Saturday, December 21, 2013

Church Communication In The 21st Century

I was asked to facilitate a session at one of our House Groups recently. The topic was on communication, and specifically "how the church can get its message across more effectively in the 21st century".

I used the slides (see below) to help guide the conversation, which embraced the world of digital and social media. I was fairly clear at the outset that St Michael's is well behind the curve in terms of utilising social media channels for outreach to the community, or even tapping into the benefits (and significantly lower costs when compared to print) of digital media for publicity or communication. However, if the survey results from the 2012 Buzzplant Survey (slides 19 and 20) are to be believed, we are not alone in neglecting the benefits of social media, with 42% of respondents saying that they were slow to adapt, very conservative or resistant to using internet technology. The survey used US data, but I'd be surprised if there was any significant difference with UK churches. 

I've never believed that age demographics is the primary or only reason for lack of engagement with social media, with some surveys citing mobile users and older generations being the main drivers for worldwide social media growth. It seems more likely that it is the deep sense of tradition and conservative thinking of todays church-goers that is responsible for this "digital divide". More worrying is the fact that this divide is growing, at a time when we are seeking ways of making the church and Christianity more relevant to the younger demographic, who appear to be are far more comfortable with using new technology and social media. If the Church want to reach out to a new (and younger) audience, it really does need to start using the same tools, channels and technologies that they are using, otherwise irrelevance of the Church is a growing reality!


Bishops Stortford Flashmob

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Do You Know The Nativity?

Church123 has produced an infographic using data sourced from the Bible Society to show some statistics on how well people know the Christmas story. Are you encouraged or concerned by the results? How does your knowledge compare?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Alpha 10 Home Group 'Out of Touch' Programme

Alpha 10 Home Group are continuing with their topical discussions in relation to our faith. Our next series of Monday night discussions are entitled 'Out of Touch' and our programme is:

  • 4th November: 'Out of Touch' - we will be discussing ideas re communication and how the church can get its message across more effectively in the twenty-first century
  • 18th November: 'Out of Touch' - perhaps we are a bit too middle class in St Michaels. Bill MacDonald will be talking to us about his involvement with a local charity that helps those that are less well-off
  • 2nd December: 'Out of Touch' - keeping in touch with God, through prayer

Each session starts at 8 pm at Holly Tree House, Wilton Close and all are welcome to come along and join us. If you require any further information please contact the Parish Office (01279 654416)  or one of the following:-

Mike Ashwood, Beryl Jones, Philip Smith, Peter Watson

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Alternative Viewpoint

The last two sessions of the Alpha 10 house group were interesting. At the first one, we discussed Richard Dawkin’s book ‘The God Delusion’. Mike Ashwood led it and I thought he did a good job, as it is difficult to get a discussion going about a book if most people have not actually read it.  Dawkin’s book deals with facts, what you can see in front of you, and he has little time for those who use faith to explain something that cannot be seen. 

The second session was a discussion on a book by Reza Aslan called ‘Zealot, The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth’. Using mainly verses from the Bible, he propounds a theory that Jesus was the leader of an independence movement who was crucified (but not resurrected). Full of information about Jewish history, the book was interesting for just that. However, if you followed his conclusions through, it hardly makes it worth getting up earlier on a Sunday morning. The books were similar in that they dealt with fact only. Hard to argue with unless you had your own Wikipedia of information. 

How do you explain faith?

