Thursday, 31 July 2008

Grace and Beloved's ChurchSearch Week 6.5: Toddler Church

A service specifically for those 3 and under. I'd been invited along merely as a storyteller, and as an extra pair of hands to empty potties and sweep excess manna off the sanctuary carpet.

A wonderful, wonderful set-up. Even if I am, like, 30 years too old. Even if I did get soaked within an inch of my life cycling back.

And it got me wondering, too. There's so much written and discussed and proposed about how to bring the yoof ov 2day to Christ. But, if certain strands of developmental psychology are to believed (and personally, I'm not sure either way) it's from aged 0-5 rather than from aged 13-19 that we are most receptive to learning, experience, relationships and attachment. So why, then, isn't there more consideration, experimentation and research on how to engage 2 and 3 year olds in faith and worship?

"What are we going to sing now?" asked the worship leader.
"Twinkle, twinkle little star!" shouted one little one.
"No but I want to sing a GOD song," insisted another. "That's what's really great."

True, yes.

The SPCK/SSG bullying saga continues

From Sam, from Elizaphanian

Great admiration for him...

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

a person who sins

(This is a post I've slightly recycled from a while back. But given that it sort of touches on what I've been thinking about, I thought it'd be interesting to re-post)

Scene 1: Two friends in the pub, circa 2003

KATH: Did you hear that Kelly's a schizophrenic now?
(in self-righteous tones) Yes, but you can't call her that.
KATH: What?
GRACE: A schizophrenic. She's a child of God. Maybe she has schizophrenia or has been told she has schizophrenia or been diagnosed with schizophrenia... but she's still a child of God, first and foremost. The schizophrenia shouldn't define her. Person-first language, and all that...
KATH: But Kelly's calling herself a schizophrenic. Reclamation of language, empowerment, de-stigmatising, you know. And if she's calling herself that, you shouldn't patronise her by refusing to use her choice of terminology.
GRACE: Yes, but I object to the terminology. I'm, like, challenging her, affirming her dignity.

Scene 2: Two friends in the pub, circa 2008

GRACE: Have you seen Kelly recently?
KATH: Yes, she's fine, I think she's working at a bank in Slough. But I was thinking... do you remember that discussion we had, when you refused to allow me to call her a schizophrenic.
GRACE: Yes...
KATH: And you're still into all your church-type stuff?
GRACE: Yes...
KATH: So are you still a sinner? Or rather, am I? Aren't we both?
GRACE: Um, yes. All of us are sinners.
KATH: You're a sinner?
GRACE: Well, saved by faith and grace and all that..
KATH: But don't you see my point?
GRACE: No...
KATH: Well, you go off it with how dismissive and disempowering it is for anyone to call Kelly "a schizophrenic"... and yet, why do you still do the standard Christian thing of referring to yourself as "a sinner"? Aren't you simply a person who sins?"

Very, very good point. Quite a massive theological thought-shift.

grace is still thinking

From a comment on the previous post...

As God's creatures, we discover our sacred essence, within which human and social categories no longer apply. Theologically speaking, we don't exist outside relationship with God. Thus what we are is a unique revelation of yet another aspect of God.

A big enough thought, I thought, to desrve its own post...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Love one another. As I have loved you. Grace has her nose back in the New Testament.

In Matthew's gospel particularly, and to an extent Mark's and Luke's, Jesus is making quite a lot of moral proclamations on various matters - divorce, oath-swearing and taxation, for a start. In John's gospel, by contrast, Jesus is recorded as delivering only one.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (13:33-35)

I think the point of the author/s is a straightforward one, that Jesus' life and teaching emphasise love as the one very most important thing and that, if we have sufficient love, everything else will follow. That the quality of our love for one another is the only ultimate criteria upon which we'll be judged.

But is it? Is this realistic? Attainable? Sufficient for a world and Church in which to be right or correct seems to an ultimate goal? Or is it prophetic, with something to teach us all?

So do we need to consciously acknowledge Jesus' laying-down-of-life as the source of that love?

And how, I mean, how do we really love people that much?

Friday, 25 July 2008

More SPCK bullying...

This is from MadPriest and I think self-explanatory.

It just appalls me that Christians think they can get away with treating one another like this...


Those who are not up to speed on this matter of blogger welfare should read the following post first:


It is absolutely certain that Mark Brewer is now threatening other bloggers. Without prejudice legal advice indicates that he doesn't have a leg to stand on. Also he is sending the threats out personally and not via a solicitor.

However, I think it is time for PLAN B.

This is Mark Brewer's email address:

I would like friends of Dave Walker, and those interested in stopping bloggers from being bullied by people with money, to cut and paste this post onto their own blogs,


send an email to Mark Brewer with nothing more than the campaign words:


And if you're a little scared by all this just remember a very good man died because SPCK failed after it had been taken over by Mark Brewer's business venture.


Thursday, 24 July 2008

Another dud post in which Grace sits and watches her FEEDJIT counter...

I can see that, in the past week, I've jumped from an average of 7 to an average of 21 unique visitors per day. And it's fun sitting here watching the traffic, and how people get here. It reveal a lot, like, about people's sleep patterns and work habits... there's often a little flurry around 9am BST, when people in the UK arrive in their offices... and sometimes a wee cluster just after midnight, especially on warmer nights. And then there was the very dear friend who I caught google-searching for me on "bolgpsot"... nobody would guess she's doing a Masters thesis on how to teach people to spell...!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Grace and Beloved's ChurchSearch Week 5.5: A Bible study with friends that Grace is now about to inflict on her blog

OK, Mark 5:1-20. Wotsit all about, then?

