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Lent books: It’s my living room, but it’s your Church, Lord

01 February 2011

David Wilbourne on courses available for Lent groups in 2011


Rich Inheritance: Jesus’ legacy of love
Stephen Cottrell

York Courses £3.50 (booklet)
Church Times Bookshop £3.15 (Course pack, including booklet, CD, and transcript, is available from www.yorkcourses.co.uk; phone 01904 466516)

Life Attitudes: A 5-session course on the Beatitudes for Lent
Robert Warren and Sue Mayfield

Church House Publishing £4.99
Church Times Bookshop £4.50

Growing the Church: Lessons from the Acts of the Apostles and the contemporary world Church
USPG (free from www.uspg.org.uk; or phone 020 7378 5678)

Exploring God’s Mercy: Five images of salvation
Steven Croft
Church House Publishing £5.99
Church Times Bookshop £5.40

Prepared for Purpose: Empowered by the Spirit
Trevor J. Partridge

CWR £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

READING 11 Lent books or courses in between sliding around Cardiff celebrating sundry Christmas services seemed somewhat surreal; but here is my verdict.

York Courses’ producers Simon Stanley and John Young deserve a gold medal for services to Lent: whenever I used their material, my living room was full to bursting; whenever I didn’t, we had spare chairs.

Rich Inheritance focuses on five themes (the Empty Tomb, a Group, a Story, a Power, a Meal) with three celebrities, who answer radio-interview style questions on the CD provided. A serious Paula Gooder seasons careful answers with sharp biblical scholarship. Archbishop Vincent Nichols humorously quotes Pope John XXIII: “It’s your Church, not mine, Lord. I’m going to sleep now.” But the American author and theologian Jim Wallis is the show’s undoubted star, repeatedly giving punchy examples, putting a some­what wooden Nichols to shame: Nichols ducks the question about outreach, instead talking about re­covering the lapsed, while Wallis talks poignantly about rescuing the lost.

Cheerily introduced by Lord Hope, each session concludes with an arresting meditation by Inderjit Bhogal, complemented by an attrac­tive course booklet written by the omnipresent Bishop Stephen Cottrell. Though an experienced radio interviewer, Simon Stanley never, sadly, puts the killer supple­mentary to muddled contributors. Maybe shouting it at the CD player is the ingredient that truly brings the group alive.

Life Attitudes by Robert Warren and Sue Mayfield is a reissue of their 2004 course on the Beatitudes. Spread over five sessions, each includes helpful preparation, an easy-to-follow plan, and concludes with striking prayers.

This impressive course is multi-media, setting out various learning strategies, encouraging the use of music, inspiring objects, images, collages, literature, and films, notably The Spanish Riding School: The first 400 years, The Pianist, and Phone Booth. The “Go deep” sessions have good illustrations (such as George Eliot’s Silas Marner), which will grip and move on any group. The course catches the subversive wisdom of Warren’s more substantial 1998 work, Living Well, as in “bereavement happens to us, mourning is a choice to turn and face the pain and work through it to a better and more whole future.”

USPG’s Lent Study Course, Growing the Church, focuses on growth in numbers, depth, community, generosity, and learning. Studies from Acts accompany a whistle-stop tour of South India, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zim­babwe, Japan, Bangladesh, north-east India, South Africa, Myanmar, and Ghana. Using the course in 2008, I found it synthesised Bible study with an imaginative empathy for USPG partners across the developing world.

I was moved by congregations’ being tear-gassed, manhandled, and threatened; chal­lenged by the description of Christianity in Africa as a mile wide but an inch deep; and amused by the Bishop of Niassa’s being introduced to a pagan audience as the Chief Witch Doctor. I would particularly recom­mend this excellent, free course to parishes wanting to widen their horizons and sharpen the priority that they give to USPG.

In Exploring God’s Mercy, Bishop Steven Croft tenderly uses Psalm 107’s five sections as a key to unlock five aspects of divine mercy: lost, yet found; in prison, yet set free; sick, yet made well; storm-tossed, yet comforted; barren, yet fruitful.

Each session includes in-depth comment­ary on selected verses from Psalm 107, followed by a very vivid recasting of a passage from Mark (namely the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of Legion, the healing of Jairus’s daughter, the stilling of the storm, and the commission of the disciples), concluding with a brief reflection on the Passion.

There is a short introductory film available on YouTube, with additional recommenda­tions for film or song clips. The course can be used by a house group (excellent opening and closing worship is provided) or as the Min­istry of the Word within an extended euchar­ist. There is so much good stuff here that a group leader would need a firm grip on tim­ing to complete the sessions in the intended 90 minutes. Spreading the course over more than five sessions could relax things.

Jesus’s being led by the Spirit into the wilder­ness prompts Trevor Partridge, in CWR’s Prepared for Purpose, to invite us to draw more deeply on the Holy Spirit’s resources. Six studies on different aspects of the Spirit each feature a nine-course menu consisting of Icebreakers, Opening Prayers, Bible Readings, Eye Openers, Setting the Scenes, Discussion Starters, Closing Prayers, Final Thoughts, and Further Study.

Partridge (Selwyn Hughes redivivus) sets out a tightly argued biblical theorem on the Spirit which at times frankly baffled me; and any link with Lent was forced. The brochure was glossy; the text was sadly monochrome. If you really, really want to draw more deeply on the Spirit, then save your money and simply re-read John V. Taylor’s The Go-between God.

The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is the Assistant Bishop of Landaff and Diocesan Director of Ministry.

The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is the Assistant Bishop of Landaff and Diocesan Director of Ministry.

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