Saturday 30 September 2017

When Every Knee Shall Bow

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2.5-11)
Creeds. People fought over them for hundreds of years. People these days cross their fingers during the parts they don't like. I've known ministers and worship leaders choose the ones they disagree with least.

And yet the need to try to nail down and agree what we believe - and what we don't - goes all the way back to the pages of the New Testament. The expression, "Jesus is Lord" - the short statement of faith that Paul used in 1 Corinthians and uses here in Philippians - was as political as a religious statement - because if Jesus is Lord, then what was Caesar?

Creeds were important - are important. Because what God is like, is important. Because who Jesus is - is important. And who Jesus is - was and is controversial.

Here is a human who walked among other human beings - just like them.  Sweated and got hungry and tired and had a full range of bodily functions like anyone else. And who bled and died like any other man, when nailed to a cross.

And yet he did astounding things. Who made astonishing claims about where his authority came from. Talked about being one with the Father. Here is a human who went beyond human abilities. Who could walk on water; multiply bread and fish; turn water into wine; raise the dead. And, the Church claimed, came back from his own bloody death.

So the Church, over four centuries, fought over how the human Jesus and the divine Christ fitted together. And came to the conclusion that the man Jesus was also the eternal Son of God - equal with the father. The unchanging, eternal God was also the child that grew and learned, the man who healed, preached and died. And And Paul also came up with this creed in one Philippians - or is quoting someone else - a statement of faith in the nature of Jesus.

Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God. So entitled to all the authority, all the worship, that God is entitled to.

And yet did not need to claim equality with God. Being equal with God was a given. So Jesus did not claim any rights - he was born, the son of a Jewish girl, the step-son of a man who worked with his hands. He himself worked with his hands until he was 30 - the age at which a man could serve as a priest - and then he started his ministry.

He was obedient. He was the wholeness of a human being in obeying God's will. And he did not rebel - even when he was put to death.

And as a result of that death - God gave the human, Jesus, all the honour that was due to his Sonship. Raised him from the dead. Raised his human body to heaven - where a human now sits at the right hand of the Majesty, fully aware of what it is to be like us, praying to his Father for us, sending his Spirit upon us.

And the day will keep when every knee will bow - either through love, or through the grudging recognition of who he is.

But Paul is clever. Because of what he slips in, in front of this glorious creed. The instruction that we should have the same mind as Jesus. Not clinging to our own positions - if Jesus did not cling to his. Not worrying about our own glory - because who gave up more of that than Jesus? Not following our own judgement of right and wrong - if Jesus was totally obedient to the Father.

This does not mean submitting to what is wrong. Does not mean being doormats. I've been following the controversy in the States over sportspeople - mainly black - kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem as a protest against the discrimination that is still so prevalent there. Many of them will be Christians. And their faith will be part of what has brought them - remembering they're all pretty rich - to kneel in solidarity with so many others. And so they will, in part, be bowing the  knee to Jesus. And there's a man - a privileged white man - telling them they should stand up - because he thinks respecting the US anthem, or the flag, is more important than their consciences. But if you're bowing the knee to respect the least of Jesus's brothers and sisters - you're bowing the knee to Jesus.

It means that we are being made in Jesus's image. By accepting his position as a servant, we are following him. By not demanding a higher place, we are doing what he did. By remembering the least of our brothers and sisters - we are counting them as Jesus.

And there's an implicit promise in that passage. Because if our mind is like that of Jesus, and our attitude means we follow him - we will be among those who will bow our knee joyfully when we see him in Glory. And if we're brought low with him, we will be raised with him.

Christianity in Decline : Women to Blame

I reckon it's pretty much the nadir of the Church in this country when a bishop is addressing the UKIP conference. Not because they're anti-EU. Not because they're in favour of private enterprise or even limiting immigration. We can all legitimately disagree over these matters. But because they use fear of other people to drive their agenda.

But if this is a low spot, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has identified where it all started going wrong. In the 60s, when mothers stopped sharing the faith with their children.

There's a lot of historical nonsense in that statement, and some implicit assumptions.

With the exception of a minor revival in the 50s, the percentage of practising Christians in the UK has been declining since Victorian times. Some have put this down to the First World War. In short, the lies sold to the working class - especially that sweetest of all, about dying for your country - led to a rejection of deference. And that deference was lost to walrus-moustachioed colonels, land owners, mill owners and the Church, as it pronounced God's blessing on a war that sacrified young men for dying empires.

By the Sixties, that process was in runaway mode. Car ownership, smaller families, increased the potential for leisure activities that were more attractive than sitting on a hard bench while someone with a plummy voice told you to behave better. But that decline had been running downhill for decades.

What actually happened in the 60s that the Bishop may implicitly be criticising? Women were finding they didn't have to be chained to the stove or nursery all day. They had jobs - either through choice or necessity. They had fewer kids - so more time for other things. In short, they did not have to be defined solely as wives and mothers. Their parameters were not so circumscribed by their menfolk. That's what happened in the 60s.

