Straight talking Christanity Vs Polite Church.

Sometimes as Church we are all to neat and tidy, polite and ve don’t mention anything controversial, messy, offensive and are perfectly well mannered and inoffensive.

Church if it were a colour would be baige, and if it were a biscuit would be rich tea!

I worry that Church as institution makes “not rocking the boat” a vitue (although my spell check suggest virtue should be replaced by virus!) as is this idea of “keeping the show on the road”, again seen as a virtue -rather than asking “Is this ‘show’ roadworthy?”

Recently I read of a brave follower of Christ and church leader challenging his congregations sinful and unchristlike behaviour and is now on a forced sabbatical.

Yet do think that on occasions Churches need a rebuke and a challenge, one of the roles of a Church leader is a custodian of the culture and to call the Church to act as they should. This is clearly modelled by Jesus who rebuked his “right hand man” with “Get behind me Satan”, who called the monarch (Herod) a fox, and the powerful religious elite a “nest of vipers” and “white washed tombs” and drove the traders from the temple with force.

Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles’ are straight talking, uncomfortable reading and deeply challenging, and if sent out now would probably get some traditional church goers and odd bishop rather hot under the (dog) collar.

Yet, it might not be popular but the call and the footsteps of Christ has not been a call to ‘people please’, but to be a radically different community, a Church that should be a foretaste and outpost of heaven, but sometimes tragically resembles the other place!

I see nothing Christ-like in condoning and colluding with the bad behaviour that sadly exists within some Churches.

What our Churches, and as Christians, do/behave really matters.

We as Christians and the Church gathered locally are the shop window to the community around us. We are Christs ambassadors, he makes his appeal through us.

How we live can bring glory or shame to the name of Christ.

This brave man of God showed a more “light and salty” path, he could have turned a blind eye, not rocked the boat and gone through ministry motions, but no, he called behaviour that was “off side” off side (which sadly happens too often across too many Churches, and probably is responsible for repelling many seekers from Christ).

He should be commended not punished.

I have tragically seen and know many people who know and love Christ but because of their Church experience are no long in active fellowship.

I’m not advcating bullying or abusive behaviour, but I don’t thing there is anything Christlike about biting our tongue when we should be speaking up.

A wise friend who had been battered by some toxic church politics and stood up to them also said that he didn’t want sink to their level.

Sadly in the complex nature of human interaction hurt people end up hurting people, sin can and does become cyclical, cycles which need to be broken and new ways of living, loving and serving together needs to be found.

I had difficult parish in Kingswood, and some challenging relationships to manage. I am not naturally a lover of conflict, in fact I actively dislike conflict. Nor am I saying I always handled it as well as I could have. Yet in the words of Catherine Booth “to change the future you have to disturb the present”.

As Desmond Tutu said that “if you remain silent in the face of sin and justice, then you have sided with the oppressor”.

Jesus never sided with the oppressor, nor turned a blind eye to wrong doing and sinful behaviour.

Light drives back darkness and salt -killing bacteria- can sting, but we are called to be salt and light in our communities, a call to live different, being that “City without walls blazing with the glory of God” a “City on a hill that cannot be hidden”, being the hands a feet of Christ.

On one occasion dealing with one of our more difficult congregational members I was told “leave him he’s not worth it!” and that “people like him wont chsnge”.

Yet Jesus never said anyone wasnt worth it, even washing Judas feet.

The gospel says that even the most unlikely people seeped in sin can change, whether that is the sinfulness of spiteful and toxic church politics or rampant debuchary!

Sadly in one of our Churches in Kingswood my wife and little girl stopped going to one of the 5 Churches because it became the kind of environment we didn’t want our little girl exposed too.

Our Church leaders talk a lot about growth, but surely we need instead to talk about health, being a Christ like community.

Healthy things grow, unhealthy things die, we need to nurture communities that reflect and are full of the Holy Spirit embodying and replicatimg the DNA of Jesus.

A call to follow Jesus and turn from our sin is at the heart of gospel. If the people of our congregations, refuse to listen and respond to the call of Christ to be changed and transformed, then perhaps we need to knock the dust from our feet? Something painful, but actually biblical.

