Thursday, November 16, 2017

Great questions to ask local teachers

What are you learning at present?

Can you show me how to…?

Who could you teach this to? (this might lead on to, Who do you need to connect with to make that possible?)

What might be the next step in taking this learning further?

Teachers at the local level

Not all teachers-by-vocation are teachers by profession*. But of all the five gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher, the teacher is the one we have most fully identified with professionalisation. Consider the audience for cookery tv programmes and the sales figures of cookbooks by celebrity chefs, and contrast that with locally-held knowledge and handed-on experience (beyond childhood). For all that there are more pastors and teachers than apostles, prophets and evangelists—just as there is more flour and butter than salt, yeast and oil in breadmaking—the local teacher may be an endangered species…

On the other hand, the plethora of community activity groups such as adult art classes, or Pilates or yoga instruction, might suggest that the local teacher is alive and well, albeit evolving from neighbourliness to a more transactional relationship. If this is so, church-owned premises are the primary hubs—and may be well-placed to enable neighbourliness to flourish, alongside enabling some teachers to earn a living.

I am thinking of a member of our congregation who creates intricate bead-work. She makes and sells items of jewellery with the profit going to support the Minster or other charities. In fact, she can hardly keep up with demand. As her skill became known, she was asked to come and speak to our Friendship group, and gave a fascinating talk on the history of indigenous North American beading. What was striking was how many of those present talked about her talk afterwards, to people who were not there. She had brought a niche subject-matter to life, weaving culture and history and faith together; and is already planning another talk, on one of Africa’s many beading traditions. And now she has organised a class, starting in the new year, for people who have expressed an interest in making bead jewellery themselves. Her gifting as a teacher gets to find expression in both presentation-style and in workshop-style.

Another member of our congregation teaches flower-arranging. Another, bell-ringing. Others are involved in teaching and learning singing and music. All these things are expressions of creativity in a society that slavishly emphasises economic utility, and opportunity for social contact in a society that experiences a crisis of isolation. All these things can be taught to the glory of God—the act of teaching being understood as an act of worship, and of loving-service to our neighbour.

Asset-Based Community Development starts by asking, ‘What skills do we have in our community?’ and goes on to explore how we can put those skills to work, enabling the community to flourish. It is not surprising that there are so many teachers in the community; but their presence alone does not guarantee that they are received (from God) and given (to the community) as the gift that they are. The temptation, especially in times when resources are cut-back, is to see only what we lack—the skills-base that is missing, including those who can teach x or y or z. We need to look with fresh eyes.

*And not all teachers by profession are teachers in the primary-vocation sense: schools are communities, and need all the people-gift types reflected on their staff team.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Further thoughts on All Saints & All Souls

All Christians have hope in the promise of the resurrection of those who have died in—or known by—Christ. But we hold a range of views concerning the time-line of eternity, so-to-speak. As I understand it, the Roman Church remembers those who have reached the joy of heaven on All Saints; and those who are in the intermediary state of purgatory, or purification, on All Souls. Anglicans don’t subscribe to the doctrine of purgatory, but are open to an intermediary state (indeed, heaven itself is temporary, awaiting the new heaven and new earth).

Nonetheless, the idea of purgatory is a helpful analogy for the process and purpose of remembering.

The human being is a storied creature. The act of remembering is not so much about living in the past as about curating the stories which have shaped us in regularly-refreshed arrangements to inform the continually changing present. Just as the best museums and art galleries do.

All Souls creates room to remember those we have known personally, and lost. These memories are in a state of purification: alongside thankfulness, we also experience numbness, sorrow, regret, anger, a need to extend forgiveness either/or both/and to the deceased and to ourselves—a whole range of memories with emotional attachments that need to be worked through, over an indeterminate but lengthy period of time.

All Saints creates room to remember those who have passed beyond that initial stage, for whom we are able to lay to rest the hurt and pain human lives inevitably cause, and gladly give thanks for the good that endures. This is not to pretend that our ancestors were saints in the popular sense of ‘did no wrong’ but rather to receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and the redeeming work of God to bring good even out of evil.

Of course, how we curate those stories can still help us address the ongoing challenges of our own time.

