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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Wetherspoons and the Threat of Religion

Fascinated by the latest edition of JD Wetherspoon's News, in which its outspoken founder, Tim Martin, is in good form. Mr Martin has always been outspoken on matters of government and law, and I've often agreed with him. As a purveyor of cheap alcohol to the masses, there are few better. But on this occasion I wonder.

You could argue his reasoning is sound. Increasingly, the country that has kept its clerics under control is China - oh boy, have they kept their clerics under control - and they're not half doing well economically.

On the other hand, you could figure that somebody who depends for trade on people coming into his establishment might do better than to insult something which has inspired altruism, the arts, great spiritual insight, and arguably the whole basis of democracy and human rights. Sure, there are places where religion causes trouble. But then, North Korea's not got a great record on human rights and it's banned there. The USSR had much the same attitudes.. So maybe the problem is people using religion, not religion itself.

How does Mr Martin plan to reduce God's representatives to secondary status? Will he add special corners for vicars, like their children's areas? Will he only sell Christians beer beer made by Carlsberg? It's not made clear, but I reckon it's safer if I avoid the 'Spoons in Bedford and Milton Keynes in future. The thought of having to wear a special badge, or put on a special hat or something, is not appealing.

Thanks, Mr Martin. My God, as Dave Allen might amusingly say, will go with me. To the Wellie Arms, not the Pilgrim's Progress, next time I visit Bedford. The beer's better there, as well.

Annual Report of the Mission Committee

If you haven't seen Dave Walker's cartoons, you should. Today I'm particularly  inspired by Dave's imagining of a church council mission committee as a dead end on the Tube. You can see the full cartoon (which is brilliantly conceived) by buying a copy of the Church Times, or taking out a subscription....

It is, of course, a given that mission committees always fail to meet. Some people have been on Church mission committees for years without having the faintest idea what might happen if one actually took place. Some churches have the agenda item, "Explanation for why the Mission Committee Did not Meet". But it happens that the Report to the Annual Meeting of a mission committee that actually did meet has come into my possession. I share it, suitably redacted. The names have been changed to protect... well, to protect, basically.


It has been a busy year for the Mission Committee, meeting three times. Which is the most since the Methodists all left in 1802.


At our first meeting in eight years, we spent our time mostly discussing who should be on the committee. Aggie was one suggestion, although her ardent atheism was considered to be an obstacle to her interest in Mission. But she does have a laser printer. And Ron had hoped he might be able to come on Thursdays, but only on weeks when Everton weren't on telly. Which would likely rule him out of the September meeting. Then Dora would be interested in mission to children, but she is already on the Sunday Club committee, the street pastors, the fete committee, she's the Mothers' Union chair, she leads the bellringers, runs the Tuesday lunches, works full-time and has four small children and a husband who spends all his time in the Plume of Feathers. We agreed to ask if she'd be Chair.

David is keen on Mission, but the terms of his restraining order prevent him coming within five miles of the church hall, which is problematic.Somebody also suggested Ethelberta, but she does not like to go out after 4pm. And we thought it would be more inclusive to allow people who work, or care for children, to be able to attend. We did discuss maybe having two committees - one for people who go out in the day and one for people who go out at night. But that would require permission from the Church Committee. So we put forward that suggestion to the Committee.


At the September meeting, which was unfortunately held on a Thursday when Everton were playing, our new chair, Dora also couldn't attend as it was School Governors. So we didn't really do very much. However we did work out an agenda. And we did ask ourselves what did we mean by Mission. And we decided we didn't know. So we agreed that we would ask Dora to ask the Church Committee what  they meant by Mission. And to agree our agenda. Which was proposed to be as follows:

1. Minutes of the last meeting
2. Matters Arising
3. Any Other Business.

We did discuss whether we should have opening or closing prayer. But we agreed that, since in fact the whole of Mission is, in its way, a prayer, it would be unnecessary. Also, none of us feel comfortable praying in front of other people. We did think of just sitting in silence for a bit. But that can feel uncomfortable - how do you know when you've finished?

