Wednesday, 30 April 2008

And be thankful!

Thanks to the kind folks who gave me encouraging feedback on Sunday. It was an over-long sermon but that probably stemmed from trying to take a longer passage from Colossians for the exposition than I should.

The part which seems to have had most impact was our reflection on Colossians 3.15b - "And be thankful."

I've had a number of comments and conversations on the myth that our happiness is just one purchase away, driven by incessant marketing which tells us that we should be dissatisfied with what we have, leading us to work harder and longer to get the cash to pay the debt for what we bought, and driving us to too many evenings where we're too exhausted to do anything but watch TV. If this pushed buttons for you, here's a clip from the wonderful, The Story of Stuff, which kind of makes the same point:

Contrary to our apparent powerlessness, gratitude is a powerful weapon to break the myth and a wonderful antidote to misery-inducing dissatisfaction.

Agenda for Change

On Tuesday 6 May, Joel Edwards of Evangelical Alliance, will bring his 20-event Agenda for Change tour to the All Nations Centre, Leicester.

"Agenda for Change" is the title of Joel's new book, which argues that Biblical witness is not called to tip-toe through the 21st century, but to transform society by presenting Christ credibly to the culture.

The publicity material for the book continues:
"Firstly the church must present Christ credibly. For too long evangelicalism has offered a distorted version of Jesus to the world. It is time to rediscover his humanity, his storytelling, his love for the outlaws and his life-giving and generous nature. It is time to recognise that in a pluralist culture (which is nothing new) Christ must be presented with boldness and confidence amongst the gods. He must be allowed to speak for himself and not shoe-horned into a restricted moral agenda. The church must put more if its energy into lifting him up than denigrating the other gods of our age. In all of this the miraculous and supernatural must be given space to speak to a culture weary of rationalism. And Christ’s conversational model of engagement must be the template for interaction with societies moving beyond the argumentative, win/lose spirit of modernity. Questions and dialogue should be the norm. The church has a vital role to play, despite its flaws, and needs to rediscover a passion for the bible. Intelligence, prayer and moral integrity in all areas will be critical. Social action must become the inevitable outworking of faith.

"Secondly the word ‘evangelical’ needs to be rehabilitated as good news. It has become tainted by association with bigotry, fundamentalism and narrow moral agendas and party politics. There is movement to abandon the label but this would be a mistake. The word has to be reclaimed so that it can once again be synonymous with anguish rather than anger, grace rather than opposition, action rather than argument. The left, right and centre parties within evangelicalism need to see the value in the other and recognise that unity is a biblical truth not an optional extra.

"Thirdly evangelicalism must recognise that the good news is for spiritual and social transformation. It starts with the individual but never ends there. Social change is part and parcel of the gospel. Christians need to adopt citizenship mindsets which see their churches as agents of positive change in society, starting with the square miles surrounding them. The church will become part of the solution to the numerous ills afflicting western culture. This is a long-term project, a cathedral building exercise. It will require strategic and intentional thinking. Many of the benefits will be seen by future generations. The job of the church now is to lay the foundations."
The event at the All Nations Centre begins at 7.30pm on Tuesday 6 May and is (I think) free.

Friday, 25 April 2008

A society built on spiralling credit

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given an interview on Radio Four's Today Programme this morning on consumer debt, poverty and inequality.

The Archbishop will speak at a debate in the House of Lords today and urge a proper examination of the implications of a credit-driven economy and a call for greater support for credit unions.

You can listen to the interview at the Today Programme web page.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Forgiving the Unforgivable

The Annual Chaplaincy Lecture of Leicester University is on 15 May from 5.30 to 6.30pm in Ken Edwards Lecture Theatre 3.

The speaker, Meg Guillebaud has divided her life between Africa and the UK. Born in Burundi and educated in Rwanda and Britain. She was a Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police before training first at All Nations Bible College and then at Cranmer Hall, Durham. She was made Deaconess in Southwark in 1980, Deacon in Norwich in 1987 and priested in Bristol in 1994.

Returning to Rwanda with the Church Mission Society in 1996 she founded and directed the Byumba Bible College from which she is due to retire later this year. She has published:

Rwanda - The Land God Forgot? (2002, Monarch)

After the locusts (2005, Monarch)

Service above All - a booklet published in Rwanda which will be available at the Lecture on 15th May.

