Step Away from the Microphone

We have a fabulous bass player in our team called Kat. She plays double bass rather wonderfully, and sings along as she plays…but she will not ever sing into a microphone. I’ve never actually heard her sing, but she is there to play bass and play bass only. And, I think it was on a conference we went to together, the phrase “step away from the microphone” arose, and has hung around ever since. Now this post is absolutely nothing to do with Kat’s singing (or lack of singing), and it’s not here to discourage anyone in their singing. Unless you’re our Senior minister…in which case, Chris, sorry, but yes, you must put the microphone away all together. (Chris will freely admit his singing ability is as good as my rugby knowledge. It’s really that bad. But we are praying for him.)

MicrophoneThis past Sunday at EBC we ended up with a slightly bigger band than usual, which was great. And we were continuing with our Follow series looking at the topic of Cost and what we need to give up to do something. Now among the songs I had chosen for the band was the song “Light of the World” by Tim Hughes, an oldy but goody which we don’t use as often, but which had the wonderful bridge “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross”.

When I was planning the rehearsal (you do plan your rehearsals, don’t you?), I thought it would be great to start the song on the chorus acapella. So we did, and it worked really, really well. I was fortunate to have a group of musicians who are able to harmonize without too much direction…in fact we even got an extra microphone out for our bass player (Graham this week) who wanted to sing some extra harmonies. We had a really good rehearsal, the music went very well, we had fun together, it was worshipful…it just worked. It just worked! So I was really looking forward to Sunday, I knew it was ready and should go well.

Sunday outcome

So come Sunday we did our services, and besides Light of the World we were also using One Thing Remains, Brian Doerksen’s The River and The King of Love. And I found that as we had a seven piece band (Cajon, Bass, two guitars, a violin and six of us singing), I was able to lead but hardly play, and I was able to Step Away from the Microphone. Now this may not be much of a revelation to some of you, and it is something I have written about, and have been working towards. But this Sunday I was able to actually do it without having to plan it too much…and it was so releasing for me, for the band, and I’m sure for the congregation too.

Karen (who was flitting between violin and vocals depending on the song) took the lead in some of the songs, the rest of the team handled either harmonies or male lead, and I just chipped in with some harmonies and the tune in certain parts. And it was the same with my guitar…especially as the songs didn’t require too much drive, I was able to sit back, strum, use some open chords and let the rest of the band carry the song.

The Fraction Principle

I have mentioned the fraction principle before, and it’s a post worth a revisit. But this Sunday we were really on it, each of us playing well within our limits and abilities, listening to each other and just being incredibly sympathetic to the songs.

Now that’s not to say we’re generally unsympathetic most Sundays and have a competition to see who’s the loudest/fastest/biggest show off (clue: it’s usually me….). But this week really stood out…and the feedback we got from the band (excited and slightly elated), the congregation (they noticed the difference!) and the leadership (we even got a small round of applause…!)…all went to illustrate how we had just eeked out a little something extra.

So please, try it. Rehearse your rehearsals. Use the fraction principle. Try something new. Step away from the microphone! And maybe something a bit wonderful may happen.

Mother’s Day Ideas

dead-flowers

Now I know this post is titled Mother’s Day Ideas, but if you’re looking for suggestions for the ideal bouquet, where to buy the cheapest chocolates and tips on how to cook the perfect roast (you are at least taking your mum out for lunch, aren’t you?), this is the wrong place.

But what I can give you is a small selection of clips and skits which can be used in your church, either to publicise your upcoming Mother’s Day Service (you are going to celebrate the mums on Mother’s Day, aren’t you?), or as a great opener, discussion starter, or just a celebration of mums…which, lets be frank, is just what Mother’s Day is all about)

Now this has been doing the rounds on Facebook this week…a really cute little short which should raise plenty of smiles (and nods of appreciation from the mums…)

We are thinking of using this next one as publicity (and a reminder…you did remember it’s Mother’s Day next week?) for our special next Sunday. Great idea, brilliant content, and I would say it appeals to the men in the congregation as much as the women. My wife put me onto this one, she thought it was great (and who am I to argue?)

