St James Ministry Team

A blog from the Ministry Team of St James Church, Colwall, Herefordshire, UK

2006-03-16

Into the desert

About this time of year, I always begin to long for the desert - and not just because it would be warmer (after all, I like our lively weather!). No, the desert is the place where the really stunning encounters with the living God took place. I've been doing some meditations at school on the experiences of Moses and Elijah (more of these on the website soon I hope) and again and again I am struck by the place in which they occurred. The desert - where there is no visible life but God, no help, no comfort, no company. To be truly alone in front of God - go out on the mountain and stand in his presence, look away as he passes by, take off your shoes - that is a challenge few can rise to. My love of the idea of desert is romantic rather than practical - I probably wouldn't last two minutes out there! But I am challenged by the concept. Where is our desert? Where do we go to come face to face with nothing but God? Where have we such a sense of holiness that can transform the weaknesses and the reluctance of those who are summoned into this presence. I am tired of talk, theories, theology that tries to pin down God like some supernatural butterfly. No wonder the desert fathers deserted their cities for the desert (hmm - quite a sentence, that!). It's enough to drive me up the pole - why can't we stop telling people what to do and to think, and make space for them to enter into places where they can encounter God directly. O yes - I know - woolly new age thinking, you say - of course the OT prophets didn't know any better and Christian theology has progressed to a far more enlightened level of appreciation. Once age = wisdom. I'm tired of modern arrogance that can explain (away) everything. I do believe that God can speak and act directly but no wonder he has to do it in the desert. Where are our deserts? If you came across the burning bush, would you reach for the fire exstinguisher on health and safety grounds, or ask the charioteer of fire for his driving licence and please keep to the speed limit? Absurd? Or is it us who are absurd and what we have lost contact with, explained or thrown away more prescious because it is so rarely found. To be truely alone with God - to stand in his presence - that is the challenge. PS If you like good desert photos try typing "Burning Bush" into Google image search.

The AV system

Here is a good place to discuss the AV system. You remember I sent out an e-mail about it, but of course people will not have seen the replies, so I have summarised them here.

My original e-mail:

John Stock is doing some splendid work in getting the AV system sorted out, but I think the Min Team ought to have a collective worry about it before we do anything irrevocable. I have no problem with the concept, but two main worries:

1. Who is going to use it? Be practical now! We have enough trouble producing sermons as it is - I can't see us doing anything special except very occasionally. Is it going to be something we use perhaps once or twice a year? And if so, is it worth it?

2. There is going to be some opposition to its introduction and it would be nice if we could have some debate to de-fuse this. Just agreeing it in the PCC does not seem to me to be enough.

Kate said:

I think some of the Parish Praise people (including me) would use it. I'm sure Anne LH would. We need a system that is relatively straightforward to operate or we need technical helpers available. As time goes on, we could get the youngsters involved and they would really enjoy producing some things on it.

Anne said:

Would it be a good idea to have a training morning on using laptop technology, e.g. I know how to use PowerPoint, but am hazy about practical applications.

Hymns would be excellent on this system if we got a license - it does save so much hassle, improve singing and increases range of what we can use.

On opposition, I think that this is inevitable. St. James's as a building is evidently dear to many people. I can't immediately think of a way of changing their wish to preserve it in all it's Victorian glory - even though the Victorians would have had central heating. solar panels and projector screens, not to mention chairs, in there before you could say "knife"! If the screen and equipment is not actually visible most of the time, I think this will be a plus point, but I can't think how you can overcome the fact that it will block off part of the chancel (and therefore some visual access to the "holy of holies"). This, combined with the fact that it is used for non-traditional hymns may prove a real sticking point.

Am I likely to use it? Well, I am a very visual person, and would love to do more with pictures and film. BUT from my point of view, this adds to the preparation time in that I will spend even more time messing about on the Internet perfecting the pictures, instead of getting on with the words! But I feel it has enormous scope for changing the way we think as well as the way we present.

What about visual division from the choir?

Andy said:

An immediate thought - I'll give a more considered response later - I would not want to give an assembly at school nowadays without using an audio-visual system, so it is quite possible that we might reach the same situation in church before long.

My thoughts again:

As far as opposition is concerned, I think the great advantage is that when the system is not in use, it will be just about invisible and certainly a great deal less obtrusive than the modern lighting system we have. When it is in use, the main thing is that it should not be TACKY. This means it should be bright enough in broad daylight, have no keystone effect and be a crisp high resolution image. I am sure John has got these points in mind!

But the other point is the quality of the content and I think this is showing our need for more visual resources. I have already found this with the web site. Anne has got some excellent pictures on the meditation pages, but there is a lot of tacky clip art around. We also need someone to think about the choreography (like Marian has been doing with the choir) particularly if doing close-ups of the celebrant at communion. Camera operators are skilled people!

How could we use it? Well, I can think of several ways:
1. As atmosphere at the start of major festivals. Imagine a slowly changing scene, eventually transforming itself into the stable at Christmas, for the Christmas eve service.

2. To illustrate the occasional sermon (not often, but I have wanted to talk about a picture from time to time)

3. For less formal services like Parish Praise and children's services. I think the visualiser helps here because it means you do not have to be computer literate to use it.

4. For funeral music (and for music supplements in general).

5. For occasions other than church services.

I haven't actually come across anyone who regrets having an AV system, so I am inclined to think we should go ahead with it. You can hum and hah about these things for ever if you are not careful (and we probably will with a faculty being involved anyway!)

2006-03-13

2,000 years

I went to see this play on Wednesday and it was very good - full of Jewish humour and argument. What struck me was that one theme in it was the reaction of the secular Jewish parents to their son suddenly taking up religion seriously. You could see they regarded it rather as though he had suddenly taken leave of his senses. What struck me was that the reaction was more or less independent of the religion - the reaction would have been the same if they were not Jewish and the son suddenly became a keen evangelical or a Muslim family with a fundamentalist son. And I think I would feel the same, if it happened to me.

But there's a paradox here. Religion is important and it is life changing. Why shouldn't it lead to some extreme behaniour? Is it just that we have lost our enthusiasm? Well, I don't think so. I am deeply suspicious of many of the manifestations of religious enthusiasm, particularly if they involve losing sight of what the religion is about. We say our lives should show what we believe and that should certainly be so, but should we do anything else to show we are Christians? My feeling is not, but maybe I'm just a wimp!