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Morning With Matthew

British Library Add. MS 59874 Ethiopian Bible ...
British Library Add. MS 59874 Ethiopian Bible - Matthew's Gospel (Ge'ez script) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On Saturday 12th October at 10.0am , a group of us gathered in the Windhill Churches Centre for a morning of exploration into Matthew's Gospel.
After an initial gathering and chat over a tea/coffee, the program started with brief introductory session led by The Rev'd Derwyn Williams. This started with the showing of 13 pictures and identifying what biblical passages these related to. These passages, as it turned out, were all unique to Matthew, and indicated how different this gospel is to the others. Derwyn then proceeded to describe the basic features of Matthew's Gospel and what it is trying to tell its readers. It is in essence a "Jewish Gospel" which portrays Jesus in a Jewish context as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies, and his authority in Jewish terms ("Messiah", "Son of David" etc.). The Gospel was written for the Jewish Christian Community, and presents Jesus as the "New Moses" both in the comparisons of the life stories and the presence in the Gospel of 5 books of teaching, which can correlate to the Pentateuch.
Following this, we had two short workshop sessions in which we divided into two groups for either a bible study or meditation. The first session included a meditation (Lectio Divina) on Matthew 19, 16-26 led by The Rev 'd Derrick Hinge, or a study of Matthew Chs 3-5, led by Rob Klincke. The second session was a choice of an Ignatian Meditation on Matthew 12 vv 46-50 led by The Rev'd Tim Weeks, or a study of the Nativity as told in Matthew led by Derwyn.
The groups then reassembled for a final short session of questions and reflections on the morning's activities, and closed with a short act of worship.
I found the event a very enjoyable, informative and thought provoking experience which was very well presented. Many thanks to Derwyn and his fellow contributors for a well run course. I encourage all readers to consider taking advantage of future activities like this; it does not matter what level of knowledge on the subject you already have, you will find this type of event of great benefit.
by Peter Rixson

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Meeting a Muslim

Alpha 10 House Group have been working through a short series called 'Challenging Our Faith'. First up was a visit by Abdul Rashid, from the Herts & Essex mosque, on 23rd September. Great guy and very open about his own beliefs. It is not often you are able to sit and ask any questions you like about another faith.

Abdul spent some time, as a teenager, in Bangladesh, at a very strict Islamic school. His father had sent him there because of discipline problems when Abdul lived in East London. It seemed to have worked because Abdul is now a teacher at the local mosque.

He often referred to some of the similarities of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths but also kept pointing out that Christianity was the only religion, of the three, that did not worship one God alone. I don't think there was any one time when we 'got him' on a issue - it was much too polite for that. It does make you think, though. I ask myself how different my beliefs would be if I was brought in another country, where another religion predominated.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thought For The Week

The following was first published in the Herts & Essex Observer, 28th February 2013.
Author: Father Anthony Searle, assistant Curate, St. Michael's Church.

I hate ironing. It comes second to dusting on chores I'd rather not do. There are many things we do not like doing but should. Some of you may be blessed with not having to iron, but I am sure there are other practicalities that you dislike.

Chorse are not alone in causing us discomfort: there's saying sorry. I

I taught for 10 years. There was always that moment when the teen would squirm and avoid eye contact, but admit guilt and, sometimes, say sorry. We don't grow up much from this. We still squirm, making up excuses or changing the rules so that what was 'naughty' is not for 'me'.

The season of Lent is the time when we give up our squirming and admit our guilt: we say sorry, both to friend and stranger, and to God. And we say sorry in the knowledge that, within love, we are forgiven. This shouldn't mean that we do it all over again; but we ask for help not to repeat mis- takes. 

We cannot be good by ourselves - that's why we need others and God - we can be better

'with a little help from our friends'.
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Shabby Journalism (Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth)

Dr Reza Aslan is clearly a an excellent scholar  and researcher, and shows admirable patience and restraint under some fairly aggressive and ill-informed questioning from the interviewer. It's obvious that the interviewer, Lauren Green, hadn't read any of Dr Aslan's book, reverting instead to several fairly irrelevant and mis-informed quotes, and repeatedly trying to create her own story around why a Muslim should have written a book about Christianity rather than focussing on the scholarly credentials and academic research that went into the book. Perhaps Dt Aslan should have asked his interrogator whether a book on the life of Jesus would be more relevant and accurate if it had been produced by an uneducated Christian?

Shame on Fox news for some pretty shabby journalism.

The Dr Reza Aslam's book: Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth.

