Wednesday, November 28, 2012

OPP Post #5 - 3Generate

Sorry I haven't blogged for a while (I feel I start with this too much), but it's been a busy few weeks. I have recently moved again, so I'm going to use that as an excuse this time.

So, after the negativity of the previous post, I'm back on a much happier note. The weekend before last saw about 300 young people who are connected to the Methodist Church meet together in Litchfield for 3Generate 2012. 3Generate is the current regeneration (Doctor Who based pun!) of the Youth Assembly and Youth Conferences of old (I have blogged about 2011 here), and are one of the highlights of my year.  I love being around like-minded (and often not-so-like-minded) people discussing issues that are important to them, society and the Church. I have been involved with the running of five of the seven I have now attended, this year getting paid for some of it due to being an OPP. I found this tricky because I felt like I should be doing more than I have in previous years as I am being paid, when actually I probably should have been doing less...

I'm not going to give a blow by blow account, but highlight what I took from it. The first thing that struck me was how events and people mature. In 2009, I was ready to give up with the Youth Assembly as was. It was the first time it was run in a workshop style rather than a formal debate structure, and a lot of lessons needed to be learnt. And all I can say now is that it has come so far, this year's event was amazing, truly professional and a real asset to the Methodist Church.  But as well as the event maturing, I have to admit that I have as well. For the past few years, there has been a group of us (formerly calling ourselves Methodist 2.0) who would often spend time picking at all the things that were wrong and being very negative; almost, it seems, for the sake of being negative. But this year was so different. There were still things that need tweaking, but as a group, we were much more positive. Maybe it's because we are preparing to move on in the next year or so, but we started talking about what comes next, and how the event can continue to grow to best suit the 'youngsters' who come now. And there are going to be some very interesting things happening over the coming months and years.
The second thing was how different people want different things from the Church. Maybe that seems obvious, but it really got me thinking. I facilitated a workshop on Cohabitation at 3Generate: how it is viewed and what young adults think about it, which will feed into a piece of work the Methodist Church is doing. This is a great example of participation in action.  At the Youth Assembly in Durham, the young people asked the church to do some work to give guidance on thinking about Cohabitation, and that work is now in its final stages, having had young people involved at key points.  Anyway, I'm tangenting (now a word!). I approached the issue with an open mind, not wanting to come down on either side of the debate as I don't feel that it's helpful in that kind of discussion for the person up the front to have an obvious bias. Many of the people in the session agreed that the Church shouldn't give a black and white ruling, as it is a complex issue with so many variables, but that the Church should give guidance based on the Methodist Quadrilateral of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. But there were some who wanted a definitive answer. I'll admit I am one of the former - I struggle with open and shut 'answers' when it comes to faith, partly because I don't see that the Bible always is that simple. But again that is another post for another time. But what I love about Methodism is that there is that range of views, but the Church is still very much together.

As I've said, I love 3Generate, and would like to thank all the amazing people who make it happen. The Children and Youth Team are great (I have to say that, I'm now technically one of them!) and the various volunteers (many were young people themselves) who give up an awful lot of time to make sure that it all runs smoothly (or at least looks like it is to the delegates, 3Generate really is like the graceful swan, paddling away manically under the water). But probably most important of all, the young people who come, engage, and challenge. And a big congratulations to Tamara, who was elected to be Youth President 2013/14, and all the other reps who got elected for the various things. Please hold them, and all young people, in your prayers as they go into the world to challenge injustice and spread God's love.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

OPP Post #4 - Priorities and Church Politics

It's been a busy few weeks, especially as last week was half term so I was working double the hours at my other, pizza based job. I'm coming towards the end of a 13 day run without a full day off; the curse of having two jobs with not set hours, I have to consciously remember to have days off. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, when I'll finally have time to see Skyfall!

I am settling down in my work a bit now, and am starting to work closer with two projects in particular, the Drop In at Lune Street (Central) Methodist Church Preston, and Comfort Zone at North Shore Methodist Church, Blackpool. These both run along the same lines, they provide food, hot drinks and a place to come together for people who need it. Not all the visitors are rough sleepers; many are sofa-surfing or in really bad accommodation. There is no grilling of who comes in, so long as they don't pose a risk to others they are welcome. I've been helping at the Preston Drop in a few times but this week I did my first Sunday shift. It wasn't that different to the Monday, same visiting faces, though a different group of volunteers, and there was quite a strong Welsh ex-pat group. I really enjoy the work of the Drop In; the volunteers are great, the visitors are a friendly bunch.