And then finally, a slightly longer (and all together great) short from the Skit Guys and their Mom Goggles…premise: they are looking after the kids for the weekend, and when they put on their Mom Goggles they see the world…differently. Very funny, very touching, I properly Laughed Out Loud at points…this is going to go down a storm in our services.

We’re also going to be treating mums with special cakes, hopefully a bit of silver service from our youth, chocolate, hand cream and George Clooney. Well, that’s the intention…if George turns up.

Of course we should be celebrating our mums every day of the year, but in case you need reminding again…Mother’s Day is next Sunday (you haven’t forgotten, have you?)

Small Change Big Difference

I have another day job aside from my day a week with EBC, as a royalty auditor and royalty accountant. This generally involves sorting and manipulating huge amounts of data on big spreadsheets…which requires a decent computer and a good knowledge of excel shortcuts! Recently when I was out on an audit, my computer (which has been getting progressively slower) needed rebooting three times in order to work! I’d already got accustomed to getting into the office in the morning, switching on my laptop, then hanging up my coat, using the bathroom, making a cup of tea and checking through the post…by which point my computer was just about through booting and I could log in. Pile-of-Laptops

Clearly this wasn’t productive, the laptop is only a few years old and pretty high spec…so I got in touch with our IT support to see if it was something worth saving, or whether I just needed to invest in something newer and faster. To my surprise Simon at Response IT said “just replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive), it’ll fix everything. We’ll pick it up and take care of the rest!” So they did…

Now I’m not by any means technophobic, I handle most of the IT issues in our office, and I generally have a good overview of how these things work. And I had already got a decent laptop on which I had doubled the memory…I didn’t think replacing the hard drive would make that much difference. But when I got the machine back…it was incredible!  My three year old laptop was now a sleek, speedy and capable machine again! When I switched it on…it booted in about 20 seconds. It was ready before I was ready. Programs opened seemingly instantly. There were no perceived delays when switching windows. It had no errors, no crashes, no need to reboot. It just worked…but like it did when it was new. I was simply amazed…so much so that my home tower is this week going in for the same treatment!

Small change big difference?

This got me thinking: are there other areas in church life where a small change can make such a significant difference? I’m not talking significant and expensive overhauls of equipment, programs and teams, but the small and life changing adjustments which can make a really large and readily discernible difference. If I look back over the past few years at EBC, I can identify a few small changes which have made a big difference to us.

Our Song List: we cut our regular list of Sunday songs from …well basically the contents of Songs of Fellowship…around 2,000 songs, to a smaller list of around 150, and ultimately we now operate a list of around 60 songs which are revised on a termly basis. Result: The band and the congregation know the songs much better as they are on a regular rotation, so we are all freer to sing them without thinking about them too much.

Lowering music stands: Now I am approaching the other side of 40 (41 this coming May), I am finding I have to resort to glasses when on my computer and reading. We used to be in the habit of having our music stands up pretty high on a Sunday morning…probably because we were still using the small print out of the Songs of Fellowship books and the rest of us needed glasses. But this creates a real barrier between the band and the congregation. So when we revised our song lists and stopped using Songs of Fellowship, we created our own song sheets on A4 paper in big print…so moved the music stands down more to waist level. Result: the congregation can see us worshipping and so follow, we can see the congregation. (in addition to this, when we did our main hall redevelopment we installed a comfort monitor which displays the words to all on stage…potentially eliminating the need for song words on stage at all.

Smiling on stage: So we reduced the height of our stands, and now everybody can see us. Us, the worship band, singing songs about love, happiness, isn’t life great…although we weren’t always reflecting this in our facial or bodily expressions. Now our bands (especially our singers) are reflecting far more what they are singing on stage, which models how to sing in worship to our congregation…and they soon follow. Result: A congregation who are far more understanding and in tune with our musical worship.

Service Orders: I have talked about this a lot before, so I won’t cover it too much here. But suffice to say, if you want your service to run smoothly, to time and coherently, having a planned order with timings, transitions and technical directions will make a big difference to your services.

What else?

