African Snow

Went to see African Snow tonight in Bristol.

Very moving, so won't say enjoyable. This is Riding Light's drama of the abolition of slavery, featuring Olaudah Equiano and John Newton. It brought home to me the conditions of slavery (more than the film Amazing Grace did, which I enjoyed), and made me continue to think about the way that slavery continues today in various guises. Bristol and Liverpool were compared to Sodom and Gomorrah. The play was all the more effective because all the actors were black, playing English and African characters, except one.

Most of all it struck me that the very fact for Olaudah of learning English, and the Biblical words justice and righteousness, started a process of examining how well they were (not) applied in the society of his day. The Bible is a subversive document.

A Snow is a particular kind of ship which was used for carrying slaves. The play was partly sponsored by CMS.

CMS Farewell

Today I returned to CMS for the day to attend a collective farewell, in Waterloo, for those leaving Mission Movement in the current reorganisation.

I've never been to a Turkish restaurant before, but enjoyed lunch at Tas Restaurant on The Cut, followed by tea and cake for a wider group at Partnership House.

It was different to meet with former colleagues, when all except me are still employees. However the positive side of this was that I felt that I was meeting not with colleagues but with friends – and that speaks well for the future.

CMS may have weaknesses, but if working relationships are founded on friendship (mutual care) then that is a strength. After all, it is a Christian Mission Society, and Jesus chose to relate to those close to him as friends.

Partnership for World Mission

Today I attended one of the regular meetings of the Partnership for World Mission Group for Oxford Diocese. CMS are looking to partner with this group particularly because of the move of offices from London to Oxford in June 2007.

This is looking promising for the future, because as members introduced themselves and spoke of what is important to them, there seemed to be a meeting of minds between the diocese and CMS, even to the extent of the use of quotes on their web site from former CMS General Secretary Max Warren: “It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel.”

Oxford Diocese's plans for 2007 and beyond are summed up under the heading “At Home in the World Church” – see their website.

“Woking 2”

For the last 24 hours I have enjoyed the second gathering of southern churches that are travelling a “Global Local” journey with CMS. We first met last Summer.

It is exciting to see churches stimulated in local mission through engaging with mission practice in other countries, and through sharing stories with one another.

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)..