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Thursday, 5 June 2014

1 day @CofE #FaithResearch event on “The role of the Church in Society”

Yesterday I attended a @CofE #FaithResearch 1 day event on “The role of the Church in Society” in Birmingham UK.  What follows is a summary of the take-a-way ideas that struck me during the day – with help from the tweets of various people. 

Bishop David Walker introduced and closed the day. Various materials from the day are apparently due to be put in this section of the CofE website. When they are I’ll try and update this post as necessary.  As at 2/7/14 I have updated the post with links to all the slides from this section of the CofE website.  A big thanks to cofe stats and all the presenters - a useful day!

Opening session Spiritual Capital - the role of the church in a post secular city – Dr Chris Baker. Slides are here

why should religious citizens have to hide their identity in public when it is the source of their energy ?

Chris walked us through the story of his research whilst commenting on the current state of play between religion, politics and public life in the UK and elsewhere.  Headline take-a-way ideas from my perspective are:

- physical regeneration of an area needs to be accompanied by personal and spiritual transformation of people.  Is not just about product, its also about process, people and feelings.

- to get best value from working with faith groups you need to not just work with the what but also the why. With the religious and spiritual capital as well as the social capital.
(social capital is about the importance of relationships, networks & norms that can be used to enrich individuals & communities (Putnam, 2000).  Religious Capital is the practical contribution to local/national life made by faith groups (Baker & Skinner, 2006).  Spiritual Capital energises religious capital by providing a theological identity & worshipping tradition, value system, moral vision, basis for faith .. embedded with faith groups & expressed in the lives of individuals)

- we are now in a post secular public sphere - its not about secularism as an ideology disappearing from the scene, its about the re-emergence (or new visibility) of religion.  We need to rediscover the wisdom, discernment & discipline linked with religious sources because they are "pre-political", independent, self generating and thus outside the power of the newly diminished state and the ever voracious market (the previous sentence and what follows are a summary of Habermas - neo-liberal capitalism & the enlightenment virtues of autonomy, individuality & property rights have led to modern liberal democratic states without the capacity to motivate citizens to form resistances & collectivities against this total wave of capitalism from within its own truth claims)

- pressure for religious citizens to mask their identity or discourse in the public square is unfair as secular citizens are not required to do the same

- spiritual capital is not the sole preserve of those religious.  Its properties as a value system and moral vision are a motivating force for those outside religions also.

- progressive localism ='s community strategies looking outwards, creating +'ve affinities, creating community solidarity, direct democracy and translocal struggle

- faith groups can be active agents of progressive localism providing local political leadership through their faith based engagement and acting as hubs of post secular rapprochment

First results from the 2013 Experiencing Ministry Survey – Dr Tim Ling and Dr Mike Clinton.  Slides are here

  1. . using a great looking Prezi to talk about the Experiencing ministry survey
They described the 2011 to 2015 process of research and consultation.  This aims to find out what sustains clergy (for a ministry that for many encompasses many different settings over decades) and ID factors that may support growth. An Experiences of Ministry Survey (EMS) in 2011, 2013 & due in 2015 is a major part of this research. More details are at 

- EMS measures growth via a no. of Average Weekly Attendance (AWA) like measures but which also look at ratings of the level of change in attendance  over the last 24 months. 

- EMS also measures spiritual growth by using ratings of the level of change on items like Relationships (with God, self, others). 

- Other forms of numerical growth like Disciples and discipleship and ratings of the levels of change over the last 24 months are also used. 

Some findings are: 
- There are significant and positive relationships between AWA and EMS growth measures.

- On the Leadership Development Programme (LDP) element of the EMS survey the perceived effectiveness of leadership development by Diocese seems to vary considerably between diocese. 

-  There is also an emerging issue of how much time clergy spend on admin (which LDP don’t deal with) and indeed exactly what activities clergy categorise as being admin.

Session 1a – Equipping ministers for mission –– I didn’t attend these sessions and there were no pre-session handouts for me to summarise but I have inserted some relevant tweets. If materials get posted on the stats section of the CoE website I'll try to summarise them below.