To deal openly, honestly and courageously to see us all become transformed into the likeness of Christ is at the heart of being a Christian. Iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another. Carrying one anothers burdens. Spuring one another on towards love and good deeds.

The call is to love, even to love those who persecute us, and sometimes it can really feel like persecution, and although love forgives and turns the other cheek, it calls us to the tougher and braver path, not of looking the other way or shrugging our shoulders and saying “that’s just how some people are” but bravely try and build a different community that acts different and is a beacon of hope both to those in the Church -another way is possible- and to those who don’t yet belong, to show them what a Christian community should be.

A Christian community reflecting Christ will need to be defended, Satan will attack it, but let’s not give up trying like Nehemiah in the face of the onslaught from Sabbalats and Tobiahs continuing to build (and rebuild) or the glory of God.

Yes, we will rebuke out of love, as we seek to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Audacious, call, Deep, relationship with God

Deep and Audacious

Just got back from an awesome evening on Hanham Mount, which is where John Wesley preached his first open air sermon to the Kingswood Miners, 16’000 of them, and they cried white tears of repentance as they heard the message of the cross.

My fab friend Andy Biddlecombe spoke and his message was really simple, but also really profound.

Firstly it was about encountering God in the hidden place, on our own, just us and God, to learn to hear his voice and drink deep from him. Most of us function on near exhaustion and sometimes we are scraping the barrel of our spiritual lives to share anything of value or worth. Yet I believe that God wants us to find our rest, refreshment, renewing in him and in his presence as we learn to seek his face and hear his voice.

Too often we don’t let our roots go deep down into God, too busy rushing around to really take time to seek God and to sacrifice that most precious commodity -our time-.

Yet, actually its not sacrificing our time on God, but rather it is investing it wisely.

A great verse I love “they knew they were ordinary and unskilled men who had been with Jesus”, when we spent time in Jesus’ presence we not just reflect him, but radiate him.

A challenge for us all to take time to go deeper with God, to be ‘fully charged up’ -rather than almost out of juice.

Yet that wasn’t the end of the message, Bidds shared about “being bold and audacious for the Kingdom of God”.

I was reminded, standing where we are on Hanham Mount, that Wesley nearly didn’t do field preaching thinking it was “vile” and “unseemly” to not preach in a Church, but yet he was obedient and stepped out of his insecurities and pre-conceptions and preached Christ unashamedly to those who had come to hear him.

That brave moment in a conversation could be the turning point for someone’s life.

That offer to pray for someone could be that moment of healing and transformation, Bidds spoke about his hero “Smith Wigglesworth” -an illiterate plumber- who bravely challenged us to be expectant and step out in faith, take the Holy Spirit inspired risk.

Too often in our conversations we talk about nothing, when maybe we should speak about something!

Let’s be bold!

Let’s seize the moment.

Let’s be a Church that seeks God deeply in prayer, and a Church that is audacious in proclaiming Jesus.

Remembering we are the people who hold out the word that gives life.

brokenness, cost, Dreams, Evangelism, Gospel, Mission, Try?

word on the street 3.

Over Easter we had a mission across the city “The Turning” where we went out and talked with people on the street about Jesus(using a simple script).

Yet we now have the new challenge, rather than just putting a load of effort into a short term event, we are trying to be missional people doing this as a normal part of our usual, normal life together.

we are being ‘intentional’ about keeping on going out together regularly onto the streets to tell people about Jesus, this months there have been three Friday worship sessions followed by three Saturday mornings in different parts of the city.

At the beginning of the month a load of us met up and worshipped, soaked in God’s presence, as someone that is an activist normally with multiple diary clashes prioritising God’s presence was a wonderful thing to do, although I must admit that just turning up for the Saturday outreach did creep into my mind. So glad I didn’t.

Today however I just came to the outreach on the street, we were in South Bristol and I felt convicted if I wanted people to come and share their faith in Kingswood area, then I ought to be prepared to bless other parts of the city too.

Both times on the Street were very different, lots of busy people in a hurry that wouldn’t stop. Yet on both days some people did stop and listen and have conversations with us, on both days we got opportunities to pray for people, and this morning we saw three people pray a prayer of commitment.

All things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone out.