The only problem I have is the apparent resentment of a group in the wider church. There seems to be an attitude among some (and I must say, I haven't heard it directly, but it has been commented on by a few different people) that we shouldn't be doing this kind of work. The other week, we came in to find at one of the kitchen tops was slightly damaged. Logic dictates it can't have been us, as it was fine when the Sunday lot had left, and was damaged by the Monday evening. But the Volunteer co-ordinator was ringing around reporting it, conscious that we didn't 'get the blame' as it would only give ammunition to those in the church who were unhappy. And at the end of an evening, we have to make sure everything is spotless and left millimetre perfect where we got it, or voices will complain.
Now I have been involved in the church long enough to be more than aware of church politics, and trying to keep people happy. But when there is a feeling that a group in the congregation (and I'll stress that it is a minority) don't like the fact that we are serving those in need completely baffles me. 

Have they missed the part of the Bible where Jesus spends time with the lepers, the poor and those most in need. And in turning our back on them, are we not turning our back on Christ (see Matthew 25: 31-46).

Another thing which I think sums up the attitude of some in the church is at on the first Monday of every month, the Drop In has to move to the church down the road because the Preston Historical Society meeting in Lune Street Methodists. Does that show the underlying priorities of the church? 

Does a social group concerned with the past matter more than the group in society who are in need right now? And maybe on a bigger scale, how much of our time in Church Meetings is spent preserving the buildings, traditions and order we have inherited, and how much is focused on serving those around us, the ones in real need?

Post Script: This is quite a negative post, and I know that. I have a much more positive post lined up about my time at the Comfort Zone in Blackpool, but I don't want this post to be the length of War and Peace, so I'll post that in a few days time. But I'll leave you with this picture, that simply made me giggle.

Friday, November 2, 2012

So what if there's not a God

OK, the votes have been counted and verified, and the most popular of my three blog ideas was this one. Church and Money  and 'Politics For The Win' will follow in time.

You may remember a while back, Richard Dawkins and friends ran a London Bus Poster that said 'There's Probably No God', and then a Christian group responded with (the extremely original) 'There's Probably a God.' Well, I'm saying 'So what if there's not a God.'

I've been thinking a lot about my relationship with God recently. Much of this is to do with two podcasts I listen to; firstly Unbelievable, a weekly show on Premier Christian Radio which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is a show which looks at all the big questions generally in the form of a debate between a Christian and an Atheist/Person of another Faith/Person of Another Christian view. The other is The Pod Delusion, supported by the British Humanist Association, which is a magazine show of skeptic issues, and is therefore often very negative in its view of Religion, and often gets me angry in the black and white portrayal of Atheism vs. Christianity; one is portrayed as good, one is evil, one is an intelligent position, one is for foolish unthinking people. Both of these podcasts have made me think about my views of the world. And I have come to a conclusion, I don't mind if God doesn't exist.

I must stress, I still believe in God, and have a relationship with him. What I'm saying is that if it turns out that I (and millions if not billions of others) am wrong, then... oh well, life goes on... wait no it doesn't, I guess, after a point... you know what I mean...

I've come to the view that living a Christian life is the best way to live it. At its most simple form, Christianity is all about loving one another. It teaches generosity, kindness, peace. It warns against greed, angry, jealousy and violence. I can't see why anyone would want to live any other way. Yes, free love, drugs, and self-centredness all look attractive, they can also be extremely damaging, physically, emotionally, and in how we relate to others. The community of the Church is also something that Christianity encourages. Ever since I was born, I've had people looking out for me, looking after me, loving me and helping me grow, even when I moved away to University and now to the North for the real world. I'm not the most socially-confident of people, but having a group of like minded people who you can spend a few hours with a week fulfils that desire for social contact.

A colleague of mine, who doesn't believe in God, has said to me that he finds Christians the nicest people to work with, and I believe this is for all the reasons above. Christianity encourages us to look beyond ourselves, and that can only be a good thing.

So what I think I'm saying (and sorry this is a bit all over the place) is that if you remove the idea of Heaven and everlasting life, if you remove the idea of a Creator God, a Loving Father and a Sacrificial Saviour, then there is still a lot going for living a Christian life. And that is why, if I were to wake up dead and find out the God didn't exist, I would be a bit disappointed, but would still be happy to have lived as if there was.