Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Hogmanay again - time to reflect - after a fashion!

Many of my fellow pisky bloggers are reflecting on their past year as 2014 draws to a close.  I enjoy their reflections, e.g. Kelvin or Pip - but always hesitate, fingerless-gloved fingers above the keyboard (I lie about the gloves - the rectory study is pretty warm) - while I wonder where to start. Most years pass and I don't comment, but this year I will have a go! But to keep it fresh, here's a few things that did NOT happen this year...

Once again, aliens did not invade the earth, seeking to annihilate the human race and scavenge the resources of the planet. The fact that the 'plot' of Independence Day did not unfold has not, however, prevented the rise of the extreme right wing in British politics, blaming Bulgarians, Poles and Sylvanian families for the woes of the world in the absence of evil green space beings. Plus ca change. 2015 will again, I suspect, fail to see the alien invasion. But the right wing politics will continue to grow.

Time has not ended this year with a trumpet call, rivers of blood (etc, etc., see The Revelation of St John for details) and the dead rising from the their graves (or reconstituting themselves from the scattered ashes of their more carboniferous components). This has once again failed to happen, despite the ongoing apocalyptic signs (wars, rumours of wars etc. - see the gospels) and the development of modern understanding of the functionality of the universe.  This has disappointed a very great many people. Because if it did happen there would be a...

Revival in the church! Which has also not particularly happened this year. My own suggestion for a new strapline for my own Scottish Episcopal Church ("Mumbling in Cold Buildings Since 1688"), a small homage to Eddie Izzard, might have helped reverse the gentle, non-apocalyptically inflated decline, and it was even (unwisely) made at a national meeting about that sort of thing, but thankfully no one took too much notice of it. The wisdom of trying to grow healthy, inclusive, socially engaged Christian communities is good, and continues to go on. In places.

But 2014 has been a good year. Many challenges, both locally and nationally, have appeared, and some are still being worked through. 2015 will be more of the same...

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

To one all all. Have a blessed and peaceful Christmas and a guid New Year...

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Identity & Authority

Apparently the Scottish Episcopal Church is in crisis, according to the Herald today.

To me, it feels as if the SEC is doing what it does best: engaging with issues of the day, not accepting a stance that feels imbalanced or theologically skewed, and not blindly accepting a model of authority that does not feel Scottish Episcopalian.  There's plenty of coverage about what's happening out there: e.g. has excellent digests of the social media coverage.

What to add? What is my concern? I am one of those in the church who favours extending our definition of marriage to include people of the same gender. I do this after serious reflection on the gospel and culture, engagement (hopefully intelligently and thoughtfully) with scripture and a great deal of prayer and discussion on the nature of justice and the kingdom. As have many others, with differing views.  The processes in our church will rumble on, maybe accelerated, maybe not, but they will reach the point where decisions are made about our sacramental and legal life. Safeguards will be sought, accommodation worked on, speeches made, votes taken.  That's how it works.

But I also feel we must take history very, very seriously.  What has actually precipitated the 'crisis' (that I don't entirely feel IS a crisis?).  I would like to pick two points in history.

In 1688, the Scottish bishops decided not to swear allegiance to William of Orange. The SEC has largely projected a romantic non-juring veneer onto this decision, drawing in subsequent events like the slightly revolutionary consecration of the first bishop of the embryonic United States of America against 'English' wishes. But the non-juring decision resulted in the near annihilation of the episcopal party within Scotland. Ministers lost their livings, people were persecuted and jailed. A decision, made for honourable reasons, by the bishops, all but destroyed the episcopalian tradition in Scotland. There's a long and complicated story of how we came back from that, but the SEC is still a small, fragile shadow of a church. Because of that decision, in 1688.

Roll time on a little, to 1843. Not Episcopalian history, but Church of Scotland history, shows a rebellion about authority. The great disruption at the General Assembly of 1843 was about who appointed ministers, the authority of scripture, the threat of rationalism - pressures about authority in the life of the church. About 40% of the Church of Scotland ministers walked out of the General Assembly in protest, and the Free Church of Scotland was born. That fracture, in a church where fracture seems to be the norm, was a major, major shock, and the after shocks are still around today.  And it was about authority within the church.

Did the bishops have the authority to make Episcopalianism non-juring? Well, they did it. Does our college of bishops have the authority to prevent people entering a civil marriage? Well, they've done it.

