Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Category: killgeorge (Page 1 of 6)

Towards a new, sustainable model of parochial ministry for the Church of England. If you meet George Herbert on the road… kill him!

Why Calvinists can’t be poets (and vice versa)?

…there is a fundamental sense in which a Protestant theology of grace poses a problem for poets. This is especially so in Calvin’s development of sola gratia, where the insistence on the total depravity of fallen humanity prevents human action from earning God’s gifts of salvation and sanctification. Human agency is thoroughly impotent in this regard, and apart from the direct intervention of God himself, all human actions are vitiated by sin. As Calvin’s Institutes articulate this notion, “only damnable things come forth from man’s corrupted nature.” [2.3.289] Thus all human actions seem either to be sinful, because they are the product of a totally depraved human nature, or not really human at all, since any “good” action can only be the direct result of God’s agency. This theology places the religious poet on the horns of a similar dilemma. On the one hand, it is surely the calling of the Christian poet to write Christian poetry; on the other, if faithful poetry is just a mark of an already complete saving act of God, what can the poet add to that act by writing? Does it not even risk blasphemy to try and write “in excess” of the command of God?

Shaun Ross, ‘Sacrifices of Thanksgiving: The Eucharist in “The Temple”’, George Herbert Journal 40, no. 1 (Fall  /Spring 2017 2016): p. 4.

Fees, managerialism and the death of the Church of England

I’ve had a comment piece  published on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, examining what the Parochial Fees Order means for the future of the Church of England. A taster:

On Saturday the General Synod of the Church of England will turn its attention to a little piece of housekeeping, the parochial fees order, through which the fees charged by churches for weddings and funerals are regulated. This might seem unremarkable, but, in reality, if the order is passed, it will mark the triumph of managerialism and the end of the Church of England as we have known it. The order is flawed, pastorally, practically and ecclesiologically.

Read it all here.

Kill George reprints (again!)

Kill GeorgeA year after it was published, If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him has now been reprinted— twice. The cover is slightly redesigned, with a generous blurb on the back from the Bishop of Buckingham, for which I am grateful— as I am to everyone who has bought the book and spread the word.

The reassuring thing about the reprint is that the egregrious typo on page 9 (for which I, and only I, am responsible) has been corrected.

I am still available for CME days, deanery chapters, diocesan synods, baptisms, bar-mitzvahs and funerals. Contact me if you’d like to hear me justify my ideas!

A Blueprint for the Reconstruction of the Ministry (or, “are we there yet?”)

There is no doubt that what the evidence urges upon us is a reform of the ministerial structure and of the pastoral machinery of the Church… Though the difficulties stare us in the face, the alternatives are chilling— to do nothing, which means to abandon the nation to its religious decline and the clergy to their isolation, or to attempt a few piecemeal reforms which may save face but leave the central missionary problem to the conurbations unresolved. The crux of the whole problem… seem to me this— though short of manpower the Church cannot use the clergy it has effectively as it ought to: it is a bad steward. It needs more clergy, but it has no moral right to ask for them unless it can deploy them effectively. … At the same time it does not want a harassed, servile, or timid clergy as the price of reorganisation: as a profession the clergy needs to be raised in standards and stature, not lowered.

Any guess as to author and date?

  • Leslie Paul (a professional sociologist)
  • January 1964.1

So the question occurs to me, will someone wake me up when we get there?

  1. Leslie A. Paul, The Deployment and Payment of the Clergy (Westminster: Church Information Office for the Central Advisory Council for the Ministry, 1964), p. 171. []

Going to North Carolina in the fall

I have been invited to be the keynote speaker for the biennial clergy conference for the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, by their diocesan, Bishop Michael B. Curry. I will be speaking to the clergy of the diocese, in Winston-Salem, from 12 – 14 October.

The invitation was extended to me on the basis of my book, Kill GeorgeIf You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry (published by Continuum last year and recently reprinted). I will be giving three addresses and preaching the sermon for the conference eucharist.

You can see a discussion between the bishop and myself about what we hope to achieve in the conference with the YouTube video below:

The diocese’s notice about the conference is here.

Bricks and Straw

Sky at St Deiniol'sLast week I spent some time in that little piece of heaven on earth gifted to us by William Gladstone, St Deiniol’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales. I was there to read, mooch, drink beer and tell jokes with friends, but also to teach a four day course on the perils of Herbertism and the solutions of the KGH approach to parish ministry.

There were fifteen on the course, all but one clergy (and the lay person was a churchwarden, who sportingly described himself as the “twelfth man”). The length of licensed ministry varied from thirty-four to three years. It was, of course, a self-selecting group: you don’t attend a course called If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry unless you think that your priestly ministry needs radical rethinking. Even so, it was striking how many of the experiences, frustrations, rewards and assumptions that emerged during the writing of my book were reflected in the ministries of these varied priests (C of E, Church in Wales, and Episcopal Church of the US).

On the first evening I asked everyone to think of the one thing that was missing from their lives that would make all the difference to them. Up came:

Space & Time

It was clear as our discussions developed that “space and time” were being treated as the carrot of ministry: when you get all your work done, if you managed to complete the paperwork, when you have fulfilled the work-quota, if you have contented the internal and external drivers of your life, then you will be rewarded with some “space and time”. You will have a little bit of time to yourself.

As the discussions developed it became clear to me, in my own mind as well as in the minds of those on the course, how powerfully this “lollipop for the vicar” model was embedded in our lives. And how wrong it is.

