Sunday, 22 June 2008

Psalm 71 via Wordle

Wordle is a Java-based tool for creating patterns of words from any text. I discovered it tonight and thought I'd try pasting in the text of Psalm 71, which we read at this morning's service. Pretty neat, I reckon. (Click the image for a bigger view).

Friday, 20 June 2008

Back again

I've just returned from a week with the team delivering the third Diocesan Leadership Programme. Seventeen participants, all clergy, joined us from across Leicestershire to spend a week reflecting on leadership and being equipped with new tools for leading change. It's been a great week, hard work and a privilege to work with a creative team. I've a full weekend with Andy and Rowena's wedding tomorrow and the Sunday service to finish preparing for, so I don't suppose I'll be back to the blog for a few more days.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

How could Pennbury be good?

I went to the well-attended exhibition organised by the Co-operative Group at Parklands Leisure Centre on Wednesday afternoon. It was the first real opportunity that I had to see the Co-op's proposals, although the descriptions on the bright and attractive display boards raised as many questions as they answered. We are still at the beginning of a proposed development that is on a massive scale and no one can design a town of 15,000 homes in a few weeks.

The young men and women wearing the “Communications Consultant” badges looked eager and keen to help. The first display panel showed a projection of the area considered for development. The fields of Leicestershire were shown in the kind of aerial view that Google displays on its maps. To the left were the suburban villages of Thurnby, Evington and Oadby. To the right Houghton on the Hill, Little Stretton and Great Glen. The area of land held by Co-op and English Partnerships was highlighted and at its centre, the runways of the airfield stood out clearly.

This display was the most popular by far. The residents of east Leicestershire are hardly known for being feisty but here were a huddle of at least a dozen people, pressed in around the map. I was practically jostled. They seemed to all be talking at the same time, gesturing to specific features with fingers pressed into the map or making larger points with a sweeping of hands. The sharply-dressed and courteous Communications Consultant was explaining what was planned, what was not planned and what was not known at this stage.

From this initial display, people wandered around the other boards with grave and doubtful looks. I overheard conversations in which the residents sought and found evidence for their worst fears. “There you go...”, “Look! I told you...” I overheard nothing from the visitors that was appreciative or positive in the slightest.

Then I noticed how narrow a band of people were at this particular event at this particular time. Men and women were in roughly equal numbers, but they were almost all older people and, without exception, white. Perhaps the time of day (Wednesday afternoon) had something to do with this and perhaps younger people and members of other ethnic groups have been equally represented. I do hope so. I was struck by the obvious difference between the young paid advocates and the unimpressed older visitors. Both groups are stakeholders in the Pennbury project – with important gains or losses to contend for.

The visitors to the exhibition were understandably fearful at the loss of green fields in the area and at the prospect of sharing the roads on which they frequently travel with large numbers of other people. And I see why. They have the most to lose and probably the least to gain from Pennbury. Ironically, many of them will live in the area in homes that were built on green fields in the last fifty years. The incremental development of places like Oadby, Thurnby, Great Stretton and Kibworth has seen thousands of houses built in recent decades. It has drawn people who enjoy the unspoilt countryside within easy reach of their affordable homes, good schools for their children, and easy use of their cars. These steadily growing villages have enabled Leicester's expansion without much of a fuss. So it's been possible for our parishioners to refer to Oadby as 'the village' without conceding that it's really a substantial town of 25,000 that is part of the Greater Leicester conurbation.

As Oadby expanded, residents of Knighton and Clarendon Park who noticed what was happening might have felt disappointed at the loss of their nearby fields. And users of the southern ring road and A6 might have worried about the rising traffic that the new residents' cars would bring to their congested routes. But a defining urban characteristic is a surprising capacity for change and growth.

I am delighted that Oadby grew so significantly and that I live and minister in the expanded Oadby, rather than the small village that existed before the War. To wish otherwise would be rather perverse of me. It's a good place to live and investment in community facilities has contributed significantly. In the 1970s the local authority and the Church of England had the imagination to plan a place of worship and combined community centre (St Paul's Church), which has become a focus for faith and life. Regrettably, the expansion of The Grange estate in the last twenty years was not accompanied by similar investments in local amenities.

The chief difference between these incremental developments and the Pennbury proposal is the shock of it all. It was possible to not really notice the new homes going up in Oadby – to overlook a half-dozen new streets here and there, and to miss the passing of another green field every couple of years. But Pennbury is huge, sudden and unmissable.