For more details contact Susan Cope (0116 285 6493) or email

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Why Enoch Powell was wrong

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech. There's been such a lot of coverage in the media - so much so that I'm a little tired of it all. I thought for a while about not writing on the subject but given my connections with Wolverhampton, our family situation and the currency of the issues in a place like Oadby, I decided to offer some personal thoughts.

powell Powell's Wolverhampton constituency had seen a rapid increase in immigration, first from Jamaica and then from the Punjab in north India. I was almost five years old when he gave his speech in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham and though I obviously can't remember the details, I do know that the topics of immigration and 'race relations' were often discussed as I grew up.

The speech (full text here) still makes for a shocking read. There's no doubt that Powell knew that his words would cause a storm and in the speech itself he anticipated that he would be judged to be inflammatory and stirring up trouble. He was certainly right in this one respect - the speech provoked widespread condemnation.

But while many objected, there were also large numbers of people who claimed that Powell spoke up for them. Dockworkers and meat porters marched to show their support and in pubs, factories, offices and shops it wasn't unusual to hear people agree with him. I grew up in a town that was partly ashamed of Powell, but in which very often I would regrettably hear, "Enoch had it right."

In the 1990s, Nick Budgen (MP for Powell's Wolverhampton constituency) was interviewed on an early morning programme on Radio Four. He backed a colleague who had said that Powell had been right to highlight the problems of immigration. Specifically, the claim was that it had been a mistake to allow immigration to happen on the scale that it did. By this time I was married to Jennifer, the eldest daughter of two Jamaican immigrants who had moved to Wolverhampton five years before Powell spoke. I contacted the Wolverhampton Express and Star to alert them to the fact that Budgen had spoken out like this. Within a couple of hours the paper sent a reporter and photographer to our home to interview us about my concerns. I explained that I wanted to know from Mr Budgen exactly how I should tell my children that it "had been a mistake" to let their grandparents into the country. The paper ran it as the lead story on the front page and so, much to our surprise, we found ourselves as a family entering into the potent public debate on immigration. We had abusive letters from people we didn't know but on the whole we received an overwhelming amount of support for taking a stand.

In 2008 something is happening in relation to the debates about immigration. We seem to be losing our confidence in ourselves. The  project of multicultural Britain' has been called into question and, for the first time in a long time, people are asking if Enoch Powell was right. The very question is saddening to me.

I believe he was wrong. Wrong, not only for his vile rhetoric, which irresponsibly fuelled the fires of prejudice and racism, but wrong in his logic as well. The main thesis of his speech was that immigration had imperilled the very life of the nation and that down the line, we would inevitably face violence and destruction. "It is", he said, "like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre."

The truth is that, despite some notable setbacks, Powell's apocalyptic vision has not come about. In a remarkable way and with not a little difficulty, people from different cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds and faiths have found it possible to live together. I am proud that our churches have been leading agents of reconciliation and a force for good, alongside many others. Contrary to Powell's sniping about "archbishops who live in palaces, faring delicately with the bedclothes pulled right up over their heads", our church leaders have worked hard to rectify the failings of the past and to build a sense of a shared future. The Diocese of Leicester's track record is excellent in this regard. Forty years on, I live in Oadby, a multi-cultural neighbourhood where community relations are very good. Our own church has many members who were not born in this country and we are richer for their presence.

My deepest disagreement with Powell is not that members of the "settled" community have found it hard to accept mass immigration. Plainly, some have. It's the way he described the inevitability of racial conflict that is simply wrong. Thanks to daily investments by millions of ordinary people, as well as by governments of differing parties, we have learned to live together. Britain today (and Oadby too) is thriving, diverse, culturally rich and a good place to live.

True, there are imperfections with the 'multi-cultural project' and it is the case that some people and some neighbourhoods live in a worrying degree of isolation from others. But we have found that given enough goodwill and the willingness both to accept the stranger and to integrate, we can live in cohesive communities. There are warning signs that we shouldn't presume that this cohesion is automatic. But these signs should induce us to further commitment to mutual purpose and shared values. Now is not the time to risk losing all the good we have achieved.

The future of neighbourhoods like ours in Oadby is certainly not to hark back to the offensive and erroneous theories of Powell, or to wonder what if immigration hadn't happened. It's to heed the potential for trends of separation and isolation and to work actively against them. It's to engage across apparent differences. It's to listen and to talk and to understand. That's why, in a small way, those members of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds who use our buildings and encounter each other in a precious community facility like St Paul's are part of the constructive resistance to all that Enoch Powell promised.

Random Fish service 20 April 2008


Friday, 18 April 2008

Quiet Day

Helen Bence, Convenor of the Gartree Mission Partnership, writes:

Our first Quiet Day promises to be a very special occasion.