Basically, I'm looking for people's ideas. I'm utterly stuck.

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"

Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"

"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Various perspectives emerged:

1. That it's just as it says it is, and that the man was demon-possessed.
OK, but why and how, and what do we mean or understand by possession? In the most literalist readings of the Bible, even with the vague fallen-morning-star explanation for Satan, it's unclear when or where or how demons enter the frame. Most scholars think the Zoroastrians, whom the Jews in exile would have met, have something to do with it. But for a fundamentalist reader, a proposition that any other religious/philosophical practices have had any impact upon Christianity is unacceptable even to contemplate. So what, then, can one really say about demons?

2. That there's no such thing as demons.
If there's no such thing as demons, why do many, many people see, hear from and chat to them on an intermittant or regular basis, mainly in non-Western cultures but also in Britain today? Even if one takes the social-constructionist view of demons being merely a humanly-devised concept, or the non-realist view that demons can be there for some people if not for others, or even regards demons as a literary archetype or tropic device, surely one cannot deny that demons, in some sense of the word "existence", exist?

3. That what they in 1st Century Israel/Palestine understood as demon-possession, we can now interpret as what we know today to be mental illness.
Probably. But to say too swiftly is to risk missing the context and to ignore what it was like for the man to be and/or be considered as demon possessed. Him being chained up by those around might give some sort of clue. But all the Levitical purity statutes about how to deal with menstruation and mildew make no mention of how to handle the demon possessed. And as far as I'm aware, there's been no research done to investigate this. So what was life like for this man and what can we learn from his experience of possession?

4. The the demon-possessed man was designated/scapegoated by his community to embody and represent the "demons" of social, mental or spiritual "Other-ness", and Jesus set him free by talking to him as a sane and rational human being, therefore breaking the powers of the taboos surrounding him, and enabling him full inclusion, welcome and participation in the Kingdom of God.
I like that. But then, if the demons or "demons" weren't really to be feared, why did Jesus so theatrically cast them into a herd of pigs? Why didn't Jesus just do what happens in all of the other New Testament "deliverance" narratives, and simply tell everyone that the demon has left?

Would anyone else like to join in?

Please click on this a lot and then spam it around a lot

These are the blog posts Dave Walker has been legally required to remove from his blog, as retrieved by the Mad Priest. Basically, the SPCK [Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge] bookshops have been taken over by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust and either God and/or St Stephen have instructed the new management to disregard all employment law in their dealings with their employees and generally treat them like ****. The union Usdaw is representing many... but most Christian employees don't tend to join unions as they're used to being able to, like, trust their bosses.

All very, very sad.

July 8th, 2008
My silence

I’ve been aware that this has been a sad week for many readers of the Cartoon Blog. Many of those visiting have been mourning the death of Steve Jeynes, the Worcester bookseller, who, judging from the comments posted on this site was loved by many. In the circumstances the usual nonsense that I write on this site has not seemed appropriate, hence my silence.

The memorial service for Steve Jeynes took place yesterday. The Worcester News has a report: Tributes paid to exceptional man. Doug Chaplain was there and has written about it. See also on the SPCK/SSG blog: Steve Jeynes: A Life Remembered.

This will be one of the last former-SPCK-related posts that I expect to do until September as I am away doing one thing and another. I have one more bookshop-related thing that I need to post about which has arisen as a result of a comment (not yet visible) on this site on Sunday morning. I will hopefully do that post today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday).

The place to go for former-SPCK-related posts for the next month or two is SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info. [Aside to Phil: hopefully you will post Plans Coming Together for New Christian Bookshop in Cardiff on the SSG/SPCK site when the time is right - a post well worth sharing.]

I hope to post a bit more on this blog this week, including an announcement about my new book and plans for Lambeth.

Posted by Dave at 1:06 am on July 8, 2008 and filed under Blogging, Save the SPCK.


July 3rd, 2008
Memorial service for Steve Jeynes

The memorial service for Steve Jeynes is now to be held at Worcester Cathedral at 3.30pm on Monday 7th July, followed by refreshments at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

There is a news item in the Worcester News today, and another in the Worcester Standard. Update: Also Worcester News: Hundreds expected to bookseller’s memorial

Many tributes have been left in the comments of my previous post and on other sites linked from there.

Image: the former SPCK shop in Worcester

Posted by Dave at 7:57 am on July 3, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK.

No Comments

June 27th, 2008
SPCK / SSG: Tragic news from Worcester

There is some tragic news from the Worcester Diocese. This note was sent out today to clergy within the Diocese by the Communications department:

I am very sorry to tell you that Steve Jeynes, has been found dead, apparently having taken his own life. Many of you will know him from his work at the SSGT (ex-SPCK) shop in Worcester, from where he was made redundant two weeks ago.

Please hold (the) family in your prayers, together with the many friends whose lives have been enriched through Steve’s loving generosity in serving the Lord.

Details of the funeral arrangements will be made available in due course.

Doug Chaplain has posted here: In Worcester the SSG / SPCK saga turns to tragedy

Please remember Steve’s family, friends and all affected in your prayers.

Update: A service of Thanksgiving for Steve’s life will take place on Monday 7 July 2008 at 3:30 pm at All Saints’ Church, Deansway, Worcester. The Thanksgiving Service has been moved from All Saints’ Church to the Cathedral at 3.30pm on Monday 7th July followed by refreshments at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

Further tributes have been posted here and here.

