Month: May 2009

Will Susan Boyle win Britain’s Got Talent?

The ITV show Britain’s Got Talent has reached the semi-final stage and an unknown, unmarried and unemployed 47 year old woman from Scotland called Susan Boyle has just got through to Saturday’s final (May 30th). Within days of her original performance the video clip of her singing ‘I dreamed a dream’ had been viewed by 25 million people around the world, this for a woman who did not even own a computer! Why did her performance have such an impact? Partly because as soon as she began to sing it became clear that she had an amazing voice, partly because she sang an emotional song about having a dream but mostly the reason she shot to fame was because she just didn’t look like a star. It was her very obvious ordinariness that lulled the audience into thinking ‘here comes another deluded individual with an unrealistic belief in her own ability’. In the papers following her performance she was described as having the eyebrows of a roman emperor, and said herself that she thought she looked like a garage! She was the type of middle aged woman who sits behind you on the bus into town and you barely notice her. She didn’t have the walk. She didn’t have the dress-sense, she didn’t have the hair, the face, the figure, but, oh boy, did she have the voice.
What Susan’s story tells us is that we have come to expect that talent will come in a certain ‘package’. It is no longer simply enough for someone to have an extraordinary voice, they have to also look the part. If you’d closed your eyes throughout the video clip you’d still be impressed by her voice, it would be no less good. So why should her looks (or lack of them) be so much a part of her story? Why do we not expect middle aged people with bushy eyebrows and frumpy hair to have an extraordinary talent? Why shouldn’t they?
The theme of this November’s Activate conference is that we are all ‘extraordinarily ordinary’. Each of us has a talent, passion, or ability that we can use to extraordinary effect. When we find, discover and step out into that calling all of us can profoundly impact our families, our neighbourhoods,our friends,our colleagues and yes even the world. We might not end up on youtube, we might not win a talent contest but the world will be a different place if we have stepped up to be all we can be.
Susan now has tidy eyebrows and new hair colour but other than that she seemed, refreshingly, the same slightly wacky person with a wonderful voice. Whether or not she wins already seems completely irrelevant, she has been an inspiration and a wake up call reminding us that we are all ‘extraordinarily ordinary’

Do You Know Your Neighbours?

Recently on Eddie Mair’s programme on BBC radio 4, listeners have been encouraged to send in questions they would like answered. These could be on any topic for any reason. The best question would be picked by the IPM team. Thousands of people responded with a random selection of ideas for the competition. Last Saturday the winning question was announced. It was “Do you know your neighbours?”

I was astounded that out of the variety of questions, this one was picked! I was also delighted as it is something that we, at Activate have been encouraging for a long time. It is the best way to reach out in love to those around us and something which seems to be unusual in our society today.

Eddie Mair, the presenter, phoned the winner to interview her about the reason she had chosen that question. Her answer was interesting. She said that although she had lived in her home for several years, she only had a nodding acquaintance with her neighbours. When asked why, she said that they all live busy lives and don’t have time to build friendships and she didn’t think her neighbours would be interested in getting to know her.

Eddie Mair then turned up on her doorstep and asked her to go with him to her neighbours to discuss the issue. This ended with all the neighbours saying that they would take time to meet up for a meal and get to know each other!

ICM are now going to do a survey of thousands of people to find out how many people know their neighbours. It was estimated that it would not be more than 30%.

I remember some time ago, a TV programme about a row of terraced houses in a street in London , having a “makeover,” in order to raise the value of all the properties. Initially none of the neighbours knew each other, but while the improvements were going on and each neighbour was outside gardening and painting, they got to know and trust one another. Friendships were built and parties and barbeques followed. The atmosphere in the street changed as they began to care for and support each other.

As Christians, can we be instigators of change in our neighbourhoods, to build friendships and trust and make a difference?

Last Chance Harvey – in cinemas 5th June – Don’t Miss This!

I had the message below from DAMARIS – Do take a look.

Damaris has a wonderful website, full of great resources on current books, films and music – and their latest offering is of special interest to Acivate Your Life.

Last Chance Harvey (UK release 5th June) is a heartfelt romance that celebrates new beginnings – at any age. Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey, a creative composer about to lose his dead-end job as a jingle writer. Emma Thompson plays Kate, a sensitive 40-something whose life is limited to work, the occasional humiliating blind date and endless phone calls from her smothering mother. A chan ce encounter in an airport leads to a growing connection between them – but can they really find romance at their age, with their experience of past failures and pain?

This film will appeal to men and women of all ages. But it will have a particular resonance with women. Therefore, in partnership with Momentum Pictures, the film’s distributors, we are creating a FREE set of resources, including some designed specifically for women’s groups.

We want to help you to run an outreach event based around seeing the film in the cinema and then coming back for food, drink and discussion on these themes:

1. Regretfully Yours – living with past failures and regrets
2. Take a Chance on Me – overcoming the fear of pain and disappointment in new relationships
3. New Beginnings – the prospect of reconciliation, and establishing good relationships old and new
We will provide everything you need, including…

Artwork from the film for posters and invites
A leader’s guide with:
food/drink suggestions (e.g. a Last Chance Harvey Wallbanger!)
a trivia-quiz based on the film
discussion material and suggestions for using it
Downloadable clips from the film for you to show as you lead each part of the discussion
All of these will be available from and all will be free of charge.

We will also provide a special edition of Pollard on Film (Last Chance Harvey and Relationships), a special edition of the new look (Last Chance Harvey and Real Life) and six downloadable clips from the film with suggestions for use, all open access in

Please will you pass this information on to others – and plan to use our resources to run an outreach event as soon as possible after 5th June?

This email is sent out by: Damaris, PO Box 200, Southampton, SO17 2DL, UK. Email: – to get these resources.

The Alpha Course

Like many churches, we have been holding Alpha courses for decades at our church, writes Fiona Castle.

Each one has been adapted to suit the candidates.

Two very successful courses have been run for the mothers at our Mums and Tots group, Pop In. These were held in the morning over coffee and cake, and condensed to fit in with the schedule for mothers to collect their children from nursery, although crèche facilities were provided at the church.

There have been courses for guys, held at the local pub, where issues were discussed over a glass of beer and of course, the traditional ones, where a good meal is provided before the discussions.

At our most recent course, Katrina Reading, who is our Community and Family worker, commented how effective it had been. This was a ladies only course, which was appropriate as several of the ladies had been in abusive relationships.

Two came because, when asked, they had not liked to say no, even though they had been warned off by family and friends! One of these ladies has already become a strong believer and has also seen her daughter come to faith through her mother’s encouragement to also attend an Alpha course elsewhere.

Katrina said that another woman who was depressed and suicidal has now found a living faith and reads three sets of Bible notes each day and can’t stop smiling and hugging people!

Another course, set up by Holy Trinity Brompton, is Recovery from Divorce and Separation. More than ten of these courses have now been run very successfully at our church. One of the offshoots has been that people can come to an Alpha course if they are interested in following up what they have learned at the Recovery course. Apparently many of the men have found Alpha really helpful and have come to faith as a result.

We certainly have been grateful to Nicky Gumbel for this amazing initiative, which has touched more than 13 million people all around the world.
If you want to find out more about attending or running a course in your area look up

Find out about Krish Kandiah

Want to know more about our keynote speaker at the Activate November weekend away? This website gives a biography, a book list and an up to date ‘twitter’ by the man himself.
The address?

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