So to bring us back to the 60s, a Bishop talks at a conference where, according to the Sun, activists handed out leaflets comparing gay people to Hitler. A bishop who left Pakistan because his life was in danger, talks to a party whose referendum advertising included warning that migrants endangered the country.

Still, if you want the Church to thrive, tell women to get back in the kitchen and teach their kids about Jesus.

Friday 29 September 2017

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - the UKIP Ending

And so Reepicheep found his way to the Utter East.

"Reepicheep!" called Lucy, "have you found Aslan?

"Oh good grief," replied the brave mouse. "No. It's the UKIP logo."

"We have control of our borders now," replied the logo, "so you can just naff off back to Narnia, you immigrant rodent."

Reepicheep turned round, and swam slowly off to the West.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Those Independent Anglican Denominations in Full

Gavin Ashdenden, formerly one of the Queen's hundreds of chaplains, has been ordained a "missionary bishop" by the Christian Episcopal Church - a denomination that is very keen to ensure we know they're in the Apostolic Succession and aren't like those nasty other Episcopalians. As well as having a neat line in pasting Times New Roman text into websites as images.

But just how many of these independent Anglican denominations are there? And just how gaudy are their coats of arms?  Well, we're here to help...

Free Church of England - As opposed to the Imprisoned Church of England, presumably. Unique among denominations that I'm aware of in having a donations panel on the front page.

Free Radical Church of England - Like the Free Church of England but with an unpaired electron.

Free Nelson Mandela - Not such a topical song as it once was.

Free Anglican Communion - something you'll be able to get with a box of cornflakes, the way things are going.

Anglican Free Communion - Seems to have the adjectives in the wrong order. Kind of weird, really.

Free Episcopal Church - Bringing together all the Free Episcopalians, I guess.

Anglican Church in North America - One of the many Anglican churches in North America (see above)

The Quivering Anglican Church - Focus on hellfire, damnation and cake.

The Continuing Anglican Church - Still going, against all the odds.

The Protestant Episcopal Church - Still has a lot to complain about.

The Caffeinated Church of England - Dedicated to Beryl crockery and decent coffee.

The Covfefe Church of England - The result of a terrible typo when they were trying to disaffiliate.

The Celtic Episcopal Church - Plays in green and white vestments. Expects you to have the right browser to view their web page, rather than vice versa.

The Rangers Episcopal Church - Went terribly bankrupt but hopes to get back on the straight and narrow.

Monday 25 September 2017

Oxford English

Exciting news from the Diocese of Oxford, which is recruiting for a "Vision Programme Development Manager." Which I'm pretty sure is a job that replaces what used to be called "Prophet."

I feel you should just savour and delight in this sentence from the advert. And bear in mind this is actually one sentence.
This is an exciting opportunity for someone to join us who will coordinate and facilitate the discernment and implementation of the diocesan common vision and strategy process through a range of activities and hands on projects, by working collaboratively with others, informing decisions and deploying effective communication strategies to build engagement across the Diocese
No? You neither? And some people say the BCP is hard to understand.

Important Questions to Ask if You Want Church Growth

With thanks to our good friend, Bradley Hadleigh, of Great Tremlett. Inspired by the far more sensible Kelvin Holdsworth.
  1. Aren't you a bit crowded anyway? Apart from the pews in the front half of the church. And nobody wants to sit there.
  2. Do you really want another building project?
  3. Are you prepared to sit next to somebody you don't know? In your pew?
  4. Where is everyone going to park? The lanes round the church are already full on Sunday mornings. And the Archdeacon says you can't put parking on the graveyard.
  5. Do you really want to go to the trouble of getting to know new people?
  6. Those hymn books are out of date, out of print, and they're running short. What sort of process does your church have in place for selecting a new hymn book, and raising the money for an unspecified number?
  7. You're going to have to buy a new PA, aren't you?
    Do you really want these seats occupied? Think of the cleaning.
  8. Who's going to run all the confirmation / membership / Alpha courses? The Vicar's already maxed out. And now s/he has the building project to cope with as well.
  9. Are there enough cups in the church hall for post-service tea? Has anyone considered what they might cost if there's a revival?
  10. What happens if the growth brings enthusiastic people who want to change things? How will you stop them?
  11. Church growth might bring children. And Sally who runs the Sunday School is 98. How will she cope?
  12. Isn't God really keener on a remnant?
  13. Growth can be spiritual as well as numerical. And spiritual things are better than mere numbers. So what you really need is another hymn on Sunday mornings.
  14. If you are more welcoming, people might come along to more services. Can you cope with the effort of being welcoming every week?
  15. If you have more people singing each week, is the organ up to it?
  16. Can you remember the names of new people? Only if you can't remember them, it would be rude to have them there.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Henry VIII's Transition Period From Europe

Reflecting on the vagueness and emptiness of Theresa May's words in Florence yesterday.

Well, I say Florence. The lack of local interest and the clearly domestic targeting of the speech meant she could have been anywhere. As I came into the office, Burton Dasset was on a '"Florence Truther" reddit, trying to prove the whole thing was a mock up, and she was actually speaking in a Travelodge conference room in Slough.