The Parable of Pastor Steepek

This story has been doing the rounds on various social networks these past few days, and is almost certainly a hoax. The image does not show a Pastor Steepek, but rather an actual homeless man in Richmond, Surrey. Moreover, the only references to the alleged Pastor Steepek are those in the circulating message itself.  The idea for the story may have been derived from the experience of Tennessee Pastor Willie Lyle, who lived as a homeless person for a week and later used the experience in a sermon to his new congregation. 

Regardless of the authenticity, it still makes a good story, and brings to life the the parable that Jesus told, as reported in Matthew's Gospel, 25: 31-44. 

Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food - NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. "We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek." The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited:-

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
'The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, "Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?" 

He then dismissed service until next week.

Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It's something you live by and share with others

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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Installation and Induction of Rev'd Derwyn Williams

A slightly belated post about the Installation of our new vicar.

The Installation and Induction service for the Rev'd Derwyn Williams took place on Tuesday, 12th March, 2013, at 8.00pm in St. Michael’s. The service was conducted by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Hertford, and followed by a Reception in the Charnley Hall.
Derwyn is a graduate of Cambridge University, firstly in Natural Sciences, followed by two years at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and two years further study at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, where he completed the Oxford Diploma in Ministry.   He served his curacy in Harpenden, from where he became  Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of St Albans, then Christopher Herbert,  for three years  prior to his  current position.
Derwyn has been Rector of St Swithun’s Church, Sandy, since 2000.  He comes to us with a great deal of knowledge and experience of the “other side” of our Diocese and a keenness to learn about this side of the Diocese!  Derwyn is married to Kim and they have an infant daughter, Helena.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Funeral Of Baroness Margaret Thatcher - 17th April 2013

I was pleased - relieved - to see that the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher went off without any real trouble. There were, inevitably, a few protestors lining the route of the procession from the Palace of Westminster to St Paul's, but these were very much in the minority, and barely audible above the spontaneous applause from the crowd as the coffin made it's slow progress through the streets atop the gun carriage being drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery.

There is no doubt that Margaret Thatcher MP was a a divisive figure whilst in Government, through I'm not going to make this post in any way a political statement. Whether you were for or against her, the one inescapable thing about death is that it brings us all to the same level. The exalted, the elite, the rich and the poor all have the same status as we depart this world. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But the real value of life is what we leave behind. What we have achieved, how we are remembered, the imprint we may have made on the lives of our friends, family and all of those we have encountered during our - albeit brief - time in this world. Did we do all that we set out to do? Could we have done more with the resources and the skills that God gave us? Have we followed the example of our Lord, or did we fall short?

These are the values that will be discussed, evaluated and measured in the aftermath of our lives, and none more so that in the case of Baroness Thatcher. In her case, our memories, and the memories of the people that follow us, will be shaped by the historians and the archivists. There is already talk of a Memorial Library, in the mould of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. How will she be remembered? What will they have to say?

Regardless of contemporary or subjective opinion, there can surely be no doubt that she was a powerful and influential leader. It is a fact that she was the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century, serving 11 years as Prime Minister and 15 years as leader of the Conservative Party. It's also a fact that she was a democratically elected leader of the UK. So regardless of anything else, these elements give her the right to respect and a place in history, and for some, a place in their hearts.

Thoughts, prayers and commiserations to her family and friends at this time of mourning.

RIP Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness ThatcherLG OM PC FRS (née Roberts, 13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Elections: 197919831987

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Micah Challenge Update

Friday 5th April marked 1000 days to go until the Deadline for the Millennium Development Goals - those 8 promises the world made in 2000 to halve extreme poverty by 2015. These very promises ignited the work we do at Micah Challenge - and it's been an interesting journey.

The EXPOSED global call to shine a light on corruption is now live and we need you to help us. Imagine the impact of 1 million people taking a stand against corruption which robs the poorest? Campaigning works. Join us and sign the call!

See more about the Micah challenge here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Would Jesus have had a Twitter account (part 2)

News and information is all around us, all of the time, everywhere we go, incessant, ubiquitous, demanding. Some people talk of information anywhere, anytime, but in fact, isn’t it more a case of information everywhere, all of the time?

