Sunday, 14 October 2012

We Need a More Consistent Standard

I might well be counted as a miserable old sod. And I plead guilty. The Unitarian Facebook page usually carries a question of if you've had a good Unitarian Sunday, and I say 'no'. I could not find the question but I've already given my answer. Now I don't want to offend anyone and as far as I know he doesn't read this, but even so I have to let the steam out somewhere.

I got a bit of praise today after the service. It was because I'd used well worn harvest hymns as preludes and postludes to the service, as well as a 'Bring to the Altar' hymn verse (SF 188) for the collection.
I replied that "My antennae were up and waving about then." Harvest festival is one of those hangover services you have to have and I heard it directly but knew that a failure of the service taker to pick at least one bog standard harvest hymn would be missed. As Music Man of the congregation, I never tell service takers what to select. If I did we'd inevitably narrow down the choice and range, and for a long time I fought off the 'choir backed only' school when selecting CD tracks. In fact, I have now covered every hymn in the main book and almost always with the given tune. Using thin excuses, I'm plugging the many more gaps in the new hymnbook supplement, and discovered an error of words in SF 012 where the words in the words only verse are different from the words within the music. I forgot to mention any of this today due to feeling yet again pissed off by the standard of service taking.

It seems I tweaked the microphone enough (the speakers were buzzing a bit) to get the presenter heard. I say to all presenters, "Speak to the back of the hall." The one last week did, this one didn't. But apparently he was heard by the hard of hearing (but won't use the loop - that was flashing like a good 'un).

We then had what I call a Google sermon, which means the body of the main presentation is easily found for yourself just by looking it up. Plus, as was pointed out, there is an Ernest Penn sermon on the harvest now on the church's own website that might have filled the gap expressed about Unitarian insights/ background/ perspectives regarding the harvest festival. We know about the Cornish Victorian origins and all that.

When a person identifies in a sermon themselves the most interesting question - the 50 year jubilee and removing all debt - then why not actually address the question instead of passing over it? Well it's not in the 'historical research' is it? But why not address something that would be a real insight, and try some theology over history too. So I'm listening and grumpy.

What about the implications of Lord Adair Turner's very recent speech to the Mansion House that effectively says the Bank of England in buying bonds from banks in quantitative easing should simply wipe the debt that the government pays the bank? That means the QE carried out turns into helicopter money. You can do this when the velocity of money is so low (thanks to de-leveraging and due to a flat real economy). Take it further. The Germans wouldn't like it, but the European Bank could issue its own bonds to liquidate banks and then tell the banks the debt is wiped. It doesn't end the need for reforms, and fiscal closeness in future, but governments and transnational institutions (it is a European Union, after all) should exercise their compulsory powers and start wiping debt. Private debt, said Lord Turner, had effectively transferred into public debt; so here use the power to wipe it.

Pursue the most interesting question! But also in there was a good bit - harvest is thanksgiving not thanksgetting. Well, where is that from? It's what the Americans say around Thanksgiving, is it not? One click on the Internet. But the theology of exchange and the theology of gift would illuminate this. But it was, again, passed over.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not just criticising one service taker as this is not uncommon. And of course someone producing a weaker service on one Sunday can do well another Sunday. But here is the relevance: It seems that the engine for moving the site for the church has gone into limp mode. I'm probably the only one pressing the accelerator. Others who agree either don't want to press it or think others don't want it - so much being invested into the location. Well, OK, but if that is so then we need to overcome the problem of space and place (to get a communal input) with a consistency of outreach involving quality presentation. Now, assuming we have quality training, we really ought to stop the pot-luck regarding services via professional ministry. We can still have variety but the real need is for consistency and standard.

As the Music Man I would be happy dealing with the same person - the boss - over many weeks. I'd get to know what he or she wanted and how he or she thought. There might be a pattern or patterns to services. There'd still be some lay led ones - from our own folks. At present we have a handful of good imported service takers (in my opinion) some of whom, though, are very regular in their kind of message and format. That, of course, is the problem with a minister, if the message and format were to be narrowly focused and it is too late once appointed. But what is wanted, I think, is a renewed focus on the quality threshold: the substance of a service and the thought behind it. There needs to be more consistency.

Otherwise we shall have drift. We'll have disappointments raised in different quarters because the variety of service takers leads to variations and gaps and disappointments. Once you get consistency and over a threshold you can then build, plus it is a duty of a minister to make themselves known where the building/s might be placed. The Quakers get consistency because they shut up, but Unitarians are noisy and it ought to be possible to design-in some higher quality noise. We are drifting, and the drift is no good to anyone.

So I have let out some steam and that might preserve me at least for one more music provision than the future might bring. If the steam builds up and can't get out, something might go bang and then I start to wilt in the music provision. Apologies to those who might be badly described or affected, but here is my place where the steam can be ejected furthest.

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