Today we prayed for a woman who said he life had been “ruined by God” as she suffered a stroke, but prayed for her and she prayed a prayer of commitment. Last time a lady we spoke to couldn’t pray that prayer of commitment as she was so angry with God for the way her mum had suffered before she had died.

Realise that in sharing our faith people are giving us privileged access to their hearts.

I wonder how many opportunities I miss by doing something “important” that actually from an eternal perspective might not have been that important at all!

Yet, I believe the Turning Mission is bigger than just the events with the label “The Turning” on it, just as “healing on the streets” and other initiatives should be bigger than just the teams going out, mission and evangelism should filter through to our Churches, our homes and work places.

The Turning has increased our expectancy for God to be at work, helped us see those potential Kingdom encounters. Recently an older gentleman shared about he was at Lidl and the lady at the front of the queue didn’t have enough money and was getting worried, he gently asked how much she was short by (32p) and paid the cashier. The lady asked him why he did this and he said “God loves you” and se began to well-up with tears.

Little things can make a big difference.

This last month, I have been reminded afresh of the pain of so many peoples’ lives.

This month of June I have had a student Dan with me, learning about being a Vicar. The first week he was here we wandered around the local shops giving out mini chocolates just as a gentle blessing from the local Church. The first shop we went into -a sweet shop- the woman declined the sweet but ended up talking about shutting her shop as it was loosing money. we were able to pray with and for her, and as we prayed she began to cry, just felt as though God had somehow touched her in that moment. Ironic as I toyed with the idea of not going into the sweet shop to give out some sweets as it seemed a bit cheeky. I am glad now we did.

Last Friday with the street pastors ended up spending a big chunk of the evening with a homeless couple, the girl of the couple just seemed really vulnerable.

On Thursday I had to help out for a couple of hours in the young peoples secure unit, seeing these young people who look both incredibly vulnerable and incredibly hard at the same time, one can only imagine what they have been through even though they are so young.

Recently as we do our weekly Pints of View (Church in a pub) I have seen us as a team becoming gradually more emboldened, one guy asking if he could pray for Annie (a regular) with her knees, next week she came in and said they were healed, and then began to complain about ankles. we prayed for her ankles, when I saw her a couple of days ago she said “you wont believe it but since you prayed they are ever so much better!”

One guy Jason, the week before heard one guy share most of his life story, but every now and then chipped in something really wise and Godly. People want to share their stories and want to hear what Christians have to say, we have fallen for the lie that people aren’t interested.

Also in our prayer time, we have been joined by a couple of guests, neither sure about what they believe, but both wanted to be there and came back next week, and we made the choice to carry on praying and worshipping in exactly the same way as we did when it was just Christians

Last week too tough lads smirking almost squared up to me and asked me if I could do “one of them gay weddings right there in the pub”… One of those things they didn’t teach me at theological college! It had the potential to be interesting (and by “interesting” I mean I could get punched in the face!). Yet with a bit of chatting and warmth the ice-melted and they admitted they both had girlfriends but thought it’d be funny to see how I reacted! From that my friend Harry began asking one of them if he had a faith, and ended up praying for him that he’d come to know Jesus -I thought Harry was pushing his luck and again expected him to be told to “**** off!” but instead the guy seemed genuinely moved shaking Harry’s and my hands warmly and thumping his chest in a “love you guys kinda way”.

It would be easy to read these stories and feel like we are sorted, but we are not, far from it, I still find even after the umpteenth time going out on the street that I feel nervous, and often wandering away I think of “what I should have said” -not what I did say!, but I believe we are gradually learning what it means to be a missional people living their lives everyday.

I know I and my friends still are far from sorted, but I know too that God is helping us be bolder and riskier in sharing him and seeing people respond.

I remember the line the overseer of The Turning Pastor Yinka says “the fields are white to the harvest and the workers are YOU” -what can we do?

Then we realise that God has gone before us and prepared the way ahead, opened doors and been tapping on lives already.

what an awesome privilege to partner this fantastic God.


Lessons from London.

As I got of the tube at Westminster I was shockingly underwhelmed, everything looked as it normally did. My friend John Good and I had a look around parliament to see if there was anything happening there, but there wasn’t, on hearing the news that climate change had brought Central London to a standstill was exaggerated.

Yet we did see lots of police presence, ironic as in normal everyday life we barely ever see the police on our streets, hoovering above our heads was a police helicopter (no doubt pumping all sorts of toxins into the atmosphere).

We began to walk Trafalgar Square we where the protest had its heart, and heard a speaker saying: “Our government has declared a climate emergency, but where is their emergency plan?”

Anyone who had been an episode of “Yes Minister”/”Yes, Prime Minister” (or been involved in much Church life!) will know that there is a vast sea of difference words/rhetoric and action/implementation.

Yet I was struck by this speech that it deterred away from issues we would normally associate with climate change, particularly education, the D.W.P and the arms-trade/war in general. All important issues, but wondered about the risk of loosing focus, but also realised that issues of sustainable living effect everything, and are more far reaching than we realise.

Some music started, and it did feel a bit of a party atmosphere, reminding me of a mini Glastonbury, Greenbelt or Banksy exhibition. Lots of art and creativity with some powerful quotes including Wilberforce’s words “that we can choose to look the other way but we cannot say we did not know”, or one simple placard saying “what did you do in the climate crisis dad?”

Boris Johnson has characterised this as a whole load of “nose-ringed crusties”, “dread-locked hippies in bivouacs smelling if hemp” and many other Borisy insults, and there were plenty of people who fulfilled that stereotype, yet there were many of us who were fairly ordinary people who care what we are doing to our planet and how it effects us all, and will/is effecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our world.

There were plenty of tents, and some gazebos offering art and creative opportunities for banners and T’shirts, some drew on the ground with chalk. I spied an unusual tent, a science tent, where XR volunteers were dressed in lab coats and talking to people about the science around climate change.

“What if climate change was a hoax?”
“I wish it was a hoax , but even if it’s not and we clean up our air, land and sea and try and live more responsibly that can’t be a bad thing can it?”

We got chatting to a lovely couple from Chichester, who had been influenced by the Christian group the Quakers, again normal people doing what they can, this ladies husband has taken time off work to protest, a sacrificial act.

We ended up talking about our kids, -want my child to stand up for what she believes to be right- and she said that they had been nervous of taking their kids here, but we all agreed that actually it felt safe and child friendly.

I thought of my Facebook feed filled with comments like “stay safe” which is ironic considering actually things such as street pastors etc are potentially more dangerous, we view getting arrested as an awful thing (and no one wants to get arrested) but this made me realise how compliment we are as a nation. Thinking of Christians in North Korea living out their faith in much greater danger, hearing a woman speak the year before last at New Wine their prison system sounded so barbaric imprisoned in an over crowded camp for simply praying with another Christian. Getting into trouble or being unpopular should not stop us doing what is right.

I had to fly off for to St. Martin’s -in what their associate vicar, Sally Hitchiner, calls London’s most ethical cafe- to meet two friends, Nick and Eileen.

Nick and Eileen are the brother and mum of one of my best friends Simon, a wonderful and fun guy who died shortly after we moved to Poole. Simon was a nurse who worked amongst the homeless in London, before moving to Nottingham and where we met and became friends. Indeed, Simon helped me through a really tough time which I will always be immensely grateful. Simon we discovered later was more than just a guy who liked to party but sadly was an alcoholic. He ended up going to rehab in South Africa, and then working in rehab. “Treatment for all” was his mantra seeking to make funding for rehab for drug and alcohol affordable to all who needed it regardless of their ability to pay. They are exploring something to do in Simon’s memory.

As we finished our coffee (fair-traded of course!) Nick spotted on his phone that XR were taking action to the BBC with a protest.

John and I rushed over to join them, John being fitter than I was saying wise words and I wheezed agreement. Talking about this being a generation wanting to be heard and leave a legacy.

I remember the music of people like the Manic Street Preachers saying “if we tolerate this then your children will be next” or bopping around in a field at Christian Festivals like Soul Survivor singing Delirious’ “Historymaker”, but I think this feeling has grown and grown.

For a long time apathy and complacency has paralysed us -anyone who follows politics knows that government are elected on smallish percentages of the eligible vote. Yet, with the Brexit debate and the Extinction Rebellion (whatever your views on this) however we have seen people have engaged or re-engaged, maybe not in the way we would like, but they are engaged.