The national needs for affordable housing and for more sustainable, ecologically sensitive development are hard to dispute. But while the displays and brochures are beautifully designed and full of the kind of positive aspirational statements with which few would disagree, there's just insufficient detail to know how and if, in the long term, Pennbury could be a good thing or a huge mistake. I simply have insufficient information to decide.

But on some things I am more certain.

I have no inside knowledge but it looks to me that there's a very strong chance that Pennbury will be approved, whatever the protests of those who previously bought into the attractions of this area and who have most to lose. I regret that a go-ahead decision will bring much hurt and sorrow. For us as a church, for our new Gartree Mission Partnership, and for me personally, Pennbury is likely to dominate the collective pastoral context for ministry in the coming years. If the proposals are approved, we shall be ministering to a significantly bereaved population, coming to terms with a substantial loss.

But the church's pastoral ministry must be balanced with its prophetic ministry. We must also play a constructive part in ensuring that the vision for Pennbury is not unimaginative and narrowly domestic. If it goes ahead, Pennbury could be a place of isolation, where people are neighbourless in what the Bishop of Leicester has strikingly described as an “eco-ghetto”. But it need not be. The churches and other faith communities must ensure that the developers are challenged with a better vision of civic living, where streets are places of public encounter, where shared identities of place are more decisive than sectarian identities of tribe, where concern for one's neighbour transcends personal fears and greeds. There is plenty in the Christian tradition that informs our investment in community and many of our churches, including St Paul's, are models of successful community-building and positive interaction between diverse groups in our population, including people of other faiths. We have a lot to contribute and a lot of skills, insights and practical experience to share.

At the exhibition I asked to meet one of the Co-op staff, rather than the PR people. After a few minutes an exhausted-looking woman came to meet me. “I've been up for hours.” she said. I sensed that she wasn't looking forward to yet another difficult conversation. But as we talked about both the real concerns and the real possibilities, I saw her interest in the church's contribution to a better plan for Pennbury.

If Pennbury goes ahead, our churches will face two challenges. First will be the challenge of maintaining a pastoral concern for the bereaved and disappointed. Second will be the challenge of the long-term prophetic role which will shape the lives of thousands who are not yet known to us. This is a time for listening and understanding, for praying, for caring and for bold responses to a significant opportunity.

Holy Space alternative worship - 29 June 2008

Ant and Karen Johnson from OBC are designing our worship at Holy Space at 8.00pm on 29 June. They've taken the title, "And God moved into the neighbourhood" and will be enabling us to pray and reflect on the local community through a "stationary prayer walk".

Friday, 13 June 2008

The Stand

Thanks to Katy who gave me a link to The Stand, an event at the NEC on 8 November, 2008.

More details at Hope for Justice which writes,
Hope for justice exists to inspire a new GENERATION of Christians: * A GENERATION that will be known for living out the gospel through justice and righteousness; * A GENERATION equipped to make a real difference, wherever it finds itself; * A GENERATION united, in purpose and passion, standing like never before, resolved and determined to see every slave set free.

Self-interest, petrol and the Kingdom of Heaven

My car's tank is half-full. A petrol tanker drivers strike has just begun. Should I fill up "just to make sure", or should I heed the warnings not to panic-buy?

The drivers' dispute is between 600 drivers and the two companies that supply Shell forecourts. It's due to last four days. If people don't change their petrol-buying habits there'll be enough to go around. These are the facts, as far as I can tell. But the facts alone don't shape people's behaviour.

If every motorist has the choice between filling up 'just to be safe' and trusting that there won't be shortages, how will they choose? How should we choose?

It's a fascinating situation because it reveals how the collective behaviour which results from individual rational self-interest can cause problems for everyone. Put simply, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to fill the tank, just in case everyone else decides to do the same. But if everyone decides to do the same reasonable self-interested thing, the outcomes will be poor for everyone - long queues, anxiety and people going without.

So the decision about what to do involves a calculation about other people's behaviour, and not just the facts about the levels of petrol in the system. More specifically, the calculation must make assumptions about whether other people will act in their own self-interest or in the interests of wider society. If I believe my fellow motorists will grab the petrol first, there's a real risk that I'll miss out. If I believe that most people will act with restraint, I can afford to do the same. In the end, the calculation involves my estimation of other people's selfishness or altruism.

Whichever way I choose, my actions will contribute to the overall situation. Economists and social theorists call this a non-zero-sum game. Game theory has produced sophisticated models to predict behaviour in commodity markets and on the High Street. Game theorists generally assume that people are motivated to act in ways which maximise their own personal gain and minimise the risk of their own personal loss.