Social media has given us the tools and facilities to become connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And this is increasingly a way of life for many people, as a recent newspaper survey discovered. The survey asked respondents a series of questions to determine how they used social media. According to the results:

  • 1 in 3 smartphone owners would rather give up sex than their mobile phone
  • 90% of 18 – 29 year olds say they will sleep with their phone in or beside their bed
  •  23% go on Twitter more than 10 times a day,
  • 51% check social network sites at dinner,
  • 62% use their phones while shopping and
  • 42% will stop a conversation if their phone beeps.

One person was quoted: 
Sometimes I wake up in the night and reach for my phone so I can do a Tweet”. 

And another “I take pictures of my food, my feet….pretty much anything and post it online”.

But let’s pause for a minute before condemning these excesses as the norm for today’s social media users. These are extreme behaviours, and hence why they were deemed newsworthy. Social media has brought enormous benefits and triggered some massive changes to society.  It’s no longer the case of injustice prevailing where there is a lone voice pleading to be heard. That lone voice can become many thousands, or even millions, when it is heard via the power of online social networks such as Twitter or Facebook.

The catalyst for what has become known as the “Arab Spring” was the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand, a municipal inspector confiscated his wares. An hour later he doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire. His death on 4 January 2011 was widely reported on social media, which brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing political system, including many unemployed, political and human rights activists, ultimately triggering the Tunisian revolution in search of equal rights and a more democratic government. As we now know, this ultimately spread to other autocratic Arab states, including Syria. This story is still unfolding, and quite where it will lead we do not know. But the significance of mass communication via social media, where just about anyone can have a voice – and be heard – cannot be underestimated as a catalyst for change.

Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford, recently admitted that the church had to find a better way of communicating with young people. RichardChartres, the Bishop of London, wants to recruit 100,000 Christians by 2020 to help communities and spread the gospel. In his Easter message he was reported as saying

 “…the church needed to understand social media better if it is to connect with young people”. He went on to say: “Facebook has been the most successful missionary movement of the past few years and the capacity of new media to challenge and sometime dissolve corporations and long-established institutions is huge”.

 It’s only taken 6 years, but it’s encouraging to know that, at last, the Church of England is taking social media seriously!

But let’s not think of social media purely as a tool for young people. It has as much benefit – if not more – for those of mature years (I neatly fit into this demographic!). More and more older people are finding that Facebook is a way – maybe the only way – of connecting with friends and family. Social networks can provide opportunities for learning a new skill, or joining a club or just participating in online conversations.  According to a report on social media demographics, 27% of users of social networks are aged 45 and over. 

And as if to prove that age is not a barrier to engaging with social media, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI took to Twitter at the age of 85, quickly building up more than 1.6 million followers before signing off the social network on Feb 28th following his almost unprecedented resignation, sending a final thankful tweet:

@PontifexMay you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.

Or this from the Dalai Lama:

@Dalailama “Anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that.”

So, coming back to the title of this piece, “would Jesus have had a Twitter account?”. An admittedly irreverent title, but with a serious intent. Jesus was only able to deliver his message to a relatively small number of people; his disciples, followers and those who heard his sermons or witnessed his miracles, and over a relatively short time span. We have to rely on the accuracy of historical records, where his words have been transcribed, translated, interpreted, published and preached over the centuries. Would he have wanted to spread his message more widely, more quickly and in his own words if he’d had the opportunity? Or did he know that his message would achieve greater impact and persistence (but less accuracy) when told and re-told through his disciples and followers? Answers on a postcard – or better still – here on the St Michael’s Discussion Forum!

The key point is that we now live in a highly connected world, a world where we no longer have to be passive consumers of news and information. Social media has given us the tools to become active participants in this global knowledge and information society.  We’ve always had a voice, now we can make it heard. It’s never been easier to find, connect and engage with people – so it’s encouraging that the Church is now starting to take it seriously as part of its outreach strategy.

If you would like to know more about St Michael’s use of social media, or have an opinion on this article please contact me via the comments, or email Steve Dale: