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SPCK takeover creates more questions than it answers

Cartoon courtesy of

SPCK have announced that their entire bookshop chain is being sold to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), continuing to operate as SPCK Bookshops (under licence) by SSG, with a commitment to maintenance of their breadth in stock-holding.

2006 has pretty much been an annus horribilis for the SPCK bookshop chain. The year started with the announcement that SPCK had entered into talks with Send The Light (STL) regarding a merger.

That potential marriage ended in disaster when the talks were called off in April and the resulting hasty announcement from the SPCK management that all the bookshops were to close. I commented via this blog on the situation at the time.

The manager concerned who made the announcement of closure was promptly cut adrift by his board and is no longer with SPCK. Apparently, they have been busying themselves finding an alternative buyer and now SSG have emerged from what I doubt was much of a pack.

I am sure that SPCK staff everywhere have welcomed the news of a buyer but perhaps with some nervousness for what the future holds. Personally, I share that nervousness much as I welcome a potential light at the end of their tunnel. As I commented before, SPCK are often the only Christian presence in our town shopping areas and the Christian ‘scene’ in this country would be significantly different if they were to disappear.

Ultimately, this takeover announcement raises more questions for me than it answers:

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At last, geek-guilt has a saviour!

Computer crash illustration

If you will excuse the geeky nature of this post, I am writing with a purpose in mind so bear with me and I may even do you a favour! One of the things that makes me feel guilty now and again is the fact I am rubbish at taking back-ups of my computer hard drive. I know I should do it, I know it’s pretty important but it just gets lost sometimes in the bigger scheme and besides it’s a hassle.

I have no excuse – I’ve had at least two serious computer crashes in the last few years which nearly caused the fatal loss of all sorts of important stuff. In both cases, I managed to recover everything but not without considerable difficulty. You would have thought I would have learnt my lesson.

Guilt no longer! The solution has arrived in the form of Mozy. Mozy is a small application that you can install on your computer and while your computer is idle, it quietly backs-up your data so that you are always kept up-to-date. If you turn your computer off while it’s running, that’s fine, it just picks up where it left off when you turn on again. All your data is encrypted before being copied to the Mozy servers, so you don’t have to worry about other people stealing it! Best of all you get 2 Gb of space to store stuff free of charge! Brilliant.

The initial backup takes quite a long time but after that it only backs up files that have changed, so it’s very quick. I highly recommend it to you and would encourage you to sign up not only for the ease of the solution but the fact that we should all be taking care to look after our data.

If you visit their site, please use the link I’ve provided above. If you sign up through me, we each get a bit of extra space (256 Mb to be precise) to play with which can’t be bad.

My one day in history

History Matters have organized the ‘biggest blog in history’ for today. The idea is that lots of UK residents write about their day and the collected electronic pages are stored somewhere in the British Library (on a computer I think) for future generations. This was my submission:

Tuesdays are now officially my worst day of the week in this new mode of living in which I find myself. As an ordinand in the Church of England training and studying in a Cambridge college, I usually find there is plenty of unscheduled time in my day to read, think and prepare… let alone see my wife and two young children. Tuesdays are different. Tuesdays are chockablock with activity.

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Published author?

Like many of my fellow Ridley students, I’ve been meditating deeply and panicking madly over a small passage from Luke’s gospel in the last few days. The Ridley Hall Lent Book has become something of a hit in recent years and we’ve all been asked to contribute a reflection on selected passages for the 2007 publication.

The deadline is looming with the publisher beating down our doors to get the content done. I guess we are all going to need to become familiar with coming up with quick (and yet profoundly deep) reflections at short notice so it’s good practice for what is to come…

I chose Luke 18.15-17 at random not realizing what it was about and then promptly spent days trying to think of something new to say about a passage very well known.

See what you think. All constructive criticism welcome!

I have a young daughter, a toddler, with whom I have recently started to pray. I used to pray for her quietly as she drank her evening bottle of milk before going to sleep. Limited as her understanding and vocabulary may be, now we pray together.

Each night, I ask her if she wants to pray. She always agrees and so I pray that the Lord will be with her, that He will bless her and help her to grow in her body, her mind, her emotions and her spirit. I say Amen and with her thumb or the bottle between her lips, she whispers ‘Amen’ from the corner of her mouth.

Each day without fail, she thinks for a moment and then looks up to me and says ‘more?’

Smiling, I say ‘OK’ and before I can suggest anything, she knows who is next – ‘Mummy?’, so we pray for Mummy together. Once again, she says ‘Amen’, pauses and again asks for ‘more?’ Daddy is next, then her brother, her grandparents and sometimes others that she has met that day.

She doesn’t yet have the words to pray herself, but she readily agrees with my prayers and always prompts me to pray a little ‘more’.

When I come to prayer and struggle to find words that express my heart to God, I forget that all I really need to do is look to my daughter and be like a ‘little child’. What could express our hearts better than to look up into the eyes of our great High Priest who ‘always lives to make intercession’ for us and ask Him simply for ‘more?’

You can get another sneak preview of the book to come over on Simon’s blog where he has posted his reflection on Luke 19.1-10.

Update: Tiffer’s been at it as well and now Harry has posted his too. Way it’s going no-one will have to buy the book! 🙂

Lurker say hello, lurker lurker say hello


Internet identities and online anonymity have dominated the thinking in the last few days.

On Monday, I caught wind of a furore over at the Ship of Fools where a vicar has been accused variously of (allegedly) running several different online identities, using those identities to give his offline self rave reviews in the Mystery Worshipper project and then lying to his congregation by subsequently printing those false reviews in the parish rag. Of course, all this is just alleged and not proven, but if true, it makes for an interesting episcopal pastoral situation and a clergyman obviously looking for attention and approval.

