Pulling Out of the Nosedive

Peter Brierley and Heather Wraight of Christian Research are touring the country, to publicise the results of the 2005 English Church Census. CMS, along with Tearfund, are one of the principal sponsors, so we are leading workshops at each of the venues.

The census points to exciting growth in church going, such as in London and among ethnic minorities, but queries the relevance of church to modern society and points out the lack of young people and adults in their twenties and thirties in most churches. The overall result of the census is that the overall decline in attendance of English churches has slowed, probably as a result of action to halt the decline stimulated by Peter's previous surveys.

Change of behaviour may produce modest improvement, but it seems to me that in many places we are just looking at how to “do the same things better,” rather than “doing better things.” The survey focuses on attendance at worship, whilst radical Christianity is discovering new ways to form Christian Community and to meet the social needs of local people. It's not all about counting “bums on pews,” but nevertheless the information is useful – Peter and Heather having worked hard to interpret the data usefully

A couple of things shocked me in Peter's presentation:

The largest drop-off in church-going between his censuses has been of people leaving the 15-19 age group, i.e. as they move to independent (non-) church-going.

Of those in the 20-29 age group, something like 60% of them go to church in London, and 50% of the remainder go to a small number of very large churches. This means that the majority of churches in England will have between 0 and 1 people in that age-group, which is clearly not enough for “critical mass.”

I had been excited about CMS participating in the tour, having attended the previous one about five years ago, however attendance is poorer this time round (but better quality!?) with around 20 people at each event. A message that “the problem has reduced” does not seem to draw audiences!

For the workshop that I have been running, the eight people who attended engaged enthusiastically with the issue of connecting with and learning from other Christian and non-Christian cultures in our country and elsewhere. This is partly about excitedly being part of what God is doing in his world-wide church, and partly about escaping from a Euro-centric view of what following Jesus is about. As we discussed the way in which Church often does not seem relevant to many people, someone commented – perhaps with striking insight – that “people can't see Jesus in the church.”

Today saw the final one of the three sessions that I have attended, this one at Yeovil, and it seemed to flow particularly well. On this occasion cultural issues had already been broached by stimulating input from the “visiting academic” Dr Helen Cameron from Oxford (a theologian and sociologist)..

CMS Redundancies

My job at the Church Mission Society has been made redundant.

News has gradually been seeping through CMS over the past three months: firstly that budget cuts are needed into next year; then that redundancies are likely; then – in particular – that the part of CMS' British work that I am a team leader in (Mission Movement) will have to 'lose' around five staff. Financial difficulties have precipitated a revision of a 'provisional' organisational structure.

This is in addition to those job losses which result from the move of CMS Britain's offices from London to Oxford in mid-2007, because everybody does not want to relocate.

I now have an e-mail telling me that my post is one of those that has been made redundant, and await formal notification and clarification of timescales. There may be other vacancies within CMS that I can apply for (but do I want to?), however it's clear that it is time to start 'job-hunting.'

I have not been with CMS long (since May 2005) however it has been enriching to be part of a mission agency, to build new friendships with colleagues and others, to have my horizons expanded through international and multi-cultural work, and in particular to spend a month in India and Sri Lanka as part of my induction process. (My journal and photos of that visit will get posted on this new web-site when I have the time.)

That is part of the positive side. When I share the situation with friends they find it difficult to understand how a well-managed organisation can recruit for a post in one year, only to make it redundant in the next. There have been redundancies before at CMS, and (who knows?) more may happen next year. Perhaps this is a good time to leave!

I have compassion not only for those whose jobs are affected by this, but also for those (particularly the directors of CMS) who have difficult decisions to make. It is not an easy time for charities to raise funds for mission work, CMS is seeking to invest more in its fundraising, and to recruit more people into that team. They will also have to find new people to do the work that they are raising funds for.

It is natural to take redundancy personally, to feel discouraged or that one's work is not valued. On the contrary, a friend said to me encouragingly lately. Briefly: if your post is made redundant you should not assume that you have been doing bad work, because if you had been you should have been sacked. Taking this to its logical extreme: those of us whose posts are being made redundant should pat ourselves on the back, becaues we are clearly the ones who have been doing good work!.

'Everyone who seeks, finds.'

Be encouraraged, and may God bless you in your search for pastures new.


Royal Mail boycots Christmas?

There seems to be contoversy over the stamps that Royal Mail have produced for use in the UK this Christmas.

Last year one of the stamps depicted Hindus venerating the infant Jesus, from a painting in a gallery in Mumbai, India. Hindus complained because of this. Many Hindus venerate Jesus, along with other Gods, so why the fuss? Royal Mail refused to withdraw the stamp, but in a compromise said that it would only be sold to those who asked for it.

Also last year, the General Synod of the Church of England (and probably other Christians too) asked Royal Mail to continue to use designs “reminding people of the true meaning of Christmas.” This year Royal Mail has produced stamps that are all “secular” and it has received complaints. They say that they will alternate year on year between religious and non-religious themes. (Does religious mean Christian?) One of the stamps for this year features Father Christmas “doing a poo down a chimney.” (Says Damian Lewis on last week's BBC tv “Have I got news for you” – I confess to being a near addict of the programme.)

What do you think? Should Christmas stamps always carry the “true meaning of Christmas?” Comments welcome, and vote on the poll on the main page of this blog!


Very impressed by my son today (aren't I always?). He was looking at internet shopping sites that always seem to offer a discount if you have an “e-voucher”. There is always a sense of sadness at this point…. but then he Googled “e-voucher” and found some on the web, saving us £100!

Inspired hospitality

Last week I spent three days at the PWM World Mission Conference in Derbyshire UK. This turned out to be a bigger event than I had expected: we were joined by about 200 people from all continents except Antarctica, including many bishops. The theme was hospitality. The talks encouraged us to think of the way hospitality is offered and received in different cultures, and I was impressed by a demonstration of a Ugandan greeting, showing how the host is there to serve the guest. The Bible studies in particular let us to see Jesus as our host. Very moving.

Santa Challenges Targets

“SS Santa,” the “world's biggest container ship,” brings Christmas toys from China and returns with our garbage, so that EU targets can be met, says Jeremy Brady in his editorial in The Week (of 11/11/06, referring to Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph – these are unexciting links!).

Jeremy's take on this is that “targets can always be met; but as Stalin found, the outcome is invariably rubbish.” He cautions us against getting carried away with targets for reducing carbon emissions.

It seems to me that much of the training I have received during my business career has encouraged me to set and to meet targets, and that government and Christian organisations increasingly have been moving in that direction. We seek to build a hope for the future, a vision, and then to reach that through setting and achieving measurable targets.

Is this the best or only way? We need to have an idea of where we are travelling, and the steps along the way. However Jesus' teaching (for example, that we should love God and our neighbour) was less about using any means to reach the right end, and more about finding that if we live the right life then good results (including right relationships) will follow.