How does this ethic relate to scripture and, in particular, to the radical precepts of the Kingdom of Heaven in the teachings of Jesus? Here we find a surprising morality in which self-interest is relegated to the ethics of love, patience, humility, trust and forgiveness. These could be characterised as foolish and naive. But Jesus is honest about the cost of following a way of self-sacrifice - it is not pain-free, nor does it guarantee security, peace or success. We can all see that a world without these virtues and filled with a greedy, fearful individualism would be a poor place to live. But are we willing to risk ourselves?

I have decided not to fill my tank today. I'll stick to my usual habits and take my chance. If I run out of petrol and find myself stuck at home when I need to be somewhere difficult to access by public transport, I might appear to have been naive and foolish. But I trust that my restraint is not inconsequential, that my small action will contribute to the bigger picture, That just a tiny bit of behaviour that isn't rooted in self-interest and a negative assessment of other people will make the whole world a tiny bit less anxious.

The petrol tanker drivers dispute offers an interesting and short-term opportunity. But we must all make similar decisions in a market economy which have far-reaching consequences. How much energy should we use? How much food are we entitled to and at what price? How right is it to play the housing market as an investment game? How should we respond to planning issues? How should we treat the environment and the species that share our planet?

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Mission Giving allocations for 2008

The first tenth of our annual church income is given away. That's around £8000. A lot of money.

This isn't recklessness or stupidity. It's because as a matter of principle we believe that we should support people in disadvantage and poverty at home and abroad. We believe that our mission as a local church shouldn't end at our parish boundary either, so we also support Christian organisations and projects.

Half of the £8000 is made through donations directly from St Paul's, to the following groups (click the links for more details):

Care for the Family
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Africa Inland Mission (Keith Waddell's eye surgery work)
Bahadur Fistula Hospital, Ethiopia (recently visited by Doug Tincello)
Jakin pregnancy care and counselling

The remaining £4000 is allocated through the parish 'common pot' and supports the work of:
Bible Society
Mission Aviation Fellowship
Christ in the Centre

District Church Council - June 2008 meeting

On Tuesday the DCC settled down to business after Paul took all our photographs. Look out for a display showing who the DCC representatives are, and speak with them about matters of interest and concern. Among the issues discussed at the meeting we considered:
  • We began with a Bible study on Isaiah 40.27-31.
  • A significant amount of time was given to the exploration of how a paid youth worker could extend and develop our work with the 14-25 age range.
  • A presentation was made by Paul, inviting us to consider a scheme for engaging with community needs. It was a free-ranging and honest discussion and as a result we resolved to pursue the agenda initially through the Engage training available from Care for the Family in the autumn.
  • Updates on the purchase of new sound equipment.
  • Mission Giving proposals were approved (full details will be posted separately). As usual, we decided how to allocate a tenth of our total church income to support charities and Christian agencies at home and abroad.
  • Update on the recent stewardship appeal.
  • Update on Back to Church Sunday.
If you have an item for consideration by the DCC at its next meeting, please email our DCC Secretary Anita Chettle.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Big on belief, short on brains tour 2008

I love the title that Neil's come up with for his great project. He writes,
Dear colleagues, former colleagues, friends and family,

You might have noticed that I did not bother you about sponsorship for running in this year's London Marathon. This is not, as has been suggested, because I decided to have a lazy year!

No, it is because I have set myself a new and different challenge, indeed it has even been suggested that I must be mad, but have enormous self belief! Hence the chosen name of this new adventure!

What is the cause?
As before I am rasing money for Leicester YMCA, but this time all that I raise stays in Leicester. Leicester YMCA works with some of the most deprived young people in Leicester. Many suffer from a lack of opportunity compounding a lack of ambition. These together often result in the young person not taking advantage of or having the opportunity for new experiences.

One possible solution to this problem lies in having a dedicated and permanent fund of at least £10,000 to enable these young people to be fully or part funded to have access to the experiences you and I take for granted. This might be as simple as a pair of shoes to attend an interview or a trip to a sports or arts event, or as complex as a trip overseas to gain work experience, or anything in between! The plan is to establish a fund of at least £10000, the interest from which will provide the funding described, thus it becomes a permanent addition to the work of Leicester YMCA.

What is the challenge?
I am cycling nearly 1000 miles from Lands End to John O'Groats, over 15 days in August this year. This means I will need to average between 60 and 70 miles per day (depending on how lost I get), taking me between 5 and 6 hours. For me, this is the equivalent of running a marathon each day for 2 weeks. To save on money spent and weight carried, I have chosen to spend each night at a different Youth Hostel.