Should 450 Church of Scotland ministers have rejected the authority of the state and landowners to control the affairs of the church, and have walked out of the General Assembly? Well, they did. Should the clergy (and laity) of the SEC have objected publicly to the authoritarian and legalistic stance of the recent guidance from the college of bishops? Well, we have done.

I don't believe our current situation is in the same league as those moments, but the themes are not dissimilar...

And to quote our website:
In character, the SEC is diverse. The church celebrates diversity and values dialogue alongside dogma. 
Much of the worship of the church is sacramental in character – its patterns of worship are full of drama and colour which links together the experiential with the intellectual. 
The Scottish Episcopal Church likes to think of itself as a thinking church and values a high standard of preaching. Alongside that thoughtfulness goes a deep commitment to spirituality and prayer. 
In its governance, the Scottish Episcopal Church is collegial and democratic rather than centralised and directive. It delights in its non-established status. 
It is deeply committed to civic society and public discourse but wants nothing to do with establishment. It is more a community of disciples than an institution with membership. 
The SEC today pursues its calling to mission and ministry in the very secular and increasingly diverse context of Scotland and the rest of the world.
The seven bishops see themselves as ‘leaders of mission’ and the church attempts to draw into its life people who are beginning to travel a journey of spirituality.
That sounds like a church that I would wish to be a part of...

Friday, 12 December 2014

Message from over the sea...

An old friend of mine is a minister in that blessed and historical Christian tradition, the Brobdingnagian Reformed Church. The issues they face are giant in complexity and importance. It is heartening to see that we are not the only church that is struggling with the doctrinal impact of our canons on the mission and pastoral life of the church. He sent me an extract from a recent missive that he received from the horse and cart of the privatized Brobdingnagian Regal Mail 24 week guaranteed delivery driver: 

***scroll begins***

The General Assembly of the Brobdingnagian Reformed Church

Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the prevalence and acceptance of the wearing of Christmas jumpers in contemporary culture.

The Brobdingnagian people have become greatly engaged in recent years with the modern practice of the purchase and wearing of garish, tasteless Christmas jumpers. The Brobdingnagian Reformed Church (BRC) is always conscious of its missional position in modern Brobdingnagian culture, so is willing to engage vigorously and openly with a period of discussion regarding its understanding of the wearing of Christmas jumpers in the life of the church. Pending the conclusion of this period of discussion, this guidance has been produced to support and inform clergy and lay readers, as public representatives of the Church, in the exercise of their ministries and in their provision of pastoral care.

Some churches and other religious bodies have an explicit doctrinal understanding of clerical vesture, and the increasing acceptance of Christmas jumpers, therefore, potentially gives rise to a number of issues for such bodies. The doctrine of vesture for public services of the BRC, as currently expressed in Canon 34 of the Code of Canons, is that “it shall suffice that Priests and Deacons be vested in surplices.” The canon reminds us that “sundry inconveniences do often arise from sudden changes in local uses thereof.”

The church recognises that the possibility of donning a Christmas jumper exists as much for clergy and lay readers as for any other member of the population. Clergy and lay readers are, of course, authorised public representatives of the BRC. At the time of their ordination and upon any subsequent appointment, clergy promise to render due obedience to the Code of Canons. Lay readers also undertake to adhere to the BRC’s doctrine and act under the direction of their presbytery.

As things stand, a clergyperson or lay reader who chooses to don a Christmas jumper for public services will put themselves in a position outwith the BRC’s doctrinal understanding of vesture as expressed in Canon 34. While the BRC’s doctrinal understanding remains as currently expressed, the expectation of the presbyteries is that clergy and lay readers will not don a Christmas jumper for public services and that anyone considering such a step will consult their presbytery moderator.

Similarly, a candidate in the recruitment and selection process for ordination or lay readership who has donned, or is intending to don, a Christmas jumper for public services would be unable to promise obedience to the Canons. The presbyteries likewise expect candidates not to don a Christmas jumper for public services in the current situation and that any candidate considering such a step will consult their presbytery moderator.

Have a very merry Christmas

(but no Christmas jumpers…)

***scroll ends***

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Eve of Advent 2014

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday, the start of a new church year.  This is something that the wider world vaguely knows about, with chocolate calendars for December and a countdown to Christmas. But the tradition of my denomination, to keep Advent as a time of waiting and of alert watching for God, this has a deeper and richer texture than a commercial countdown.  The hope that all humanity is waiting and watching for? Maybe that a new dawn of justice and peace can be found? That God's love and light will break into the darkest places in the world and into people's hearts? Maybe something even more radical... And how are we called to wait? Not passively, listening to the ticking of a celestial waiting room's clock, but actively, participating in God's plans for justice, responding to the promise of glory and salvation.

So tomorrow is a chance for all humanity to join in the wait, occupied since the beginning of time, that all could be well in God's beloved creation...

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Grantchester Mysteries

Mary and I rather enjoy a good murder mystery, a bit of escapism and admiration for the fictional sleuths of books and film.  As a churchman, I am also rather enjoying the new series 'Grantchester', set in Cambridgeshire in 1953.  The back story to the books/TV series is appealing: the author, James Runcie, is the son of Robert Runcie, former Archbishop of Canterbury. The chief character, Sidney Chambers, is a thinly veiled biography of Lord Runcie (former Scots Guards officer from the war etc. etc. - maybe not the incipient war-memory-numbing alcoholism...), the murders feel rather Agatha Christie: a poisoning here, a whack on the head with a blunt object there. Even Robson Green as a rather tired Geordie cop who enjoys backgammon and beer is appealing. The slightly thin reasoning for the involvement of a young cleric in investigating a spate of murders is no thinner than the fictional murder rate in Midsomer. So enjoyable and thoroughly recommended for an idle hour per week.

Some reflections from a church perspective? A rather striking couple of episodes, as Sidney scythes the graveyard, then has to repair the broken tap for the flower lady (who is subsequently murdered) - a vicar is portrayed as getting his hands dirty with everything, down to the maintenance tasks of the parish. Plus ca change!  Even the suggestion that he needs a curate, made when he has been doing the grass, should be countered with the line, 'He needs a gardener/plumber/whatever'.  His housekeeper does challenge his curate to be unlike Sidney: 'No murders, women or drinking.' Sounds much like my own pre-ordination charge.

Sidney also has the rather gentle professional smile as he listens to whatever issue there may be with whatever parishioner may turn up, from unsuitable marriages to fears of murder to dying begonias - a useful tool for the vagaries of ministry and some good method acting.

Final one: not much mention of Jesus, even in the snippets of sermon we've heard so far. I'm sure they are notionally edited highlights, but the 'God presence' in this vicar's life is largely limited to the jokes about 'him upstairs' or well meant platitudes about murder victims 'going to be with God.'

So, this is not 'Father Brown', it is not 'Rev', it is not 'The Name of the Rose', it's definitely not 'All Gas and Gaiters' - but I'm happy to have set up the Sky Box for a Monday night.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Resuming normal service?

I haven't blogged much for quite a while, and even my blipping has taken a back seat for a few weeks ( A mix of referendum intensity, personal busyness and just the sheer volume of 'stuff' can get in the way of public reflection (my excuses anyway). But I am sat on the platform of Oxford railway station about to travel back to a post-referendum Scotland after four days of retreat (counting the journey, which I do), so I feel sufficiently recharged to begin again. It's also not entirely not to do with the row I got from a wonderful former colleague for having gone quite so quiet.  So the midges need to start dancing again.

Some reflections on the referendum will follow, although there is much intensity of emotion and close watching of responses that need handled with care. And my personal journey through ministry, and its place in the Scottish Episcopal Church and other structures may benefit from some 'shop window' treatment again. 

So here we go again!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pitlochry, General Synod and the way forward...

There have been many posts and memes running on the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (although granted the audience for these has been largely limited to the rarified atmosphere of the SEC, I suspect), and I feel the urge to add a little.  I commented last on the Synod overall, from which I came back more positive than I have from previous episodes.  Many of my fellow delegates have come back feeling angry and unrepresented and manipulated, it would seem...

The issue that is vexing most is same-sex (or equal, or gay) marriage, and how to respond as a church. It is not legal, by either the law of the land or by church canons, for an SEC priest to solemnise a marriage between partners of the same gender.  In September this will change in Scotland, and civil marriages will be open to same gender partners.  Religious bodies may opt in to this, but the default position is to be opted out.  

The SEC needs to respond - we are, generically, a liberal and progressive church on such matters. An exercise was held in late April in Pitlochry where invited reps from the dioceses attended and discussed, under well facilitated conditions, a series of discussions on church attitudes to same sex relationships.  Some who were there, and many who were not, reject this exercise as achieving nothing, that it has all been done before.  Some who there (and some who were not) are violently against the church getting involved in equal marriage. Most people felt that something needs to be done.