Led by Rev'd Dr Alison Morgan of ReSource, it will take take place at Gartree House, Illston on the Hill from 10 am - 4 pm on Saturday 17th May 2008.

The theme for the day is Streams of Living Water. Why not put this day aside to allow yourself to be spiritually refreshed?
To book your place, please phone our Lay Convener, Liz Smith, 0116 241 4270 or e-mail Liz at

Christian Aid Walk 11 May 2008

This year’s full and mini walks start with a picnic lunch (bring your own food, drinks provided) at 12.15pm on Sunday 11 May at United Reformed Church, Rosemead Drive. Signing on will take place during lunch and the walk will start promptly 1.00pm. Boots or strong shoes are essential for those walking and the route is unsuitable for pushchairs. This year the walk will take a very picturesque route from Mere Lane and Newton Harcourt via Wistow to Kilby, down the field paths to the canal and Newton Locks before returning to the URC. Money raised will go into general funds that finance emergency aid and long term projects in the third world. So, whatever your age, please join us! Those under 16 need to complete a separate parental consent form. Sponsor forms can be obtained from your Christian Aid Representative, Chris Burberry.

The organisers are looking for marshalls – can you help? See Colin Chettle for details.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Baptism - What, why and how do we do it?

Churches Together in Oadby (CTO) is planning an informal and informative evening where Christians from a range of local churches can share our similarities and differences and learn from each other.

Following the very successful evening exploring different perspectives on Holy Communion, there will be a gathering on Monday 19 May 2008 at the United Reformed Church in Rosemead Drive to explore Baptism. All are welcome from 7.30 for a 7.45pm start.

For more details contact Revd Mandy Flaherty.

Electoral roll figures

I've just received the latest electoral roll and counted 132 members of St Paul's Church, out of a new parish total of 336. The figure for St Paul's is around 7 more than a year ago. Thanks to Diana Courtney and John Thompson for their work in collating the records and a warm welcome to our new members.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Report on St Paul's for the Annual Parochial Church Meeting 2008

There are lots of interesting reports in the printed booklet which has been made available in advance of the APCM next week. I thought I should share through the blog the report which I wrote for St Paul's:

I often welcome people to funerals at St Paul’s with an encouragement that our church is a safe place for laughter and for tears. In this last year, I believe we’ve shared together in joy which transcends a spirit of fun and that we’ve experienced tender care for our sorrows.

The highlight for me has been the wonderful Alpha Course, which has just finished. Nineteen guests joined us for a series of ten evening sessions and one whole day. Of these, thirteen had connections with St Paul’s which were only slight or non-existent. The greatest thrill is of sharing in the forming of trusting friendships as people experience the good news of the gospel. At the end of the course, over half the group want to continue in a follow-up group or join an existing home group.

Alpha has flourished because of our Lord’s presence, working in and through a wonderfully gifted team of leaders and helpers. Izzy, Anita, Ruth, Graham, Paul, Gill, Vivien, Colin, Anne, Gillian, and Gill have worked so hard and served so effectively. I sense the energy and motivation in Alpha has spilled over into other areas of our church life, so that a number of people have commented that St Paul’s has a particular ‘buzz’ about the place at the moment.

Numerical growth is important in any church but for the longer term the quality of discipleship and depth of faith are even more significant (and harder to measure). I continue to be heartened and humbled by the generous, faithful and prayerful commitment of the church community. We do count numbers though and here the news is encouraging: the steady trend of growth continues. On average, the number of adults attending worship was 82 in Dec 2004, 90 in Dec 2005, 89 in Dec 2006 (affected by the refurbishment) and 95 in Dec 2007. In the year to December 2008 the increase was about 7% and the attendances in the first quarter of 2007 have been strong.

We welcomed new people who have joined us, including June, Anna, David, Stephen, Lindsay, Helen, Daniel, Graham, Virginia, Gilbert, Alistair, Iain, Steve, Khosi, Linda, and Carey. They each bring unique gifts and I trust they feel very welcome among us.

In September we gave thanks with Steve Carter for the journey he had shared with us as a member of St Paul’s for many years. Steve had decided that the future for him lay as a member of a Baptist church rather than within the Church of England. We are very grateful for his ministry at St Paul’s, his prayerful teaching ministry and his total commitment to serving our Lord. It’s a pleasure to continue to meet Steve at CTO events in Oadby.

We also said farewell to Irene Townsend who moved away after many years with us.