But her two-year Transition Period, where we all pretend nothing has changed, got me interested. Firstly because that's another two years for this country's political elite (French word) to come to its senses and propose another referendum. Maybe one with a simple yes/no answer. Maybe with the question: 'Now you can see into the Abyss, do you think you were a bit foolish last time?'

But mostly because it caused me to reflect on the last time it happened.

In 1534, in order to legalise Henry VIII having sex with Ann Boleyn, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. Henry VIII thereby became Supreme Head of the Church of England - in effect the English Pope.

Then Parliament passed the Act of Tithes and Firstfruits. In effect, taking back control of the 10% of English wealth that had been sent to the European bureaucracy. In fact, much of the tithes was actually spent in England on board and lodgings for priests and on the monasteries. But Henry didn't mention this in the slogan he painted on the side of a hay wain.

After a two-year transition period, in 1536 the Dissolution of the Monasteries began. I presume this two year period, during which England was effectively Catholic but with Henry in charge of the Church of England, was to allow the transferral of canon law with appropriate changes, and to thrash out a decent deal with Heaven and other third parties with whom we had previously negotiated via the Holy See. I suspect that England, with a population of a few million, actually had a weaker negotiating position than the Pope, which was why we had to move to Calvinist terms (grovelling and hoping) rather than the more flexible Catholic arrangements.

The 2 year transition period also gave a period of time for the English souls in Purgatory to arrange either an ordered transfer into Heaven, or resign themselves, in the absence of Masses for the Dead, to a long wait before getting heavenly citizenship.

Of course, after all the upheaval, England decided to rejoin the Catholic Church just a few years later. And then left again shortly after that. And to this day there are people who clearly have two allegiances - being English and yet also being enamoured of that of a circle of 12 stars. Not the EU flag - the image with Mary in it. Boris Johnson would not be impressed.

But then Boris Johnson is a privileged adulterer, whose aim in dragging Britain out of the EU was for his own gain and vanity. I guess nothing really changes.

A circle of twelve stars... 

Friday 22 September 2017

Feast of Equinoctial Equivocation

Well, it's an early end to yet another Equinox celebration.

Why is that every six months, we allow Hnaef to try to tightrope walk across the Duck Pond? Every six months we - and he - forget he can't actually walk tightropes. And he plunges, every six months, straight into the dark and murky depths. Every six months. Without fail.

The inevitable song about Autumn got us down, as ever. Burton's rewriting of the Mamas and Papa's "California Dreaming" being such a good example of the problem:

All the trees are brown
And the leaves are dead
Summer is now over
It really does my head.

I'll be cold and wet
when December's here.
From September to mid-April
I hate this half of the year.

So we dropped a ceremonial leaf in the pond each, dragged Hnaef out, and everyone's headed for the White Horse.

In many ways we have been brought closer to each other, and to Mother Earth.

Shame it's all so melancholy. Still, only three months to Solstice. All downhill now.

Equinox Preparation

Beaker Folk are reminded that the Equinox is at 9.02 pm. Please be there sharp with handfuls of leaves, conkers, autumn crocuses and dead badgers.

As is tradition, Hnaef will be tightrope walking across the Duck Pond as a symbol of all things in balance. It doesn't normally end well, and it's going to be dark. So we've sprayed the rope with fluorescent paint and will be bathing the area in Ultra Violet. So be sure to bring dark glasses and sun block.

As usual we are expecting Hern the Hunter and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to appear. Also as usual, due a GMT / BST confusion, they'll either be a day late or a day early. Be nice to them. Being forgotten deities, they get a bit lonely between major astronomical events.

It's going to be quite an evening.

This being the last day of summer - at least until 9.02 at which time it becomes the first night of autumn - enjoy a bit of Kirsty summer magic.

Writes of the Church - On Sale Now

The paperbook book of the Beaker Folk's sibling blog, "Writes of the Church" is released today! Available through The Bible Reading Fellowship, Amazon, and presumably many good Christian bookshops.

Join the congregation as they make their way onto proper printed paper, with some great cartoons drawn by Dave Walker.  How many times can Norbert resign as treasurer? Why is Romilly constantly cancelling the social events? Why would a tea towel cause a boycott of the church hall? And Melissa gets in with a couple of her uplifting poems.

A queue of letter-carrying parishioners at the vicar's door

And all just in time for Christmas....

Thursday 21 September 2017

Getting Really Close to Nature

Really pleased to read Mark Boyle's Guardian article on living without the benefit of modern medicine and technology. At last someone has embraced the lifestyle we have been advocating through our "Ultimate Immersion Beaker Experience" retreat concept.

For a very reasonable rate, we've been letting idealistic people with lots of money live in the Lower Wood for up to three months at a time. During this time we send in "Beaker Lifestyle Coaches" to give them advice on important pre-industrial lifestyle tips. For instance - how to make tents out of fox skins, which herbs to use for broken bones, and how to tell whether you're so cold you will die of hypothermia, or whether you'll probably make it to morning alive.

