped make an already memorable 2015 even more memorable! 

In praise of St Lydia’s

My trip to the States was essentially a “hooray for finishing my MA, let’s have a well deserved break” kind of holiday. It had been nearly 3 months since ordination and life had been pretty full-on, with getting to know Christ Church, my MA thesis and a freelance research project. It was to be a time for R&R and a complete break from life in London.

One might have assumed that that would mean a break from churches – but no. In fact, in my first 24 hours in NYC I managed to spend time in four different churches! Out of 7 nights spent in the city, five were spent participating in some kind of church activity. This is possibly what one might call a bus man’s holiday, but in my defence not only did it result in new friends, it also gave me a really interesting insight into the issues at the forefront of churches in this part of the US – from LGBT rights and inclusion, to race and church segregation – which was fascinating to reflect upon, comparing with the UK.

My first stop, having landed at JFK and taken the A-train into Brooklyn, was a church – St Lydia’s to be precise – where Hannah (my host) works and which had been cited in the MA thesis I’d handed in just ten days previously. It is a community that enacts one of the most fascinating acts of Eucharist (communion) that I’d ever participated in. Having read a lot about it and heard many stories from Hannah (and a member of Matryoshka Haus who’d recently got to know it too) it was high on my list of places to visit in NYC!

St Lydia'sImage credit.

My thesis was on the subject of how the Church of England could make Eucharist more a part of the mission of the church, and hospitable in the way that (I and others argue) Jesus and Paul intended it to be. St Lydia’s seemed to me to be a brilliant embodiment of this. Every Sunday and Monday night, the community comes together for ‘dinner church’ in its store front home, where the communion is celebrated around a table to which all are welcome. The elements (the bread and the wine) are shared in the context of this meal, and it aims to foster the genuine inclusivity of the Kingdom of God.

Preparing for dinner church

I was expecting to be fascinated by the service – I did not expect, over the course of such a short space of time, to be so embraced by a community who were all but strangers to me. I could wax lyrical about the meals, but for starters, I just want to highlight a few things that really struck me.

  • Dinner Church is essentially sung Eucharist. Simple songs were taught and repeated (and clearly repeated week in and week out, so many knew them well) as part of the liturgy. They were accompanied by a box accordion and simple drumming that might to a stranger seem indicative of ‘hipster Brooklyn’, but were in fact just instruments that really fitted the context.
  • There was a healthy respect for the elements and an elevation of the Eucharist’s role within the community. This is exactly what my thesis was trying to get at – all too easily in the CofE we can make Eucharist a part of worship that we do without thinking, or in some circles, do too infrequently. Here it’s at the centre and drives the life of the community. It is at the table where relationships are formed and lives shared – it was the truest ‘foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet’ I have yet experienced on earth.
  • Name tags might seem cheesy, but at St Lydia’s I was touched by the impact they can have upon building relationships. A name tag enables you to offer your neighbour the bread or wine using their name – which I think has a profound effect upon the act. [I am still in awe of a college tutor who would give the bread using the name of the recipient at college worship, I watched him get the names of over 50 people correct!!] It also meant that people would readily start a conversation with “So Liz, how have you ended up here?” – perhaps helped by American confidence, but use of someone’s name helps them to really feel at home. (Plus my name tag went into a box ready to be used on subsequent visits…)
  • People really were open to sharing their life stories with one another. After the short sermon was a time of response, related to the topic. British me was surprised at how keen people were to share personal information and stories to a group that would always include some who were unknown to them. Even more incredibly, by Dinner Church number 3, I was willing to share too! [Also, have you ever heard a sermon where the response was to design a tattoo??]

My name is Liz

I’ve brought home with me lots of ideas – for church, for my ministry and for Matryoshka Haus. In the case of the latter, it was the very practical divvying up of tasks when cleaning up after dinner! Washing up or fixing tables not only means everyone is sharing responsibility for the task, but also provides great getting-to-know you opportunities. I would love to try this kind of service myself, in some form, once I’m priested next summer. It’s also confirmed to me that ideas I included in my thesis are possible! The church just needs to get a little bit more creative.*

The table is set

St Lydia’s isn’t just dinner church – there’s a new ‘waffle church’ (a version of messy church where stickiness is definitely an end result) and a vespers service, as well as one-off talks and community events. My final New York evening was spent listening to Phyllis Trible lecture on feminist theology – which I’m sure is everyone’s idea of an excellent way to spend one’s last night in the Big Apple! Whatever, I enjoyed it! I also loved being made to feel so welcome by Emily and Julia and everyone else who makes up the community there – especially the one evening when out of a gathering of 24 people, four of us were Elizabeths or Lizs!

