Jesus & Peter talk Animals

(Written for a service where we welcomed animals on Sunday 4th October2015 and inspired by the conversations written by John Bell and Graham Maule).

Peter: Jesus?

Jesus: Yes Peter?

Peter: I was wondering …

Jesus: what were you wondering about …

Peter: Well, it’s just … I wanted to know … whether … well … is there room for Rocky in the kingdom of God?

Jesus: You mean Rocky the hamster.

Peter: Yes. I love Rocky. We’ve been friends for years. And you keep talking about

the kingdom of God, and I was wondering is there a place for Rocky? Or is it just for humans.

Jesus: What does the Bible tell us?

Peter: Don’t ask me Jesus, you’re the expert.

Jesus: Well, what does it say in Genesis 1?

Peter: It says God created all the birds of the air and the fish in the sea and all the animals on the ground.

Jesus: And what does God say?

Peter: God said it was good.

Jesus: Yes God says all the creatures of the world are good. And what does it say in the story of Noah?

Peter: That God destroyed the world because of human wickedness.

Jesus: But he saves two of every kind of animal. God is interested not just in

saving Noah and his family, but all creatures. And after the flood when God makes a covenant to never destroy the world again, he says it is a covenant not just with Noah, not just with humans, but all creatures.

Peter: So what are you saying?

Jesus: I’m saying Peter that all creatures matter to God not just humans.

Peter: But what about Rocky? Is there room for Rocky in the kingdom?

Jesus: What does the prophet Isaiah say?

Peter: That God loves hamsters???

Jesus: Well not exactly … Isaiah says that ‘The wolf will lie with the lamb … and the lion will eat straw like the ox … and they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD’

Peter: What does that mean?

Jesus: This is Isaiah’s picture of God’s intention for creation, for the new heavens and the new earth … it’s a picture where all creation, humans and animals are at peace.

Peter: Wow!

Jesus: Wow indeed!

Peter: So if all creatures matter to God, Rocky matters to God.

Jesus: I’m saying that God declares all that he creates as good –
whether it be trees, animals, or humans;
and everything God creates, God cares for, provides for;
and everything God creates is created to praise God.
As the Psalmist says:
‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’

Peter: Oh, Rocky loves to praise God … he’s always squeaking!

Jesus: I’m sure he has a fine voice.

Peter: Thanks Jesus.

Jesus: What for?

Peter: These little chats, always helpful.

Jesus: My pleasure, Peter.

Hearing the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end

Marks_Gospel_1[2]Most of the time we read only a few verses, maybe a chapter, but rarely if ever do we get the whole story from beginning to end. This morning we had a go at hearing the whole of Mark's gospel from beginning to end. We heard it through twenty-five different characters (there was room for many more) recounting their encounter with Jesus as Mark's gospel tells it. A door stood at the front of the church and through the service, different characters telling us of the Jesus they met. Out of the door came John the Baptist, Andrew, Levi, Jarius' daughter, the Syro-Phoneician woman, a child, Peter, Judas, the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany, Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and many more. Mark's gospel is full of encounter, never really stopping, before Jesus is meeting another life. We got a vivid sense of all the myriad of responses to Jesus that the gospel of Mark presents you with. We thanked God for the gospel, we said sorry for so often making it dull and we prayed for others through the eyes of the different characters with their need for faith, courage, welcome, mercy and so on. We sang songs and hymns that spoke of Jesus' ministry - my favourite was one I found this week from John Bell called 'In the Byre at Bethlehem' (there's a great version here). I rarely blog about church, but it was great to have such a multi-voiced occasion, bringing the gospel of Mark alive.

Marks_Gospel_2  Marks_Gospel_10 Marks_Gospel_9

Jesus and Mary: An Off-the-Record Conversation

John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community wrote a series of excellent imagined conversations between Jesus and Peter (originally written in the 1980s, but published as a set by Wild Goose, 1999). This is my attempt to write one between Jesus and Mary as part of a service today which will engage with the BMS resource Dignity.

Mary:            Jesus? 

Jesus:            Yes Mary?

Mary:            You never seem to care what anybody thinks.

Jesus:            What do you mean?

Mary:            Well here we all are – us women – and here you are.
                       Most rabbis have no time for women disciples.
                       Most rabbis seem ok encouraging the men to pray
                              ‘Thank God I’m not a Gentile, not a slave and not a woman.