Posted by Dave at 5:53 pm on June 27, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


SPCK / SSG bookshop news

A couple of things:

New website
Phil Groom has set up a new group blog on the subject of the former SPCK shops. It is here: SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info. If you’re interested in SPCK/ SSG updates please bookmark this site and/or subscribe to the feed. I do intend to continue writing on the subject on this blog, but during July and August in particular I will have very little (if any) time to devote to writing on the topic owing to my preparation for and participation in the Lambeth conference and being away from home for various other reasons.

If there is anyone who would like to contribute to the new site please contact Phil directly.

Staff pay
An update to my last post - some staff have now been paid. I have made an update to my last post to reflect this and will update again if it emerges that all staff have now been paid.

News reports
Bookseller: SSG tribunal claims mount
Chester Chronicle: Union action to support sacked Chester bookshop workers
Lincolnshire Echo: ‘Sacked’ shop staff in court action

Posted by Dave at 9:09 am on June 27, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


June 25th, 2008
SSG: Bankruptcy papers received, employees not paid

Bankruptcy papers received
Some people in the UK have been receiving papers relating to the SSG ‘bankruptcy’ from the US Bankruptcy Court of the District of Southern District of Texas. There will apparently be a ‘meeting of creditors’ on 22 July in Houston.

Having done a quick search I notice that there was, on 18 June a ’status conference’ for St Stephen the Great LLC in the bankruptcy court (this can be found on a cached Google page saved here). Information on the chapter 11 bankruptcy process can be found via this page: Chapter 11 - Bankruptcy Basics

All of this must be seen in the light of Usdaw’s statement yesterday, now available on the Usdaw website:

Usdaw firmly believes that the bankruptcy proceedings in the US have no effect in the UK, because this is a UK company with entirely UK-based assets and activities.

Also, from John Hannett, the General Secretary of Usdaw:

These loyal staff are being given misleading information about these US bankruptcy proceedings and the effects this may have on their rights to take legal action in the UK. Our fear is that the Brewers’ actions may be an attempt to move assets away from the business and out of the reach of our members with legitimate claims.

“We will carry on as before with the claims against the Brewers who are accumulating wealth whilst riding roughshod over hard working employees. We will continue to assist all our members affected by this messy situation and work to rectify it as soon as possible.”

Employees not paid
On a related note some (all?) of the people who work or worked in the shops have not been paid today (the 25th) as they would usually be. See for instance these blog comments. [Update: some employees have now been paid]

Telegraph blog post
Christopher Howse (who wrote Saturday’s comment piece) has written on his Telegraph blog about the Orthodox church in Poole: Orthodox Exodus. As others have pointed out this isn’t new information, but I thought I’d post the link anyway.

Posted by Dave at 3:05 pm on June 25, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


June 24th, 2008
Usdaw press release about the former SPCK shops

Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers
Shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, has submitted 15 employment tribunal claims against the Brewers, US-based brothers who have taken over a chain of UK bookshops and were seeking to impose a new contract on staff, drastically reducing their contractual rights. The Union has over 50 members at the bookshops and is expecting that the number of employment tribunal claims will rise.

The Brewer brothers were gifted the St. Stephen the Great Christian bookshops in 2006 by SPCK. The chain includes 23 bookshops, many of which are historic buildings in prime retail positions.

Following the change of ownership, a new contract was drawn up increasing the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours with no additional pay, turning all part-time staff into casual staff with no guaranteed hours every week and taking away all rights to company sick pay.

Now, virtually all Usdaw members have been dismissed with no notice, some by email, and have received little or no information about what this means for their rights and their pay.

The Brewer brothers have now filed St. Stephen the Great for bankruptcy in the US. Usdaw firmly believes that the bankruptcy proceedings in the US have no effect in the UK, because this is a UK company with entirely UK-based assets and activities. Staff have been told that they can apply for jobs with ENC Management Company, which is also owned by the Brewers, but that they no longer have jobs with St. Stephen the Great.

Usdaw is also aware that the Charity Commission has been alerted to these actions because of its role in regulating the activities of the linked charity, St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, stated:

“It is clear that staff, many of whom have been long standing loyal workers, have been mistreated and many are understandably very upset and concerned. We are very concerned at a new company (ENC Management Company) being set up in these circumstances, while our members are losing their jobs. These loyal staff are being given misleading information about these US bankruptcy proceedings and the effects this may have on their rights to take legal action in the UK. Our fear is that the Brewers’ actions may be an attempt to move assets away from the business and out of the reach of our members with legitimate claims.

“We will carry on as before with the claims against the Brewers who are accumulating wealth whilst riding roughshod over hard working employees. We will continue to assist all our members affected by this messy situation and work to rectify it as soon as possible.”

Posted by Dave at 8:13 am on June 24, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


June 21st, 2008
Former SPCK bookshops in the Telegraph

Christopher Howse: The bare and desolate SPCK bookshops

Posted by Dave at 9:57 am on June 21, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


June 20th, 2008
Today’s former SPCK bookshop news

From the Chester Chronicle: Christian bookshop sacks staff by e-mail

From the Eastern Daily Press: Christian bookshop stripped of stock

From the comments below:

The article in the Eastern Daily Press concerning the Norwich shop mentions three potential future tenants.
One of the bids is from the Norwich Christian Resource Centre, a new Community Interest Company with six directors from various denominations, all with a wealth of business experience.
They are giving their time and talents free of charge and are all passionate to re-establish the centre that had become such an integral part of the community of Norfolk and beyond, as quoted in the article.
The company would run as a non-profit making business and strive to return the centre to it’s original ethos, offering the widest breadth of stock, knowledgable staff, a high level of customer service and the ‘best capuccino in town’.
Prayers for this venture very welcome.