The Immersion Beaker people spend their days foraging for berries, gathering moss and ferns to create sanitary products, and being sick after eating unwashed berries or drinking water out of the brook. Of course, foraging for berries in late winter and spring is always a bit pointless, so at those times of the year they mostly just sit around being hungry.

Lower Wood was always full of wildlife, so in principle a particularly keen Immersion Beaker  person could have had a decent Neolithic diet of muntjac, hedgehog and rabbit. In practice, of course, they were such idealists they couldn't harm a bunny-wunny, and careers as investment bankers and actuaries don't give you much idea as to how to create a decent bow or snare. And not having matches, they were strictly relegated to banging the rocks together to make fire. We caught someone using a bit of broken bottle to magnify the sun once. We had to confiscate his loincloth as a punishment.

Clothing was of course a real bugbear. Any Immersion Person going into the woods had to yield up all artificial fibres. And if any of their clothes then wore out or were so dirty they were unredeemable, they had to weave replacements themselves. In the absence of any cotton fields in Husborne Crawley this left them chasing sheep round fields and harvesting bits of discarded wool off the barbed wire.
Lacking aspirin, some extreme methods of obtaining pain relief were attempted
The ban on modern medical intervention did bite, though. Surprisingly, as they thought their natural lives would protect them from all illness. Not if you fall out of a tree while trying to hunt squirrels and break your arms, it turns out. All that feverfew didn't have the slightest effect. And Melanie was rubbish at foraging after that. Eventually, faced with her colleagues' refusal to call a modern ambulance to drive along modern roads to help her, she had to walk up to the Big House and beg for help. Where, true to the Neolithic principle, Burton Dasset gave her a backie to Milton Keynes General on his bicycle.

I remember the guy with terrible hay fever, who spent six weeks unable to see, let alone forage. His colleagues did try feeding him plantain leaves, but he didn't trust them not to have herbicide on them. He ended up sitting under a crab apple tree, eating the fruit whenever it fell on his head. Although to be fair, the raving state he got into was very definitely a religious experience.

Indeed, religious experiences become more common the longer you spent in Beaker Immersion. After a couple of months of near starvation, you end up seeing all kinds of visions. And most nights, if you walked past Lower Wood, you could hear people calling on God for help. And twice we had to intervene to prevent human sacrifice to ask Hern the Hunter for blessing. So a very big tick in the box.

But sadly, eventually the Beaker Immersion course had to be wound up. A group of particularly enthusiastic course members, with some awareness of Neolithic agricultural practices, went in for slash and burn. The Lower Wood ceased to exist one week in April. And then they realised they had no seeds, and no way of feeding themselves. They didn't get their money back, mind you. I felt they had had the ultimate Beaker experience.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Tea Light Terror

Some excitement at this evening's "Tea Light Labyrinth" service.

It was a lovely idea, based on Ps 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." A labyrinth of tea lights. The idea being that Beaker Folk would wander through the labyrinth, their feet literally lighted by the tea lights on the floor, and experience the sense of being on life's journey until they emerged, refreshed and ready for a glass of sparkling grape juice.

But Young Keith made a minor error or two in laying out the labyrinth, didn't he. Specifically, in accidentally laying it out so there was no way out from end to the other. As the Beaker folk wandered their meandering paths around the Moot House they started in awe, moved to confusion and ended up in some concern.

So the concern increased as they stacked up at the dead end. And then the concern turned to panic as one or two of their trouser legs caught fire. At this point the sprinklers should have gone off, but we'd put in the emergency override after the Streams of Water service. So the whole thing staggered to an end with Young Keith and I running around the Moot House, throwing beakers of water over the sizzling Beaker Folk. Completely messed up the whole filling up / emptying out of beakers cycle. It'll be 19 years now till we can get that straight.

The Well off Preacher

Nice little blog post from Doug Chaplin on the recent press reports that Church of England stipends are enough to live on.

Basically pointing out they are, as long as you've got other income....

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Just back from an attempt to arbitrate in one of the most bitter divisions  in world Christianity.

Yep, two groups of Roman Catholics from the Western World. Twitter got a bit scorched but I think we were able to contain the damage.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Streams of Water

Thanks to Young Keith for his latest experimental worship this evening, "Streams of Water."

You may remember that we have a "Mystic River" running under the glass floor of the Moot House. An junior tributary of the Hus Bourne itself, this stream flows from a natural spring, and meanders in a complex pattern under our feet. Thus representing ancient concepts of blessing, abundance and the living world. And reflecting the Biblical concepts of "streams of water" and the four rivers that flow through Eden.

Young Keith's idea was a "dynamic representation of God's love, transforming our ordinary into extraordinary - sublimating the natural into the supernatural, if not the preternatural."

What this meant in practice, as so often with Keith's experimental services, was a skipload or two of dry ice dumped into the "dunking hole" we use for initiation ceremonies.

