Choosing a baptism bible verse – a small change that’s made a big difference

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Back in 2015 I attended a conference in Durham Diocese to discuss baptism practices and theology with colleagues from the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany. An idea which I took from our German friends was to encourage parents and godparents to choose a bible verse for their child’s baptism. We completely overhauled the way we do our baptism preparation (which is a session we run at church and the parents and godparents attend together) and one part was to introduce choosing a verse which is then read out in the service.

We have a list of verses for them to choose from (although we would welcome someone asking for one not on the list):

  1. The Lord bless you and keep you – Numbers 6:24
  2. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. – Proverbs 3:5
  3. Jesus said ‘You are the light of the world’ – Matthew 5:14
  4. Jesus said ‘I am with you always’. – Matthew 28:20
  5. Be kind to one another – Ephesians 4:32
  6. Jesus said ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ – 1 John 3:23
  7. Jesus said ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. – Luke 6:31
  8. I can make it through anything with Jesus – Philippians 4:13
  9. God says: ‘Do not be afraid for I am with you’. – Isaiah 43:5

When we introduced this to the baptism preparation session I was quite sceptical about it, thinking that the families would arbitrarily pick one and then we’d move on. On the contrary, the groups often spend some time debating which verse to choose for their child and regularly ask for a bible so that they can look it up. We now use the verse as the basis for the bible reading in the service and then preach about that – people are also more ready to listen when I say that the family have chosen this verse especially. We make our own baptism certificates and now the chosen verse is printed on there as a reminder to the family.

So this was a simple change we made that has made a big difference to our baptism ministry.

I’ve been reflecting on why this has been such a popular addition to our baptism sessions. I think it taps into the current zeitgeist. Photo-11-10-2017-15-51-38-1024x768It is very popular to have quotations on soft furnishings or on the wall of your home, as my friend Robb points out in an article commenting on these strange candle holders.

It is also very popular to have a tattoo of a quotation. So when I explain to the families that they have a chance to personalise the baptism service by choosing a special verse that will be like a life-motto for their child, they instantly understand what it’s about. It’s a surprisingly easy way to engage people in bible study. Why not give it a try?

This article is hilarious on this current trend for inspirational home furnishings (caution, this article is very cynical!): https://www.buzzfeed.com/joannaborns/inspirational-home-decor.

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Reflections on my Rural Mission Study Block in Ripon Deanery

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As part of my theological training at Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham I took a Mission Study Block (MSB) looking at rural ministry in the Ripon Deanery. I chose this study block because I came with virtually no knowledge of the challenges and opportunities of rural ministry. I’ve always been a towny – I’ve visited the countryside on holiday but that was the extent of my knowledge. I don’t feel especially called to rural ministry but neither did I want to rule it out purely because I have no experience of it.

12 of us from Cranmer Hall spent 2 weeks together in and around the Ripon Deanery undertaking a combination of teaching, trips out and time on placement with local clergy and churches. It was a very formative experience in all senses of the word and I am sure everything I learned will be applicable to wherever I end up in ministry in the future.

I will share here some of the status updates I made on Facebook throughout the MSB  and try to summarise some of the key things I learnt about rural ministry. At the bottom is a collection of photos I took some of which probably speak more loudly than these words! This is all part of my theological reflection – if you have anything to add or challenge, please do, as it will help me to learn more.

17 June

Today we prayed in a T shaped chapel (St Lawrence Aldfield with Studley), held some tiny piglets, had an ice cream in the sun and said evening prayer in Ripon Cathedral. Joy!

19 June

Today I was inspired to hear Sally Gaze talk about being Mission-shaped and Rural; overwhelmed at the wonderful place that is Jennyruth Workshops by the fab staff (who have learning disabilities) and the quality of woodwork they produce, finishing the day at a priest’s induction in the beautiful Pateley Bridge. A good day.

20 June

Today I helped with a graveyard survey, discovered that the one thing they don’t teach you at theological college is that being a deacon is great fun, spent the afternoon learning about tourism and the rural economy at the beautiful Newby Hall & Gardens (over afternoon tea) finishing off with a meal at a parishioner’s house playing Monopoly and then reading the chapter about the Quidditch World Cup in HP book 4 to her two children. What a great day! I could get used to this!

24 June

Today I learnt about the challenges of rural ministry from the wonderful Bishop James, visited the Yorkshire Showground, said evening prayer in a lovely Methodist chapel and watched the Ripon wakeman sound the watch at 9pm – something done in the square every night since 886AD!

25 June

I spent today in beautiful Swaledale and learnt about rural spirituality from two inspirational priests. Then had a fab lunch in Reeth and then went to Marrick Priory – the coolest outdoor activity centre that’s actually a converted medieval priory. We went climbing in a quarry – proud of myself for doing it. Finished the day having dinner with a lovely retired URC minister & his wife. I am tired but happy!

What I learnt about rural ministry from the experience (in no particular order):

Please note that all of the below are gleaned from just 2 weeks in one particular (but quite diverse) deanery – so please don’t take these as generalisations or as applicable only to rural contexts.