The Church Committee had responded to our question about whether to have two Mission Committees by asking us whether they would have totally separate agendas - in which case how we would avoid duplication of effort - or whether they would work to a common goal - in which case how would we co-ordinate?

We weren't sure, and agreed to ask Dora to ask the Church Committee what they would advise.


At the January meeting, we all agreed that Christmas was a good time for mission, as new people or people who only come to Church once a year are there. We regretted not realizing this at the September meeting.  Unfortunately we had no answers from the Church Committee, as Dora wasn't present - it was her night at the Cash  Carry, stocking up for the Food Bank. In any case, she had missed both intervening Church Committees, as she had been preparing for the Christmas Panto in October, and it had clashed with her working at the Night Shelter in December. And who'd have thought Everton would still be in the Europa League come January? Not us, when we'd worked out the meeting schedule. So no Dave, either.

So with no agenda, no chair, only three members and no idea what we were doing, we decided to have a brainstorm at a Mission Strategy.

Suggestions for the Mission Strategy were as follows, with the objections to each.
  1. A Mission Week, with a tent in the churchyard, barbecues, a Youth Band, invited speaker and twelve-week Alpha Course - Too ambitious.
  2. Putting nicely printed cards saying "Come to Church" on the tables at Tuesday lunches - Too pushy, likely to put people off coming for lunches.
  3. Leafleting the town for Easter - Too tiring, and too many of our congregation are too old. Though we did think maybe Dora could do it.
  4. An additional Jumble Sale - We already have 9 a year, and we're now down to just buying back our own junk every six weeks. And Dora really can't organise anymore as she's already missing days as a lay chaplain at the Prison to run the ones she does. 
  5. A youth service - would only appeal to young people.
  6. A "Songs of Praise" service - would only appeal to old people.
  7. Saturday night football - Too strenuous.
  8. Film club - Too expensive to pay the licence.
  9. Inviting a famous footballer to attend - They often play football on Sundays. So this would be too complicated.
  10. Prayer Spaces - Too trendy
  11. Opening the Church during the week - Too risky
  12. Messy Church - Too messy.
  13. Brass Rubbing Club - Too silly.
  14. Clown Church - Too scary. We have had no children in church since the last one.
  15. Facebook - Too modern. We had a lovely debate about how dangerous Social Media is.
  16. Getting involved with other churches to stage an event - Too complicated. And how would we know how to divide up all the converts?
In the end, we concluded that it's all hopeless. We have nothing to invite people for, nothing to do it with. No ideas, no energy, no direction. No message, no selling point, no reason for anyone to visit. Frankly, we believe that we might as well accept that the XXXXXXXX Church is doomed. When they carry the last of the current congregation out in a box, they may as well sell it off as a snooker hall.
It is also true to say that we have suffered from the repeated absence of our Chair. Sadly, she clearly does not have the time to care about Mission.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Ministers' Academic Qualifications Usefulness Scale

Contrary to popular opinion, Science and Religion go quite well together. Many religious ministers have been qualified in other subjects before their call. Often in sciences or medicine. But which other qualifications are most useful in a religious minister?

The "Ministers' Academic Usefulness Scale" is here to help you discover. Based on to what degree (ho, ho) the Minister's academic background helps or hinders the life of the Church....


1. Degree in Engineering - Invaluable if the boiler breaks down

2. A Level in Geography - If you're wandering round town in a dog collar, people are more likely to ask you for directions. Or tell you where to go. Useful either way.

3 Masters in Organic Chemistry - Handy if you need to "accidentally" melt down some pews. Or make your own wine or tea lights.

4. D Phil in Astrophysics - At evening prayer, you can look up through where the lead used to be on the roof and tell people what the stars are called.

5. O Level/GCSE in Art - You can make nice displays with hazelnuts and ferns, to help people express their inner spirituality.