So to Synod.  There was scheduled to be a presentation on Pitlochry. There was also a motion raised from the floor to try and start the synodical process to change canons to allow equal marriage to be one legal in SEC congregations.  The motion failed to get a majority to let a debate take place.  The Pitlochry presentation took place and received a post-synod social media mauling.  The Primus stood and said things would now start to happen, discussions started with some of the parties involved, options to be brought to Synod next year.  

Where am I on all this? I went to Pitlochry, and found it a superb exercise in managing behaviour in a respectful and listening fashion.  I seconded the motion to start the canonical process, but do not mind in the slightest that it failed: a majority supported it, and it showed a will in the church to start to move onto a decision.  To marry the behaviours that Pitlochry modelled with the purpose and process of formal church debate seems to be the only credible, respectful, rational way forward. The Primus responded, and I believe things will now, at a suitable pace, move on.

I am sad that many self-confessed activists are using aggressive and exclusive language in their response to what is now going on.  I cannot begin to understand what it must feel like to be excluded and discriminated against (I am a white, middle class, Oxbridge educated man, so am about as non-discriminated against as it's possible to be) but change is now in the air. A process is starting, which will involve some painful discussions and a need to remain as opening and listening as possible, but which I believe will end with equal marriage becoming part of the life of the SEC.  Some heat needs to be drawn out of the angry exchanges that are still being made, some respect for the position of others, some serious listening about what ALL parties can actually live with.

My plea is for calm and peace, but also strength and purpose. Things are moving, times are changing. The pace may be frustrating for some, but that is always the way (says he, from his position of non-discriminated-against) - but we are getting close. Peace, grace and respect are what are now needed.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

General Synod 2014

I start to tap this out on my second train back to the west from Edinburgh, after two-and-a-half days of the General Synod of our Scottish Episcopal Church.  It was my fourth synod, a very small number compared to many, but one starts to get the feel for the shape of the business.

What happened? There was a lot of normal business, of tweaking calendars, of approving budgets ("we must be prudent facing challenging times ahead") and receiving reports. Discussing matters that may or may not make much difference to the life of the church.  There were also a few points of profound engagement and emotional intensity.  Some issues get certain people het up: social justice, outreach, attitudes to risk taking, buildings, statistics. But there were also some massive, massive items.

The theological training institute for Scotland is being completely overhauled.  This is a risky business, I suspect, in terms of people, of attitudes to those who were in the 'old' version and of the money that is needed to create a generation of priests, deacons and lay people (I don't think bishops are produced by this method, hmm) that will be effective, resilient and the leaders for the next few decades. Big stuff.

And there was the issue of equal marriage and the church's attitude, formal and informal, to those of us who are not heterosexual. But that needs a separate post, which will follow.

I come away from this synod in a better frame of mind than I have from any previously. Which is good. I really do believe that there is hope for the SEC!

Friday, 30 May 2014


Joining in the dance...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

21st century church...

In a few weeks' time delegates will assemble in Edinburgh for the 2014 General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church.  For our denomination, this country's Anglicans, this is a very important few days, as this is the occasion when the business of the church, everything from worship to mission to social action to laws, this business is reviewed, debated, and changes are made (or otherwise).  This is an expensive business, as folk travel from the far flung reaches of our diocese, and a great deal of many people's time is committed..

Reading the papers, I note that this year we are invited to debate moving the day that commemorates John Mason Neale by two days, from 9th August to 7th August. This is a more accurate day for J M Neale, who died on the 6th August 1866, but as this is the feast of the transfiguration, the 7th is usually observed in other provinces. The opportunity to do this arises from the decision at the General Synod in 2013 to move St Boisil's day from 7th August to the 7th July, a date that suits his local area around Melrose better, as they observe this medieval tradition anyway.

We live in times of great social change, of crises of national identity, of revolutions in legal and social ideas about families and relationships and the essence of humanity. We are also part of a church under pressure, a church that is declining in numbers and finance, a church that strives to be relevant in a world that seems increasing disinterested..

We may discuss some of that too.

I hope.

Here's another picture of a nice sunny day on Bute.

Why here?

This seems a good reason for starters...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Aware of our context?

This is an 1830s engraving of a shipwreck off the coast at Dunoon. The sailors are clinging to the marker on the rocks, the same rocks that have destroyed their ship, presumably running for shelter in one of the bays of Dunoon.  The wind direction looks a slightly unusual easterly, given the prevailing winds here are generally westerly of some nature.  The storm is really getting up, with a sharp stab of lightning cracking down on the hills above Dunoon.