It has drawn all sorts of attention amongst the blogs I regularly read. We’ve had Tiffer’s reflections on anonymity through Maggi Dawn’s identity crisis and Dave Walker’s helpful tips on Online anonymity to the venerable Ruth Gledhill’s attention as well. (Dave Walker also has a useful set of other links about the story).

Dave Walker is right to point out that online anonymity really isn’t very anonymous for long if someone is so inclined to dig and work out who you are. When this very blog was ‘anonymous’, fellow blogger and Ridleian Simon Heron discovered me in about five minutes flat. I doubt he was the only one.

Indeed, such issues raised their head for me several moons ago when I became one of those Dave W mentions who received a kindly email from him. When I was still in the employ of the National Church Institutions and blogging anonymously, one of my postings on a previous abortive attempt at a blog (while funny) may have caused problems for me. I saw Dave’s sense and it was removed.

The other side of the coin when it comes to online identity/anonymity and those that write online is of course those that read. From a very different angle, respected Internet and usability guru Jakob Nielsen writes about how in most online systems, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

I think there is possibly one regular contributor to the comments here in my own little corner of cyberspace and maybe two or three others who say hi now and again. Not quite 1% and 9% but I suppose the big question is are there 50 to 100 others “lurking”? The web statistics would indicate the site is receiving about 70 odd visits a day but, of course, web statistics are never to be trusted what with Google and the other search engines continually re-crawling looking for updates.

If you aren’t a Google robot and are quietly lurking, now is your chance to say hi. No harm, no foul – just give us a bit of love! Even if no-one says hi and Google are my biggest friend, it seems to me that taking a little bit of confidence and approval from my web stats is a bit better than inventing my own reviews.

After the cameras leave

Father James McCaskill, image from Channel 4 website

There isn’t much I watch ‘religiously’ on television. The West Wing (now sadly no more) and 24 and of course football (the english variety) or football (the american variety). However, one thing I have been watching ‘religiously’ over the last few weeks is the BBC 2 series on York Minster. Primarily, my interest is in the fact that the Precentor Jeremy Fletcher is a friend from my previous existence in publishing.

The other day, word reached me about another TV programme that I watched ‘religiously’ last year. Priest Idol was a Channel 4 mini-series about a run-down parish in Barnsley, a run-down part of the UK, and the efforts of the new American vicar James McCaskill to turn it around.

There is an interview with James McCaskill from Christianity Today in November 2005 where James talks more about the experience.

By the end of the mini-series, we left James with signs of hope for the future but still with much to do. I always wondered what the church had made of the TV programme, indeed the name of the show always struck me as being pretty terrible, and crucially I was desperate to know what had happened next. A follow-up show seemed obvious and inevitable.

The other day I received an email from someone more knowledgeable than me on a discussion list of which I am a part. I was delighted to hear more about what the church in Lundwood had thought of the show and what happened next with Father James and his crew, although it also confirmed my worst fears about TV companies.

Quoting Ruth (my correspondent) verbatim:

“Look what happened with Lundwood in Barnsley. For a start off they called it Priest Idol, which no-one wanted. They missed the best bits, put in the daft bits, said they’d make a follow up and ended up cancelling, even though the church had had a fire and were struggling to come round from it. A real nightmare for them. Still. it didn’t daunt them, and they now consistently have a congregation of around 70, many more at Christmas. It’s definitely a traditional church, but I bet they won’t be long before they try out some fresh expressions and alternative worship, as the people there are just lapping it all up! Whole families are coming together and the Holy Spirit is really at work.”

Wikipedia confirms that the church did indeed receive a devastating blow when a fire broke out in the church hall as workmen replaced roof felting. The fire destroyed the roof of the hall and gutted the interior. If Ruth is right, how the TV companies cannot be interested in a follow-up when the church has suffered such a blow, I have no idea. However, what really encourages me is that the parish of Lundwood is on the up and the church is prospering despite the knocks. Very encouraging indeed.

Having your faith restored

Computer says no

As I sit here ‘on hold’ waiting for a faceless, nameless TV company to finally pull their finger out and sort out our TV troubles, it is hard not to feel cynical about certain aspects of the culture in which I live. From experiences of companies where telephonists cannot give out their names but only their operator number through Indian call-centres where the person you are speaking to barely speaks English, I don’t have much patience on the phone these days.

I have even less faith in big business, customer service or any form of bureaucracy. Everyone is a little too ‘jobs-worth’, no-one shows initiative or real customer care. The recent Little Britain sketch with the catchphrase ‘Computer says no’ says it all.

A week ago, I received notification from the Cambridgeshire police force that I had been photographed by a speed camera doing 40 mph in a 30 mph zone. Points on my driving licence and a fine were my reward. It was a fair cop – I had indeed been doing 40 mph in a 30 mph.

However, there had been a reason for my speed (not that it was that fast anyway). It was around midnight, there was nothing on the road and I was driving to hospital with my wife who was in labour and about to give birth to our wonderful second child. To be honest, speed limits and speed cameras were not much on my mind. Getting to hospital as quickly as possible was.

My wife encouraged me to tell the police these facts when I responded. I did so with absolutely zero expectation that it would make any difference. I expected a jobs-worth response… the speed limit is the speed limit… sorry, don’t have the authority… whatever.

As a result, imagine both my surprise and the lifting of my spirits and my faith in humanity when I received a letter today from the Cambridgeshire Constabulary informing me that they would not taking any further action and considered the matter closed. No points, no fine… just some congratulations on the birth of my son.

Maybe there is a God after all. 🙂 Now, if this other lot will just take me off hold and fix my TV…