6. PE2 in Accountancy - So you can keep an eye on the treasurer.

7. A Level in Needlework - Those lovely clothes are not going to repair themselves.

8. BSc in Medicine - Useful for slow-starting congregations on cold mornings.


9  MA in Music - Your knowing it all in music will be an asset, as long as you reserve the exercise of your skill to singing in the bath. Do not show the organist the improved tricks you picked up while an organ scholar at "The House".

10. MBA - Not much use in the real world. Not much use in the Church world.

11. Economics BSc - Like Accountancy, useful for checking things like your church's contribution to central funds.  But if you're a passionate believer in Keynsian economics, you're in for a nasty shock. Although you can advocate it in sermons for the country, you won't get away with it when you need a new spire. Find the minister with an art O Level, and get her to paint a big thermometer.


12. BA Theology - OK for your own reflections, but try not to use it in Church stuff. It only scares people if you start talking about God.

13. MA Quantum Chemistry - Yes, the wave/particle duality theory is a nice analogy for the Incarnation, in that nobody understands either. Why didn't you do Organic? The drains need unblocking.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Minutes of the Fabric Committee

  1. Tartan
  2. Plaid
  3. Wool
  4. Tweed
  5. Cotton
  6. Silk
  7. Vinyl
  8. Linen
  9. Velvet
  10. Nylon
  11. Polyester
  12. Rayon

Not Lycra

After Erwin Died, The Schrödinger Family Shamelessly Cashed in on His Ideas

Image from 

Liturgy of Socks and Sandals

Archdruid: The spring has sprung.

All: The great Watcher in the Sky has appeared above us.

Moon Gibbon Folk: Errk! The Moon Gibbon! Spare us, O Great Primate, from thy steely fangs! (They rush off into the woods)

Archdruid: No! We were just poetically referring to the International Space Station....

(Moon Gibbon Folk slink back)

Hnaef: And the Dragon ship that is following it....

(Moon Gibbon Folk run back into the woods)

Archdruid: And as the meadows swarm with butterflies, the grass grows long, the birds are mating and the whole of Mother Nature's family exalts in the fruitfulness of the land....

(Beaker Fertility Folk rush off into the woods)

Archdruid: For crying out loud. Is there anybody left?

Socks 'n' Sandals People: We are here.

Archdruid: And who are you?

Socks 'n' Sandals People: We are the Socks 'n' Sandals People.  We celebrate the new warmth of Spring, but sensibly. We want to allow the air to our toes. But not too much. Come, for the day is now and our socks are grey!  We shall run into the meadow and do the Solemn Spring Dance of the Socks 'n' Sandal People!

Archdruid: Won't there be dew on the grass?

Socks 'n' Sandal People: Good point. We'll go to the car park instead.

Socks 'n' Sandal People depart for the Car Park

Archdruid: So there's just you few left.

Remaining Beaker Folk: But where would we go?

Archdruid: You mean I have the words of eternal life?

Remaining Beaker Folk: No. You confiscated our car keys so we had to work in the Doily Shed.

Archdruid: Oh yeah. Well, blow this for a game of soldiers. Peace be with you, and keep your boots on.

Far away, across the car park, the sounds of the Floral Dance and shuffling of gravel reveal the Socks 'n' Sandal Folk are performing their ancient, solemn dance. Frogs revel in the new sun, and thank their froggy god that she never expected them to wear socks.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Beating Out the Gay Demons With Sticks

Inspired by the people running Christian gay conversion therapy. Though wary about the name. After all, some gay Christians might think it's a course on how to transform your attic into a lovely master bedroom with en suite shower room. Also wary about the description of the leader as "earnest and petite". I'm pretty sure that should be "petit". Unless he prefers petite, obviously.  Anyway, we've added a couple of new strands to our "traditional healing and wholeness" programme, with mixed results.

Bad news on our new course for people with same-sex attraction, "Beat the Gay Demons Out with Sticks". Turns out you can't.

