Thursday 6 December 2007

Lent Course in Advent

Some of us are undergoing a Lent course in Advent. The Lincoln Diocese wants some churches to trial run a course it intends to run in Lent 2008. So a small group is doing so.

Given that the Christmas season in the Western calendar is barely over before Lent begins, one wonders quite what the point is of trial-running a course that will be used so quickly. Perhaps a few small changes were expected, to be run through before distribution (and even that is a challenge).

Now the actual doing of the course, involving spirituality, is of course confidential, but the feedback is not, though I am not identifying anyone and not linking feedback opinions together (except me and mine).

The course offers tasters in forms of spirituality - prayer life. If it had been successfully put together, it would have opened up issues of depth and personality and would need careful handling by facilitators.

Let me be gentle. The course is a disaster. It is appallingly put together without co-ordination. Half way through six sessions we decided that feedback had to go in now. The first session treats participants like spiritual idiots, and does not set up the task so that people can benefit flexibly and fully. The second is at a higher level, but again lacks different strategies for individuals. The third, however, is dreadful. It has no reasonable entry level, is garbled and causes anger and frustration. I suspect it has been rewritten from copyrighted material, and has been made indigestible.

I abandoned the feedback form. I have instead written a 15 page feedback essay, I hope forensically taking this mess to task and suggesting how it could have been done in places. It is half way through the course only. Others have sent their extended feedback in too.

My advice is simple. The first week's session and its weekly task needs rewriting. The second needs some improvement. The third is appalling, and needs thoroughly rewriting. Given that the people who produced this have not got time to make such changes, the Lent course in the Lincoln diocese should be abandoned. If it is launched on the diocese it will do damage, and could have an immensely negative effect on the confidence of people and their prayer lives.

The HTML version of this feedback is for all to see. If you are asked do this course in Lent 2008, don't say you were not warned.

Update Thursday 6 December - After Taste and See session for Week 4

As part of the task setting section of the course, I read what was in the handbook about Celtic Spirituality to the group. It was all right as far as it went, but it was not written with any conviction or expertise. Then likened the experience to being led up a path and falling off a cliff. Indeed as I turned the page and arrived at the exercise, it was about silence only again and I said, straight away, "What has this to do with Celtic Spirituality?" I then said, "Surely the most obvious exercise is to write a prayer centred around what you do or where you live or a special place." This was the point at which even the most charitable realised that this course was finished. There were Bible readings to look at, but not only were they (just) about silence, but they were very unCeltic. As someone said, the word silence was "googled" and they came up with this. Indeed, look back at the descriptive content, and it gives a real sense of weak reproduction and second hand knowledge. I said this wrong exercise is because the person does not know what he or she is talking about. The facilitator decided to write a collective response immediately after the session to add to the feedback being posted tomorrow.

This course is a disaster. Then there is the curious puzzle of the letter asking groups to evaluate the course, and whether we would recommend the course should be given wider distribution. We wondered why that was written (could be just innocently written, but the doubts may have been there already). The answer is a very clear No. There was the matter whether this might be the views of the awkward squad of the town - and I said no, and this is why I did write those 15 pages forensically tackling the content and why it cannot work. I said this will have a seriously negative impact on people's spirituality.

I said I thought it could not get any worse after last week, but it has. As it happens, we decided to take over the course at this point, as no proper task was set anyway. The feedback session for the following week is based on - well, what exactly? No one could tell. There is a reference to a book no one will have and there is no resource offered. Now we will indeed either write a prayer about what we do, or do something like a craft, or reflect upon images in the margins around decorated spiritual writings (e.g. the Book of Kells) or write a liturgy for a time of day based on Celtic understandings. I shall have a crack at the last of these.

I didn't say this but it would take me two weeks to rewrite this course, and make it consistent and sensible. I would dump huge sections of it, and write it as clearly as possible each part being task focused, with options, strategies and warnings. How on earth this mess of a course got even sent out even for a trial run I do not know.

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