There are many more small changes we have made, and are continuing to make which are making big differences to our services, and I know will continue to do so. And you’ll also notice from the small selection above, there was no significant financial impact, generally just a bit of planning and some printing! Why don’t you take a fresh look at how things are operating in your setting, and see what small change can make a big difference?

Expect the Expected

Henry Ford started manufacturing the Model T in 1908, and while it wasn’t the first mass produced car, Ford did implement manufacturing techniques and refined the assembly line process to make cars more accessible to the general public rather than the rich persons plaything. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T’s, and they were all black…as Henry Ford famously said,Any colour as long as it's black...

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”

 

Do you ever find church can feel a bit like that? We follow the same tried and tested formula, perform the same rituals, sing the same songs (hymns) by the same people in the same order, week after week after week. Even forward thinking churches can fall into following a routine, as it’s “normal” for a Sunday. Like the Model T, Sundays can all come in the one colour…we expect the expected.

This past Sunday we held our regular All Age Sunday which always happens at the end of the month. This has meant in the past always having a kids song, breaking the talk up into smaller parts, maybe a children’s story or some sort of interaction…again, falling into a tried and tested routine.

But this Sunday we got our youth group to lead the whole service….from the welcome to the notices to the story to the prayers at the end. And Amy our wonderful youth worker did the talk, which was amazing. And it was all great. It was really good. And it was only 45 minutes long.

So we came away saying “wasn’t it great” and “didn’t they do well” and ” fantastic talk” and other backslapping, positive things. And then we said “it was a bit short” and “the talk could have been longer” and ” probably room for another song” and other similar observations.

Which got me thinking…well, why? Why does it have to be an hour long? Why do we start with three songs? Is the talk (or sermon) the most important part of the service? Why Sunday morning…and so on and so on…

Too long or too short?

I can think of many films which have perfect endings…and then carry on for another half an hour (I can think of many sermons which have done the same….) We in the UK are used to series of six episodes…so when Top Gear has a run which only lasts four episodes, I feel somewhat cheated…where are my missing two episodes?!

And albums used to be around 50 minutes long as that was as much time as you could fit on the two sides of a vinyl record…around 8 – 10 songs. So when all of these classic albums were re-released on CD, you again felt cheated as you knew there was an extra thirty minutes of space…no, wasted space on the CD. And then record companies started filling the space with bonus tracks, remixes…live versions…and so we bought them again, and again, and again.

Nothing wrong with order

Now I’m all for a template, we need to have service orders so everybody knows what is happening, and lets be honest, if your services are radically different from week to week, everybody (including you) is going to come away confused. But at the same time, be willing to change, try and think differently, do mix it up from time to time, and always always always make sure there is space for God to take control…

Having a slightly shorter service meant more people stayed afterwards…we shared coffee and cake (as we usually do) but giving an extra (and unexpected) 15 minutes from finishing early meant the congregation felt less pressured (or knew they had more time) so they hung around. And talked about how good the service was, how well everybody had done, how great to have some different faces leading. Which in my book is a good thing.

Ford Model T’s aren’t still all black…

Also available in green...

 

Horizontal Design

I fully acknowledge I am a bit of an Apple fan boy…my phone has been exclusively an iPhone since about 2009, we have several iPods, iPads, an Apple TV and four! MacBooks between us… There is even an old 90’s Performa in the loft from my university days…when Mac’s came in beige and had less storage than my phone (1.2 gigabyte hard drive anyone?) But there is a reason so many of us choose Macs…they look great, are highly functional, and as the adage goes…”they just work”. Apple Heaven?

There’s been a lot of discussion this week amongst the Apple fans as Jony Ive has done an extensive interview with The New Yorker. Now I read the Jony Ive book last Christmas, and it was a great read; very interesting and inspirational…I highly recommend it. The interview in The New Yorker is possibly the most informative piece of writing on the inner workings of the Apple design studio (the Jony Ive book was pieced together from snippets of interviews and research), and just highlights how central Jony Ive and the creative team are to all of Apple’s output.