Space and Time are NOT the reward for getting your priestly ministry done: they are the necessities for getting your priestly ministry done. Without space and time priestly ministry is impossible to undertake, in any kind of healthy, sustainable, joyful and fulfilling way1. Space and time is the fuel for ministry, or rather, and more accurately, it is the way in which the individual minister co-operates with God in allowing the Holy Spirit to become part, the controlling part, of his/her ministry. Space and time denies the persistent heresy that ministry is down to us: as Hans Küng put it:

The opus operatum [the work done] is not an opus operatum ministri [work done through the ministry], but an opus operatum of Jesus Christ.2

Allowing ourselves space and time forces us to accept the fact that it isn’t down to us to build God’s Church, to fulfil His quotas, to save God’s people. It is the work of the Holy Spirit unleashed by the saving ministry of Christ.

“Space and Time” is what an earlier (healthier?) ecclesiology called contemplation. The minister of the Gospel needs to be in the presence of God, and to prevent pride, to remind him/herself that they are in the presence of God3.

This is what the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas, was getting at when he described the purpose of the Christian vocation:

Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere.
“contemplate and give to others the fruits of your contemplation”4

Contemplation is not something that can be done in 6 minute bursts. There is no such thing as “power-contemplation”, or “multi-tasking meditation”. It requires time and space to achieve (or, rather, and more accurately again, it requires time and space to allow ourselves to get out of the way in order for the fruits of the Holy Spirit at work within us to grow).

Mark Yaconelli, who comes from a tradition very different from the Dominican scholar, also puts it this way:

In the Christian community there is a [deep] block: we no longer know how to be with God. In the church we love to debate God, defend God, protect or promote God. We talk to God, praise God, and even serve God. The one thing for we have little time or patience is actually spending time with God. If you’re a pastor in a church, one sure way to get fired is to set aside ten minutes of silence during a worship service for people just to ‘be’ with God. Try this a few times and soon the church leadership will be inviting you to ‘be’ somewhere else.5

Which is understandable, because from the outside ‘being’ with God looks like the most unproductive thing in the world. Nothing is happening. No one is being spoken to, cared for, built up. No projects are being actioned, moved on. Nothing is developing. It’s just a person in a room being quiet.

As I said in Kill George :

But sometimes what is seen as ‘waste of time’ is actually fallow ground becoming fruitful.

I’ll say it again. Space and Time are not the reward for the effective parish priest. Space and Time are the means for a parish priest to be a faithful parish priest. Space and Time are the means by which that ministry is built up. To attempt to do otherwise is to submit oneself to the employment practices of Pharaoh, where bricks are to be made without straw, as a punishment for being lazy.

If you feel that this is regime under which you labour, whether the Pharaoh is internal or external, remember that bricks need straw, and ministry needs contemplation, and fruits are made to be grown and shared in the richness of space and time ‘wasted’ in the presence of God.

  1. And I’m not talking about the rewards of personal fulfilment here. I speaking of the fulfilment that comes through experiencing the fruits of the Spirit in your life and ministry. If being “poured out” and “completing the race” was OK for Paul, then it’s OK for his successors. []
  2. Hans Küng, Structures of the Church, (London: Burns & Oates, 1965), p. 165-166 []
  3. to prevent the mistake that any “successes” you may experience are down to you and your efforts: this is what Article XI of the 39 Articles is warning us against! []
  4. Often said to derive from Summa Theologica II.II q.188 a.6. []
  5. Mark Yaconelli, Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus with Young People, (London, SPCK; 2006), p. 3. []

Monetizing Kill George

It’s amazing how many different and varied ways Christians have found to monetize their faith, flogging bits and pieces necessary to be a happy, fulfilled and righteous Christian to other unhappy, unfulfilled and slightly wealthier Christians. I am not talking about indulgences or saints’ relics here. I mean the bookshops, tatshops, “resource areas” that accompany any gathering of Christians larger than a single congregation. Conference invites speaker, speaker gives talk, conference points audience to bookshop, speaker flogs wares.


This is where 3 Minute Theologian has been missing out.

So I am pleased to announce, with the co-operation of CafePress.com (that fine purveyor of design-your-own drinkware and wear-wares), the world’s first OFFICIAL Kill George Herbert merchandising opportunity solution.

Gasp! at the generously proportioned beverage mug!

Be amazed! at the sophisticate design and elegantly proportioned T-Shirt!

Er! That’s it! (for the moment)

Both T-Shirt and Mug are emblazoned with a WWGHD? graphic to display your allegiance to all things post-Herbertian.

  • Imagine the insightful and advantageous conversations that will strike up with the Senior Staff at your next Clergy Conference when they see you declaring your thoughtful and frankly gorgeous allegiance to the Blessed George.
  • Imagine the opportunities to tell the postman that no, he wasn’t just a hymn writer, as you come to the door in your pyjama bottoms and Tee!
  • Think of the 200 clergy in your diocese and 300 clergy in your hotmail contacts list, each of whom deserve to be introduced to the wonders of WWGHD? Buy a mug and T-shirt for each!

Coming soon!

  • WWGHD maniples!
  • WWGHD embossed covers for Common Worship!
  • WWGHD USB sticks!
  • WWGHD rubber bracelets!
  • More! More! More! Buy! Buy! Buy!

Kill George and St Deiniol

I will be at that littleSt Deiniol's Library piece of heaven on earth, St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden, this coming week, leading a course on Kill George. Details at the St Deiniol’s website.

If you are in the UK and haven’t already discovered St Deiniol’s, then why not? The national memorial for William Gladstone, it is the UK’s only residential library, with an amazingly comprehensive collection of history, theology, political economics and Victorian studies: “the most important research library and collection in Wales after the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.” The food is great, the accommodation is first rate, and the ambience is sublime. Plus, this week only, you get added Kill George for free (once you’ve paid the conference fee!)

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