Yeah, a bit of a misjudgement of quantities. The lasers that were intended to draw a delicate tracery through the gently rising mist in fact were incapable of penetrating a heavy CO2 fog. The temperature in the Moot House dropped by 6°C. And as the issue of gas exceeded its ability to percolate through the vents, the floor of the Moot House rose, lifting the choking Beaker Folk closer towards the Moot House ceiling.

At this point, the highly-sensitive Moot House safety override cut in. Unfortunately that involved the sprinklers all coming on and a deafening nuclear attack alarm kicking off, together with all the halogen searchlights rotating. Disorientated, screaming, soaking and gasping for oxygen, the Beaker Folk reacted by pushing through the fibre-glass simulated thatch in the Moot House roof and rolling down the outside to safety.

There's a deep theological symbolism to be drawn from this evening's events.

I just wish I was clever enough to draw it.

Frozen Parsons and Liquid Assets

Sometimes I realise how lucky I am. Being able to live in my family's ancestral Great House (now officially owned by an offshore trust), and charging the 50 or so resident Beaker Folk rent, means I live in warmth within the reasonably-sized Archdruid's Suite. Of course, the Beaker Folk are responsible for cleaning their own rooms, and the corridors and dining hall, on the George Herbert principle of sweeping the floors as for God's laws. So yes, the lot has fallen well for me.

Then I read the complaints about the selling off of the Church of England's old parsonages and I wonder. The basic complaint being that the old-style vicars used to live pretty much in mansions, and these days they want to live in 4-bed detached houses with a study and a double garage, and not have to pay for servants.

An old rectory

There's a few things wrong with Olivia Rudgard's article. Mostly that it's one-sided and uncritical. But to be more specific:

The headline suggests the Church of England has lost £8bn by selling off old parsonages. This based on Anthony Jennings guessing that 8,000 houses have been sold off that would now be worth a million quid each.

Thing is, this would only be true if the C of E dioceses had taken that money as fivers and had a giant bonfire with them. And I don't think that's happened all that often - though I know there's some odd types in Ely diocese. I know property has risen in value, but if they'd actually taken that money and used it for ministry, for mission, for buying smaller vicarages that would also have grown in value - then I don't reckon that's such a disaster.

Then the claim that  "They [clergy] feel some kind of guilt that they're living in a better house than everybody else, which is ridiculous, because everyone knows it's a parish parsonage and not their house."

Well, do you know, I've never heard that as an explanation of why a clergy might want to live in a modern house. I've heard them complain they can't sleep at night because the old vicarage is in the middle of town and right next to a pub that's open late into the night. And of course the vicarage was invented before karaokes, PAs and discos were invented. I'm aware that some old parsonages are freezing cold, and the diocese don't necessarily have the money to put in serious amounts of heating and double glazing for an unnecessary number of rooms. I've known a bachelor priest  living just with his mum in a 12-bedroom, 3-floor vicarage with extensive wine cellar. And I've wondered how the typical clergy family can keep such a leviathan of a building dusted, hoovered and clean. And it's lovely when you've got an acre of garden - but it don't half take some maintenance, when the clergy's busy tending the flock and the clergy's spouse has a full time job and they've got a few kids around the place.

Anthony Jennings goes on to tell us, "In the past everyone knew where the vicar was and now they wouldn't, because he's on a housing estate."

And that's the nub of it, isn't it? This isn't because huge vicarages are an asset to the Church or the community. It's because there are people who really still want to live in Bertie Wooster's England - where every village has a vicar, and every vicar has a huge vicarage. Where parsons are important persons (and, implicitly, all of them are blokes) and the Church is a power in the land.

Well, that's not where we are. The vicars are already full-time busy and probably don't need people doffing their tatty caps to them because they live in a big house. They need decent, warm, easy to maintain housing.

So it's a shame about East Coker vicarage. But it's not a building for an associate priest. The Church doesn't need listed vicarages and massive maintenance bills. And it's not like TS Eliot is buried in the rose garden.

Friday 15 September 2017

Troubles with Trebles

And so to Harpenden, where the attitude of the "sharp elbowed" London commuter set, intent on standards of excellence, has apparently caused the choir master to resign.

And I am glad to announce this year's Beaker Award for Utter Naivety  in a Single Sentence for this cracker:
"The church choir is generally assumed to be a bastion of inclusivity, acceptance and love for all."
Has this woman never read Midsomer Murders? Hopefully she will be buying a copy of "Writes of the Church" when it comes out next week, for at least a hint of the organist - choir - minister - congregation dynamics that go on.

Let us consider some of the dynamics  in a typical church.

Inclusivity Versus Performance

People love their churches, and people love to worship. And people love to use music to worship.

But people also love to use music to perform.

So dynamic number one - inclusivity versus performance. Maybe this is the source of more choir and music group angst than anything else. We can accept there is a minimum level of performing ability for a choir or a musician to lead corporate worship. Broadly, somebody needs to be able to play or sing something that is roughly in time and tune. Anything less than that and you have the Beaker Quire, who are today busy trying to buy some brown paper for their kazoo.