Segregated Departments

Many organisations have design teams alongside marketing, development, sales etc…but often they don’t properly hook up together. If you read the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs (again, another great read), it was apparent when Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 that it wasn’t working…they had a desktop computers department, laptop department, computer monitors, printers, handhelds….and none of them were talking to each other. Hence the design, compatibility and infrastructure were completely disparate…hence the near bankruptcy of the company. What Steve and Jony did was to simplify and reunite all of this…initially the company shelved everything and went back to making four main products…a professional desktop and laptop, and a consumer desktop and laptop.

What is especially apparent from this New Yorker interview though is how central Jony Ive and the design department is to everything Apple does. They oversee from beginning to end, and control and integrate design into the whole Apple experience…from the case to the keys to the software…they even pay special attention to the design of the box so the unboxing experience is a special event in itself.

It struck me that we as churches should pay attention to this. I talked a while back about templates and orders, and how every church has a template even if they don’t realise it. But it is also incredibly important to have a central, horizontal design to our church services. What do I mean by this?

Service Elements and Orders

When putting a church service together, there are several different elements which are pieced together. They may include prayer, music, bible readings or liturgy, drama, announcements, an all age or kids section and a talk or sermon. We may include media, some sort of interaction, sometimes communion and a benediction. I am sure your services will have some or all of these elements at some point. But when it comes to putting them into an order of service, how do you approach it? Do you follow a similar pattern each week: welcome, song, prayer, song, announcements, sermon, song, prayer. Do you make an attempt to try and join the songs with the theme of the talk, or reading? Does your worship leader attempt to create a set which works together musically, in key, tempo and style? And who is in charge of putting this together: the service leader, the minister, the worship leader? Or someone in the office who types up the service order?

As you can see from the examples above, assembling service elements like this is a very vertical, blocky form of construction. We all know of churches who have the hymn/prayer/hymn sandwich as it is called. Which is not to say it is wrong. But if we took this horizontal design approach to all we do, I believe we can construct a much better order of service:

So the opening song or welcome or Opener sets the theme or background to the service…this transitions smoothly into the songs which are also transitioned musically into the next section…maybe a drama or media which illustrates or highlights a question which is going to be tackled in the talk. The talk answers the question and then leaves the congregation with a challenge…this transitions into a time of response…the band come to the stage during prayer and start to play…moving into an end time of worship, which finishes on a prayer or benediction and then an invite to personal prayer and/or coffee.

You can see this overview of a service (which is something you would experience most weeks at our church EBC) contains all of the elements mentioned above, but there is more of a horizontal thought as to how the different elements and sections fit together, link, interact and complement and support the whole message. Part of the reason Microsoft’s Zune never really took off was because it wasn’t a very appealing package….it played songs as well as the iPod, but didn’t look very good. Similarly there are many phones which look stunning, but the software embedded in them is buggy, counter intuitive and slows you down. This can be applied to websites, books, shop signs….and church services. Good design is pointless if it doesn’t work, and the best machinery, software and technology are pointless if no one understands how to work them. This is one of the reasons Apple do so well, as the design is thought about and integrated from the start, and again from the New Yorker article it is clear the involvement happens every step of the way through to completion.

1,000’s of possibilities

There are many different ways of putting a service together, and I don’t believe there is one “correct” way. However, I do believe with just small amount of horizontal design, and thinking this way from the start to the end, it is possible to make service orders, not matter what elements or style, far more impactive to the congregation who are attending them. And this is also easy to do if there is one person responsible for putting the order and elements together…be it a service leader, producer…whatever or whoever, just one person will be able to join the dots. This doesn’t mean they’re responsible for creating all of the elements…but they are able to have the horizontal overview and control.

So next time you’re putting together a service order, try to think of the whole experience from end to end…a horizontal design.

5 Observations from Joint Church Services

We have just this weekend had a great joint service with our friends at FBC. This is the second event we have done together, and it was great! So I though it would be a great opportunity to look at how we worked together, and maybe some pointers for other congregations who are dipping their toes into churches together or joint events. I have used the acronym of the 5 C’s…just because it panned out that way….

Common Ground

Together!

We are similar churches in terms of ethos, locality and congregation, which naturally draws us together. When planning for this joint service, we looked at the things we had, and did, in common and aimed to meet in the middle as far as possible. As I’ve discussed before, all churches and church services have a template whether they realise it or not. Our services are not very far apart in terms of order and content, so we had a straightforward starting place. Rachael and I were leading the music together (as we had before last summer), so we compared song lists and picked out those songs common to us both, as well as a couple which were new or we were wanting to introduce to the congregations.

