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I Believe December 28, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Theological Reflection, Theology.
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2 comments

I believe in God,
the mother, weeping,
wandering heaven and earth,
seeing but unseen.
I believe in all people,
her children,
begotten of her womb,
born of her blood,
one with her.
Through her our world is shaped,
our lives are made.
For our sake she wanders,
seeking the lost,
leading us home.
For our sake she suffers,
dies, and rises.
On the third day she stands,
still weeping for her children.
She ascends to heaven,
she returns to earth,
for she cannot abandon her own,
living or dead.
She breathes life:
her breath is life.
She seeks neither worship
nor glory,
only longing to be known
by her own.
She speaks through the trees,
through the birds and the sky.
She swims the ocean:
she is the ocean;
she is baptism;
She is life,
the life of the world,
yesterday, today
and for ever.
Amen.

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Langford in the Snow December 23, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Photos.
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6 comments

St Andrew’s Church, Langford

St Andrew’s Churchyard, Langford

Phil’s Snowman in the Vicarage Garden, Langford

Wesley Owen and the Mystery of the Missing Bookshop December 22, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Knockabout.
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11 comments

Yesterday evening I decided I’d better get on with updating UKCBD with details of the new shop ownerships that have emerged over the last few days. It proved a tad more complicated than I’d expected because, despite counting and re-counting, I couldn’t get the list of branches to tally.

Here’s where I’ve got to:

Branches in Administration
(or status uncertain)
Aberdeen
Bedford
Belfast
Brighton
Carlisle
Cheltenham
Chester
Croydon
Dundee
Edinburgh
Falkirk
Harrogate
Harrow
Inverness
Leeds
Liverpool
Macclesfield
Manchester
Nottingham
Southampton
South Woodford
Sutton
Walsall
Watford
Weston-Super-Mare
Woking
Worthing
Branches Taken Over
by CLC

Bolton
Cambridge
Coventry
Guildford
Kingston-Upon-Thames
Stockport
Branches Taken Over
by Koorong

Bath
Birmingham
Bristol
Bromley
Coleraine
Derby
Glasgow
York

Looks fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Until you start counting … and discover not 40 but 41 branches, not 26 but 27 either in administration or status uncertain (I say ‘status uncertain’ advisedly because one, presumably, isn’t in administration).

I went back to the press releases, to November and yesterday: definitely 40 branches, 14 sold and 26 remaining — evidently, I’d miscounted: Biblica’s senior management surely know how many branches of Wesley Owen they’ve been trying to dispose of.

I checked my copy of the Booksellers Association Directory of Members: 41 branches there too. Must be out of date, even though the online version concurs (screenshot of search result). Where better to check, then, than Wesley Owen’s own shop finder? Alas, too late: they’d beat me to it and removed all the non-Koorang acquired branches. No worries, mate: Google cache to the rescue – as cached 11th Dec 2009 (pdf, 258kb):

Wesley Owen Store Finder, as at 11 Dec 2009

Wesley Owen Store Finder, as at 11 Dec 2009

With apologies to the good folks from Oz, but tie me kangaroo down, sport — would you look at that: 41 branches!

So if there’s anyone out there who can tell me which of the 27 remaining branches has somehow quietly disappeared during the last couple of weeks, please, I’d be most grateful so that I can update my records…

Now, what was that someone said about getting the facts right?? In all seriousness: is it any wonder that an organisation that can’t keep track of its own shops can’t manage its finances?

Of course, I could be wrong: maybe a branch really did close down and we all managed to miss it, in which case I apologise to the branch staff concerned for not updating UKCBD at the time… but in the meantime: don’t tell the administrators: someone might be about to acquire a shop free of charge!

Christian Broadband: Censorship, a Sensible Precaution or a Cop Out? December 17, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Life Issues, Technology.
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4 comments

YESTERDAY EVENING I received an email from Christian Broadband, trying to persuade me to sign up to their protected internet service. At one level it seems like a good idea: there’s so much filth and other crud out here (I nearly said, “out there”…) — why not let someone else do the hard work of filtering it out? And let’s not pretend it isn’t a problem: millions of people, Christians included, find themselves ensnared by internet pornography. Christianity magazine ran a couple of features on the subject back in February this year and at LST that issue sold out in record time: as I said at the time, porn sells.

But is a service like Christian Broadband really the way to deal with the problem? To me the approach feels far too much like the thought police: allowing someone else to decide what I or anyone else on my network may or may not read or see, which sites we may or may not visit. Worse: that person is not even a legitimate authority but simply someone who claims to know best.

Here’s the Christian Broadband approach:

Do you know what your children are looking at whilst they are doing their homework?

Do you know what your husband is watching while he is checking his e-mail?

Or your wife when she is chatting with friends?

That, I find deeply disturbing. Fair enough, children need protecting: no child should have completely unfiltered content available to them — that’s why newsagents put the porn mags on the top shelves. Responsible parents should be using some sort of filtering technology.

But those next two questions seem to strike at the very heart of human relationships. No, I don’t know what my wife is browsing right now; and she doesn’t know what I’m working on right now. But we trust one another: that’s our starting point, that’s what our relationship is built upon. Mutual respect, mutual trust.

Yes, there may be some people whose relationships have broken down, who need the reassurance that a protected network can bring: but what’s left if we make fear and suspicion our starting point? I applaud the initiative: I am appalled at the implications.

I acknowledge that the vulnerable need protection, that some things should be censored, even banned. But for that, I want the legitimate authorities, the law of the land and international law, to be proactive. I don’t want my internet access restricted by someone whose only claim to legitimacy is a set of ‘Christian’ values that I may or may not agree with.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; but when I grew up, I put childish ways behind me: I became responsible for my own thoughts and actions.

Christian Broadband: a sensible precaution for kids, I guess; but for adults capable of thinking for themselves? Looks like a cop out to me.

Mum, I’ve got a problem… December 15, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Short Story, Theological Reflection.
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4 comments

“Mum, I’ve got a problem…”
“Oh no, what’s Joe done this time?”
“It’s not Joe, that’s the problem.”
“What’s not Joe? Whatever are you twittering on about this time? Just give me a hand with these sheets, will you?”
“But Mum —”
“I’m listening, dear. Hold on tight to your end whilst I give it a shake.”
“Mum —”
“Whatever’s the matter, dear? Why are you crying?”
“Mum, I’m pregnant.”
“I always thought Joe was a bit keen, dear, but —”
“Mum, it’s not Joe’s baby.”
“Do you remember that film with Hugh Grant in it, dear?”
“Mum, Hugh Grant hasn’t been born yet. They haven’t invented films yet.”
“Mother of God, child, will you just listen to your mother??”
“Mum, that’s blasphemy!”
“This is a more immediate problem, my girl, so just you let your old mother think about it…”
“OK, but what about the film?”
“Oh yes, the one about the weddings and the funeral: do you remember the opening line?”
“Err…”
“Well that’s us, girl. Does Joe know yet?”
“I’m scared, Mum. I don’t want to lose him.”
“You won’t lose him, girl: he’s totally besotted with you. So — who’s the father?”
“It’s hard to explain…”
“No, dear, these things are very simple. It’s biology: 1 + 1 = 3.”
“I’ve got an idea, Mum.”
“That’s my girl: come on, out with it.”
“If 1 + 1 = 3, that might explain something about God that’s been puzzling me…”
“I thought you were worried about Joe?”
“Joe can wait: I think we’re about to solve one of the most puzzling mysteries about the nature of God that’s haunted humanity since the dawn of time.”
“Time’s the problem, girl. Thank God you came to me now and didn’t wait until it started to show. Now finish folding that sheet and let me think some more.”
“Mum, what you said a minute ago, ‘Mother of God’…”
“A figure of speech, girl. What about it?”
“Well it’s not a figure of speech anymore.”
“You’re talking riddles, girl. I asked you who the father is.”
“Well there was, like, this angel —”
“Angel??”
” — and he said, well, OK, I forget his exact words, but it was, like, don’t be afraid —”
“Standard opening line. These angels have got no imagination.”
“You believe me?”
“Haven’t lied to me before, girl, have you?”
“Err, there was that fib about —”
“Water under the bridge, girl. I think you’d better go stay with your Aunty Liz for a bit.”
“But Mum, she’s pregnant.”
“She’s a bit brighter than you, girl. At least she got married first. Now go pack your things and I’ll sort your father out.”

GroomNews Christmas 2009 December 11, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
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7 comments

Christmas 2008 | GroomNews Archives

GroomNews Christmas 2009

GroomNews Christmas 2009 - printer friendly version (pdf, 561kb)

What? No Christmas Card??
This year, rather than add to the planet’s burden of billions of ultimately unwanted Christmas cards, we’ve decided to send out most copies of this edition of GroomNews without a card or by email only. We’re donating the money that we would have spent on cards to World Vision instead. If you haven’t already sent out your cards, may we encourage you to consider doing the same?

Challenges and Changes
2009 has been another year of challenges and changes, the most dramatic of which was our move away from London to the delightful wilds of Bedfordshire. Sue now has a new dual role as Priest-in-Charge of two semi-rural parishes, Henlow & Langford, and as Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of St Albans. We’ve been warmly welcomed by the two villages, the vicarage is the best yet and we are especially delighted to have a garden again. There are numerous opportunities for ministry with three schools and all sorts of community groups. In the run up to Christmas Sue is dashing here, there and everywhere, but she is thoroughly enjoying being back in parish ministry!

Sue has put her DMin studies on hold for the current academic year but she is fulfilling the occasional teaching commitment alongside tutoring for LST’s Open Learning Hebrew course.

LST Bookshop

LST Books & Resources

Unfortunately Langford isn’t so good for Phil’s job at LST: the journey takes two hours each way so he’s cut down to working three days a week and is looking for work closer to home. Reduced hours, of course, means a reduced income, but also helps to reduce LST’s costs in running the shop: along with so many other bookshops, the LST Bookshop is struggling to break even in the current economic climate. Although students and staff have been very supportive, having the LST community as a ‘captive audience’ doesn’t help when they have limited funds and are just as liable as anyone else to shop online for lower prices.