But there is a tension when the music group decides they want to improve their performance. When a seven-minute guitar solo is introduced, it is often distracting to worship. Especially when singing "Abide with Me" at a funeral. If you introduce complex polyphonic singing, where does the congregaton sit? At the back of the church, obviously, same as normal. But you know what I mean.

I once had a Beaker Quire member (Buzfide, an ocarinist if I remember correctly) once resign because the Quire didn't "sound enough like Hillsong." I remember telling him - Hillsong has more guitarists than we have Beaker Folk. I can't train everybody in the Community on guitar. Not everybody has a guitar. Not everyone wants to play guitar. But he left, convinced I was disrespecting God with my low standards of worship. Then we had Gwyndolyn wanting the Quire to be "more like the Rend Collective." But that wasn't an artistic judgement. She just has a thing about blokes with beards.

And then of course, some congregation members actually want to hear high-quality music without the effort of joining in. The existence of cathedral choral evensong tells us that for some, it's enough simply to sit back and enjoy the space cadet glow. And that's fair enough. But it make it hard enough for those charged with pitching the music right.

Choosing the Hymns

Then there's the matter of who gets to choose the hymns. Options can include:

  • The minister
  • The "worship leader" for that service
  • The choir master / organist / music group leader 
  • The choir, changing the songs at the last minute when they decide they can't sing the ones the minister / worship leader has spent the last five days choosing.
  • The congregation at a "Songs of Praise" event, shouting out random hymns they hope the organist can play. Always beware the former Methodist who's always loved a 26-verse Wesley hymn in an unexpected meter.


Few things more potentially divisive than the time and format associated with rehearsing. When Buzfide was demanding Hillsongesque levels of musicianship, he was really asking for the Quire to practice together for 3 hours a day, every day. For about 10 years, in my opinion. Whereas some more relaxed modern music groups like to just get together on a Sunday morning and busk it, maybe with a quick half-hour run through first.

And then you get the conflict between the experts and the volunteers. Because to get the best out of the weaker members, you have to spend longer on the relative basics. And the ones who think they're better get bored. Imagine a music group where the rhythm guitarist is still having trouble finding the fifth chord, but the keyboard playing  has a degree from the RCM. Where's the attention going to be? Not on the wizard of the ivories. And what's the drummer going to do during three hours of the lead guitarist telling her less talented / experience buddy "no - you just have to wrap the little finger round a bit more to get the D#?" He's gonna be happily drumming, isn't he. Drummers have no concept of time passing, boredom or most of their surroundings.

The Artistic Temperament vs Control

Because this is where a lot of it boils down to, isn't it? This is where the battle lines are drawn. When the vicar sacks the quire in Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree", it's to gain control over the music. The previous vicar told them to "blare and scrape what ye will," but the new guy wants things orderly so gets an organist in - ironically.

The Artistic Temperament! How best to categorise it? When it's spotting the perfect chord, the classic segue between two songs, the precise time to pause on "The...." in the fourth line of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" then it's genius and spiritual blessing.

When it's insisting that the whole song is shifted three notes higher, because the possessor of the Artisti Temperament has such a perfect A above top E, that's a different matter. That's where artistry becomes vanity - and performance has replaced worship.

So I've got the perfect solution to balancing the Artistic Temperament with the leading of worship and the need for control.

I'm sacking the Beaker Quire. I'm investing in one of them barrel organs. You can't go wrong with a barrel organ.

Thursday 14 September 2017

The Circling Cycle of the Seasons

Could Beaker Folk please note that, as the world turns turns turns, we are now two weeks from the Autumnal Equinox. Therefore liturgical hi viz will be russet from now until Michaelmas.

You may think that russet is not a brilliant colour for hi viz.  You would be right. This time last year Marston Moretaine walked straight into the Doily Shed while wearing russet hi vi. You may think that it's not the colour you wear that determines what you can see, but Marston was always clear that the shed had "appeared out of nowhere."

Also as we approach autumn, we need to get some space free in the Beaker Bazaar for the Yule-themed tea lights. We therefore have a 2 for 1 sale on, on all summer-scented tea lights and candles.  These being:

  • Cut grass
  • Wallflower
  • Honey sandwich
  • Freesia
  • Sweet Pea
  • Barbecue Smoke
  • Petrichor
  • Wasps

Monday 11 September 2017

All for Love

Social Media all abuzz at Stalky Luke, the Bristol Pianist.

Luke Howard was saddened that his girlfriend, who is apparently organised and  together, doesn't want to go out with him any more. Texts and phone calls make it worse, apparently. So he's dealt with that by pitching his piano in public and playing sad songs, and telling the press he won't stop till she comes back to him.

Because clearly "Rapunzel" is gonna think what a fool she's been. All those texts and phone calls, but now she's aware the press are going to all of Luke Howard's friends, if he has any, asking who she is - now there's a Facebook page dedicated to her - she's gonna realise what a catch she's missed.

My expectation is that Howard will play his piano until the weather turns, then pack it in. Though the thought of him, in his hipster clothes, piano decomposing, in Bristol in 50 years while everyone blasts past on jet packs, sounds quite appealing. A Miss Havisham for our times.