We thought about how fear grips people, young people especially, when the fear narrative threatening both the environmental and economic future is making young people feel deeply anxious, and unheard. Yet, I know for me personally how fear and guilt are poor (but powerful) motivators, instead I want to see Hope as better incentive.

Martin Luther King said “riot is the language of the unheard”, we know the more and more we are ignored and overlooked the more angry and frustrated with the way the world is. I was reminded of a Franciscan saying about “shouting at the night” and many of us have deep sympathy with the sentiment saying “we don’t like the way the world is going”.

As I gasped for breath, and side stepped a group of tourists.

I wheezed something about “being a society where everyone is speaking but no one is listening” -which isn’t entirely true when we think of YouTube influences etc- but “how do we speak and get listened too ?” But it is an interesting question, do we just shout on the echo chambers of facebook, or to the already converted in our churches. How do we really speak and listen beyond those who think the same as us, how do we engage meaningfully outside our ‘tribe’ or ‘group’?

We arrived at the BBC about the same time as an army of police, I did think that John and I looked like off duty coppers(!)

I thought about the BBC an organisation I have come to feel more uneasy about who appears to have become very biased. I remember in the days of Blair and Major (yes I am that old!) feeling they were trying to be balanced, but now (whatever your politics) they are softly right wing and remain in their outlook, speaking a lot about Brexit but little about climate change and its effect on the world’s poorest.

I saw banners saying “tell the truth” everywhere I looked and then saw people in suits with pape mache animal heads, reminding us how close to extinction some of these animals and their natural habitats are. The protesters wanted a meeting from someone from the BBC and clearer reporting on the science of climate change.

As we stood there in the cold we chatted to people, one lady passed around free (vegan) flapjack, I was struck by this movements open-heartedness, welcome and hospitality.

A couple of people had climbed on the roof and although the police officers were pretty chilled at the start of all this, I did suspect they would end up getting arrested, and knew that eventually this area would get cleared but for now it was all reasonably calm.

There were some more speaches and a citizen’s assembly where people votes by a show of hands as to what the next phase of action would be.

After a while here we headed to Lambeth North to the Oasis accademy to meet Tom, a friend of John. Tom works in a hospital for Oasis with young people and the victims of knife crime.

As I thought about the tragedy of young people killing one another, and many are so scared to go out that they are arming themselves in self defense. I remember hearing a friend, Luke, who is doing an MA with me, talking about as a response to knife crime in Luton they did a prophetic act of making a sculpture from the blades that had been surrendered on the street. A prayer for peace, and echoing the sentiment of turning spears into ploughs and shears into pruning hooks, longing for the day when people practice war no more.

I snapped out of day dreaming and tuned into John and Tom reminisinf about working with young people in a place in Southampton called “Shirley Warren”. Many of the young people from this estate were marginalised and disenfranchised, where they lived as a community together and served sacraficially for a number of years. It was amusing listening to their conversation (with laughter) “do you remember our burgled?” and “remember that house when we got a brick through the window… Didn’t that happen twice?”

This reminded me that good quality real relational youth work changes -and I believe- saves lives. Sadly too often this type of youth work doesn’t happen as much as it should in our Churches, where the youth worker too often works keeping the middle class churchy kids happy, rather than seeing the local young people reached with the amazing good news of the Kingdom of God.

I sensed the Holy Spirit was moving and speaking as these guys reminisced, and wondered that although I had come up to London to think about protest and climate change, God had been wanting to get my attention about the plight of young people with the dangers of knife crime in our towns and cities.

John’s phone rang and he had to go and meet his wife who was picking him up from an outer London station, we left and went our separate ways getting on different tubes.I got onto one going back into central London and picked up the Evening Standard and saw the main headline “Two Teen Knife Murders in just 5 hours”.


Extinction Rebellion: Should I go or should I stay?

I put on Facebook that I was going to Extinction Rebellion and it got a real “Marmite” response, some saying “fantastic, well done” and others advising to steer well away.

For me, I have been profoundly challenged at how we pollute our planet.

With our seas and oceans -just walk along a beautiful beach and we are it awash with plastic bottles and cans -and knowing that this is distributing the food chain.

As we do our beach cleans, I still have a fear the rubbish could still end in landfill -with the other tons and tons of rubbish- much hundreds of years to biodegradable.