  • Visibility: being visible in rural ministry is really important, even if it is not possible to personally visit everyone in your benefice. You are often known by your car – Caroline, priest in Swaledale has a Land Rover with a badge on the wheel on the back saying ‘Parish of Swaledale’. One of the Methodist ministers we met talked of the importance of shopping locally – even if it is inconvenient – in your dog collar you are seen – and of course you can catch up on local news. Hanging around at bus stops is also an opportunity to engage with people. Finding out where people are and then going there works. Bishop James Bell called it ‘strategic visibility’.
  • Rootedness: People in rural communities are very much rooted to the land, its heritage and their ancestors. Often, everyone is related to everyone else. One farmer showed us Roman finds from his farm. There is a sense of continuity and rootedness that you simply don’t get in cities. There is a real sense that the land is just ‘on loan’ and that many people have preceded you and many will come after you.
  • Hospitality: this can also be evident in towns and cities of course but rural ministry does seem to run on tea and cake! Food and making people feel welcome is an integral part of what happens in rural communities.
  • Ecumenism: tied to ecumenism is the lack of any extreme churchmanship. When an anglican church is the only church in a community (which is often the case) the congregation will comprise of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. This means that you will not get ‘niche’ churches that serve a particular flavour of Christianity – such as you get in towns and cities. As a minister it’s important to take into account the different backgrounds of the congregation. A simple suggestion made was to say such things as, “let’s sing that great Wesley hymn…” in introducing hymns – nodding to the Methodist heritage of some people. Working across denominational boundaries is essential in rural areas and some of the best examples of ecumenical work can be found in rural areas.
  • Seasons: This is an obvious one but the seasons have a more powerful impact on rural communities – especially farming communities. A way the church can be more involved is in using the old rural church calendar traditions such as Plough Sunday, Clypping and Rogation Sunday. One priest said she spent a lot of time blessing farming equipment and her church has been praying for the yield of local farmers – one farmer saying they’d noticed a lack of disease in the flock this year!
  • Relationships: this is true for all ministry – it is about relationships. However, because so many in rural areas are connected to each other by family links this does change things somewhat. For example, attending an Alpha course with family members is awkward and not necessarily appropriate. Spirituality is more expressed corporately than individually. This shows how urban-centric many evangelism programmes are – so many are focused on coming to a personal faith on one’s own – rather than as part of a community over a period of time. My reflection on this is that more ‘organic’ forms of discipleship growth need to be used in a rural area (and perhaps in cities actually).
  • Cross cultural: rural ministry is cross cultural mission – working with incomers and landowners, farmers and artists…
  • Creative: far from being ‘behind’ what is happening in the church in urban areas there is a huge amount of creativity in rural churches – perhaps because of the restrictions and lack of resources that are common in rural churches. I was really inspired by how Caroline, vicar of Swaledale, turned a ‘bat problem’ into an opportunity.

There was much more that I learnt but this is a simple summary of some of the things I noted. At the end of the placement we were encouraged to spend some time writing a Collect (prayer) for the Rural Church. Here is mine, a little rough around the edges:

Creator Lord,

in the deep memory that the land holds,

may we remember your faithfulness through the generations.

In our deep knowledge of the people in our community,

may we deepen in our relationship with you.

For in you is perfect relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen

Here is a collection of images I took whilst on the placement, click on the images to see a full slideshow (24 photos). I think the piglet probably wins it!

Tired out after a beautiful day in Swaledale.Ripon hornblower. This has been going on at 9pm every night in Ripon market place since 886AD!South side of Ripon Cathedral at dusk on the longest day of the yearIn the memorial garden at Newby HallOne of the gardens at Newby HallStatue of Christ the Consoler at the church of the same name (a William Burges gothic revival church)
Lovely morning in RiponMorning Prayer in the tiny St Lawrence church Oldfield with StudleyMorning Prayer at T shaped chapel of St Lawrence - Oldfield with StudleyPiglet!

Social media for scared ordinands

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When I told my fellow students at Cranmer Hall & the Wesley Study Centre that I’ve been working as a social media trainer, lots of them asked if I could help them with twitter and facebook. So today I ran a very short introduction to these networks and also asked for some help from my friends on twitter (see below).

Thanks to Pru for letting us use the Wesley Study Centre today!

I mentioned that UK Online Centres is a great organisation that helps people get online for the first time, a lot are based in libraries. So if there are people in congregations who aren’t yet ready for social media this should be your first port of call!

Here is the advice I got from my twitter friends on the use of twitter both in general and in ministry terms:

  1. vahva
    I’m running a session on twitter for fellow students today – please tweet me your tips & stories – especially the use of twitter in ministry
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 02:09:51
  2. metalvicar
    @vahva couple of things: a) be yourself on twitter – in both the senses of ‘being real’ but being a person ‘con-formed to Christ’; 1/2
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 02:13:11
  3. metalvicar
    @vahva 2) don’t buy into a ghetto mentality – the power of twitter is conversations with opponents/’enemies’ not just mates
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 02:14:14
  4. metalvicar
    @vahva 3) be prepared for the extraordinary – cannot say how many conversations I’ve had with unexpected folk about faith etc on here
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 02:15:04
  5. changingworship
    @vahva I have found friends. I have found fellow pilgrims. I have discovered what is important to people. I’ve met people (real ones…IRL).
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 04:00:36
  6. changingworship
    @vahva practically, I have managed to do twice as much work in half the time because of twitter. No point reinventing the wheel.
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 04:01:10
  7. changingworship
    @vahva I’ve been involved in collaborations with people I’d never have met IRL. Over vast distances. And I’ve had coffee with you. All good
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 04:02:58
  8. nathancobb
    @vahva Share what you know – the more you share with others, the more likely they are to share with you – we all win 🙂
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 03:54:47
  9. gilllunn
    @vahva someone said and it might even have been you – share a bit of yourself as well so people see a whole person rather than just a bit
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 02:11:56
  10. jonrainer
    @vahva Being genuine is much better than being witty, both is ideal but prioritise the former, particularly in environments like Twitter.
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 08:27:55
  11. watfordgap
    @vahva It’s about conversations and sharing. Being responsive and building communities and conversations and kittens (and beer). That do?
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 08:17:22