Trouble is, Howard's behaviour is potentially an inspiration to others. Burton Dasset just told me that, because I've spurned his love for a decade, he's now going to start serenading me. By singing "Kayleigh". On the ukulele. Daily.

I've given strict instructions to my head of security (Hnaef) that if he hears the words " dancing in stilettoes in the snow," then Burton's to understand - he's got to go.

Sunday 10 September 2017

The Zoe Williams Guide to the Catholic Sexual Imagination

I should not be defending Jacob Rees-Mogg again. I don't belong to his denomination. I don't agree with him on Brexit. I'm well to his left on economics and benefits. Mostly due to his position, not because I'm a bleeding-hearted liberal.

But after the world's worst opinion piece, by Zoe Williams, has made me realise there's something odd about all the Guardianista Mogg-bashing.

Zoe Williams gives it away in the first sentence: " The problem with people who bring religion to their politics is that they’re obsessed with sex." Are they? Theresa May, daughter of a vicar and always happy to admit to her faith, never known for banging-on, if you'll excuse the expression, about sex. Gordon Brown - son of the manse - if he were obsessed with sex he never mentioned it. There's no evidence from Rees-Mogg's original interview, which confirmed that this posh Tory Catholic is in fact a posh Tory Catholic, to suggest he is -  he answered a question. In fact, a more accurate first sentence would be "the problem with Guardian columnists is they're obsessed with other people's attitude to sex."

The Guardian these days, given its online presence, seems to depend for what income it still gets on its dating site. So my assumption is that its columnists need to mention sex at every opportunity in the hope of exciting its readers with the thought of becoming romantically linked with other like-minded people. Yes, I know that sounds awful. But the Guardian don't get as many readers as it used to, so by getting them together they're offering a real social service to the rest of us. Although surely "Hobbies: Writing scathing BTL comments about sky-fairies" is probably not even much of an attraction to most Guardian readers.

Zoe Williams, having mentioned Tim Farron, then starts talking about Church and State. Rees-Mogg is a Catholic, so that's irrelevant. Tim Farron is a non-comformist. So that is too.

The article then goes off to a random set of non-sequiturs. Rees-Mogg never said he wanted to change any laws, he just told us what his view is.  He also never said he went around imagining other people in their bedrooms - curiously, that is what Zoe Williams has claimed, while also imagining Jacob Rees-Mogg in there as well. I'm starting to see who has the strange obsession with sex here.

The poor headline to this poor piece suggests the Pope should tell JRM that "you ain't no Catholic, Bruv". This appears to be based on the idea that the Pope is an environmentalist who wants all Catholics to be Green. That's not how being a Catholic works, Zoe. You could read into it. But you're probably too busy imagining Catholics imagining other people having sex.

Saturday 9 September 2017

Service for the Retirement of Henry Blofeld from Test Match Special

A bus passes down the Ridgmont Road. A couple of pigeons pick the ground for scraps.

HYMN: I Saw Three Ships, My Dear Old Thing

Archdruid: My dear old things!

All: And with thy dear old spirit.

A cake is mysteriously delivered. A lovely, juicy, madeira cake - lovingly hand made by a maiden aunt in Tonbridge.

James Bond: Do you expect me to eat that?

Archdruid: No, Mr Bond. I expect you...


Archdruid: I'd better lose this cat then.....

HYMN: Lead, Kindly Light Meter

A wallaby hops across the field, fleeing the Safari Park. A group of men dressed as Margaret Thatcher do a conga round the Moot House.

Archdruid: Well I make that the 7th man in a pink shirt to drive down School Lane today.

HYMN: All Dear Old Things Bright and Beautiful


Archdruid: My dear old things!

Friday 8 September 2017

"Stella Maris" : For the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Stella Maris, Blessed Virgin
Bringer of true light to earth
Shining light upon the ocean
God-enfolding, at His birth.

Hailed by the archangel Gabriel
Eden's verdict to reverse
Second Eve, bring peace upon us
As your Son breaks Adam's curse.

Loosen now the chains that bind us
Look upon us, weak and blind
Shine God's light into our darkness
Pray to Christ for humankind.

Holy Mary, blessed Mother
Bring our prayers to Christ your own -
Earth-born; human; for us; like us;
Servant; Saviour; Holy One.

Virgin, there is no one like you
God-submitting, holy, true
Free from sin, may we be sinless
Humble, giving, chaste like you.

May our lives be pure and holy
Sea-star, shine upon our ways
Seeing Christ, your Son, our Saviour
We give honour, love and praise.

Glory be to God our Father
And to Jesus Christ, his Son
Glory to the Holy Spirit
Honoured Three, for ever One.

8:7:8:7 ("Firmly I believe, and Truly")

Based on Ave, Maris Stella: "Hail, Star of the Sea".

The Martyrdom of St Mogg

And all over the land at that time there was a dearth of honesty in politics. And some even called Jeromy Corbyn an honest politician, though you wouldn't trust him to tell you if there were spare seats in a train carriage.

And the people cried out saying "who will be honest with their politics?"