So what?

I saw this print (in an original printed form) in the house of the lady who lives in the white house you can just see to the right of the sailor-festooned rocks.  Her house pre-dates the row of hotels and houses that grew along the West Bay in the later Victorian times.  Her house also pre-dates the church that I am part of in Dunoon: in fact the crack of lightning is hitting just about where Holy Trinity was built, some twenty years after the print was made.  I don't think one should read too much into that - if it was dated 1850 (the website I bought the image from lists it as 1830) - it could be seen as a presbyterian critique of the permission given for a Scottish Episcopalian building in the burgh. But no, it's just a rather romanticized vision of a late 18th century shipping disaster, a not unusual happening at that time, I suspect. The lady with the print is rather delighted with the historical rooting of her house. She is also the head of the local heritage society, and was vetting me before allowing me to address the same society.

The context that hit me hardest from this print is the rocks.  They are the Gantocks, a set of rocks visible at low tide, just off the pier in Dunoon.  At high tide their beacon is always visible, normally capped by a seagull or two, or a cormorant drying its wings.  The Gantocks are always there.  They are there in the image that heads this blog, a photo taken a few months before I had even arrived in Cowal, and when there was still some uncertainty as to whether I would come or not.  The idea of the Gantocks as a thing of danger are still there, I suppose. The MV Akka sank on them in 1956.  The paddle steamer Waverley almost ended her career on them in 1977.  A lump of rock in a shipping lane is always something that matters.  But living here, you become unconscious of them.  Occasionally the light makes them stand out, or as you drive past the (shut) McColls hotel they jump out, shouting, "very low tide!"  But mainly they are just there, as they always have been, and as they always will be.  

Context is where we minister, where we live. Sometimes we are aware of it. Sometimes we learn the stories of its past. But it is always there. Everything is context.

Monday, 31 March 2014


I am blipping this Lent (in fact, in general) rather than blogging - a daily photo with a short reflection or factual report. But it feels important to keep a little simmer here...

This is my fourth Lent in Cowal & Bute and Argyll & The Isles, and it is a good feeling to no longer remember exactly which year which thing/service/course/reflection was done.  Ministry as a cyclic process, picking up the rhythm of the years and the liturgical calendar, can be a helpful concept, I believe.  I am, by nature, an objective driven person (some excellent training I have done recently confirmed this in abundance!), so to step back from projects and objectives and enter an ongoing flow is quite, quite different.

I am also conscious that this ministry is a long-term activity, with short term projects and issues, but overall it is a long, never-ending business. A couple of my predecessors as rector here (altho I am just a priest in charge...) are buried in our graveyard. One day I will metaphorically join them.  This is my shift here, my turn to look after these people, to help them worship, to walk alongside them.

Lent is a useful time to reflect on this. But not this Lent.  There is a busyness this year, not in the charges, but elsewhere, which is stretching things and making life tighter.  Maybe that just happens, as time passes and things become wore interwoven in a diocese and a province.  But it will be good to find some time this Lent to reflect upon this journey, the few short years spent here so far.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Real Life versus...?

In the whirl of modern social media, I find it all too easy to forget one particular arena or tool as I focus on others.  The lure of, an Edinburgh based social media initiative, based around posting a single photo each day with (if one wishes) some reflection or sharing, has rather distracted me from Facebook and blogging, and even taken me away from Twitter unless I make a special effort to interact.  But why bother I (maybe) hear you ask?  The whole social media thing is fraught with potential for problems and miscommunication and wasting time, isn't it?

I disagree, of course.  There are times that following the holiday antics of friends of friends on Facebook or choosing one of the many rants to trend with on Twitter can seem to melt productive time away like the spring sun melts the snow on the Argyll hills. But the connections, the deep conversations, the long distance immediacy of interaction is breath taking.  I tend to tether this iPad to my smartphone when I am sat on a ferry or waiting for a few moments between meetings or visits, and catch up with the whirl of hundreds of people that I know or am connected to.  I see their joy, their pain, the excitement, their frustration, their questioning, their certainty, their doubt: the list stretches on and on and on.  Occasionally the connection becomes very intense, through a direct message because the pain is too much for public consumption, or a text because other avenues have dried up. People, their minds and souls, are out their in this virtual community.

