Last ferry leaving…


Last ferry leaving


I used to laugh at the Holy Hooverers

Those for whom God is an

Escape pod

From this sinful slough we live in

Called Earth.


But why would you ever want to leave the light

Through spring leaves;

The translucent skin that barely contains

What babies will be;

The gentle rain falling,



But days like today will force a revelation;

I could do with a distant angel trump

If he will have me,

I am rapture-ready


I would wait

By some crystaled sea

For the last ferry




Leaving Church 2- discussions with Jason Clark…

(Part of a series of reflections around an exchange with Jason. The previous one was posted yesterday.)

open door, rock chapel

6. I’m not arguing for institutional church and reject the ‘black and white’ thinking that because we have buildings, staff, programs (alongside experiences and life changing growth), that what I say is aimed at promoting institutions. I actually believe we all believe to institutions, the current preference being for the self in consumer society. What imaginations drive the way we relate about church is what interests me the most.

You lost me a bit on that one I am afraid.

I think you may have been reacting a little to my suggestion that people who are part of large institutional Churches, with their paid staff and building/admin costs have a lot at stake when faced with people leaving. It is an understandable pressure on those whose life has been in faithful service of these institutions and each time someone leaves it can feel like a real kick where it hurts. It is hard to then maintain relationships and remain open to learning from that rather hurtful event. Those who remain will also likely see the leavers as having betrayed them in some way- they will now have become ‘the other’, and it will be a natural tendency to make easy judgments. Of course this works both ways. The end result is that the gap widens.

I would reiterate however that I am someone with a love for the Church- and am puzzled by my current situation on the outside (trying to find other ways to do church.) Gifted pastors are a treasure (I know several of them who need a pay rise) and in our climate a good roof is rather necessary.

But you also used that word ‘consumer’ again, as if leaving Church was primarily a consumer choice for most of us. Can I push you a little on this one too?

In an age where we have been hammered into being consumers above all else, it is not surprising that our Church members make consumer choices- including changing their religious outlet when better spiritual bargains come on the market elsewhere. But surely the same is true of those who stay. They are perhaps expressing consumer satisfaction- niche product though it may now be.

Are consumer choices not the main reason for individual Church growth in the UK? People leave to go somewhere else– where the music is better, the preaching more entertaining, the seats more comfortable, the congregation younger, trendier and more dateable. Are these always poor choices? Do we rail against this kind of consumerism when it delivers corporate success? (To be fair, I know that my friend Graham has really struggled with this in his Church.)

Also (and most crucially)- what alternative to consumerism is Church really offering? Is there a danger that we ask people to reject consumerism as far as church is concerned but change nothing else? Drive to church in the same cars, from the same big houses, full of the same gadgets? The logical extension of what you say might be to continue to attend a Church even if it tears you apart, as to NOT go would be to serve the institution of Consumerism.

There are other movements challenging consumerism head on- questioning the nature of our economic system, proposing cash-less transactions, time banks, trying to live simpler more sustainable lives based around shared common resources. I know Christians are involved in many of these movements but can you honestly say that Church is characterised by this kind of engaged criticism of the core of consumerism in our culture? I wish that we were, but most of our activists are fully engaged in something more pressing within the institution of Church…

Can we really complain of consumer choices within a Church that is fully participant in the consumer marketplace?

I would suggest that people (like me) leave Church for other reasons too. To categorise leavers as somehow having sold out to easy consumer choices might risk not listening what is going on at a deeper level. It also means that re-engagement with Church for people who have left is that much harder.

7. My post was not a diatribe against non attenders trying to get them to attend. The future of the church is not in attendance, but in participation. I just think people mistake non attendance with participation. We are all attending something weekly, and participating on ways of life, the only choice is what sets the agenda for that participation and regularity.

But given that your post was in relation to people attending corporate worship, what is the difference between attendance and participation? Can one participate without attending? The fact is that we attend less and less ‘club’ like activities as a nation- increasingly we live in interior spaces, with the odd foray into collectivised consumer ‘events’. I suspect that, like me, you would regard this as problematic on all sorts of levels, but it is a fairly well understood trend that Church has a few possible responses to;

  1. We can condemn it as another example of what is wrong with the sinful world.
  2. We can demonstrate an alternative in the form of a flowering of all that relational Holy Spirit fruit. People would then know the Church by the love we have for one another.
  3. We can take note of the new social landscape and start to re-imagine a Church that fits within it.