And at that time came young Mogg, who had nothing in his looks to attact - for he looked like Walter the Softy from the Beano. And he believed in destroying social care safety nets and withdrawing from Europe, and he said these things. And everyone scorned him because he tweeted in Latin.

And Mogg spoke to the nation saying that he disagreed with abortion, and equal marriage. And the people cried out saying "when we said people should be honest we didn't mean they should speak what they actually thought, unless they agree with us."

And the people cried out "Is the Mogg a Catholic?" And all the bears slunk off to the woods.

And Suzanne Moore said that views based on Catholicism had no place in public life. Even though many Muslims hold the same views about these two things and she didn't question whether their views have any place in public life.  In fact she said "The conflation of a Muslim identity with fundamentalism is wrong." But still did it for Catholicism and fundamentalism.

And so Mogg was martyred in the media. And yet he quoted some words in Latin, and just carried on. Believing what he believed. And not caring what people thought.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

All Purpose Daily Mail Article Complaining About the State of the Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury has today said [fill in something about politics].

This is a bit rich, coming from the druid / oilman / weirdo / bloke in a frock that is supposed to be in charge of the National Church.

At a time when the church is within a generation of extnction / 51% of Brits believe Social Media is a religion / Abbey Clancey is wearng something exciting / pews are emptying / the faithful are now all in the local mosque, what the leader of the Church of England should do is restore the BCP in every church / flog gays / preach Victorian morality / send children down coalmines / ban woman priests / stop going on about gender and sexuality.

The Church of England was formed in the 16th Century. A time of strong government, beautiful liturgy, and enormous beards. The Archbishop of Canterbury should be getting us back to that time. Not trying to live in the present.

Believe us, if Jesus Christ had lectured people on giving to the poor, the spiritual dangers of wealth or the dangers of over-powerful authority, he would never have been so popular. If his mother had believed in the overthrow of rulers and the redistribution off wealth, we'd never have put her in so much stained glass.

(c) Quentin Letts, Stephen Glover, and George Carey (until we realised we ought to stop using him).

Monday 4 September 2017

The Imprecise Wrath of God

A pastor in an American church has declared that gay people cause hurricanes, and in doing so joins a long, noble tradition.

For clearly the hurricane currently flooding the Republican-supporting state of Texas can be laid at the door of a lesbian former mayor - not an adulterous current President. In the same way, Hurricane Katrina was God's anger poured out on America for the election of Barack Obama.

But I think we can draw an important lesson, brothers and sisters, from the fact that tens of thousands of married heterosexuals have lost their homes in the Houston flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey. God's punishment is inaccurate - more like carpet bombing than a precision missile.
Why, one might ask, does God strike so inaccurately? Clearly, brothers and sisters, because Heaven is so high up. There must be a margin of error.

And I know some will say that the layout of Houston - the urban sprawl, drainage of lakes, poor consideration of flooding risks, search for a quick buck - made the flooding much worse. But greed and lack of consideration for one's fellow men are minor sins compared to lesbianism. And how dare one try to set up hydrology against the word of God?

Then consider the time that Pat Robertson prophecied hurricanes would strike Florida as a punishment for homosexuality, and the first hurricane of the season hit the town where Robertson started his "700 Club".

And then there was Tony Perkins, who said hurricanes were God's punishment but had to flee his flooded home shortly afterwards. Did he have secret sins? Are meteorological disasters purely natural events? Or did God just miss a gay couple in the next street? I think the answer is obvious. God is not a very good shot.

My belief that God has a poor aim sustains me when I remember the time I was struck by lightning, walking across Lower Meadow. Clearly, in his Divine mercy but inaccuracy, he was aiming at Archdruid Eileen.

NB: Eileen, the self-styled Archdruid next door, has pointed out that at the time of Hurricane Katrina, Barack Obama had not yet been elected. However need I point out that God is able to see the future? Proactive punishment is well within God's range.

Sunday 3 September 2017

The Neolithic Society Writes

Got two letters from the Neolithic Society last week.

The first was suggesting that we should leave the Moot House open, day and night, so anyone who wants to encounter "that authentic Beaker architecture whenever they want."

The second objecting to our replacing the old IBM PC XT we used to drive the 1997-vintage data projector. Apparently the XT is much more authentically Neolithic than our proposed replacement.

Still, the two issues have resolved themselves very neatly. Somebody went in the Moot House while we were at Not Greenbelt and  pinched the PC.

Saturday 2 September 2017

No Need to Feel Down

Please can everyone be quiet around the Pilgrms' Block. There's people there need a bit of rest tonight.

There was a lot of trouble when the two groups met up in the bar last night.

The initial confusion was when the Fundamentalist Baptist Condemnation Society thought that the presence of so many bikers, builders, cops and cowboys in the other group meant that they, too, were manly men exhibiting manly manliness.

By the time it had descended to an all-out brawl, the "Spirituality of Village People" group were pretty glad they'd a number of Native American bows in their armoury. We've applied a lot of iodine to the wounds. But the Fundies have taken the worst beating since they upset those nuns.