My route takes me from Lands End via Exeter, Cheddar and Bristol to South Wales. Along the border northwards through Ross on Wye and Chester, around Manchester to Slaidburn and onto Carlisle. Across the border into Scotland and via Gretna and New Lanark and around Glasgow, past Loch Lomond and on to Glencoe. Turn right and ride along the edge of Loch Ness and to the East Coast. A sharp left turn and up to the North Coast before the final leg into John O'Groats.

You are able to support me in a number of ways

- use the dedicated Just Giving website page at:
- by sending or delivering cash or a cheque to Emma Knight, Leicester YMCA, 7 East Street, Leicester, LE1 7AF, clearly marked "Cycle fund"

In addition, for those who can, we are offering an opportunity to be a corporate supporter of the venture. For this we will display a copy of your logo or company name either on the clothing I wear or on the bicycle I ride, all for the princely sum of £100, equivalent to just 10p per mile. Contact me if you would like to take advantage of this opportunity.

For further information about this adventure, further opportunities to support me, or opportunities to meet me en route please feel free to contact me.

Many thanks in advance for your support, it means an awful lot to me, Leicester YMCA and the young people we are able to help!


Neil Griffiths

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Pennbury Eco-town proposal - consultation events and key links

I've just received the following very helpful information about the public consultations that are being held about the Pennbury eco-town proposal:

Proposals have been put forward by the Cooperative Group to build an eco-town, provisionally given the name Pennbury, on land they own between Leicester, Oadby, Thurnby and Houghton on the Hill.
This is one of 15 locations accross the country shortlisted for a new eco-town by the Government in April.

Government is currently holding a consultation to 30 June on preliminary views on eco-towns in general and the 15 locations shortlisted.

Further consultation will take place on more detailed assessments of the 15 locations from July to October.

In June there will be a series of consultation events and exhibitions for you to find out more about the proposals and have your say.

Co-operative Group
The Co-operative Group will be holding a series of public exhibitions for people to find out more and to meet the project team.
Dates and venues are as follows:
• Tuesday 10 June, The Three Swans, High Street, Market Harborough
• Wednesday 11 June, Parklands Leisure Centre, Wigston Road, Oadby
• Friday 13 June and Saturday 14 June, Exhibition Marquee (being set up on the "Christmas Party site"), off Gartree Road
• Monday 16 June, Leicester Tigers Rugby Club, Ayleston Road, Leicester
The exhibitions will be taking place from 11.00am to 8.00pm.
The Co-operative group encourages anyone interested in the proposals to come to one of the exhibitions and find out more.

Leicestershire County Council and local MPs
2 Public meetings hosted by the Leader of the County Council, David Parsons and local MPs, Alan Duncan and Edward Garnier
• 9th June at 8pm, Gartree School, Oadby
• 12th June at 8pm, Coplow Centre, Billesdon
Please come along the hear more about Pennbury and to have your say.

Harborough District Council
Harborough District Council is to hold three events across the district in June. These events will take place at:
• Leicester Airfield, The Marquee, Gartree Road, Little Stretton, near Stoughton, LE2 2FG, on Monday, June 16, at between 10.30am-12noon or 7pm and 8.30pm.
• Shearsby Bath Hotel, Bruntingthorpe Road, Shearsby, LE17 6PP, on Tuesday, June 17, at between 4.30pm-6pm or 6.30pm-8pm.
• Three Swans Hotel, High Street, Market Harborough, LE16 7NU, on Wednesday, June 18, between 12noon-1.30pm or 6.30pm-8pm.
There is limited capacity at each venue so it is important people book a place in advance. There will be disabled access at each venue. To book a place email: or phone 0116 2220004

Oadby & Wigston Borough Council
The next Oadby Community Forum at Parklands Leisure Centre, Wigston Road, Oadby, LE2 5QC, on Wednesday 18th June will be dedicated to Eco-towns. There will be 3 sessions to choose from: 3pm, 5.30pm and 8pm.
For more information please contact Alan Wood (0116 2572682 or

Other events
- June 5th, Referendum - parish poll, Bushby & Thurnby Ward
- June 11th, Referendum - parish poll, Scraptoft Ward
On June 17th, 18:30 to 19:30, a BBC Radio Leicester Big Debate session will focus on the Eco-town. The event will be broadcast and filmed. It takes place at Thurnby Village Hall. There will be room for 60-70 people invited by BBC Radio Leicester.

Links to important websites
The following websites provide relevant information about the proposals, consultation process and opportunities and about what various organisations are doing with regards to the Eco-town proposal.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Platform 2

Just had some details from Mary Anderson of Christian Aid about Platform 2. She writes,

Platform2: free 10-week life-changing experience overseas!