Jesus:            Mary I’m not most rabbis.

                        Anyone the scriptures say:
                           “God created humankind in his image,
                            in the image of God he created them;
                           male and female he created them.”

Mary:            Jesus, do you remember Peter’s mother-in-law?
                How you healed her and immediately she was rushing round
                the house trying to make you a meal
                 and she kept telling Peter what to do, he went bright red.

Jesus:            Yes that was funny.
                   Do you remember when I healed Tamar, the daughter of Jarius.
                  There was all that wailing because they believed she was dead,
                  and then she comes running down the stairs dancing and clapping –
                  full of the joy of God. 

Mary:            It was like a glimpse of heaven … especially when you told Jarius to cook her a meal.           

                     I remember the woman, so brave she was,
                     who reached out a grabbed the edge of your cloak.
                     12 years she had suffered, 12 years!
                     and yet she found the strength to reach out.
                     I would have run off when you asked who it was who had touched you,
                     but she didn’t hide, but stepped forward
                     and you smiled and she smiled.

Jesus:           What about that time I came to visit ...

Mary:            And Martha complained that I didn’t help her.

Jesus:            That’s what I love about Martha, she’s a plain-speaker. And when I get talking …

Mary: (interrupting) You never stop!

Jesus:            (hands up, laughing) I know, I know.

                      Mary, you know my message: the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near
                      You know what that means don’t you?

Mary:            I think so Jesus. I think it means that you are making everything right
                       which has gone wrong.
                       I think it means that you’re ending the curse of Eve, that we would always be those
                        ruled by men.

Jesus:            Yes Mary that is what part of the kingdom is about. The kingdom of God
                        is about reversing the curse of sin.

Mary:            Do you think all that you are doing will ever get written down?
                       Like the stories of Moses and David and Elijah.

Jesus:            And the stories of Miriam, Ruth and Esther.           
                       They might do.

 Mary:            And they will tell all about the people’s lives you changed and all the people you called          
                         to follow you.           

 Jesus:            If they do, you’ll be in there. You and Joanna, Susanna and Martha and the other  
                         Mary. There is no story without any of you and the many others. Your acts will never
                         be forgotten.

Mary:            I remember when I first met you. You look at me and you saw me.
                       It was the most terrifying and wonderful moment.
                       You changed me.
                       You were the first man to see me and not want me for anything.

Jesus:            It was like a glimpse of heaven.

20 years of Matt Redman music

103603cover_bIt is 20 years this year since the first Matt Redman album, Wake Up My Soul, and since then he has released 11 albums and written over 120 songs. Redman was at the forefront of a new generation of UK worship song writers that emerged in the mid-1990s (others included Martin Smith, Paul Oakley, Lou and Nathan Fellingham, Stuart Townend, Tim Hughes, Martyn Layzell and Vicky Beeching). Redman et al, were the generation that followed Graham Kendrick, Noel Richards, Dave Fellingham and Dave Bilbrough, who dominated the 1980s and early 1990s. Redman emerged as the face of Soul Survivor and was its chief song writer from 1994 to the early 2000s, at which point he left and has spent time in the US with Passion (Louie Giglo, Chris Tomlin and others), but is now based back in the UK in Brighton.

5099996785324Redman songs have found a wide audience and some have become a regular feature of UK churches  - 'I will offer up my life', 'Jesus Christ (Once Again)', 'When the music fades', 'Blessed be your name', 'You never let go' and '10, 000 reasons (Bless the Lord)' perhaps the best well known.

Within the limits of the rock-pop worship song genre, Matt Redman is its one of the best proponents. He has the abiltiy to stick a set of interesting lyrics to a memorable melody which is (mostly) singable for a congregation. For the most part, I find, Redman a cut above his peers in terms of the content of his songs. The still fairly small and limited critical engagement with contemporary worship music associated with Soul Survivor, Passion, New Frontiers, Hillsong and others is generally very critical (and for the most part not wrong) of often banal, trivial, repetitive lyrics that get churned out year after year. Redman has demonstrated the gift to write songs that offer some depth of content and that got beyond the same recycled phrases.