I would sadly suggest that there has been too much of 1, not enough of 2 and 3 is a work in poor progress. (This is a generalisation from my limited perspective, and is certainly not intended as a description of any one Church!)

8. I get tired of being pitted against fresh expressions, and consider my church to be one. But having new christians, sundays, and facilities means we are instantly labelled as institutional. Again a black and white correlation I don’t accept 🙂

Sorry if you felt that I did that in my earlier comments- I certainly did not mean to. I was more suggesting that the Fresh Expressions movement was an attempt to move Church away from corporate worship in the more traditional sense- as in meeting to sing and hear preaching in a large building.  Again, not that there is anything in the slightest bit wrong in doing just that, my suggestion was that the cat gets skinned in many different ways.

9. The state of the church in the UK is dire. If I wasn’t planting one, I’d probably struggle with the ones local to me. I hope I’d choose the one that offended me the least and let me serve, give, pray and engage in mission with others. I’d want to be part of the solution and not just walk away, which is what I hope I have done.

Me too.

But there might come a time when we all have to walk away. Your reason might be different to mine, but our hope is that the faith journey would not end there- rather we would be looking to start again.

We usually have to start small- with a few friends. Some of us will be carrying wounds and scars from the leaving. We may avoid using words like ‘Church’ and we will be suspicious of how people use power. What we start will be very fragile, shot through with the same imperfections as we are. Most of our projects will not survive- particularly without support from Church.

What this support looks like is unclear, but we will probably not be easy to support as we will be very sensitive to (perceived or actual) judgementalism. We will tend to keep away from those in Churches who do not understand the journey we have been on.

Church may chose to ignore us, watch us inevitably fail but this would be a dreadful mistake. Many of the people I have spoken to who find themselves outside Church are the very ones who have been the Church planters, the worship leaders, the youth workers, the street preachers, the messy church makers, the alternative worshipers. They burned out on Church, but are people of vast experience. They can not go back, but they might go forward with the right kind of encouragement.

10. Context is everything, and I fear people reading the comments here will do so without listening to my talk and the context within which it was made!

Fair point Jason. Observer bias in blogging is pretty hard to fight! I hope I have not been disrespectful of your comments in responding in the way that I have.

All the very best to you and yours.

Leaving Church 1- discussion with Jason Clark…

rainbow church, Dunoon

A few days ago I wrote a post reflecting on some thoughts by Jason Clark on leaving Church. The sort of issues Jason raised included;

  • whether a ‘Churchless faith’ is possible
  • the centrality or of gathered corporate worship
  • the rise of consumer choice as a determinant for Christians as they decide to stay or leave church
  • the dangers of allowing faith to collapse into private spaces, private lifestyle choices

If you are interested in this debate, I suggest you go and read Jason’s post (and listen to his podcast), as well as reading my post in response.

There were some great comments on my piece, including a poetic one from Sam and a deeply heartfelt one from a dear friend (and the Pastor of the church I attended before we moved to Scotland.) Jason also took the time to make some further comments, and I decided to extend the discussion a little in a couple of further posts.

I do so because people continue to leave Church and even though I have been a leaver too, I am certainly not done with church. I think that what both Jason and I have in common is a hope for the kind of Church that is a an engaged, hopeful, critical part of our society. One that tries to work out what living the radical call of Jesus might mean in THIS culture, not the Victorian one. What this looks like for me is small community in all its fragility and brokenness. What this looks like for Jason is large urban growing Church, in all its fragility and brokenness. We need both. Our contexts dictate that they must be different.

My journey through Church has led me to be very critical at times yet it is obvious that Church is very much alive. Many good things are happening all over the country. People are engaging in acts of service to their communities because the Church enables this. You only need to check out the website of my old Church, or Jason’s church to see this.

Jason made ten points in relation to this discussion, and I intend to split my responses to them over two posts. The first part of this is below.

I would repeat my deep respect for Jason (although we have not met.)  This debate feels rather retro really- blogs used to be full of these kinds of discussions 10 years ago. We have all moved on to tweets and short status updates now. So- those of you who persist in reading all this stuff are part of a future-retro elite, and I salute you!

KIlmory chapel door

1. Context: I’m not speaking to a US context, the talk was for my church community in the UK. I am convinced more than ever that the future of the church in the UK depends on communities of faith not disappearing into private spaces, but to have a vibrant public life. That is in contrast to the civic religion of Sunday services by many churches that are more about cultural religion than faith communities.