Communication

This is crucial in all aspects, as we are two different churches in two different locations planning other services and events as well as running the day to day. So regular emails and planned meetings were the order of the day, and we had been planning for this one joint service from about November, having earlier penciled in the date we would be holding it. We put point leaders in place, so we would know well in advance who would be responsible for the main aspects of the service.

Community

This was and is all about coming together; we may be two different churches in different locations, but having a joint service is all about sharing what we do together, growing our congregations and learning together. Over the course of our joint events so far I have made many new friends and experienced different ways of working, worshiping and communicating together. We also planned to have a big lunch after the service that all were invited to (and expected to) attend. Community is also a long term relationship, which leads us into…

Commitment

We have held two joint events so far, a great summer celebration followed by a barbecue, and this service where the weather wasn’t quite warm enough for barbecues but we did get to play outside once we’d eaten together. And we are now gearing up to a joint weekend away in May with combined music teams, leaders and congregations. We are committed to doing this together, and I hope we will continue to meet regularly and have big shared events (and smaller joint gatherings) in the future, as they work so well; they encourage, uplift, and share our numerous resources.

Celebration

After all of the hard work, planning and execution, it’s great to kick back over food and drink and just enjoy how well it worked. Job well done! We will have a debrief, review what worked well, what needed tweaking, and what we do next. And, to just celebrate a job done well!

Have you had any experience of joint church events?

January ideas and resources

So we’re (almost) at the end of the month, and as we looked at all things new this January, I thought I’d share some of the things I’d been using for inspiration and training and will be for the rest of the year:

Resource heaven?

Resource heaven?

  • Choose Life by Simon Guillebaud is a great collection of readings for the year which I was introduced to by my boss, Chris. Each day has a verse, a reading, and a prayer. We did Simon’s course More Than Conquerors as a small group, highly recommended.
  • Become an Idea Machine is a book I bought off of the back of James Altucher’s book Choose yourself! It’s a great premise, you have an idea muscle which needs to be exercised, so the more you do it, the stronger it gets. So you have to come up with 10 ideas a day, every day, for 180 days. Each day has a separate challenge/inspiration, so far I have journalled 10 things I don’t like which I’ve turned into things to be grateful for, 10 apps I would like to use (that don’t exist), 10 movies which caused a deep impression…and so on. I do it at the beginning of every day, and it’s hard…but good!
  • With by Skye Jethani is a great book I started last year and am just finishing. He looks at how we often approach God from four angles: Over, Under, For and From, and how we should be With God. Thought provoking…
  • …as is his daily email With God Daily. Skye is one of those inspirational writers who thinks different but is approachable and understandable. Really enjoying these in my inbox.
  • The Passion movement is something we always draw inspiration from, and their annual album often forms the basis for our musical worship for the year. I get the Digital All Access Pass every year as there is so much content. Great music, great messages, great organisation.
  • Truefire is an online guitar teaching resource, you can access it on your computer, there are apps as well, and there are plenty of courses to help you improve your playing and get some new ideas. I’ve bought the course on open tunings (something I’ve wanted to get a better understanding of), Fretboard Phenom and 50 blues licks you must know (as I wanted to learn some better lead). The courses are cheap and often discounted, and you get video tuition, music and downloads. I am not yet John Mayer, but I still play a mean rhythm guitar!
  • I do a daily reading on YouVersion, it’s a free app, and they have lots of different daily plans you can follow. I’ve just finished the Catalyst Leadership plan and am currently working through a 30 day Oswald Chambers plan. They’re really easy to follow, it’s a great bible reading/study app. And did I mention it’s free!

So that’s my lot for this month…I will update on things I am reading, using and writing. And I hope you will come back to paulkerslake.com for some resources and inspiration yourselves!

What resources have you discovered for 2015?