Even going to major city we notice the difference in air quality (turns your boogies black!) -we as the human race have not been good stewards of the world God has entrusted to us.

I remember reading a quote from the Native Americans reminding us that “we do not inherit the world but borrow it from our children”, as a dad and as a Christian I want my daughter (and one day hopefully grand-children) to enjoy the wonder and beauty of this amazing world that God has gifted us with.

St. Francis talks of creation as being his “brother” and his “sister” -as one ahead of his time he began to see our oneness with creation and that God can be glimsped through all of his creation. As I thought about this I would not stand by see someone (a brother or a sister) be poisoned, why should I be passive about poisoning the air, land or sea?

To me the question with the climate emergency is why has it taken me so long to speak out? I have known of the green cause since my teens and yet rarely in past years did more than the odd token gesture.

I do wonder if I have a right to speak on this as I do a bit of travelling with my dreams around the school of mission, I give out bottles of water galore with street pastors and I sometimes choose convenience over recycling; am I too much of a hypocrite to talk about this?

The fear of being a hypocrite has at times silenced me too often, but I have come to accept that I am what Henri Nowen calls “a wounded healer” -not sorted and wanting to bless even though I am broken- and “not being sorted” does not invalidate my opinion.

Despite being “late to the party” I have really tried to be better at recycling and consuming ethically and locally, and Ekklesia (the emerging new monastic group I co-lead with my friend Mark) are trying to live differently in a greener and more sustainable, we are also trying to speak up and speak out about what matters. I find it so sad the Church is so often behind everyone else with matters of conscience when we should be leading the way, we as Christians have an obligation to speak, and when our planet is being exploited and the cost of this is being born by the poorest and most vulnerable in the world, the better question is: “how can I remain silent?”

This makes me ask two questions: “How can I engage in this issue in a way that is actually heard by those who need to listen? And how do I get involved, engage, protest and resist in an effective but Christ like manner?

Worth remembering that Christ over turned the tables in the temple and stands at the head of a long line of civil disobedient followers of God (starting with the Egyptian midwives refusing to partake in the genocide of Israelite baby boys right up to today where Christians are defying the law by meeting up together and practising their faith). As the early disciples said “ask whether we should obey you or God?”

But protesting well is a challenge, the Extinction Rebellion has non violent ethic, urging people to treat each other and the police and those who disagree with us with respect.

Instead they have used art, poems and placards to capture the imagination of those who read them, forming encampments and staging sit-in’s, giving clear demands and articulately explaining their position by appearing on news shows such a politics live or Question Time.

The point of contention is whether the sit ins and encampments have stopped people getting to and from work etc, which is alleged and many of us worry that often protests hit the ‘just about managing’, people struggling to keep it all together, whilst those who need to listen are insulated from the effects of their actions, how do we get them to hear and listen? It is a refusal to “just shut up and go away”, sometime the power of persistence committed to a lifestyle of being active for change for as long as it takes, come what may, and going on despite the discouragements until the day when history is made and things change.

The more extreme protests have created some controversy, an interesting question of where the moral line is drawn.

A year or so ago, there were some Christians who broke into an airbase and rendered a plane that was going to be involved in the bombing of Yemen incapable of flying was an incident that divided opinion, were they holy rebels or criminal vandals? An issue that made many of us think deeply about the area of protest and its fruit.

Yet these courageous acts feel far removed from my daily existence where I occasionally write a tweet or a Facebook message but I’m largely far too apathetic and complacent.

As I decided to go on this protest I was reminded of the words of Edmund Burke “evil prospers when good people do nothing”.

Instead, I feel this is a call for me to “step up to the plate and say what I believe God has put on my heart”, remembering the words of President John F. Kennedy that “history is made by those who show up!”


Church at the Edge in the Heart of the City.

If ever a Church was poorly named it is “St. Martin in the field”, the name makes you think of a beautiful rural Church amidst trees, woodland and maybe the odd friendly farmyard animal; instead it is right in the heart of London’s Trafalgar Square.

I wondered: “What it would mean to be a parish Church in a context like this?”

The nations of the world literally on your doorstep, and the people who sleep in your parish are either multi-millionaires or destitute and sleeping in doorways.

St. Martin’s is known for its embracing of the arts, and they hold lots of classical music concerts (great, but if I’m honest not really my bag!) but how does it manage to do life as a Christian community in Trafalgar square?

St. Martin’s Vicar Sam Wells has written a number of books (although I’ve only read one!) and that was called “the Nazareth Manifesto” in it he says that the most important word in theology is the word “with” too often we do Church, ministry and mission to, for or at worst at them.

Yet the model of Mission Wells is alluding to comes from the incarnation, Jesus who lives and shared his life with us! It is an interesting word, I have started saying “can I talk with you” rather than too you, or can I pray with you?
The word “with” transforms the power dynamic in that relationship, too often as Churches we exist in the privileged position of having the power and those, we are blessing end up being “done too”.

My friend Chris Harwood suggests however that perhaps we can do better, and go further, than “with” and instead uses the word “of” where we are part of the community, we are in. Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic worker movement talked of “as” we serve not just “with” the poor, but “as” the poor, Jesus did not just come with us, but instead he came “as” one of us.

As I approached the Church, I saw it was surrounded by noticeboards, one caught my eye with the words “when there is nowhere to turn, we are here!” a generous and invitational offer right at the heart of London. I wondered (as this is so different from most Church noticeboards) whether this had been designed by someone from a marketing or publicity background? I began to think about the variety of people who have gifts and skills within our Churches, marketing, publicity, sales, graphic design, public relations (and many more) and the pool of wisdom they bring that can inform and educate us in being more fruitful and effective in what we can do. I wonder whether too often we have rota filling jobs we try and crowbar people into rather than learning celebrating and benefiting from the awesome gifts that are already there on our pews?

Wandering into the crypt around an awesome cafe, charging £3 for a donut, but every worker there was paid the London living wage. They also have thought seriously about the trade justice around their coffee and all their produce! “it’s probably the most ethical cafe in London!” laughed Sally their associate minister who was showing us around, great to hear of Churches taking their ethics and stewardship seriously as followers of Jesus engaged in front line mission at the heart of the capital city.

Two words they use a lot is “heart and edge” -indeed the Church is the only organisation whose heart and centre ought to be on its edge. They are a Church with amazing work with the marginalised offering food, showers and washing machines (and many other provision), including lockers. This provision means that the homeless do not feel self-conscious as are given the dignity of being able to wash getting themselves and their clothes clean and to be able to store their things safely, which also means that people who don’t know they are homeless probably couldn’t tell, unless the person wanted to tell them. Many people from the streets end up here working in the cafe and through learning a trade have further employment possibilities.

There is so much happening in and through this Church it could warrant a book all by itself, but the thing I was most interested in as at its heart there is a new monastic community, which prays regularly and has a rule of life which includes giving of their time in voluntary service to the community. As I thought of this small community of faithful workers who pray and serve, I thought these guys (although under the radar) are the boiler-room or powerhouse for this whole Church and its ministries, birthed in prayer and with the people of God intentionally leaving their comfort zones and rolling up their sleeves.


Keeping and extending the conversation: Aka ‘No show Sheffield!’

Sadly I drove through Sheffield as the people I had hoped to see weren’t about, a former boss now developing work with young people and Churches; a guy who taught us at college doing great work with businesses exploring space, rest, sabbath and spirituality and a guy whose doing amazing things in the city centre of Sheffield.

Earlier in my tour when I was up on Hanham Mount in Bristol, a Facebook message pinged up inviting me to join some folk in another part of the city which is called “Church without walls” but I had already promised I was going to meet up with some friends who wouldn’t call themselves Christians so did not think I could cut and run on them. Later on my poor administration meant I did not get to catch up with a friend Jonathan Dowman, a great creative pioneer working in Leicester on my travels between Birmingham and Derby.

So, plenty of people and places I would still love to visit and see what God is doing with them and their context, stories I would love to have heard, people I would like to have met.

To be fair visiting people and projects in the first week of August always was going to be problematic people have holidays and a multitude of Christian festivals were all in their full summer swing!

The rain began to fall heavily and traffic began to get really slow, I pulled into a service station for a coffee and to ring home. No answer. I was feeling at this point more and more home sick. Sat on my own I began to think about everything.