Making generalisations about what church is, where it locates itself and whether some forms are more vibrant/cultural than others was not the point of my post. Rather I was concerned to understand what it meant in MY context, and in my community.

My experience has taken me towards a small community that meets in private spaces but seeks also to provide worship events in public spaces. This was in part because a feeling that Church (with many glorious exceptions!) has often become a no-go zone for the vast majority of the local population. The ‘public’ meeting is anything but- it has become a private club for a dwindling minority. Sure, we talk evangelical language, but engagement with our local communities was mostly confined to hoping that they realise that we were right all along.

I know I am describing a kind of church that is NOT like the one you lead, and that many churches are fighting to change to become something else- more missional, engaged, vibrant etc. But that is your journey, I was speaking of mine.

I mention this not because I want to defend my position, but rather because I really do not think I am alone.

My friend Graham (and former Pastor down in England) rightly pointed out in his comment on my entry into this debate that my small community (Aoradh) is ‘church’. Some of our members still also attend ‘Church’.  Many of us were people who left Church. I suppose my point is that we are a bit of a melting pot- all trying to make sense of what is happening in a changing an challenging context. We respond to the reality we are faced with through the set of goggles that we are given…

2. My talk and post was not about Sunday attendance. I have no interest, as I mentioned at the start of the talk, about Sunday attendance, and calling people to that. Being church is all too often reduced to Sunday attendance, by those who attend and those who don’t. Two sides of the same coin – those just turning up thinking they are doing something and those established by their non attendance as the measure of having done something.

Apologies if I misrepresented you, I think I responded to your use of the words ‘meeting together for corporate worship’, which is usually understood to mean Sunday services. Of course, ‘corporate worship’ might mean many things.

I think every church tradition would echo your words about church not just being about Sunday. It certainly has never been this for me- in fact at some points of my life I have spent most of my available non-employed time doing church related activities. Most of this was focussed inwards though; it was planning activities for services of varying descriptions, organising music, having meetings, even doing one-to-one pastoral work. All of it felt very necessary. This was often exciting, it gave my life urgency and purpose. It was often exhausting.

The best of what I have experienced was good indeed, shadowed by inevitable human imperfections, but as to whether all the activity I was involved in was necessary, even advisable- the jury is out on this one I think.

3. I was focused on something I do believe as mentioned in 1 above as key to the church having any future. Christians will need to figure out a way to not collapse church into private lifestyles. Too much of evangelical church dispenses religious goods and services to people to fit around the lives they were making elsewhere. The logical extension to this, is to collapse church even further until it is just a resources for experience and private God spaces. I believe the church is about real concrete communities, like the household codes in the NT, visible and able to transform communities by living and being something other than personal interest groups.

I very much agree with you about how church has become as much consumer driven as the western world it is part of. I am also convinced that finding ways of living dependent lives in real community is part of the way that people of faith can show a real alternative. Sadly I am not sure that this is always a defining characteristic of Church- what we tend to form are what Scott-Peck calls ‘Pseudo communities’ (there is a discussion about this from the perspective of my community here.)

Another friend (who is a NT scholar) cautioned me once about the way we tend to suggest that our way of doing church is reflective of the NT idea of community (every new church development seems to claim this!) Firstly, we no longer live in the NT world, and have a poor and partial understanding of their culture and context. Secondly, Church tend to owe more to Victorian ideas of service to establishment than it does to embattled scattered persecuted 1st C Roman citizens/slaves.

What we do know about the NT church though is that it tended to meet in private spaces. The transformation it achieved was often in spite of persecution which prevented the visible gatherings that you seem to advocate.

I like your warning against a collapse of Church into just being a resource for ‘experience and private God spaces’. One criticism of Western Evangelicalism is that it has fallen into the trap of ‘Therapeutic Moralistic Deism’- offering a psychological God who will make your life happy if you follow a certain moral code. Church has followed the same individualising trend as the rest of the world – it offers individual salvation and an individual bonus-reward scheme.

I am not sure however the degree to which continued attendance can be seen to mitigate against this kind of privatised individualism. Perhaps we should leave this kind of church.

4. There is a current trend in thinking we can separate a relationship with Jesus from the church. We can’t, that’s the myth of consumer and secular imaginations.