G36470iwjbfSix examples:

Remembrance (Communion Song) - Co-written with the Catholic worship leader Matt Maher, this is a song that offers an excellent theology of the table

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made - Co-written with Matt's wife Beth, this song is based on Psalm 139

Befriended - This simple song speaks of the gospel and how Jesus befriends, invites and surrounds and to which we surrender, delight, find ourselves astounded and determined to live in response to the gospel

Light of the World - This is Redman's most Christologically focused song, based on John 1 and Colossians 1.15-20

Show me the way of the cross - Written in 1996 this song shows Redman explores the demands of Jesus' words in Mark 8.34-36 

Your grace finds me - The title track from his most recent album points to God's grace present in the world - in birth, in the everyday, at a wedding day and by the graveside - and that God's grace is no different for the saint or sinner, those who are rich or poor.

Matt-redmanAt the same time I hope Redman goes on to write songs:

- that connect with different parts of a worship service - songs for confession, thanksgiving, intercession, illumination (great to see that Your Grace Finds Me ends with song called 'Bendiction').

- that connect with the different seasons of the church: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost (Redman songs land most often in Epiphany or Lent).

- that connect with doctrine - Trinity, Christology, Pneumatology, Creation, Ecclesiology, Eschatology (Redman spends a lot of time writing songs that are doctrinally focused on atonement or providence). Redman wrote a 'Foreword' to Robin Parry's Worshipping Trinity (2004) and wrote his most trinitarian song around the same time 'Gifted Response' (Facedown album), but the four albums since have not evidenced a trinitarian turn, in fact, disappointingly almost the opposite. 

- that connect with the life of Jesus - Redman has written little or nothing of songs that tell us the story of Jesus' life, other than incarnation or the cross.

Songs that connect with the worship service, the church year, with doctrine and with the life of Jesus, have all been part of a project by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, who have written a whole bunch of modern hymns that have resourced the church (although stuck in one narrow understanding of atonement). It is possibly easier for them, because the hymn offers more scope lyrically.  Matt_Redman-The_Friendship_And_The_Fear1

When worship song writers are not deliberately writing in these areas, we end up songs dominated by the songwriter's own faith journey and so leave us short of songs that tell the whole drama of salvation.

For two recent studies that include some engagement with Matt Redman, see my article, '"It's all about Jesus"' in Evangelical Theology 81.3 (July 2009) and Steve Holmes' article, 'Listening for the Lex Orandi' in Scottish Journal of Theology 66.2 (May 2013) and in a broader context Pete Ward's Selling Worship.

The Big Story (a guest post by Ashley Lovett)

[Ashley is a friend and fellow Baptist minister. The following was his attempt of telling the Bible's story on Bible Sunday a few weeks ago.]

The big story of the Bible starts with
It starts with God speaking.
And God's first words in this story are,
'Let's have light',
'Let's have sky, sea, land, trees, plants, whales, fish, birds, animals',
and finally,
'Let's have people, men and women, boys and girls'.
That's what God said.
And from his words everything was created. Big, small, powerful,
delicate, bright, beautiful,
diverse, wondrous,
and good, very good.

But sadly not for long.
Sadly all that God had created was spoiled.
And it was the people that he had made,
the people who were the last and best of all that he created,
it was the people that spoiled it.
God had made them for friendship.
But they thought they could do better than that.
Despite all that God had given them they wanted even more.
They wanted to be like God.
And so they broke God's only rule
and they broke God's heart.

The big story becomes a family story.
At the head of the family are Abraham and Sarah,
and their story,
and the story of his sons,
and their wives and children,
takes us back to God's original purpose:
friendship. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob enjoy the friendship of God...
most of the time.
As their friend,
God wants them to have a home,
a place of their own, a land,
where they will learn to live
as God's friends,
as friends together, where they will model to the world
what living as God's friends looks like.

But before they can move in they have to get there.
And getting there
turns out to be harder
and take longer
than Abraham or his family imagined.
For they are still like the people who broke God's heart.
Every step in the right direction
is followed by one that takes them the wrong way.
And they end up in the wrong place.
In Egypt...
as slaves.

The family story becomes a rescue story.
Through a man named Moses
God speaks to Egypt.
'Let my people go'.
At first Egypt refused and so God tried to persuade them.
He tried one thing after another until they got the message.
And it was a bitter message for Egypt, especially for Egypt's mothers, and fathers.