A Less Painful Hip
Following a course of physiotherapy, a carefully planned regime of exercises and regular swimming at a very good pool in Biggleswade, Sue’s hip has been much less painful this year.

Almost
is still moored on the Kennet & Avon (K&A) canal with the Newbury Boat Company. This year’s summer holiday took us further along the K&A to Devizes, where we resisted the temptation to go through what is widely regarded as one of the most impressive flights of locks in the country. We settled for mooring at the top and watching sympathetically as other boaters went for it in the rain…

Phil Blogs On
The SPCK/St Stephen the Great bookshops situation seems to be approaching resolution: earlier  in the year the Charity Commission appointed an Interim Manager who took control of the shops from the Brewer brothers. He is now selling the organisation’s assets in order to pay outstanding debts. Read all about it at spckssg.wordpress.com

Sadly the last year has seen another crisis  building up in the Christian booktrade: in October 2008 STL Distribution (the UK and Europe’s biggest Christian wholesaler and owners of Authentic Media publishing and the Wesley Owen bookshops) attempted to install a new IT system as part of its parent company Biblica’s globalisation strategy. Unfortunately it all went pear shaped and for reasons that remain unclear, they were unable to revert to the previous system. In November Biblica announced that they were pulling the plug on their UK operations. It’s all very messy with at least 490 people’s jobs on the line, but hopefully some resolution should be found before Christmas. Please pray for everyone caught up in the situation. You can find out more on the UKCBD blog: christianbookshopsblog.org.uk.

With Our Love
As always, this comes with our thanks for your friendship, our love, best wishes for Christmas and our prayers for peace in the year ahead,

Biblica and STL UK: A Strange Way to Attract Investors? December 6, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
36 comments

If you’ve been following my other blogs, UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog and SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info, then it won’t have escaped your notice that the Christian book trade here in the UK has been going through a wee bit of a crisis over the last couple of years.

On the former SPCK bookshops front, things seem to be approaching a sort of resolution as Peter Gotham, the Interim Manager appointed by the Charity Commission, has seized control of most of the shops (Durham being the most obvious exception) and is now advertising for the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust’s creditors — amongst others, the people whose goods Mssrs J Mark and Philip W Brewer failed to pay for — to submit their claims against the organisation. If that’s you, you need to pull your finger out because, as things stand, you only have until the close of business on 16 December 2009 to get your claims in.

By a bizarre coincidence of timing, that’s also about the time that we can expect to hear what’s likely to happen to the struggling IBS-STL UK empire — STL Distribution, the Wesley Owen bookshops and Authentic Media/Paternoster Press. According to Keith Danby’s latest trade update, the negotiations with Biblica’s “preferred bidders” are expected to “take us into the week commencing 14th December” and we can expect a further announcement “when the sale process comes to a conclusion”.

It’s a welcome update that has been largely hailed as good news: to quote the Church Mouse,

The vital part of that is that the offers are ‘covering all aspects of the business’. This is very encouraging. Book selling in the UK is a tough market for anyone, evidenced not just by STL’s experience, but also by Borders going into administration. Some had thought that Wesley Owen’s chances of redemption were low, but it seems there is hope.

A more disturbing note, however, is sounded by the following statement from Danby which appeared in Toby Cohen’s Religious Intelligence report, Financial disaster hits British media player, published last week, Thursday, 3rd December 2009:

We are not being forced to make this decision by any bank. We came to the decision after struggling on for 12/13 months that now was the time to give the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership to do what was best for the continuity of the ministry and all of the stakeholders.

To me there seems to be more than a whiff of something peculiar here. Even looking at this in the best possible light, pulling the plug on your UK operations and telling not only your staff but also your business and ministry partners that if buyers are not found within a few weeks then the entire enterprise will go into administration seems a rather strange way to attract new investors.

Introducing this level of uncertainty into people’s lives and livelihoods during the most critical time of year for businesses — and what is often one of the most stressful times of year for families — is hardly the way to help to ensure continuity of ministry, let alone to offer reassurance to “the stakeholders”.

If providing “the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership” to take things forward was the primary concern, then surely the way to proceed would have been to seek to sell IBS-STL UK as a going concern, not as a business that was for sale or bust?

If there was no pressure from the charity’s bankers, then why was it deemed appropriate to subject either the staff or the rest of the UK Christian book trade to the trauma that they and we have gone through since November 16th?

I do not for one moment dispute the immense effort that has been put into finding a buyer or buyers, or into securing the futures of as many of STL UK’s 490 employees as possible; but I do not believe that Biblica’s decision to pull out of its UK operations was made with the best interests of the UK Christian book trade — or even its own UK division — in mind. No doubt new investment, new thinking and new leadership will emerge: but for that we will owe no debt of gratitude to Biblica, only rather to those who have shown the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to pick up the pieces afterwards.

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