You also used the word ‘myth’ to suggest describe Churchless faith. How are these things mythological? Is it because you believe they only exist in imagination? If so, they are powerful myths shared by many. Even if we are all wrong, then the relationships between church/Jesus/individuals have become a very poor one in lots of cases.

If people did not separate their belief in Jesus from their relationship with the Church then how does the church become challenged, changed? How can it respond to what may be prophetic critique? Jesus himself was hardly conformist after all.

That is not to say that we do not learn in community and in respect for those who have gone before us– I like Karen Ward’s differentiation between small and big theologies- the latter being those of our forefathers, the former being what we work out in small community. I think this is perhaps another one of those both/and paradoxes, but not a ‘myth’ surely?

On a personal level I had no choice but to go through a very painful experience of separation. I have spoken to many others who have done the same. This had little to do with consumer choice and a lot to do with survival of faith (it was touch and go for a while) by rediscovering Jesus in the midst of what can only be described as traumatic loss. To suggest that this was an easy consumer decision is to profoundly misunderstand the hurt that many people who have been through this process experience. I think this was at the core of my original response to your blog post, although I did not articulate it clearly at the time.

5. I’m not naive (at least I hope I am not), I spend a great deal of my time exploring the problems of church, and it has many. But on the other hand I do believe there is also a problem of Christians who don’t understand how to relate to church at all, that is not the fault of the church. It’s a two way problem.

I know and respect your thinking on lots of aspects of Church having been dipping into you blog for years!

But I must push you a little on this- if an institution is no longer doing the work it was intended for, is it reasonable to blame the people who no longer find it useful? That seems like a rather Stalinist argument to me!

The now rather antiquated debate around the so called ‘emerging church’ was founded on a dissatisfaction on Church and a hope for what might be developing. The question many of us still ask is what did all those blogs and conferences and books actually achieve? I suppose this is still a work in progress, but if all we did was open up some space for theological debate then it is an entirely unfinished project.

For people like me, the issue was not to try to preserve what was withering before our eyes, but rather to look in hope and expectation for what was becoming. Like a starving man grabs for bread we seized hold of ideas – missional church, new monasticism, fresh expressions, forest church etc  – some of these things were lovely, but could not really be regarded as a new stream of church, just different flavours of what was there already.

Even more worryingly for those of us whose theology had gone through something of a revolution, some Churches appeared to be doing very well- those whose version of religion was all hard lines and narrow doctrine.

Meanwhile people continue to leave Church…

Part two, including a discussion about consumerism, tomorrow.

Love your inner Neaderthal…



Science keeps telling us little bits more about the origin of the beautiful creature…

A news story the other day took me back to Genesis chapter 4;

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The story in question concerned the latest research about our genome;

Most people living outside Africa can trace up to 4% of their DNA to a Neanderthal origin, a consequence of interbreeding between the two groups after the great migration from the contintent.


Anthropologists have long speculated that early humans may have mated with Neanderthals, but the latest study provides the strongest evidence so far, suggesting that such encounters took place around 60,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East.


Small, pioneering groups of modern humans began to leave Africa 80,000 years ago and reached land occupied by the Neanderthals as they spread into Eurasia. The two may have lived alongside each other in small groups until the Neanderthals died out 30,000 years ago.


Scientists led by Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig took four years to sequence the whole Neanderthal genome from powdered bone fragments taken from three females who lived in Europe 40,000 years ago.

How are the two related?

My suggestion is that both are part of our continued attempt to make sense of what we are and where we have come from.

The passages in Genesis hinted at how our process of becoming was not just a process of rational logical progress, but that our history is shadowed by darkness, conquest, fratricide. It suggests that way back at the start of the humanity project we were capable of terrible things on a petty whim.

The science tells us that people contain within us the history of our becoming in genetic code. Including the overwhelming of our Neanderthal brothers and sisters, by violence of by sexual submission. Cain kills Abel.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not seeking to make the Bible some kind of code for history, more suggesting that the meaning of one informs our understanding of the other.

Protest songs; come back Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger…

pete seeger

Pete Seeger died a few weeks ago. He was a middle class son of left leaning academic parents who began his radical education- then he discovered the real thing- Woody Guthrie, who died the year I was born in 1967 after years of Huntingdons disease.

There was a programme on Radio 4 (catch it on the I player for a few more days here) about Pete Seeger the other day

Never have we needed protest songs more yet no-one seems to write them much anymore.