So, for example, there is much in the history of Europe (a history that has shaped me), inseparable from Church history, that is lamentable; but there comes a time to focus on the good, the amazing riches of that cultural inheritance.

That we observe All Saints first, and only then All Souls, reminds us of the end goal of memory: the ongoing passing from death into life.

All Saints & All Souls

We are about to enter a Season of Remembrance. Today is All Saints’ Day, when we remember all those who have gone before us, and whose deposit of faith we have inherited. In our locality, the congregation stretches back to 930AD, so that is a lot of saints, or saints-who-were-also-sinners. Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day, when we remember those who we ourselves have known and loved, who have passed through death to life ahead of us. Soon after, we come to Armistice Day, when we remember the cessation of hostility of the First World War; and Remembrance Sunday, when we remember those who have died in conflict in that and all subsequent wars.

The First World War changed the way we think about death and the dead. For many families, there was no possibility of a funeral, or a grave. Mass monuments for the whole parish in a sense took us back to the mass ‘parish grave’—for a long time, people, other than the very rich, were buried together, with marker stones indicating that they were buried ‘nearby’ rather than actually marking their grave. The Service of Remembrance in a sense took the place of a funeral service. And often, both the monument and the act of remembering took place in the market square, rather than the church building.

The Service of Remembrance has become a ‘holy cow’ that cannot be questioned. But I wonder, at what point do we need to let ghosts lie, and allow people to pass from this form of Remembrance to the remembrance of All Souls’ Day and then All Saints’ Day?

I wonder, for example, whether after next year, after 100 years has passed, we need to stop marking Armistice Day, the end of WWI; and allow Remembrance Sunday to mark those wars that have been fought since that War? And if 100 years is not enough—we don't mark any wars that pre-date WWI in this way—then when might be? 150? 200? Never?

It is not that remembrance is not important; but that it comes in more than one form.

I still remember my grandfathers, who fought in the Second World War (so, an All Souls’ connection) but know no-one who fought in the First World War (they have become to me an All Saints’ connection).

Remembrance involves a letting go—not a perpetual holding on—an entrusting to God, and a move from grief at loss to thankfulness for all that was good. It is a process, as much for communities as for individuals.

Perhaps we need to remember what remembrance is truly for?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Great questions to ask local shepherds

Who are you concerned about at the moment, and why?

Is there anything we could do for them or—better still—with them, that would address the issue(s) of concern?

What is going on within the community (the church congregation, or the wider community of the parish) that is having a de-humanising impact?

How are you? No, really: how are you, really? And who is extending the care you need?

Shepherds at the local level

Shepherds, or pastors, care deeply about people’s well-being.

I am not a pastor. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about people, or that I don’t need to do so. As a Christian, I am seeking to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, and Jesus perfectly expressed the human vocations being apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. As one called to serve the church with over-sight, I have learned pastoral skills. But, being just one part of the Body of Christ, my ‘specialism’ is for something else. My love for my neighbour is expressed more naturally through the prophetic question of What is the potential deep within this person waiting to be discovered, and drawn out, and refined? (like a precious stone from the earth) than through the pastoral questions, How can this person’s needs be met? and, Of what hurts do they need healed? The call of the church upon my life (to be a deacon, and priest) requires of me that I seek to guarantee that apostolic intelligence, and prophetic intelligence (the call of Jesus on my life), and evangelistic intelligence, and shepherding or pastoral intelligence (the questions asked immediately above), and teaching intelligence are all contributing to the holistic life and work of the church—and beyond.

When I think of shepherds at the local level, or within the local community, I might think of Elaine. Elaine owned a bistro in the village we lived in before we moved to Sunderland. She had a thankful awareness of God’s benevolence, but, as far as I am aware, was not a church-goer.

The village, on the edge of a town and joined to it by suburban sprawl, had kept its identity through the commitment of its independent shop-owners to a high standard of customer care. Not only did the villagers shop locally, but people travelled from the wider suburban area to the village for its shops and cafes. But Elaine went beyond good customer care: she was a pastor to her regulars, and to her staff. They were like family to her. She would call a taxi to get elderly gentlemen home after their breakfast, and assist them out to the car. When one regular died, they closed the bistro for a couple of hours so that they could attend the funeral.

We ate lunch there on a Friday reasonably often. At some point, Elaine would come out from the kitchen to enquire how we were; perhaps also sharing her concern for other customers or mutual acquaintances—though never in a gossipy way: some of her customers were minor celebrities who knew they could rely on her discretion to provide a safe place to eat in private. She was, quite simply, made to care; and she had created an environment in which to do just that, holistically, and well.

Able to do so, she was a great asset to the community.


Rain-dark morning.
The melancholy reflection of street lamps
on slick wet pavement.
Light, weighed down; too world-weary to dance,
to sing.
Nonetheless, light—
enough for now.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


The man who slipped into the building early doors to light a candle and sit for a few moments before slipping back out again; and the couple who came and sat in the same space a little later on.

The older couple, come with their daughter and brand new granddaughter, to discuss their upcoming renewal of wedding vows.

The couple who came in to look around at the architecture. The smattering of people who came in to catch the art exhibition; and the artists here to begin to take it out again.

The two ladies arranging flowers as a last act of loving service to the member of our congregation whose funeral will be held on Monday.

The workmen tearing out a wall and old toilet to make way for a new servery in the vestry.

The crowd of women of all shapes and sizes here to attend Weight Watchers; and the crowd of men and women of all shapes and sizes having lunch in the café.

Another man, sitting in the pews towards the back of the nave while three women attended the lunchtime Communion in the chapel.


Do not follow your heart; train it

From the Lectionary readings set for Morning Prayer today:

‘Trust in the LORD, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.’
Psalm 37:3, 4

The heart is the seat of the will, or our capacity to make choices, to choose right from wrong, good or evil. According to Psalm 37, the deepest desires of the heart are for the security that comes through justice. However, the psalm also recognises the human propensity to seek short-cuts to security through other means—wealth, power, possessions—which lead us to exploit our neighbour, and so undermine the very thing we desire. The antidote is to take delight in the LORD.

Do not follow your heart; train it.

Great questions to ask local evangelists

What is saving your life right now?

Or, what is exciting you at present? Or, what gives you joy?

Where / with whom are you sharing this?

Who has expressed an interest, and how have you encouraged them, or, who else have you introduced them to?

What good do you see in us, as a community?

Evangelists at the local level

An aside: I was recently with a group of around forty or so fellow clergy, and we were asked to engage in an exercise. Having all completed an APEST profile (which weights your natural preference as primary, secondary, and three tertiaries) we were to set aside our ST scores, and get into groups according to our highest A, P or E score. 70-75% identified as evangelists (15-20% as apostles, and 10% as prophets—though the majority of those identifying as apostles or prophets were facilitators of our gathering). Bear in mind that this group included evangelists as primary, secondary, or strongest tertiary gifting. The weighting is not as surprising as might be imagined: shepherds and evangelists are the two most people-oriented gifts, and this carries considerable weight in our selection criteria for clergy. The good news for church leaders is that we are better story-tellers of good news in our communities than we realise. The potential pitfalls are that we can become isolated (the recruiter tends not to invest in relationship with those already convinced) and that, when discouraged, we can become potent harmful (self-harming the Body of Christ) gossips.

Evangelists are infectious tellers of whatever they consider to be good news.

I’m thinking of two friends of mine. I know that one is an evangelist from how he talks about bees. He is a bee-keeper, and a most winsome story-teller, and his passion flows out of him like honey from a comb. I know that the other is an evangelist from how he talks about science-fiction, from Dr Who to the classic novels of the sci-fi genre. He is irrepressible on this topic that he loves, always searching for others who might already share or be persuaded of the merits of his interest—to the point of being embarrassing sometimes.

As it happens, both these friends are vicars. But they are not evangelists because they are vicars, or even because they are Christians. They are evangelists because they are made that way. And they are evangelists, whether they have social confidence, which can rise and fall within each of us, let alone vary from person to person, or not.

There are a great many good things going on in our churches—support with childcare, social engagement for the elderly, the gathering and distribution of food to those in very real financial hardship, support to get out of debt, advocacy for asylum seekers, to name but a few—and in our wider communities. But we are not very good at telling the stories, at getting the word out that it is good to be alive in this place at this time, and perhaps even that Jesus might be at the heart of it. The gift of evangelists is not only as people who can naturally tell these stories for us, but even more so, as people who can help us all learn to tell our stories better.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Great questions to ask local prophets

What are we missing? / blind to in the present?

What is coming at us from just beyond the horizon, and what changes do we need to make now in order to be ready?

What information is backing up / informing your gut intuition?

In what ways have we forgotten our story / core values?

How are you modelling an alternative lifestyle, and to whom?

Prophets at the local level

An aside: I was recently with a group of around forty or so fellow clergy, and we were asked to engage in an exercise. Having all completed an APEST profile (which weights your natural preference as primary, secondary, and three tertiaries) we were to set aside our ST scores, and get into groups according to our highest A, P or E score. Among us, only two (clergy, and another two facilitators) identified as prophet (note that this may be as primary, secondary, or even strongest tertiary gifting). This is not especially surprising: as a generalisation, prophets make poor ‘senior church leaders’ (I say that as a prophet). Nonetheless, there are more within the Body, and even more outside of the church, as artists, musicians, activists, eco-warriors, mystics…

I’m thinking of a friend of mine who is a prophet (if I were to hazard a guess, with evangelist secondary preference) married to a teacher (a lover of learning new things—if I were to hazard a guess, with apostle as secondary preference—and passing that learning on to others). They work well together. Her intelligence is prophetic, and this informs how she sees the world and makes decisions, in a wide range of interests or concerns. One such area would be environmental issues, eschewing ‘essential items’ such as private car ownership, a conventional refrigerator, and the use of plastic containers, and adapting life to embrace such inconvenience. This might easily be mistaken for middle-class eccentricity, but there is no affectation to it, nor short-term faddy-ness. I could easily continue to cite other areas of their lives.

Although it is possible for prophetic voices to be amplified until change reaches a tipping-point, it may be that the prophet simply inhabits the future as an advance guard, until the rest of us arrive there not by choice and need to learn how to live in this post-apocalypse (whatever the apocalypse in question might be).

That said, the church is a community within the community, and perfectly formed to allow the amplification of the prophetic voice (if we are prepared to listen), resulting in not only individuals but communities inhabiting the future, getting ready to invite others in.

Who is your prophet?

Great questions to ask local apostles

Where are you heading? / Where have you been today?

Who did you meet today?

What changes are you noticing in the neighbourhood? [These may be small; may be changes for the better, or for the worse; may be seasonal: what is the new thing hiding-in-plain-view in the familiar place?]

I’m/we’re thinking about doing x: do you know anyone with relevant skills or experience who might be able to help us out?

What is interesting you right now?

Apostles at the local level

Apostles are particularly concerned with environments and networking. Or, in the extension of healthy environments, through networking.

I’m thinking of Jeanie. Jeanie is a little old lady, who walks the dogs in our neighbourhood. She carries an enormous bunch of keys (it is quite safe for her to do so: not only is she always accompanied by a dog, or dogs; but the keys are identifiable only by pet name, not address). I don’t know her full name or where she lives or her phone number. I don’t know the boundaries of the territory she walks, several times a day, every day. But I do know that if I need to speak with her, to arrange her looking after our cat when we go away on holiday, I need only keep an eye out for her: it won’t take long. I often pass her on the pavements.

Jeanie’s motivation isn’t pastoral. She is much more interested in the dogs (and cats) of the neighbourhood than in their humans (this is an observation, not a criticism). She does not have animals of her own, and enjoys the benefits of dog-walking without the down-side of vet’s bills. It suits her, and it provides a (free) service to the community. Without anyone really knowing how she has done it, Jeanie has created a network of clients, and indirectly a network of neighbours. She carries within herself a very particular kind of intelligence (or, the gathering and collating and application of information within the community). There is a somewhat intangible but very real sense in which she holds the neighbourhood together: at whatever point Jeanie no longer does what she does, the community will feel the loss of her.

This is classic, if not immediately obvious, apostolic behaviour, at a very local level. Jeanie isn’t going to change the world, but she makes a significant difference to this corner of it. As an aside, Jeanie is an introvert: we often expect apostles to be social extraverts, but they are not necessarily so—another reason we might overlook some.

Jeanie isn’t a member of our congregation. In fact, I have no idea where she stands in relation to faith. But she, or someone like her, could be. In what way might that be a gift to us?

Many of our churches have well-established pastoral networks, caring for members of the congregation. We tend to be less well-networked regarding the wider community. Not necessarily less well-connected: every member of every church congregation has connections with people beyond the congregation; but networking is more intentional, joining-the-dots between our connections. Asset-based community development (ABCD: starting from the resources within a community, as opposed to starting with the needs facing that community—and I’d argue that APEST is all about ABCD) is more-or-less impossible without apostles.

So, who is your Jeanie?

APEST at the local level

It is my contention that apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are to be found distributed within our church congregations and parish communities. Indeed, as I have written elsewhere, everyone is included in this mix. Of course, the distribution is not even—a healthy interaction between renewal and stability needs fewer APEs than STs—and it may be that in our smallest congregations not all five types of people are present. As a church seeking to equip and release the whole Body of Christ, in some places the Church of England might need to think more creatively at the Deanery (a grouping of parishes; a larger pool) level (and, indeed, is doing so in places). Moreover, some people are called to live out their vocation at a very localised level, others with wider influence: in each case, a person is given the needful proportion of gifting. So, it is easy to miss the apostles, prophets, evangelists, (and even, though more familiar) shepherds and teachers even where they are present in our most localised communities, especially if the picture we hold of these people-types is shaped by higher-profile examples.

With this in mind, I thought I’d write a short series of posts on identifying APEST gifting at the local level.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Of mountains and seas

From the Lectionary readings for Morning Prayer today:

“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgements are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.”
Psalm 36:5, 6

‘Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”’
Mark 11:22, 23

Jesus’ words are spoken in the context of his having passed judgement on the fig tree (one of many symbols of the people of Israel) for not having borne up fruit to him, and on the temple for having robbed the (gentile) nations of the courtyard provided for them as a house of prayer.

The sea, then, as in Psalm 36, represents God’s judgement, which is as great and mysterious as the deep. Nonetheless, that judgement is not necessarily the final word. Jesus tells his disciples that they can ask God to move the mountain of his righteousness—the sure and enduring image of relationship as it was intended to be—into the sea, or place (or act) of judgement.

Jesus clears the temple not to destroy the temple but to restore the Court of the Gentiles to its rightful purpose. (Though the withered fig tree warns us that one day it will be too late.)

Where do we see evidence of God’s judgement on our churches and on our society? Jesus’ instruction is that we take up God’s righteousness and throw it into those places: that these are the very opportunities for restored relationship with God and neighbour.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

On gender

Genesis 1-3 is a foundational text for Jews and Christians. It acknowledges one thing that women can do that men can’t—childbirth (but see below)—but nothing that men can do that women can’t.

In Genesis 1, human beings, explicitly male and female, are to ‘rule over’ the earth: no division of roles in bringing potential to its fullness.

Genesis 2 envisages companionship—implying mutuality, and presence to one another. Woman is described as relating to man as a ‘suitable’ or ‘corresponding’ (again, mutuality) ‘helper’ (no hierarchy to helping, or working alongside, one another) or ‘warrior’ (traditionally perceived as a male role, but not here, or at least not solely; the term is later also used of God, in whose image male and female are made).

In Genesis 3, things go pear-shaped. There are consequences to this. These are addressed to the man and to the woman, but they are not mutually exclusive; rather, each consequence address each sex. The consequence addressed to the man is that the work he does with the woman will become harder. The consequence addressed to the woman is that (without God as midwife) the work she does that the man can’t do (but he can help, as I did at the birth of all 3 of our children) will become more painful; also that their relationship will be(come) complicated. The response of the man to the desire of the woman to not be left alone in the work of bringing forth a child will be to ‘rule over’ her, which implies both the working to bring potential to fullness (as per Genesis 1) but also (now) a relating to co-regent as subject. It will get messy...

This ancient poetical text is an inspired observation of the relationship between men and women. It recognises difference, and sameness—and a minefield! It does not support exclusively ‘masculine roles’ and ‘feminine roles,’ or affirm gender-stereotyped outlooks such as ‘boys are more physical’ and ‘girls are emotionally aware.’ Indeed, it opposes such views.