If the long-term plan to do a PhD is realised, and I base it upon the groundwork I’ve done through my MA, I’m vaguely hopeful of spending some more time with St Lydia’s in the future, but until then, thank you guys! It was a real joy.

 

*On the subject of my thesis, I realise I’ve not said anything much about it. To be honest, as I’m still at the “Argh! It’s probably all rubbish!” stage of awaiting my grade, it’s not a great time to go into much detail. But its official title was: ‘Communion Table or Communal Table. What can Anglican practice of the Eucharist learn from the communal table of the missional community?’ Suffice to say, I now know a surprising amount about certain sections of Canon Law…

Positive Church

One of my ‘extra-curricular’ activities (i.e. non MA work) is being a part of the Transformational Index team. I’ve had a loose association with the TI for a couple of years, as it’s a project that’s emerged from the incubator of Matryoshka Haus (the missional community in which I have many adventures), but it’s only been since last summer that I’ve officially been on the team.

The TI “is a tool that helps organizations to quickly identify their intended social impact and to measure progress in a way which balances a commitment to values with a focus on results.” Coming from a research background, I’ve been interested in it for a while – helping people measure things using methods other than straight stats is a bonus for someone who worked as a qualitative researcher for three years!

TI in action

Last week, we had a team gathering at which each member gave a TED style talk on a subject designated them according to their interests and specialities. I was allocated ‘measuring positive change in UK churches’, which sounds daunting, but actually enabled me to get on one of my high horses…

Using traditional forms of measurement, the church in the UK exists within a negative narrative. The numbers often seem damning:

  • The 2011 census showed a drop from 72% Christian affiliation in 2001, to 59%.
  • Since 1960, Church of England Sunday attendance has dropped from 1.6 million in 1968 to 800,000 in 2013. [Source: 2013 Statistics for Mission, p.6]
  • In 1980, Methodist membership stood at 600,000. In 2013 it was 209,000. [Source: 2014 Statistics for Mission, Methodism in Numbers.]

Within these reports (if reading statistical reports is your thing) are some positives. The Church of England has seen a big increase in worshippers at cathedrals. Mid-week attendance in both denominations has also been on the up. In recent years, the stats process has started including initiatives that fall under the banner of ‘fresh expressions’ (an ecumenical effort to find ‘new’ ways of being church) – many of which have connected with people who wouldn’t otherwise have connected with church.

The problem is that if we ONLY use stats to measure change in the church, the negative narrative is easy to fall into. Simply counting numbers in the pews on Sundays or midweek isn’t going to demonstrate the positive impact that a church might be having upon its local community. Knowing how many have signed up to an Electoral Roll doesn’t give any insight into the spiritual journey individual worshippers may have been on.

If we only use stats showing church attendance or membership, we’re also making an assumption of what ‘success’ looks like. It’s not so very long since the Archbishop of Canterbury got into hot water for stating:
“The reality is that where you have a good vicar, you will find growing churches,”

What does ‘growth’ look like? Is it bums on seats? Hearts changed? Number of interactions with local residents? And what about ‘good’?? When we make measurement simplistic, we’re not really measuring what matters.

Whitby Abbey

If you’re a church-y type, and you care about such questions, I’d like to propose two things:

1. Think about what ‘good’ looks like in your context. What is important? How could you measure that effectively, beyond just the statistical obligations.

2. Step beyond the negative narrative simple statistics (and the world!) might say about the church. Find the qualitative data that speaks against it – the individual stories of change; what your context looks like; and where the positives are.

Those positives aren’t very difficult to find. Another piece of recent extra-curricular work has been some research into fresh expressions of Church in London Diocese. This isn’t the time or place to go into that research (my bit was just the preamble to a much bigger project), but suffice to say that simply gathering a list of such initiatives provided numerous examples of positive change – of churches re-opened after years closed; of innovative ways of connecting with young families; and a high level of creativity and hope.

This might seem like a slightly random blogpost (especially after several weeks absence), but having shared my thoughts on this topic with the TI team, I felt they needed a wider audience. Don’t let negative statistics determine who or what the church is. Get positive!