It occurred to me however that perhaps it always seemed that way. Seeger and Guthrie sold few records. Any plastic winner of Pop idol will sell ten times the product that they managed between them over almost a Century.The songs had nothing to do with making money, and everything to do with collectivising the experience of working people in the face of oppression. The more oppression, the more songs it seemed- black Americans had most of both.

The songs were sung on marches, in protest sit-ins, in union meetings. They were acts of defiance in the face of blatant obvious injustice.

The problem is that we no longer see injustice clearly even when it spits at us. This is the other role of the protest song- to make us look again at what was obscured by all the tinsel and tv. We need prophets to come out of the desert with a Gibson guitar and snarl to us that we have become fat on the meat of other peoples children.

I am reminded again of this song. It is heading in the right direction…


Castle Toward community buy out hopes…

I am this years captain of our local cricket team- Innellan Cricket Club. Here we are in front of Toward Castle, which is the rather splendid location of our home ground;

team photo, Innellan Cricket Club, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh CC


There has been a lot of uncertainty about whether we will be able to continue to play at Castle Toward, as it has been up for sale for some time. In one of those typical stories, the Castle was gifted to the local council for use for the recreation of local people. It operated as an outdoor centre for a while, until maintenance costs meant that it was placed on the open market. It was almost bought by a holiday company who planned to turn it into a spa hotel, but this fell apart along with all sorts of allegations of dodgy dealings.

Step forward some brave locals who have worked incredibly hard to put together a bid for a community buy out of the estate, under Scottish ‘right to buy’ legislation- the same law that has enabled island communities like those on Coll and Gigha to bring their islands in to collective ownership.

There is a website telling the story of the bid here.

It is fair to say that local opinion is divided as to the viability of this bid- at least in part because of the huge sums of money needed to run the estate at stand still. Figures of £100K per annum have been mentioned just to maintain the security of the site.

There are always skeptics when plans like this are drawn up. For my part, I am a believer. Stately homes like this one are symbols of power, elitism and inequality. If they can be brought back to use and ownership be locals then this seems to me to be something rather wonderful.

And if we get to continue playing cricket there, all the better!

There was some coverage on BBC Alba recently. Non Gaelic speakers will just have to look at the pretty pictures;

(Not) going to church on Sundays…

church service I have been a long term reader of Jason Clark’s blog. I first came across it in the early days of what we called ‘The Emerging Church Conversation’ when I was desperately searching for some way to make sense of a faith that found itself outside the bounds of established Church. Jason has loads of interesting things to say that grow from his background as a Vineyard church pastor and academic theologian.

Jason’s recent post about Sunday church attendance has been playing on my mind. Hardly surprising as since I stopped attending Sunday morning services (6-7 years ago) I still feel guilty if I drive past others heading into a Church on Sunday. The conditioning I received in childhood told me that I should not ‘forsake the assembly of the Lord’ and that Sundays were for sitting through services – at least once if not twice. Sometimes three times.

Here are some of the things Jason said;

I am convinced that meeting together for corporate worship is one of the most pivotal things for Christians to understand and engage with if they are ever to have a vibrant life of faith outside church, and a faith that impacts the community around them.


Churchless faith is a myth. Or rather it might be the experience some choose to embrace (they enjoy it) as individuals but is not one that leads to the transformation of communities by Christians, and people becoming new Christians.


Gathered worship sits at heart of being the body of Christ – like all the other gatherings that sit at the heart of our other lifestyle commitments and social arrangements.

I can feel some of you nodding sagely as you read this. Part of me is nodding too (hardly surprising give my background) but I also feel a rising tide of rebellion. This might be partly about context- Jason is writing to a mainly US audience these days and things feel very different in small town Scotland where the choice to attend or not to attend here is mostly a choice restricted to an aging remnant. The vast majority of people never give church any kind of thought at all, and those that do take a look at our corporate gatherings and say no thank you.


I am certainly no enemy of established Church either. I have dear friends who lead Churches up and down the country and would be the first to long for Church to fulfill its role as a repository of grace, hope and love within our fast changing culture. If people do not attend Church services then the institution of Church will whither and die- some would say that this is exactly what is happening. On that level I am right with Jason. Not attending is a decision that can not be based on petty feelings about boredom or the ‘right kind’ of worship music. We are in this for the long haul, not for a consumer hit of instant satisfaction.