Are you – or do you know anyone – 18-25 years old? If so, take a look at as you or they may be eligible for a free, government-funded, life-changing experience in a developing country such as Ghana, South Africa, India or Peru. This is a fantastic one-off opportunity aimed at young people who would not otherwise be able to afford a gap-year experience, for example, those from families who claim tax credits.

The trips are 10 weeks long, with a one-week in-country orientation and then nine weeks at the project. A three-day residential follows return to the UK where we will help volunteers make sense of their experience and act on it through telling their story in creative ways in the UK to raise development awareness.

Typical projects include constructing community buildings, caring for and teaching children, building infrastructure at eco centres, and assisting in HIV clinics. The important thing is that they involve living among a local community, getting an opportunity to make a meaningful difference to that community, and then coming back inspired to tell their story back in the UK.

A few places are still available for July and August departures. An immediate application might secure a July placement. Otherwise, please make sure you apply by 20 June in order to secure an August placement.

Feel free to contact at for more information – don’t delay!

Jesus Rep - Desire youth event 25 June 2008

Publicity's arrived for the next Desire youth event. At the moment I don't know much more than what's on the posters, which describe "discussing what it means to represent Jesus at school, work and uni". Sounds good.

Click the picture for a larger view. Email for more.

In common with the Commons

I discovered today that the dimensions of the Chamber of the House of Commons (at floor level where the MPs sit) are 14m by 20m. Then I remembered from the refurbishment planning a couple of years ago that these are exactly the same dimensions as the main hall at St Paul's Church. Did you think that the Commons is bigger? So did I.

Visitors to the Commons public galleries (which are admittedly wider than the floor below) always comment how much smaller the space is than they imagine when watching debates on TV. I've also heard how rowdy the chamber can be with hundreds of MPs baying at their opponents and now I can understand why. I can't find a copyright-free picture of the Commons Chamber but there's a nice one at Wikipedia here.

Maybe I have the same kind of interest as the writer of 1 Kings 6, who recorded the overall dimensions of Solomon's Temple (excluding its surrounding courts) as 20 cubits (9m) by 60 cubits (27 metres). That would make the Temple significantly smaller than St Paul's.

I sometimes wish we had more space and it would certainly make it possible to squeeze more in for a busy service. But perhaps when it comes to buildings, what matters is what you do with what you've got.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Principal Services Summer 2008

In the coming weeks we'll be studying passages from the 'most Jewish' of the four gospels, Matthew.

The disciples learned from Rabbi Jesus through spoken lessons and debate, through action and miraculous intervention in situations of suffering, and through being sent out, entrusted with ministry on their own.

In our day, we learn in similar ways – by listening, watching, and doing. So we bring to our worship all the uncertainties and unresolved questions that our lives contain. In the presence of Jesus the Teacher and the living Word of God, we can find the resources we need, even in our complicated contemporary world.

Jesus and his companions made the Psalms their daily prayer and we'll be sharing in their experience in these weeks.

Our “All Together Church” services are for all ages and last no more than one hour. “The Word Service” includes a time of more focussed teaching and, like our communion services, lasts just under an hour and a half.

1 June 2008
10.00am Holy Communion
Giving and Stewardship Sunday
Haggai 2:4-9 and John 13:16 – 30

8 June 2008
10.00am All Together Church
Mercy and sacrifice
Psalm 150 & Matthew 9.9-13, 18-26

15 June 2008
10.00am Holy Communion
Sent out in mission
Psalm 126 and Matthew 9.35-10.8

22 June 2008
10.00am The Word Service
What are you afraid of?
Psalm 71 and Matthew 10.24-39

29 June 2008
10.00am The Word Service
Simple things, eternally significant
Psalm 48 and Matthew 10.40-end

29 June 2008
8.00pm Holy Space

6 July 2008
10.00am Holy Communion
“You will find rest for your souls”
Psalm 91 & Matthew 11.16 - end

13 July 2008
10.00am Joint service of Holy Communion at St Peter's Church

20 July 2008
10.00am The Word Service
Good seed and weeds
Psalm 34 & Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

27 July 2008
10.00am The Word Service
The Kingdom of Heaven
Psalm 131 and Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

3 August 2008
10.00am Holy Communion
Abundant blessings
Psalm 4 and Matthew 14.13-21

10 August 2008
10.00am All Together Church
Getting out of the boat
Matthew 14.22-33

17 August 2008
10.00am Holy Communion
Almost overlooked
Psalm 105.1-11 & Matthew 15.21-28

24 August 2008
10.00am The Word Service
“Who do you say I am?”
Psalm 140 & Matthew 16.13-20