Also, from the comments yesterday, this by ‘concerned dad’:

My daughter applied for holiday work via an agency in Newcastle and took up a job in the Newcastle shop - we were completely unaware of the situation. She is expected to work completely on her own for 6 hours a day several days a week, somebody else does the other days - both are temps, no permanent staff, no training or guidance. She has creditors and people chasing book orders ringing up but no information to be able to respond to them. She is employed and paid by the agency (that is the theory anyway, will be interesting to find out what happens on payday!) If we had known about the situation we would not have got into this, but the agency were not very forthcoming with details about the shop until it was virtually too late…. So Newcastle is open - after a fashion, but far from satisfactory situation.

Update (lunchtime) Phil Groom has posted: SPCK/SSG News Archives. (I’ll try to say something about the blog idea later or over the weekend.)

Posted by Dave at 8:18 am on June 20, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


June 19th, 2008
Website updates

The SPCKonline website is now the same as the Third Space books website. Details of most shops have been updated. Some, like Salisbury (above - thanks to ezlxq), are on very limited hours and appear to be relying on voluntary labour. I’m aware that I need to keep updating the shop roundup page - updates appreciated.

The entry for the Norwich shop says ‘You are not authorised to view this resource’. That is probably because there is no resource to view - I am informed that a removal firm packed up all the books, fixtures and fittings and was taking them to the Chichester shop today.

Meanwhile the St Stephen the Great LLC website has been updated today “Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 June 2008 )“, but there is still no mention of the ‘bankruptcy’.

I have updated the Church Times blog with a list of news reports and letters about the former SPCK shops.

Melanie, the former manager of the SPCKonline site has written an interesting comment on Phil’s bookshop blog.

Posted by Dave at 5:43 pm on June 19, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


June 18th, 2008
Norwich / York


Network Norwich has the following: Norwich Christian bookshop closes its doors

Meanwhile, from the comments section of this blog:

In 2003 I was taken to a city centre deconsecrated church by Stephen Platten, then Dean of Norwich. We both thought how splendid it would be to relocate the SPCK Bookshop, it’s decrepid premises huddling in a side street, to this magnificent medieval building.
In January of the next year Bishop Graham James officially blessed the vision along with representatives from virtually every denomination.
After many trials and tribulations and delays of several months, the centre opened on 13 July 2004. I had been privileged to help plan the layout and the concept.
Over 180 people attended the rededictation of the church to it’s new use in on a Friday morning in October 2004!
Within 3 years the loyal team had doubled the turnover of the previous shop and provided access to thousands of visitors from the Christian faith or none, to be offered an exceptionally broad range of product, a place to meet and be refreshed in the cafe.
We held events on a monthly basis. Highlights included: a lecture by Bishop Tom Wright attended by 350 plus, an Advent evening with Ronald Blythe during which three Salvation Army bandsmen managed to ascend the spiral staircase complete with trombone and play from the balcony, debates between bishops and humanists; Professor Brian Thorne and Ian Gibson MP and a Fawlty Towers evening!
This morning I visited the centre with my two sons, on the last day of trading. It was in fact open after 11-00.
To describe it as semi-vandalised would not be overstating the sight of half-empty boxes relocated from the London shop several weeks ago still blocking the porch and what is left of the stock lurching across the shelves.
Visiting the church on a regular basis over the past months I have been moved from frustration, to anger, to sadness, to disbelief as to how such a thiving resource could be laid to seed.
Today is a very sad day for the ex-staff, all but one of whom have yet to find new employment and the Christian community, who are voicing that ‘their’ centre has been lost - a high compliment indeed.
I count myself blessed to have been offered an alternative position within the Christian retail environment and have thus stayed in touch with so many of my customers who had become friends.
However, it’s never over until the Canary sings as we say in Narwich, so please keep praying for an unlikely resurrection in the not too distant future.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’


‘Richard and Gill’ on Flickr have a recent picture of the former SPCK shop in York.

Meanwhile, I found this blog post written in Chinese on June 16. It sounds as if it is by someone working in the York shop. Google translated it as follows:

I should be very fortunate, at least in this area to work, to York the second week, it began a career Part-time job. However, this is not so much a subjective initiative, I found, than to use a blind cat encountered more aptly described as dead mice. At that time, purely in the City Centre Luancuan, Okay, I admit that, in fact, I had lost. The results of the accidents that have been in SPCK work.

This is one in the entire United Kingdom has 28 Chain stores of the Christian Bookshop, a harmonious working atmosphere, have fixed the breakfast 11am and 3pm the afternoon tea time and all the break are paid. However, however, however, but, boom is not long, SPCK be acquired. A U.S. company called SSG took over the bookstore this. British indeed are born of hatred of Americans, the shop all the old staff have left, but Fortunately, the Manager of new people is pretty good. I want to go to the SSG, also by the nature of the work before the development of a simple cashier to accountant, gradually began to contact the bank’s work. Sense of accomplishment that is not an ordinary Youranersheng ah.

Boom is not really long, SSG recently went bankrupt, another bookstore was an American company take over. David and Olga have left, I left the bookstore on the people. Optimistic, I am now boss hey. Pessimistic, I really do not know Bookstore will close on this, I have on unemployment.