Research & Statistics: Overview of CofE Clergy – Debbie Hore - Slides are here

    1. Over 10 years C of E total clergy figures stay at c11500, but 9% more are now self supporting. Thank you all SSM priests!

Young Vocations – Liz Boughton & Lis Goddard - Slides are here

  1. More married than single young men going forward, more single than married young women

Clergywomen in the CofE - Mandy Robbins

Slides are here
The science of clergy work-related psychological health: theory, assessment & evidence – Leslie Francis - Slides are here

Session 1b The Church Serving Society

What a difference a church makes: examining the hows and whys of church-based social action – Paul Bickley - Paul described some qualitative research based in ID’ing churches in areas of high deprivation and then using observation and interviews to ID what they were doing, how and why. Slides are here

  1. talking about the difference a church makes in local communities at

- What they were doing  - was characterised as: employment skills; life skills; child/youth work; neighbourliness; basic material needs. 

- How they were doing  - was reported as: Co-operative networks; macro problems/micro responses; attention to agency; creating & sustain public spaces (e.g. improving permanently outdoor furniture in church grounds that was being used as a space for football and exercise)

- Why they were doing this was described as: Good relationships both as a means and an end (often using “family” language); Oikos (home) and polis (public) – a bringing together of both these ways of being; Hope - providing such; Incarnation – the church is there for the long term (and often is the last “agency” left standing as government grants to other organisations are withdrawn whereas church is traditionally less dependent on such grants)

Using social media research methods to identify hidden churches – Ant Cooper - Slides also here

My slides of today's presentation are now available for download: Please feel free to retweet!

- Ant is using Twitter API to capture data from tweets on Sundays which mention church in the London area. He then “sieves” the data (putting to one side that data not relevant) to leave real tweets on church where location data is user enabled. He then looks at clusters of such tweets and maps these against known churches to ID hidden ones

The Church’s opportunity to engage strategically with issues of Human Enhancement – Justin Tomkins – Slides are here - Justin looked at ideas around using medical science to significantly prolong human lifespans or make them immortal or using genetics to create “super” capabilities. He mentioned the idea of using technology to “download” a person into a digital form (Ray Kurzweil).   He argued for more Christian involvement in this debate (whilst mentioning those christians already involved) and pointed out the potential contribution of Christian thinking on issues like: intrinsic human limits; Alpha & Omega; God working through history, cosmology and Phillippians 2 v 5-11 (the most human human).  Further info can be found at

Session 2a - Growing the Church & education – I didn’t attend these sessions so have summarised below what the pre-session handouts say (where I have them) and inserted relevant tweets.

Strategy & development: an update on Church Growth Research – Kevin Norris - no pre-handout available - Slides are here

Strategies for growing a parish – Rev Roger Preece – Slides are here.  Roger mentions the key characteristics likely to be found in Growing Churches as set out in the “From Anecdote to Evidence” report and conference in early 2014.  (I have already summarised these in a previous post). His experience at his church was:

- they considered the make-up of the c7000 people in the parish and asked how the church was able to serve them and what sort of connections already existed (categories used in make included Families – Babies & Toddlers; Families – Primary Children; Teenagers; Students; Younger Adults; Older Adults; Retired & Able; Elderly & Infirm). 

- they asked what they could do for each of the groups to help them journey closer in faith through making increased connection with church community. 

- they developed a range of activities for each group of people and looked to ensure Bridging Points to allow people to move from the fringe to the centre. 

- they put significant effort into web presence, social media, local press and a high quality news-sheet delivered to each home

Education Division: Overview of CofE Education – Nigel Genders – CofE schools have a distinctive identity and ethos, popular with parents and families, where the development of social, spiritual and emotional intelligence is as important as academic achievement.  4443 CofE primary schools, 221 secondary schools, 166730 members of staff, 50500 classroom teachers, 1 million hours of clergy time p.a. working with children and young people in schools.  Further info can be found at

NICER: Distinctively Christian Education in CofE Schools – Prof Trevor Cooling - What if Learning - Slides are here

Inspiring talk by Trevor Cooling on distinctiveness of Christian learning in WhatIfLearning project

- Looking at a christian ethics course the classroom practice of ethical reflection was framed and experienced by students as a conflict between two opposing sides.  Students were being inducted into imagining that christian ethics is primarily concerned with winning ethical disputes. 