But (you knew it was coming!)

Jason was quoting from a talk/sermon he gave so the tone will be likely to take a didactic and even slightly confrontational tone. It was also embedded within an established Church culture with building costs, wages of paid officials, administration costs etc- all of which require membership and financial engagement. I live and move in a world where church (with a small c) operates on shoestring budgets and our resources are whatever we can find for ourselves.

I also tend to take issue with black and white arguments – things are almost always more complicated than that. We need both those who stay and those who set out on a new journey; we need those who rest in orthodoxy and those who bring prophetic criticism.

Change rarely happens from within, it usually requires people to leave and dare to hope for the new. This will often mean LEAVING the establishment, for a while at least. Many (including myself) may yet return. Church has to find a way to set people free but also to reach out and offer support and encouragement in ways that those on the outside do not see to be restrictive. Railing against them for non-attendance seems likely to be rather counter productive.

Of course I read Jason’s comments within the context of my town, my life and my experience. I find myself outside established Church at the moment but certainly not outside church. Neither am I outside fellowship or worship. Rather these things have had to adapt to the new and changing context that my life has taken me to. It is not a full stop but rather a response to the journey I am making. It is informed by both close community, but also by dispersed on-line connections.

For example, I am really looking forward to leading some friends on a wilderness retreat in a couple of months. Some of them I have known half my life, others I have met through on line connections. Our meeting and the significance of our journey together has nothing to do with Sunday mornings.

Back to Jason’s comments though;

Meeting together for corporate worship is a requirement for vibrant faith and engagement in the community around? 

Well there is a lot of corporate worship that has no connection to vibrancy, or to engagement with community. As someone who led worship (the guitar and data projector kind) for decades, the emphasis on ‘crisis-event’ spirituality and its increasing detachment and removal from community was what finally drove me away from Church, looking for a more honest and authentic way to worship and to engage.

Is it at least possible that some forms of corporate worship become the means by which vibrancy is stifled? And after the creation of the religious event, what is left over for really engaging with our local communities in many of the small remnant Churches in the UK?

I was part of forming a loose community of people who set out to explore worship in a community setting, looking for partnership and engagement. We meet one Sunday a month, for most of a day- eating, praying, singing, laughing. Is this any less an authentic way to live out our faith?

Churchless faith is a myth? Or rather, Jason seems to suggest it can not lead to community transformation or convert others to Christianity. 

A myth? What about Spirited Exchanges? What about all those other people who have found themselves outside Church after abuse within the institution of Church?  What about me? To dismiss millions of people as they try to make sense of faith after finding Church to be damaging and problematic is not fair, and not reflective of where we find ourselves within Western culture.

I wonder what Jason means by ‘community transformation’. These are words which seem a tad bombastic from a UK perspective. I feel more comfortable seeing Christians as servants of the broken, who hope for transformation in ourselves and our communities.

That is not to say that wonderful things are not happening in and around Churches – the Fresh Expressions movement for example. My impression however is that activists in Church tend to be busy doing Church. In order to do something outside Church, they have to get their heads around the fact that Sunday is not where it is all at. Many leave because they do not find an outward looking commonality within the pews of the place they worship.

Then there is the bit about making converts. I confess to this being a work in progress for me, in that I have kind of given up trying to convert people. Part of this is that I do not have a ‘club’ that I want to invite people into- which supports Jason’s view I suppose. What I can say however is that I have had more conversations with people about Jesus since I left Church than when I attended every Sunday. The pressure of the sales pitch is gone and it is simply possible to be honest about my own struggles with faith and the love I have for the ways of Jesus.

In my area we do not have large vibrant attractive Churches that bring people the story of Jesus in new ways, so as to make converts. I would go further and say that of all the many Churches I have been in and around, converting people by the power of our Sunday worship has been a very rare event.

Gathered worship sits at heart of being the body of Christ.

It is all in the language again is it not? What is ‘gathered worship’? What do we mean by ‘the body of Christ’? These words are laden with such dense cultural baggage, and much of this is about large scale institutional Churchianity.

I am interested to know what gathered worship can look like in small scale, dispersed communities. I am longing for us to find new ways to understand what it means to be ‘the body of Christ’ and am angered by people who wear this as an exclusive badge of belonging to large institutions.