SPCK in the UK with my life is inseparable from, I Baijia all have come from the capital where wages. However, it also sacrificed a lot with my family Dear Amanda travel out of time. Switzerland, Rome, Prague, Barcelona, Fuluolunsa I have no time to. My dear SPCK, you can see in my youth to take all the copies to you, will not be so quick to close OK. You, and so I kept enough money to the United States, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Arctic Circle, and so I kept enough money to buy Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Prada to the temporary close it, but I travel back and so on, then opened the door for ah

This might or might not mean that the York shop is open.

Posted by Dave at 11:28 am on June 18, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK.


June 13th, 2008
Charity Commission to investigate SSG

News reports

From today’s Church Times: Ex-SPCK shops ‘bankruptcy’
The Bookseller says that the Charity Commission is to investigate SSG: St Stephen the Great files for bankruptcy
I think the Church of England Newspaper will have a report (Just opened my online copy - nothing there as far as I can see. I thought there might be as I was telephoned.)

Closures and openings

We think that the shops that have closed since the bankruptcy announcement are:
Birmingham, Canterbury, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle, Norwich (closing on June 14) Worcester, York. These may be temporary or permanent.
Salisbury is now open again.
I’m still attempting to maintain a complete list here.
New map

On the Third Space books site (Is Third Space books bankrupt or not? Not sure.) a new map of the SSG shops appeared on June 7. Bristol, Carlisle, Lincoln and London have been taken off. Cardiff remains. ‘Leichester’ (not on the old map) has been added.
Posted by Dave at 8:20 am on June 13, 2008 and filed under Save the SPCK, Religion.


Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Another puzzling public anecdote to fill blog space whilst Grace thinks of something intelligent to write

The scene is set beside the junction of two major roads. A park bench has been placed there by the council, seemingly for no other purpose than to give members of the public full view of the intersection. A YOUNG WOMAN is seated on the bench, breastfeeding. GRACE enters from stage right, dripping in sweat and clutching a bike helmet and a bottle of Pepsi Max.

GRACE: Would you mind me sitting here?

YOUNG WOMAN: As long as you don't mind me feeding...

GRACE: Of course not.

YOUNG WOMAN: It's just that, I'm never sure whether it's OK in public, you know, to feed him.

Well, if she was that worried about breastfeeding "in public", why was she sitting in full view of hundreds of motorists?

Monday, 21 July 2008

Grace and Beloved's ChurchSearch Week 5: Grace and Beloved have Family Commitments instead

Family Commitments of a scale and magnitude that nobody would deny to be more important than churchsearching... but, as such, totally unblogaboutable. I'm sure there's a good few posts in there about doing Family Commitments as an expression of faith, about how/why the church constructs Family and/or constructs itself as a family... but I probably won't get there today.

The train home yesterday evening was cramped, stuffy and very slow. We shared a carriage with a family of nine children, all aged below five (cousins? foster children?) and all piled on top of one another and all yelling and throwing jelly babies at one another in a mixture of French and a language I couldn't identify. About an hour into the journey, their dad (or uncle? big brother? carer?) took out his iPod and some speakers and plugged them in, broadcasting "We want to see Jesus lifted high" at full volume to the entire train. And slowly, five of the nine children climbed into the aisles and began to dance. I wasn't sure whether they were dancing because they wanted to or had been trained to, but they were giggling and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The rest of the carriage watched, amazed...

Friday, 18 July 2008

Grace and Beloved's ChurchSearch Week 4.5: Friday nights

Most forms of Judaism seem good at encouraging people to socialise. To find kinship and spirituality and community in the conversation, in the shared home space, in the food. Shabbat, for a start. Where or when did Christianity lose the concept of simply getting all one's family and/or friends together once a week for a meal? Is it because, when Jesus told his disciples that the Seder bread and wine were henceforth to be regarded as his body and blood, the sanctity or sacramentality of the event seemed so overwhelming that it needed a place of worship rather than a home, or a male priest rather than a woman cooking to contain and officiate at it? Or is simply because Christians have this earnest guilt thing going that says they need to be doing "important" things, rather than just sitting eating? Or is it even more simply that Christians have lost touch with the importance of time and relationships?

Can anyone out there explain this , either historically or theologically?

Can anyone out there explain, phenomenologically, pastorally or otherwise, why getting friends and family together in such a way, usually even without any explicitly declared faith content, just seems to work?

Does anyone else ever invite people round for food on a regular basis and think about what it says or reveals about God and community in it all?

Does this encapsulate Britain's view of the Church of England today?

Grace hands her birth and marriage certificates to an administrator at her New Job, in order to verify her identity and eligibility to work in the UK.

ADMINISTRATOR: Grace, thank you. Right, then... so you were born Grace This and married to become Grace That. And now your place of birth... Lambeth... hang on, Lambeth?

GRACE: It's a London borough, just south of the Thames.

ADMINISTRATOR: No, but I've been hearing the name Lambeth on the radio all week... I don't know why...

Does this encapsulate your average non-Londoner's view of the Church of England today? It made me smile, anyway...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Deprived Communities, Evangelical Churches and Faith-Based Family Care: Grace's final sermon to her Place of Former Employment

Deprived Communities, Evangelical Churches and Faith-Based Family Care: how maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t

This is something I wrote during my final few weeks in the job. I'm bumping it up now as it's the last vaguely well-thought-out thing I've posted in a while and, yes... comments from any newly-discovered readers are very most welcome...