With Moses leading them
God's people are back on the road
to the home he had promised.
But before they can go there
God wants to restore their friendship.
And to help them remember
he writes down what it means.
For him and for them.
For him to be their God.
For them to be his people.
Ten important words.
Ten words of life.
Ten words...

The family story becomes a nation's story.
The people are home in the land God promised to Abraham.
But being a nation is tougher than being a family.
Especially if you're still like the people who broke God's heart.
Living in the land alongside one another is hard for them.
Living with suspicious neighbours is harder.
There are skirmishes.
With Edom, with Moab, with Philistia.
There are colourful characters – Deborah, Gideon, Samson –
and outrageous stories.
And it all ends with Samuel.
Samuel is the last because...

The nation's story is now the story of kings...
and prophets.
Saul is the first king,
he's impressive, but impatient.
David is next, only a boy,
but the boy who slew a giant.
He's not perfect,
in fact so far from it that we might wonder what God saw in him,
the answer was a heart that wanted to enjoy God's friendship more than anything.
Which was, we remember,
God's purpose all along.
And then there was Solomon.
Some say he was wise.
And some say it was his foolishness that broke the nation into two parts.

While the kings prospered the people didn't always do so well.
And often, even with David, God got forgotten.
The ten words didn't help.
The kings ignored them.
The people ignored them.
God's rules and God's heart were broken again and again.
Sometimes the people acted as God's friends.
Sometimes they didn't.
So God chose prophets, people like Elijah and Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah,
and he sent them to speak,
to remind the people who they were,
to remind them about their friendship,
to warn them of the trouble they were making for themselves.
And of what was happening in the nations around...

The story of kings and prophets becomes a disaster story.
Assyria invades.
One part of the kingdom disappears.
Babylon invades.
The other part is gone.
The prophets say that God has judged his people.
The prophets say that God is no fool.
The prophets say that God's friendship cannot be abused or taken for granted.

Exile was a disaster worse than slavery in Egypt.
Now the people had really lost something.
God's gift of home, of land, of an identity,
had gone.
Some wondered if the story would end there.
But it didn't...
God brought the people back from exile,
back to their land,
and they rebuilt
their homes, their towns and cities,
but it wasn't the same.
Exile had changed things.
And God was silent, their world was wordless,
for 400 years. Until...

Jesus was born
in an obscure little place called Bethlehem.
He was the first son of a fairly ordinary peasant couple.
He was nobody,
and almost nobody noticed,
or cared,
when he was born.
And yet in this story he turns out to be...
the very author of the story itself.

The disaster story becomes the story of God's great surprise.
As he enters the story in the most unexpected way.
God becomes a baby...
a child...
a young man.
He makes friends.
He speaks about the way that friends of God will live.
He forgives those who have broken God's rules and broken God's heart.
What he says, what he does, everything about him, draws people to him.
They become friends with God again.
Hearts were changed.
Lives were changed. It was amazing....

It was …
never going to last.
Not among a people who still wanted to be like God.
Who still thought that their way was better than his.
Jesus made enemies and those enemies conspired to kill him.
Together they betrayed, tortured, denied, abandoned,
crucified, mocked, and murdered
Even though it was his story, his world, and they were his people.

For a moment the whole story collapsed
into one single life,
as all ambition, greed, jealousy, rage, bitterness,
all that spoils and destroys what God made
found itself undone on the cross
as Jesus died.
That end was also
the beginning
as three days later,
from the grave,
resurrection, a freed humanity.
'Goodness was stronger than evil
light was stronger than darkness
life was stronger than death.'*
And as Jesus drew
resurrection breath into his lungs
new life burst into the world
and friendship, true friendship,
became possible again,
possible for all people,
in God's story.

The big story of the Bible,
the story of a family,
that became a nation,
the story of kings and prophets,
the story of Egypt and Exile,
of rescue and disaster,
the story of friendship sought and lost and found again,
in Jesus,
because of Jesus,
through Jesus,
is now the story of the Church.

The story began again in Jerusalem,
began again at Pentecost,
when the Spirit of Jesus came to live in his friends,
and it spread across the known-world,
to Antioch in Syria,
to Galatia and Ephesus,
to Macedonia and Philippi,
to Crete, Cyprus and Rome.
And as the story spread,
and as the Church grew,
more and more people became God's friends
and started to live the way friends should.