But buildings do have their uses, and unless we use them, we will lose them…

Cathedral, France 2008

Jason goes on to make some wider points about the life of faith communities beyond Sunday morning;

…reducing church to attendance of a Sunday service is the problem. Those whose understanding of church as sundays service, either just turn up and attend, or end up not attending at all. In other words those attending and those choosing not to attend are two sides of the same coin.


Or to put it another way, those who reduce church to just attending a Sunday service are often the people who talk about stopping attending because church should more than a Sunday serivce. A circular logic and experience.


Our understanding of Church has to be more than attendance. But not gathering to avoid the boredom of attending, does very little to advance any understanding of church and being church.

The life of faith, in may experience, will bring us all to the point of having to separate our relationship with God from our relationship to Church. The two things are related, but not the same. Often they will be in conflict, sometimes they NEED to be in conflict.

May Church prosper and grow.

May we become church in the rubble left behind by the death of Church.

Squares, revisited…

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a woman in hospital that I visited. I was thinking about her recently, and reworked some of my words into a poem- as part of my on going ‘protest poetry’ project. This poem still has more of a narrative quality but here it is.

Argyll and Bute hospital 2



The ward squeaks disapproval at my

polluting presence

The hospital is brand new.


There she is.

After 40 years of patience.

Something went wrong when her husband died.

She was swallowed whole by the grief of it;

Captured in a concrete cocoon.


She was the recipient of all the best psychiatric science;

drugs greyed out her vision;

electric shocks blew holes in her memories.

They even tried psycho surgery in a futile attempt

to scrape grief from her brain

with a scalpel.


And here she remains – toothless, but given to scratching.

Occasionally abusive, but with sense of humour

largely intact.

They say she has behaviour problems, that she is manipulative.

Who wouldn’t be?


She was once a worker, a wife, a mother.

She wore a white cotton dress to picnic once

She loved to dance


Today we meet to stitch bureaucratic blankets for her next bed.

I clear my throat and speak out care-clichés

whilst people in a hurry to look busy

shuffle paper and steal glances at the time passing.


She looks up at the crisp suspended ceiling and cackles.

I hate those bloody


Everything is so square in here.

Put me outside next to the hedge.

Just put me



I follow her gaze to the brown beech hedge.

Out through the square window.

Last year’s dry leaves still rattle on close cropped branches.


And I want to wheel her out there

sit her under the winter sky

wind waving her long grey hair in a curve of protest

against all those bloody awful




Come and share communion (and sing…)


If you are local to Dunoon, we are doing another one of our ‘occasional’ worship events up at the Episcopal Church. Andrew assures me that after all the hard work the building is warmer and more welcoming than ever!

The idea for these events came when Andrew asked me a year or so ago if I would revisit my worship leading past. I reluctantly agreed and found it personally very moving to lead people in singing simple songs again. I don’t know how this will develop, but at present we intend to keep it humble, keep it simple, but to follow where the path leads.

Next Tuesday this involves finding the space inside some songs, a bit of theatre, and sharing communion. Nothing more. No hype. No expectancy on anyone who comes. Just space to worship.

Local folk- would you mind sharing this where you can to get some invites out?




Currently I am reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Somehow I never got round to it before. I am enjoying it- Prisig has a lovely way with words and a great love of ideas, images, philosophy.

One word he uses a lot is this one- Chautauqua. 

I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua — that´s the only name that I can think of for it — like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, […] an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. ( Pirsig, p.17)

The origin of the words seems to be a movement founded in the 19th C that provided education and entertainment to isolated farming communities via a kind of travelling circus- complete with lectures, discussions and workshops. They fed a hunger for knowledge and self improvement.

Pirsig uses the word whenever he introduces as new concept, a new idea.The Chautauqua becomes the vehicle by which the mind can travel. The fact that this story is happening in the context of a motorcycle journey (with his curious son as a pillion passenger) makes the Chautauguas all the more vital.

I mention this as it made me think again about the way we encounter the words of the Bible. Might it be better to see them as a travelling circus tent full of ideas, concepts, poetry, philosophy? A spiritual Chautauqua. Those of us that visit and engage do so as people eager for the fun of the journey, able to debate, question, laugh, cry, heckle or just listen in awe.

So, rather than academic stuffyness, or unassailable unapproachable holiness. Rather than being ‘The Word of God’, might we see the Bible as Chautauqua?

A tent at the side of the road in which to exchange ideas about who God is…