The Deprived Community

It is often said that the problems of the Deprived Community stem from a generationally-ingrained culture of dependency, learned helplessness and minimal aspirations. It is true that some of the expectations held by people (you won’t get your GCSEs, you will do drugs and get in trouble with the police, you will be a crap parent and get Social Services trying to get your bairn took off you) seem extremely negative. However, these are attitudes, aspirations and expectations created, held and perpetuated not only by the Deprived People themselves. Instead, they’re things which people have been told or have had more subtly communicated to them by Early Years practitioners, the very structure of the benefits system and the plethora of statutory and voluntary “services” which exists to “help” them. The Deprived Community “poor”, the whole economic structure of society’s response to social exclusion and those at grass-roots level seeking to help the poor all conspire together to keep the “poor” marginalised and downtrodden. What is needed, then, is a way out. A breaking of the cycle at one point or another.

And there appear to be two main approaches to this.

Firstly, there’s the suit-wearing, married toff people who sit in offices and eat lots of biscuits talking about the Deprived People. Their view is essentially that of the political Right - that governments need to cut “services” to promote independence and to reform economically so that people are financially better off in work than on benefits. Ideal, provided the Deprived Community “poor” were both grateful and delighted and able to eagerly partake of each available job opportunity wiping floors or bums or tables, thus reducing dependency whilst reinforcing all social divisions. Getting people into meaningful, productive and dignifying economic activity is a hugely complex task, and one that can’t be done from the distance of a policy-making office. You need to meet and get to know the people.

Secondly, there’s the liberal, educated, veggie box, Lib Dem lefties who’ve chosen to live in the Deprived Community. Their argument is for “services” to become more inclusive, empowering, user-led, grass-roots and radical in their approach, leading the “poor” to rebel against their oppression. It’d be great. Yet experience shows that people who are hungry, depressed and addicted, who are contending with rising damp on the second floor and the need to buy school shoes for their sixth child, do not have the energy of inclination for revolt. And they also find the posh parents at the Childrens Centres and toddler groups make them feel nervous – although the posh parents are really friendly – about going to things like that. Lots of them are, like, social workers and psychologist-type people and you don’t want to be in the same room as them. The empowerment of a community requires relationships deeper and more committed than either the neighbourly or the professional. You need not only to meet and to get to know the people, you need to meet and get to know and live with and alongside and amongst and share everything of your lives with them.

This is what Jesus did.

When he came to earth as the Son of God, Jesus did so in order to meet and get to know and live with and alongside and amongst and share everything of his lives with people, and by so doing, he demonstrated to the world how God wants us to radically recreate society and form a better world. So, in the context of a struggling, marginalised, downtrodden inner-city neighbourhood, the Church has, in the life of Jesus, a wonderful example to follow. And, in the form of the Holy Spirit, the perfect advocate and supervisor to show us how to do it. And the Church, too, has a very clear advantage over all other services, initiatives, projects and social or neighbourhood organisations: its staying power. Churches, and their people, will be in existence for hundreds of years beyond any New Deal, Sure Start or any other social project.

So, therein lies the awareness of an approach that works and the motivation and funding to carry it through. Does it work?

The answer, I think, must lie both in the experience of Those Who Come To Christ from the Deprived Community and in the experience of Those Who Don’t Get It.

Let’s start with Those Who Come To Christ

Are they enabled to have a meaningful experience of God and community? Are they accepted and included? Are they liberated and empowered?

Are they enabled to have a meaningful experience of God and community? Those who have come to faith from Deprived Community are quite definite in affirming that yes, they have. But people who have visited the church as unbelievers or seekers from other backgrounds seem generally not to. Unless a person had “needs” or requires “help”, the church struggles to know how to respond to them.

Are they accepted and included? To a certain extent, but probably only as far as normal class boundaries permit. They are welcome as cleaners, caretakers and caterers, but not in working with the young people, in handling the money or as members of the Leadership. Those are still jobs for the men, for the doctors, for the posh people in the church.

Are they liberated and empowered? I’m not sure.

The first problem, as I see it, of the church approach to outreach within the Deprived Community is that it utilises that very culture of dependency it needs to challenge. It exploits the prevailing culture of hopelessness and dependency by its desire to “help” or “support” or to “care for” people and families. It’s a colonial approach to mission which was developed by 18th Century British missionaries throughout the non-Western world, whereby the natives were taught British social and cultural values as an allegedly integral part of the Christian gospel. It’s an attitude still ingrained within middle class Christianity, to the extent that many are not aware or able to even question it. The evangelical church, in the same way as wider British society, revolves around its notions of them and us.

And the second problem, of course, is that it’s never that simple. What happens when a woman previously afflicted by psychosis and talking to demons suddenly regains clarity of thought and wants to preach on a Sunday morning? What happens when a teenage lad reveals his attraction to other men and insists she is as affirmed by God as ever before? What happens when a “non-Christian” wants to lead a Bible study because he believes God can use his knowledge and insights? The evangelical church cannot cope with experiences which challenge its dogmas. And yet, whenever Christians have sought to engage with a new culture, they’ve been forced to. The evangelical church, for reasons I have never found credible, is afraid to think.

Thirdly, a fear of thinking is, in itself, something I find quite frightening. That every syllable of the Bible is a dictated-from-a-cloud utterance from God is a valid theological position; however those that adhere to this view need to recognise that God’s original Word was delivered in Hebrew and Greek and that any English translation will inevitably be choosing one of a number of understandings of many texts. And most people within as well as outside of Deprived Communities don’t like being told not to think or question or discuss.

And what about the experience of Those Who Don’t Get It?

Why doesn’t it work for them? It’s their fault, obviously. The church could never have got it wrong or have failed them, because the Church is Christ’s body on earth. That’s as far as evangelical thinking goes. However, I would propose a few further suggestions.