The big story of the Bible,
the story of the Church,
is our story,
because Jesus makes it possible for us to enjoy God's friendship too.
He has written us in.
The Bible might have a last page
but God's story is still being told.
In our lives.
And through our words...

* Based on words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu

(A targum of sorts) on Philippians 1.27-2.16

A targum inspired by the excellent work Brian Walsh and Slyvia Keesmaat in Colossians Remixed and dependent on Stephen Fowl's excellent Philippians commentary

I give thanks to God
I rejoice
I feel glad
I find delight
in your heavenly selection,
in your grace-filled call,
and your clear response
to be partners,
fellow actors
committed players
in God’s salvation drama.
We are called,
in ways known and still to be made known,
to offer a daily performance,
out of grace, for the sake of God’s glory
of this greatest play –
simple in storyline
but deep, rich, profound in meaning and promise.

So live a life together that demonstrates
and makes plain
for all to see
that God,
through the gospel of Jesus,
is working in your lives
and we are found in his.
Don’t go thinking this life can be lived in private
Out of earshot or eyesight
This gospel contains a new politics
A new ordering of heart, mind and hand
A call of duty,
but to Christ not nation
to cross not sword
to joy not pleasure
to humility not ambition
to love not self-interest
to koinonia not independence
to gospel.

Live this shared life
before God the divine playwright and director,
with obedience
with ‘fear and trembling’,
with recognition that the plot is not about you
with humility that yours is a supporting role.
So learn your parts,
its lines and actions …
rehearse, practise, study
its words and directions
so that just as stars shine in the night sky,
your joint witness will stand out and be noticed by a world
too often captivated and satiated
by the powers of media, celebrity and shopping.

Live this shared life on God’s stage,
in God’s play,
even where the audience is hostile,
even where their reviews are dismissive,
even where there is a threat to your freedom …

Lived this shared life,
looking out for one another,
wanting each other to give their best performance –
you are a company of players,
a community of God
there’s no room for prima donnas
or space for long individual soliloquies.
Live this life together
not for the applause of others, not for prestige
but for the sake of others
your thoughts should be
‘myself for the community’

At the centre of this drama,
and also at it’s beginning and ending,
is Jesus Christ.
It is his life,
his death,
his resurrection
that have made it possible for you to be called to act.
It is his life,
his death,
his resurrection
that give the star performance,
the perfect performance,
the performance that God intended
to which we are summoned to follow,
seeking to mimic his words, his actions, his presence.
Therefore may your imagination be fascinated,
captivated, animated by Jesus par excellence.

Giving up his advantage
Laying down his divine status
Jesus became like us.
He took God’s stage
as a human entering our prison of sin
one like us
one for us
seeking our benefit
seeking our salvation.
He was obedient
a slave to the script
to the part he was sent to play
obedient to the point of death
a humiliating death
a cross-shaped death.

Jesus chooses slavery
To abandon his freedom
Jesus chooses death
To give up his control
Jesus chooses a cross
To accept humiliation and suffering.*
This is the true performance
This is the gospel script
This is the life we follow.

And out of this
out of this life,
out of this death,
God – who began it all –
lifted Jesus up
to the highest point
and bestowed on him the Name above all names
that everything
above, below, within
will see and respond,
will sing and shout
'Jesus Christ is Lord.'

This is the star performance,
the perfect performance,
and it’s our guide
and our template.
Christ is the one God is
bringing us into line with;
it’s the one we are working to imitate,
in heart and mind,
body and soul,
living and dying.

*These lines borrowed in part from Sam Wells sermon 'Outrageous Humility'. 


Sam Wells on How To Pray Well in Public

9781848254602Samuel Wells, Crafting Prayers for Public Worship: The Art of Intercession (Canterbury, 2013), 123pp

Getting intercessory prayers right is not always easy. Learning how to get them right is not always obvious. So this new short little book from Sam Wells is welcome to all whose task it is to lead prayers during worship. Too often prayers of intercession can be an after thought (most often) to the sermon, but Wells suggests these prayers may be the important part of any worship service.