I have always been convinced that God wants people to minister in this place, that is not a real place. Some people do, and I have met and worked with some of them. Some transmit encouragement and challenge, some manage and care for online communities.  But the social media and web presence of a real life Christian community is a vital part of that community's mission.  This is nothing new to say, and I, and the churches and organisations that I represent are far from perfect at this virtual presence business. But we try. We tweet. We try and promote our Facebook presence. We try and keep our websites fresh and appealing.  This is proclaiming the gospel, just as much as living our real lives in our RL community.

A footnote and final reflection on social media.  I have tended to avoid some social media tools, mainly for reasons of time constraint, but this evening I fell off my LinkedIn wagon and actually sent some network requests out to people from a suggested list. Why? Well, why not.  The faces from, in some cases the distant past, brought back memories of the past 25 years in quite a startling way.  I was quite nervous about sending some of them - work colleagues from pressured projects in the past may not be that excited about the automated pestering that linkedIn will give them to connect with this random Episcopalian from their past.  But I look forward to making some of those connections and sharing just a little of where our divergent lives have taken us.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Sofa so good...

I find myself reflecting on the experience of encounter.  We try to think about this in church a lot: what does it feel like for a person to encounter church/faith/Christians.  We write books about it, do courses on it, work with congregations to try and develop it. And sometimes the outcome is good, and a person has a positive experience of the encounter, and sometimes the experience is bad and the person is not made welcome or does not find what they are looking for.  Why do we care? Because we want people to hear the gospel/join our churches? Those are not entirely the same thing. You can measure the latter.  Some people think the latter will produce viable, lively, financially working churches.  Personal thought: the former actually does that.  But where am I coming from with this today?

Well, yesterday, I engaged with the true religion of 21st century Scotland/Britain: buying a new sofa.

The furniture companies are not ones that I have ever worked for, but I have bought a few sofas over the years.  The work that firms put into selling this high value and very personalised product is massive.   Interest free credit for years and years, hundreds of pounds off, images of happy, smiling people leaping onto vividly coloured sofas and clearly having a much better life after buying the sofa: these are advertising images to get us to walk into the store.  The message is clear. Come into *insert three letter abbreviated firm name here* and you will get something, cheaply, that will make your life better. OK. 

But walk into the store and it got fascinating. We popped into three of them, side by side, and each of them had clearly been on the same training courses/company manual/congregational development model.  A friendly person came up to say "hi" in a relaxed way, and we were told to have fun and take our time and what wonderful sofas awaited us.  Every time we showed interest in a particular sofa, the friendly face would appear and make some pleasant comments. We were asked about our children.  We were asked about where we lived. We were told that where we lived was a wonderful place. We were offered coffee.  It felt unobtrusive (although Mary felt she would rather have been left alone more). The whole emphasis was "we like you and want you to spend time with us and we care about what you care about."  The motivation is "we want you to buy a sofa" but it is well concealed below the layers of friendly personable sales work.

Even after we had bought the sofas we needed (/wanted) and the store manager had to come to check some technical aspect of the credit agreement, it was still done in a friendly, likeable, light-hearted way.  

So can one learn anything about how to make a church encounter positive from this experience? Of course we can, although with caution.  The church is motivated to draw people in and make them want to stay.  You won't do this, in my opinion, if you are not friendly and welcoming and genuinely interested in people. But what is the product that we offer? Sofa shops offer sofas. We offer... Maybe a warm community that is genuinely welcoming? Yes, OK.  An encounter with the living God. That sounds a bit scary.  How about a warm welcoming community that, in time, draws you into a saving relationship with the living God.  Sounds like we are getting there.  

A sofa shop doesn't expect you to come back every week, but they would like you to come back each time you want a sofa.  They want you to leave with a warm feeling so you return.  Same with a church: your quest for community/healing/divine encounter/justice/etc. is packaged in an environment that leaves you feeling warm. So you will want to come back, again and again.  In sofa shops they obviously try and teach this.  In churches we try and teach this.  But there are clearly some sofa salespeople that are genuinely interested in their customers and are genuinely friendly.  This maybe gives them an edge in how effective they are at being sofa salespeople.  I would suggest there are church leaders, lay and ordained, who are also gifted in having a genuine interest and even love for the people of God, and this makes them more effective at growing the church because of the texture and shared behaviours of the communities that they gather around them.  Maybe this is where the discussions from recent times on the Archbishop of Canterbury's 'good vicars mean growing churches' will end up because this is where they have come from.

The sofa companies work hard to tell people that coming to them will make your life better, and they welcome people with enjoyment and friendship in the hope that they will come back again and again. Maybe we could have quite a lot in common after all...