- If however the primary obligation in christian ethics is to show love to one's opponents rather than win an argument (Bretherton 2006) then a different approach is required.  Example - On a subject like assisted suicide story-telling and pictures students were introduced to Tony Nicklinson - an energetic sportsman with a family  - and asked to engage in learning about his quality of life.  They were then introduced to the story of his stroke at 50 with locked-in syndrome and his campaign for the right to die.  In light of this they then returned to their consideration of quality of life and eventually had to distill 3 arguments for and 3 against assisted suicide. 

-  In this new approach students hopefully come to see christian ethics as an exercise in hearing and understanding different points of view before taking a position.  The information the students got was much the same.  The framing of the lesson and the imagination instilled in them were significantly different.  

- As christians we live between the resurrection and the final transformation of creation - the transformation is is foeshadowed but not fully realised.  A gospel shaped pedagogy is one where life as it should be in God's Kingdom is prefigured and promoted.  The role of gospel based distinctively christian education is to develop christian character and virtues in its staff and students; to develop wise stewards

Pakistani boys’ education; religious & of the world - Karamet Iqbal - no pre-handout available
Slides are here

Session 2b – The Church reaching society

Understanding your community: Tools from Research & Statistics – Louise McFerran – Louise described work done by CofE HQ on census output areas (they don’t match parish boundary areas well) and then using postcode data from Church Urban Fund (which they use in their poverty look up tool
 ) to get a closer match to parish boundaries. Spotlight Reports are available at a parish-ish level and have been sent to each Diocese (Guildford has their ones online). They look ideal for helping the analysis stage of Mission Action Planning.

Slides are here
Using the Census in the Church of Scotland – Fiona Tweedie - Slides are here - Fiona described similar work to that directly above done on Scottish census data and differences (it better matches to boundaries as the data is at smaller levels of disaggregation). Fiona also mentioned a User’s Guide for statistics for mission that they produced – titled “Who is my Neighbour” (which apparently is precisely the question most census data collection is designed to make sure can’t be answered)

Listening Church: using participatory research to discern vision – Liz Graveling. Liz described a piece of work to create a vision for a church. Slides are here

- It used facilitated listening groups to allow participation of all church members in the creation of the strategy. The groups were about listening to each others stories of them and their church to understand others perspectives. Groups were organised so individuals in each group generally knew each other. 

- This methodology is PRA - Participatory Research Approaches – pioneered? by Robert Chambers

- Other inputs included; questionnaires; profiling of members (mapping where they lived); More/Different/Try/Stop feedback from the facilitated groups.

Liz mentioned the need to avoid wish lists and the need for leaders to understand the issue of genuine (not token) listening - particularly in terms of what they will do if what was been said doesn't  gel with their ideas?

Establishment & myth making in secular society – Stephen Srikantha. Stephen said we’ve lost the language of faith but can learn from how modern myths (e.g. end poverty, democracy everywhere – agreed as a good thing but plainly not achieved in the here and now) are signs as to how we can use myths. He stressed the importance of not forcing our pre-conceived ideas on what ought to be done onto situations – and of being aware of the limits of our ways of thinking – to allow a proper encounter with the complexity of reality  (on which subject this recent post from this blog maybe of interest)

Credit where credit’s due: the CofE’s credit union initiative – Tom Sefton & Bethany Eckley.  Tom and Bethany gave an update on progress and some qualitative research.  Slides are here

- On progress there is some with rollout to clergy, PCC members and CofE staff soonish and a video due out soon to help explain some next steps (but the project is long term - years - in its timescale).  

- On the research Bethany people don't know a lot about CU's but want to find out.  Generally they see CU as being for other people.  CUs are big in Ireland and Canada so there maybe lessons to be learnt there.  

  • I got the sense that to work CUs need to change their image from been "for people with money problems" to one where all people see them as a good way of borrowing money (e.g for a car purchase).  Indeed from memory in a recent BBC Radio 4 Today interview with Sir Hector Sants it was stressed that attracting such type of credit business would be essential to the long term financial viability of CUs.

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