Better results, however, on our similar course for people who are into S+M. Everybody came back for the second week.

In fact, some of them even brought friends.

The Blank, Empty Message of the Daily Mail

You know, that article of the Daily Mail I quoted this morning really tells you everything you need to know about that paper's attitude.

In the Mail's view of the world, the fact that Fr Richard Coles once did something wrong means he can't be trusted to pronounce on something now. In other words, the Mail allows nobody the ability to learn. Nobody can repent. No-one can be redeemed.

It's fundamentally the story the paper re-tells, over and over. We, the innocent nice ones, must be protected. (I presume I'm in that camp, being white, middle-class and without a criminal record). Them over there are alien, criminal, poor, disabled, unemployed. Different.

We must never think that anyone could move from one group to the other. For if a benefits scrounger gets a job, or a migrant works hard and makes a fortune, or a drug taker becomes a vicar - that will destroy the myth of unchanging order we have sold ourselves. So in challenging the ideas of the party of the establishment, Richard Coles is that most awful of things - an imposter. It must be shown that he has a Past. So things can go back to normal. Because if others can change for the better, we or our circumstances could change for the worse.

In the Mail's schema, only one thing must change. Pretty young girls must become pretty young women, so they can be displayed on the right-hand-side of the web page, for the delectation of middle-aged letches. But by remarking that these young women are 'all grown up", the paper will be able to reassure their readers that they have nothing in common with the paedophile who has just been revealed in another article.

Maybe this is why the Mail is so obsessed with health. Because, in a Mail world where nothing must ever change - what could be worse than illness? It turns working people into benefits claimants, able-bodied people into ones who get reserved car parking spaces, pilots into mass-murderers. No, we must take our vitamins, drink filtered water, eat this week's recommended set of healthy foods and not the ones we told you to eat last week, which will give you cancer. Follow our diet tips and live forever! Or, at least, till next week, when we tell you you've just poisoned yourself.

It's a vile creed. A world without change, growth, redemption or hope. A world where we are always good and right, and they are always evil, weird and dangerous. A world where you can live forever - or, at least, for an extra few weeks - without ever having to admit you were wrong.

No wonder it's so popular.

Right to Buy for Vicars

Curious piece by the Daily Mail, apparently saying Revd Richard Coles can't criticise the Tories' ridiculous and un-Conservative plan to steal homes from Housing Associations to buy votes from people who want a quick win, because he used to have sex in lay-bys. Having a go at Fr Richard for his drug-taking past seems a bit rich, given the Mail's readers must be constantly off their heads on Victory V's and gin to accept the constant fear-health-scare-sexism-immigrants diet they are fed without realising it's all drivel. Indeed, if they believed the Mail's tales of benefits-stealing, scantily-dressed, disease-ridden celebrity asylum seekers, it's a wonder they can get out their doors without a stiff amyl nitrate.

But it does strike me, reading about Fr Richard's 'grace and favour" mansion (I presume the Mail thinks he does no work except on Sundays. This is really not true) that, looked at in one sense, the property portfolios of the churches of our country make the Church a confederation of Housing Associations. So I have a suggestion.

The churches should start charging a peppercorn rent for their parsonages, so that, in effect, the religious ministers of this country are sitting tenants. This means that surely, on Tory logic, they must have a right to buy. Even today, some vicarages are nice bits of real estate with development potential. And the ministers will be able, by flogging off their new acquisitions, to buy themselves a decent pension, thus saving them having to form dodgy alliances with undertakers during their retirements. And the church property departments, having released a nice slab of cash from the mortgage companies and the Government subsidy, will be able to buy nice new manses.

Which the ministers will have the right to buy.

The churches could even rent the old manses back from the ministers they've sold them to, then let them live there. After all, they still need somewhere for their clergy to live.  I reckon, if the churches play it right, they can get the Government to subsidise the whole of British Religion. I'm off to get my application in now.