The book is divided into four chapters on how to craft good prayers and then three chapters of examples of prayers Wells wrote and used whilst Dean of Duke Chapel. Wells presents what intercessory prayer is and how it relates to the rest of worship (and so what it should and should not try to do, e.g. it is not an alternative sermon!) and then offers ways to structure these prayers using the form the collect and shaped in response to scripture, with imperative verbs and following the pattern of resurrection, transfiguration or incarnation. Wells encourages those who pray to pay attention to language, especially the use of 'our' and its easy ability to be exclusive. A final chapter, 'Fine Tuning' offers some reflections on the use of repetition, responses, silence and extempore prayer.

There is so much to take from these chapters that the danger may be that the intercessor may feel overwhelmed with everything to include. I take Well's suggestions not primarily as a checklist, but instead providing something of the 'craft' and 'art' of public prayer, which takes time to learn - we become more experienced as we see prayer as a craft with a tradition and a shape (for Wells this is rooted in the collect). The book itself is easy to read and while it may overwhelm, Wells demonstrates clearly how prayers can be put together that do what they need to do. 

The book ends with a selection of Wells own prayers that are shaped around seasons, ordinary time and particular occasions demonstration the art of good prayers - rich in theology and strong in expectation.

For my own Baptist tradition, I would encourage every minister to read the book and then share it with those others who lead the intercessions. I certainly plan to get a church copy and use it as a means of teaching people (myself included) how to pray to God for the people. As I read Crafting Prayers, it struck me that complements and builds on Chris Ellis' (a Baptist!) guide to leading worship Approaching God (Canterbury, 2009).


It's been a while since I blogged. Preaching on baptism today, inspired by Paul Fiddes' paper 'Baptism and Creation' (found in Reflections on the Water or Tracks and Traces). Below is something of a sermon summary.

Creator God you
Gave life at our water birth.
For some the labour was short, for others it was long;
Your Spirit throughout, the midwife of our new beginning

Holy God you
Washed us clean in that sacred bath,
Cleansed us of our sin and shame,
Scrubbed us with your grace detergent
Blessed us with love and righteousness

Saving God you
Rescued us from these deathly waters,
In which we came to die
That in Christ we might live again
To walk your way and sing your song

Beckoning God you
Called us;
The water that we walked through
a wardrobe to a new country;
now citizens of heaven,
Pilgrims on the road,
Living in two ages,
With a new language
For head and heart and hand

Reviving God you
Filled us with living water;
That restores our soul,
That gives life to our living
And faith for our future.
We have drunk of your Spirit
The gift and seal of your promise
And presence.

There is a line of women

This John Bell hymn has been appearing around facebook today, I think Craig Gardiner was the first to share it. We need more of this kind of hymns/songs in our churches today.

There is a line of women
extending back to Eve
whose role in shaping history
God only could conceive.
And though, through endless ages,
their witness was repressed,
God valued and encouraged them
through whom the world was blessed.
So sing a song of Sarah
to laughter she gave birth;
and sing a song of Tamar
who stood for women's worth;
and sing a song of Hannah
who bargained with her Lord;
and sing a song of Mary
who bore and bred God's Word.

There is a line of women
who took on powerful men
defying laws and scruples
to let life live again.
And though, despite their triumph,
their stories stayed untold
God kept their number growing,
creative, strong and bold.
So sing a song of Shiphrah
with Puah close at hand,
engaged to kill male children,
they foiled the king's command.
And sing a song of Rahab
who sheltered spies and lied;
and sing a song of Esther
preventing genocide.

There is a line of women
who stood by Jesus' side,
who housed him while he ministered
and held him when he died.
And though they claimed he'd risen
their news was deemed suspect
till Jesus stood among them,
his womanly elect.
So sing a song of Anna
who saw Christ's infant face;
and sing a song of Martha
who gave him food and space;
and sing of all the Marys
who heeded his requests,
and now at heaven's banquet
are Jesus' fondest guests.

John L Bell (born 1949) © 2002 WGRG, Iona Community, 4th floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland

Catriona Gorton (first woman to be a Baptist minister in sole charge in the Baptist Union of Scotland) has penned this excellent extra verse.

There is a line of women
continued down through time
Continuing to persevere
in living for their Lord
And though the church moves slowly
and trips over its feet
Yet still they keep on trusting
God's call upon their lives.
So sing a song for Edith [Gates]*
Who pioneered the way
and sing a song of others
who do the same today
And sing of all the women
who strive to do their best
as people called to serve God
in every time and place

*Edith Gates was the first woman ordained a Baptist minister in England in the 20th Century, back in 1929, and along with a Congregationalist of roughly the same date, one of first two in any tradition in the UK.