We were thrilled when Chloe Thomas was selected for training for ordained ministry and last autumn waved Chloe, Gwion, Angharad, Huw and Sian goodbye as they set off for Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

Sadly, we lost dear Jack Cooper this year, whose sudden death shocked us all. The church was packed for Jack’s funeral and the praises we sang and the love that surrounded Grace and the family in their bereavement were a testimony to the affection in which we held him. In Jack’s last weeks his bold and fervent faith was apparent in a very striking way. We miss him.

For a long while, St Paul’s was one of a rare number of Anglican churches whose ministry in weddings, funerals and baptisms was minimal. I’m delighted that this is no longer the case and that we serve the wider community through the whole range of these ‘occasional offices’. This couples with our outreach through our buildings (again at record levels) and the work in our local schools to ensure we are fully engaged in mission to our neighbourhood.

I jotted down a list of the words and themes which have been familiar in our mission this last year. I don’t believe that a specific blueprint for anything as dynamic as a church community is appropriate. But I am certain that a sense of direction, strategic planning and openness to the Spirit’s leadings are vital. If you’ve been around at St Paul’s this list will probably be familiar to you:

“opportunity church”


truthful, powerful storytelling

personal welcomes, public goodbyes

“you’re invited to share in cake after the service!”





attentiveness (especially to the small voices)

just being there

quality (offering the best to the Lord, especially in worship and witness)

laughter and teasing

Breakfast at Barney’s




grace, gratitude and growth

As I learn more in ministry I am convinced that the work of the church is simple-but-demanding. I contrast this with the kind of novel, complicated-but-easy solutions that we sometimes fantasize about. They just don’t exist. In reality, the church’s work is what it always has been – loving service, faithful witness, devoted worship, patient prayer. Simple but demanding. In the power of ourselves, impossible. In the strength of the Spirit, transforming.

This requires a team effort and I am grateful to all my colleagues in ministry for their gifts, patience and kindness. In closing this year I want to single out two people for a special mention. Dinah Cheney has retired from her role as Church Secretary after 20 years of service and I am very grateful for the co-operation and collaboration we have enjoyed in the past five years. It’s also time, under the rules of the Church of England, for Vivien to step down from her role as Churchwarden. We are all enormously indebted to Vivien for her tireless work, prayerful devotion and always-positive attitude.

Above all, we give glory to God and trust him for the year that lies before us.

As I said during a sermon in March, I rejoice at being able to echo the words of St Paul, In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.” Colossians 1.3-6

Sunday, 13 April 2008

It's a people thing

Last night we enjoyed ourselves with 32 people packed into our home for one of our regular "Welcome Nights". The idea is really simple. We invited everyone who's been involved with the recent Alpha course plus all those who've joined St Paul's in recent months. No agenda, no planning, just people.

It's good to chat over a cuppa at the end of a service but often those conversations are limited to a few minutes. So a longer evening gave us all the chance to get to know each other a little better.

Thanks to everyone who came and made it a very special night.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Malcolm and Ruth Lambert in Belize

Our friends and USPG mission partners Ruth and Malcolm Lambert have arrived safely in Belize.

Malcolm has begun his work in ministerial training and the development of theological education programmes for clergy and lay people.

This week Ruth was instituted to her churches in the administrative capital city of Belmopan.

There's obviously a lot of adjusting to do, with a new culture, language and a very different climate to get used to. It's great to be able to keep up with Malcolm and Ruth through Facebook and their blog: They're in our prayers and we wish them a happy and fruitful time in the next three years.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Quiz night with fish and chip supper - 9 May 2008

Paul is organising another of our legendary quiz nights, so brush up on your general knowledge and prepare to enjoy yourselves in church on Friday 9 May 7.00pm. Come as a team of four, or join others to make a team on the night. Bring your own refreshments. Cost £7.00. Tickets from Paul and Teri.

Breakfast at Barney's - 13 April 2008

This Sunday, come along early for a filling cooked English or lighter continental breakfast.

Breakfast is served from 8.30 to 9.30am. Book a place, or get more details from Anita.

Photo by r3wind at Flickr

Licensing of Revd Paskal Clement

Following our earlier announcement, the date of the licensing service has now been set. The service for Paskal's licensing will be on 4 May 2008 at 6.30pm at St Peter's Church, Oadby.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

New minister for Oadby Baptist Church

Our friends at OBC have appointed Ellen Price as their new minister.

In The Link, moderator Tim Ferguson expresses his delight that the church called Ellen to the position and that she accepted. It will be several months before she is inducted and at present she is completing her studies at Spurgeon's College. We look forward to welcoming Ellen, her husband Steve, and their children Edward, Rachel and Emma, to Oadby.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Magnify 08


St Luke's Church Youth Band are hosting Magnify 08. Taking place on Saturday 26th April 2008 at St Luke's School Hall in Thurnby the worship event will feature the Youth Worship Band, Talks, Video, Drama, Response Zones and much more. The event is FREE with refreshments available. ALL YOUNG PEOPLE ARE WELCOME.
For further information contact St Luke's Youth Worker, Ali Goodman on 07967 562922 or email

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Helping the Police with their enquiries

I've just returned from a fascinating appointment with 36 new recruits to Leicestershire Constabulary.

The session was part of a full day of training, organised and delivered by The St Philip's Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society, under the expert leadership of Dr Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi.

I was a member of a panel of three faith representatives, who responded to questions from the recruits on issues of belief, ethics, respect and crime. It was a pleasure and privilege to join Smita Shah, a Jain, and Tove Delenius, a Muslim.

The aim of the day was to give the participants a basic outline of the main faiths that they are likely to encounter in the course of their work. The programme included much more than our "faiths panel": lectures on World Religions, Faiths in Leicestershire, a tour and lunch at the Guru Teg Bahdur Gurdwara, an introduction to Islam and case work on policing-related issues.

I was impressed by the maturity and depth of sensitivity in the recruits' questions, which is encouraging for the future of policing in Leicestershire and Rutland.

Pennbury decision announced

The government today announced which of the candidate eco-towns is to be short-listed for development.

The news came through that Pennbury has been approved for the next round of consultation.

"Pennbury" is the working name given to the plans by the Co-operative Group for the development of land between Oadby, Stoughton, Houghton and Great Glen, including the site of Leicester Airport.

There are fifteen eco-town proposals on the shortlist and a new round of planning consultations now begins. It's expected that between five and ten of these will get the final go ahead for construction.

On the BBC website, the Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, said the new towns would help to tackle climate change, as well as providing affordable new housing. She said, "Eco-towns can be 'green' settlements which recognise that climate change is destroying our planet - this is an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss. Bidders will have to meet the highest standards for sustainability, affordability and creativity. This expert panel will challenge developers to the limits."

The Pennbury proposals have provoked a lot of opposition locally and it's likely that this announcement will generate  a lot more. There are serious local concerns about what will be lost, including a large area of green land on the edge of Leicester. And there are substantial worries about the impact on the already-busy A6. But the real issues will be in the detail. It may be possible that much-needed affordable homes can be built in a sustainable way, without some of the feared congestion on the county's roads. We shall have to see what these plans contain before rushing to judgement.

The Christian tradition is certainly aware of the importance of "quality of life issues" and of conservation of the environment. At this stage it may seem that any proposal to build threatens these. But when we consider the quality of life of those who are unable to find a home, and the potential for imaginative ecologically-sensitive neighbourhoods, it is conceivable that Pennbury could be a positive benefit.

We should also remember that many of those who live in Oadby, including myself, live in homes built on green fields in the last forty years. We should be careful not to live by one standard ourselves and to ask others to live by another.

The next stage of consultation provides an opportunity for all residents and the churches and other community organisations, to examine the plans in detail and to make comment.

More information here:

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The bell is found!

Thanks to all the good sports who appreciated the April Fool's post. Several were fooled but some of you got it straight away.DSCF1566a

There were three clues:

  • the bell had disappeared from the photograph on the spoof article, but not from the reflection in the windows. See? aaahh...
  • The alleged inscription - L'oo f lirpa  - is nonsense. Unless you spell it backwards...
  • The reference to Proverbs 12.23 is completely accurate. Those of you who looked it up found, "...the mind of a fool broadcasts folly". That's me, then.

DSCF1566To spare anyone's blushes, I'm not publishing the kind comments on the blog which expressed concern at our loss.  You're lovely people and much more caring than your cruel vicar, who promises not to mislead you for at least another 365 days.

Our bell - gone!

DSCF1566aI heard some strange noises in the night but didn't fully realise what had happened until I went across to our church this morning.

The bell's been pinched!

I just wouldn't have thought anyone would go to all the trouble but on reflection, there have been a number of thefts of lead and precious metal from churches in the area. So I doubt it's connected to the recent vandalism that we've suffered.

The bell was installed when St Paul's was built in 1982 and in recent years we've rung it again before our ten o'clock service. We'll certainly miss it. Please do keep your eyes open if you're in the area.

The bell was made by Taylor's of Loughborough and, as usual with their bells, it bears a unique Latin inscription: L'oo f lirpa - a translation from Proverbs 12.23.

Update: now the afternoon's arrived, all has become a lot clearer. See here for details.