 

A New Old Song

Do you ever listen to albums, and find sometimes a big song will pass you by? I mean, there are always the catchy singles which pique your interest, and sometimes there are songs which touch you on a personal level (which no one else seems to get in the same way). But how about track number seven you maybe didn’t get to…or track number 9 which is sandwiched between the third single and the bonus track.

I listen to a lot of music, I can say partly because of my job at EBC hunting out creative ideas and songs for the worship band…but mainly because I just love listening to music all the time. Like all the time. I have big speakers on my home computer, little speakers on my office computer, an iPod dock in the car, DAB radio in the kitchen, bluetooth speaker for my iPad…I am generally always connected, and subsequently listen to a lot of music.

And from this I pick songs for Sunday, revise our song lists, find performance songs and videos and share some of the spoils here with you so you can do the same for your church. But I’ll hold my hand up and say I have missed some corking songs from albums I’ve had for a while. They may not have been obvious at the time, and sometimes they are rearranged or performed differently…which just adds some special sauce to an already great song.

Planning together

Today we met with our friends at FBC as we’re planning a joint service for the beginning of February. Rachael and I are going to lead the combined band, so we did what we did last time…compared song lists to see what matched, which songs both congregations would know. But I also thought it may be a good opportunity to do some new songs (and she also had a copy of their new song list so I could peek at what they were doing…FBC are currently revising their list just as we did…cutting it down to something more manageable). Rachael asked if I knew “Guardian” by Ben Cantelon, as they had recently introduced it and it had been really well received. I had to say no, never heard of it…but if you think its that good…lets do it!

So we completed our order of service, arranged rehearsal time and then went off to our next meetings. When I finally got home in the afternoon I typed “Guardian” into my iTunes search, and apart from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack (great album, great movie), I got two further hits. Guardian from the New Wine Stand Together album, and Guardian (feat. Ben Cantelon) from the Worship Central album. 2013. I had it all along…in fact I’d had it for some 18 months, and yet it had slipped past me.

It Doesn’t Always Have to be New to be New…

So the point of this ramble, and to bring this blog back into line with my January theme of New is: Don’t always be in a rush to look out for a new song that you leave some good old ones behind. Don’t wait for the 2014 songs of the year list to be published before you revise your song list. Don’t be afraid to revisit those albums from 2009 which had a great song on it and 9 others you didn’t notice. Don’t even be cautious about introducing some classics from way back…a lot of hymns are timeless, and its apparent from a lot of live worship albums that these hymns (when contemporised and with an added chorus or bridge) are incredibly popular and just as impactive as they were 50,100, 150 years ago.

What New Old Song can you introduce this Spring term?

It’s the start of something new!

Now you’re thinking: is he having a mid-life crisis? High School Musical hasn’t dated at all. Doesn’t Zac Efron look young…

I won’t have a word said against Troy and Gabriella…Sharpay maybe…as the three movies were on constant rotation in our house (as were the albums), and High School Musical 3 was the first movie we went to with our girls…fond memories. Of course they wouldn’t been seen dead with them now…such is growing up. What I wanted us to do was to embrace the song, as it’s January, it’s the start of the year and as I talked about on Tuesday, it can be a great time to set down some goals for the year.So why don’t you do something new. It doesn’t have to be big or dramatic, just different from your normal day to day. How about:

  • Listen to some music you wouldn’t usually entertain. Most of my CD collection is on my iTunes these days, but I find myself setting up playlists (I used to do mixtapes when I had cassettes) and listening to them constantly….so there are areas of my digital library which are gathering binary dust. I have a smart playlist set up as “never played”, so I can discover songs I have neglected.
  • Watch something new and different. I got given Amazon vouchers aeons ago, and so bought some second hand TV box sets with them…which then sat on a shelf for a while. And one evening we got around to starting one of them…a small US show called House MD. Needless to say we were completely drawn in and ended up hunting down subsequent series (it’s now on Netflix in its entirety, so we’re currently working through seasons 6 to 8).
  • Cook a new dinner. I have a shelf of cookbooks with a lifetime’s worth of recipes, but generally we eat the same (albeit very good) dishes most weeks. It doesn’t have to be ridiculously complicated, or have a list of ingredients as long as your arm. I’ve seen the complete book of mince…aside from lasagne, chili and spaghetti Bolognese, I didn’t think there were another 69 recipes…but clearly there are.
  • Read an unusual book. Aside from my extensive cookbook collection, we do have a lot of regular books. And when I say regular, I am including my personal Star Wars collection along with Tintin and Asterix which I still claim taught me more about history than school did. Now I read a lot of non-fiction business books, leadership books, Christian books, guides on worship…as well as big colourful guitar encyclopaedias and histories with pictures of expensive guitars for me to drool over. But I didn’t read a lot of fiction…so on our last holiday I bought The Martian which came highly recommended and reviewed…and I can highly recommend it…couldn’t put it down.
  • Do something different of a weekend. Get your food shop delivered, or do it Thursday night. Hoover Tuesday morning. Get up and get out, and go somewhere, preferably somewhere you haven’t been before. Hop on a train, visit a museum or stately home or park or exhibition. Go for a long walk. Go to the beach on a grey day. Take a ball somewhere.

Routine doesn’t have to be boring!

Routine is essential, especially when you have children (as we quickly learnt). But routine doesn’t have to mean the same all the time. We get into habits, drive the same route to work, listen to the same radio station in the car, and have the same sandwiches for lunch at the same time in the same place every day. But it doesn’t have to be this way, always. Just trying one or two of the things above will open your ears, eyes and mind to a different experience…which may lead onto something else. Inspiration comes from many sources, but if you aren’t exposing yourself to new or different sources, your inspiration and outlook will be limited.

 It’s the start of something new. What are you going to do?

The Toilet Brush Christmas Tree

Just this past week we completed our annual Community carols, a tradition we have had for many years now, which is growing year on year. We bring together several of the local primary school choirs together to perform some Christmas songs to their friends and family, which we chain together with carols, a generally silly Christmas theme and a short talk. This year the theme was Weird Christmas.

Did you know Germany created the first artificial Christmas tree? But, what was it made out of?Toilet Brush Tree

  1. Hedgehogs?
  2. Feathers?
  3. Toilet Brushes?

Now the correct answer is 2), feathers. They dyed goose feathers green and attached them to rudimentary branches. But, answer 3) is also vaguely correct. The Addis company, who made (and still do) toilet brushes employed the same factory equipment to make fake Christmas trees…in fact if you look at many of the artificial trees we have today, you can see the resemblance. And as if to prove the point, Amy our youth worker and I presented out schools with an extremely authentic and hard to find antique toilet brush Christmas tree. I can guarantee you will not find another one of these in the shops!

We also looked at weird facts about Santa (did you know there’s a Santa Winter Games every year in Sweden, and the Chicago Tribune holds an annual “Scared of Santa” photo competition?), Weird Food (did you know KFC has marketed it’s fried chicken as a delicacy to the Japanese, and that in Greenland there is a dish called Kiviak which is made by stuffing 500 auks (cute penguins) into a seal carcass, smothering it all in whale fat and then burying it for 7 months. The aroma and flavour is akin to a strong stilton apparently….)

And then our final round was Christmas injuries. Can you believe 4 people broke their arms last year in cracker pulling incidents, several were injured by out of control Scalectrix cars, and over a 141 (I am sure men) had injuries from not removing the pins from their new shirts….

But Why?

You may ask, what is the point of all of this? I would say, its Christmas! We share the event with primary school children, and for many it is possibly their first experience of church. And if the statistics are to be believed, then a majority of them may not even associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus. So if we can find a way of including them, sharing Christmas traditions and messages with them, and making it as interactive as possible, for them and their families, then at the very least they will leave with a positive impression of us as a church, and also some stories as to why Christmas is Christmas and what we believe.

Both nights were really warmly received, the six choirs (we had three schools each night) did some great singing of a variety of Christmas songs, and we already have the schools booking in for next year…what an endorsement!

Same for Sundays

I apply the same mentality to planning this as I do Sunday services: humour, real life and common experiences will always go a long way to communicating to any audience.

So this Christmas, or next year, I encourage you to think of creative and interesting ways to communicate the Christmas message to all ages. And if you need some help, drop me a line! I have many years of material stored up in my archives!