Firstly, they might not want or need the sort of “help” or “care” or “support” on offer. Not everyone has or perceives themselves to have to stereotypical “felt needs” of Deprived Community, not everyone wants to enter into a relationship of such dependency. And even if they do want voluntary-sector or faith-based “help”, the church isn’t the only place offering. And the Hare Krishnas down the road do it all vegetarian, too.

Secondly, they may have a background or experiences which fall beyond the scope of what church workers are educationally, intellectually or spiritually equipped to engage with. And church workers have, like anyone else, their professional and personal limitations and prejudices. Like Barack Obama throughout the US, anyone coming the church with an ambiguous ethnic background or allegedly Arab-sounding name will be treated as a practicing and Islamist Muslim, whether or he would define himself as such. Yet whereas professional workers have supervision sessions to consider their practice, their limitations and their prejudices, church workers flounder along in what they’re doing, often with very little space to ask, talk, think or pray.

Thirdly, they might be asking questions they’re not supposed to ask. Like, “why are you trying to put me through a Christian basics course when I’ve read the Bible four times already?” (ans: “because you’re unsaved so you can’t have read it properly”) and “how do you know that the Bible is the word of God?” (ans: “because it says so”) and “why when you say you have full gender, ethnic and class equality here are all the deacons white, male and doctors?” (ans: “don’t ask”) and “but what about how it describes Jesus in the Qu’ran?” (ans: “um, er...”) And so forth. Evangelical Christians are like doctors (and thus so many doctors are evangelical Christians) because both are trained to believe that they know everything, have all the answers and can essentially rely on themselves to be more literate and knowledgeable than those to whom they’re talking. And even in Deprived Communities, people beg to differ. As, of course, did Jesus.

So where do we go from here?

This, then, would be my set of recommendations for evangelical churches wanting to work within Deprived Communities
  1. Look after your own workers. Make sure there’s time and space to study, train, think, talk and pray together.
  2. Listen to your community. Consider the wider picture, but leave space to recognise the diversity of individuals.
  3. Rely on the example of Jesus. He was excellent at both of the above.
  4. Don’t think purely in terms of what you can “give” or how you can “serve”. Think about what you can learn from people, and how you can work together.
  5. Don’t be afraid to admit when you get it wrong.
  6. Don't fall into the trap of believing you can speak directly for God and be his gatekeeper. Remember that, as you keep saying, he's bigger than you are.
  7. Pray. And listen to what God tells you.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

hello new visitors

Ooooh, lovely to see new people here, mainly travelled via the ASBOjesus site, which I've been enjoying discovering.

What am I going to do to keep people here and reading and commenting and excited? What would anyone like?

I've been spending the day being shuttled from pillar to post in my Proper Trousers whilst trying to sort out arrangements and contracts and the like for my New Job. But I'm still so ardently grateful to have a New Job that I'm still amenable to a gentle bit of being slightly pissed around, and they do have a free and low-carbon-emitting minibus service which efficiently shuttles the 16 minute journey between Pillar and Post at 13 and 43 minutes past every hour until 1743. And on one of the journeys from Post back to Pillar I got an email on my mobile asking if I'd like to apply for a job at one of the partner organisations of Place of Former Employment. So definately, I'm very glad I've got a New Job.

But honestly, what am I writing about? What would keep people reading? All contributions welcome...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

how to get Christians to talk nicely to one another

I mean, does it ever happen? How's it supposed to happen?

Throughout the past year, I've been increasingly appalled by the extent to which some within the Anglican church has lost touch with any awareness of the basic human dignity of one another. This Dave Walker cartoon sums up all that's been taking place around questions of sexuality, schism and female bishops better than I could.

At least, though, one could never accuse the Anglicans of doing what usually happens in the rest of the church, which is the silencing of discussion and debate. That's something. Go into your average non-episcopal prostestant church and ask whether the union/circuit/presbytery/denomination could convene a nationwide/international debate on the role of gay, lesbian and transgender people within its ranks, and you'll not only be laughed out the door, you'll be forbidden from even disclosing that the discussion took place because "we don't have gay people here" (entirely untrue) or "sometimes we have to agree to disagree" (cop out) or "it'd be a bad Christian witness for dissent on these issues to emerge into the public domain". Certainly it would be a dismal "Christian witness" for "dissent on these issues" to filter into the media, but it's also utterly unacceptable Christian practice for anyone to be marginalised or silences on account of their sexuality, gender or anything else.

So, how does one promote honest theological debate within Christianity whilst insisting dignity, respect andfair representation for all?

is anyone out there?

Traffic to this blog has slowed almost to a standstill. I'm currently getting less than ten page hits a day. *Grace extracts her violin* I have the following theories about why this might be...

1. I bore all first-time visitors so they never come back, never link me, never tell their friends about me. I mean, do most people out there care about how Grace can't find a church that'll welcome her husband? Wouldn't they rather be hearing the more intimate details of our sex life?

2. I'm so intent on keeping this blog anonymous that I can't really promote myself to anyone. I've scribbled down the address to Steve, to Lampbus and to One of Beloved's Students (all of whom seemed both particularly interested and exceptionally discreet) and I've carried over a few trusted friends from previous blogs (Erika, Erin, Lilwatchergirl, MadPriest, Eileen, my Mum) and then there's Caroline, with whom I got into blogging in the first place. I'm not going to be advertising myself on my Facebook page (which is still getting multiple visits from former colleagues) or linking my blog to the Proper Bits of Writing I do...