Once More Twitter and Worship

Peter posted a helpful series of comments in response to original post to which I want to try and respond.

1. Avoid the sacred:secular divide which has developed between services and life where people are encouraged to leave their 'lives' and 'troubles' at the door for a spiritual experience apart from their context.

Worship should definitely avoid the extreme of this - we should bring our wholeselves and leave nothing at the door. Although I think there is something 'sacred' about gathering intentionally around Word and sacrament, which is different from other things we might do in life. I'm not sure this is an argument for tweeting though.

2. Help a duplex relationship between the service and the rest of reality. (duplex communication / relationship flows in both directions and are dialogical)

The concern here is to avoid one-way conversation, where one leads, speaks, prays and the rest of the congregation are passive - a more two-way conversation. Many church traditions would understand worship as a two-way conversation between God and his people ... God gathers, welcomes, addressses us through scripture, sends and we respond in praise, confession, petition and intercession. Does twitter generate a truly two-way conversation (especially when limited to 140 characters)?

3. Avoid churchs' over-emphasis on asynchronous broadcast techniques (static church websites, mp3's of sermons, video broadcast of services, sermon notes in the notice sheet, home group resources, letter from the pastors desk, etc). To do this by providing a complimentary synchronous engagement between people so allowing live-time conversation.(The notion of synchronous communication develops the previous point about duplex)

Is the first point that the church needs to be more culturally relevant (hipster christianity) - why has relevance become the highest good, trumping all others? With regard to the second point, why does there have to be live-conversation - cannot the conversation follow having listened and actually does it not exclude those who are preaching, praying, presiding from any conversation?

4. Makes our meetings more 'in the public square' and hosted by culture (as in hosted by twitter platform) and so we are hosted by culture (incarnational) and Christ can then be mediated through culture to convert his church to him.

I'm struggling to entirely understand this point. 

5. Twitter provides an enduring trail and continuity of conversation beyond the time of the sevice

Why can't this happen afterwards? 

6. Allows those beyond the service to participate

So saying 'no need to be present, you can be part of the service and still lie in bed ...'?

7. Helps kinaesthetic learners, who often struggle with church services, engage with and process a mainly auditory experience which is often more monologue.

Ok possibly, but we can do this without twitter. This seems to me to be more a point about the content of worship, with which I have some sympathy.

8. Enculturates the Gospel - twitter is particularly relevant to certain demographics and so it gets the church out of a sometimes odd sub-culture rather than a contextualised and also counter-cultural stance

In my opinion the church should be in an counter-culture stance. Accomodation to culture here - allowing ourselves never to be separated from our phone - is to encourage an unhealthy attachment to technology. In my view the virtues of patience, self-control and paying attention are more important to learn by asking people to leave their phones switched off and saying they will not be needed to participate. Accomodation provides no place for being critical over the use of technology - it becomes an idol.

9. as our mouth and ears are part of our physical body so our phone and tweeting (listening/speaking) are an extension and expression of being human

Really? Is this suggesting I am less human if I fail to use my phone and tweet?

10. provides a tool to facilitate multi-voiced worship in larger (20+?) gatherings where it cannot easily be achieved through conversation alone. Be that person to person or/and a way for the main service leader (if there is one) to be asked questions, challenged and corrected.

While the Mennonite practice of discernment following the sermon is to be encouraged - 'The last word belongs to the congregation not to the preacher. We deliberately divest the preacher of control over the gospel' (Presence: Giving and Receving God, p.viii) ... not sure if this requires a phone and tweeting. Possibly.

11. distributes power and discernment of truth amongst a wider group than the one(s) with the microphone - though this then has the knock on of a newly disempowered group of those without smart phone which needs addressing.

Does it give 'discernment of truth'? and I think your point about a newly disempowered group is a strong one against using twitter in worship.


Nothing here has convinced me that twitter is a positive contribution to worship and I believe there are still strong arguments of making space here, and in other points of our lives, to disconnect us from the networked world, that we might live apart from technology. In Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman writes (in 1992!) argues that technopology consists in the deficiation of technology, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds it satisfaction in technology, and takes its orders from technology' (quoted in Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down by Marva Dawn, Eerdmans, 1995, pp.28-29).