3. I don't get involved in blogospheric controversy and dramas. I love reading the sparring matches which take place on OCICBW, Doorman-Priest, and MentalNurse, but really, I've got enough to get wound up about in offline life already...

4. "Jesus Wept" is hardly a cutting-edge or sexy title. I'm sure that if I renamed by blog "Grace has 32B cleavage" or "Hot new nude Paris Hilton vids", I'd be getting a few more page hits through Google...

But still, at least I've got nothing much else to worry about now...

Friday, 11 July 2008

why a dozen or so of my posts have disappeared

Because I've just been offered a job. I hadn't written about the employer in question on the blog (well, I did, but it was only a little, little bit about their fantastic admin systems...) but I know that, over the past few weeks, I've written things that might risk my soon-to-be Place of Employment finding me online here. So, I just need some time to think and maybe do a bit of editing before I put the posts back up.

Huge and massive thank yous, though, to everyone who's been cheering me through these interviews. God seems nice again now, too. Thanks up there.

an anecdote wot proves there is nice employment practice out there really

I've just got back from an early morning trip to the local 24 hour supermarket. I'd needed nail polish remover, tea bags and apples. As one does, and all.

This is what I overheard...

SHIFT SUPERVISOR: How you doing there mate? Aren't you about due your break?
SHELF STACKER: (in limited English) No I fine. But I only need call, call Nature.
SHIFT SUPERVISOR: (extracting mobile from pocket) No problem there mate. Call whoever you want. Use my mobile.
SHELF STACKER: No, I need, I need (stage whisper in Supervisor's ear)
SHIFT SUPERVISOR: Yes mate, you don't need to ask my permission. But for future reference, it's the call of nature...

Lovely, I think.

Monday, 7 July 2008

life imitates blog

Caroline has credited me as the Person Who Got Her Into Blogging. I don't think she needed much encouragement. Right from the start, she's been getting more hits than me. She just writes so, so incredibly well. Welcome, then, to all the through traffic I'm getting from her.

Lilwatchergirl and I (plus Beloved and The Girl) met at St Pancras on last night. Amazing really, how a person can in real life be as similar as they are on their blogs. Lovely evening. Fantastic couple.

Right. I now need to get started on my presentation for this next interview. But anyone esle out there fancy a coffee/glass of wine?

Grace and Beloved's ChurchSearch Week 3: Grace takes Beloved back to her teenage church

Whereas most churches have a cross or crucifix or altar at the front, Big Charismatic Baptist Church has a giant world map. Whereas Place of Former Employment sees its mission as to a small inner-city neighbourhood, BCBC sees it as to the world. Whereas PoFE employs a few people for its community work, BCBC sends and supports dozens of missionaries across the globe. BCBC is, then, the sort of place that's really exciting to be part of as a teenager: you feel the world as at your fingertips and that you can make a difference.

BCBC is, however, a Church with a Past. In the seventies, one of its leading lights landed them into all sorts of theological controversies over Baptism in the Holy Spirit (which it liked) and The Place of Woman (which it didn't). So whereas they're obviously the type of church with a predisposition to declaim to individuals that their life choices will land them in hell (they tried this when they found out I was doing a degree involving the study of Islam), they don't like to be portrayed as the Lunatic Fringe they probably are.

The first time Beloved and BCBC leadership found themselves in the same room, there was Controversy. Suffice to say, it ended in the wife of said leader being banned from attending our wedding. Oh pleeeeeease...

It was thus with some trepidation we went back yesterday. Instead of running into any of the leadership, though, we met Catrina. Catrina and I were in the youth group together and it's Catrina who had the Dramatic Healing. It didn't even seem remarkable at the time. When she turned up to the group that night to tell us that her ever-worsening chronic backache had been diagnosed as a serious skeletal deformity that could render her immobile within months without surgery, we just did what 16 year old Charismatics did it such situations, and laid Catrina down on the floor to pray for her. And we prayed for her. And we saw her spine straighten and her pelvis realign. It didn't surprise us that God did this. It didn't surprise us that Catrina had no further pain, nor that she was suddenly three inches taller than before we'd prayed... and nor that, the following week, Catrina was deemed by doctors no longer in need of surgical intervention. God did it, we knew.

I wish that I still expected so much from God and from churches. I wish that I still had that sort of faith. Still, though, even now I experience God so much more easily in BCBC than in any other church I've ever visited or been part of. With Beloved in tow, I know that I would never be welcomed or accepted as a BCBC member (and, of course, being a woman is still a bit iffy... oh pleeeeease) but for once in a while, for a quick injection of nostalgia, hope and faith, yes, it's OK...

There was, of course, an extremely high standard demonstrated by all our interviewees

Maybe I should write a manual of less utterly cliched ways for interview panels to reject people.

I wish they'd just spare me the platitudes and tell me in the first sentence they don't want me.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

more self-pitying whining...

I've just realised that I know one of the men on my next interview panel. His name had always sounded vaguely familiar - but then, as Jim Smith, it easily could have. But last night, one of my friends-from-way-back informed me that, several years back, Jim Smith offered me a job and I turned it down. Given that I am able to recall sending my CV to someone else in what was then Jim Smith's organisation, and given that I know I remember virtually nothing about this period of my life, I'm prepared to accept my friend is probably right.

But what my friend doesn't know, and what I totally cannot understand is what the job was, why I turned the job down, how I turned the job down and thus whether I have met, spoken to, conversed with, discussed the job with, emailed or written to Jim Smith.