I know when I return everyone is going to ask “what did you learn?” and as you’ve probably read all the thoughts, ideas and experienced can’t be nearly distilled into a simple soundbite to share, rather it is more like taking the missional conversation/thinking a bit deeper. Being ponderous I wonder whether actually we ever get “answers” in a journey like this?

What we learn is rarely a “simple formula” or “magic bullet” but rather it stems from the outworking of what believe God is saying to us in our context and seeking to be obedient. Yet there is much worth in hearing other peoples stories, not because we want to ‘nick their ideas’ but in hearing the stories of God at work in his world in mission, not only encourage us but also can expand our minds to the possible, attune our voice to what he may be saying, share the experience (which is too rarely talked about) about being people who seek to partner with God in mission.

In many ways “missional learning” is less like understanding Maths or Science ‘where two plus two equals four’ but rather like understanding art, literature or music -or perhaps understanding in human relationships where our knowledge becomes both broader and deeper but never becomes completely “solved” as working out God and his plans are beyond our comprehension, rather the question is not whether we fully understand what or why God is doing what he is doing but rather whether, even though we don’t understand, we still echo the words of Isaiah “here I am send me!” and the words of Jesus who said “not my will but yours be done!”

Too often we think of Missional learning as a ceriable (head) thing, when it is a relational understand of God and his faithfulness.

We are great “finishers”, if we listen to the language of leaning it uses the last tense… “I trained”, “I learned” or “I read”… but learning is an on going thing, we are (or ought to be) life long learners.

Hearing other stories is not to develop our perfect blueprint of error free evangelism but rather to hear testimonies of God’s work through God’s people.

The book of revelation says “they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony” -too often we think of testimony of our salvation story, rather than the on going story of our relationship with God through Christ -a little like telling of our marriages and only talking of our wedding, or our kids and only talking about their birth!

The blood of the Lamb refers to Jesus death on the cross other than the resurrection the most amazing thing ever to happen on this planet, and yet the Bible puts my feeble story in the same sentence, the same breath, as this. Yet, this makes sense, it is our story of on going relationship with the crucified and risen Jesus that links that most momentous day with our time and context.

Yet the story of God is one which invites us into participating with God in his story (literally history) which also becomes our story. Yet if we read and engage with this story we realise it is an invitational narrative, others by sharing their story of God become joined in with God’s story for and with them!

After I had finished the tour I was chatting to my friend AJ over a fry up and he said something wise, “I reckon the school of mission is about drawing people into this conversation, most Christians aren’t talking about it (partnering with God in his mission and story), and the fact that you didn’t get to see everyone you wanted means that the conversation didn’t end, it just has a bit of a comma… And, Mase, do you want my mushrooms?”

And although AJ is wrong about mushrooms (the best bit of a fry up) he is right about the school of mission drawing people, Christians, into God’s story, a story that never finished but rather gathers momentum and invites more and more people to engage with!


A fantastic Church!

I walked slightly gingerly into a Church buzzing with people, there was cake (lots of cake!) and kids at craft tables sticking and colouring, there were settees with people sat in them, I was worried I was intruding and pulling the Pastor away from chatting with local people. “Hi I’m Andy, I’m looking for Steph?”
“I’m Steph” replied the guy with a tea towel.

(As a side note, it is one of my the things that really annoys me is how many vicars and ministers think they are “above/too important” to help wash dishes, forgetting that Jesus washed feet! I would also say I have also had some of my best “Jesus chats” with people whilst up to my elbows in soap suds).

We shook hands and then everyone else began to shake my hands too, Steph said “we opened it up to anyone who wanted to join us!” It was great hearing a communities story from the community itself! I soon had a coffee and a huge bit of cake and was sat down with people chatting to me, and was impressed by their warmth and hospitality.

Another thing I loved was the ‘indiginous’ feel of this community, sadly too often Churches do not look like the community they are situated in. I remembered planting our Church “All Souls, Southey Park”, remembering seeing on our first service people coming in shirts and ties the a couple of years later looking around at people in football shirts and with tattoos, and realised we were embodying our vision of being a local church for local people, as I loved hearing people chat to one another with a Brizzle accent!

What is found remarkable about the amazing guys at Hay Mills was not actually what they did, which is normally what we talk about, but who they were and how they did it!

Their story is that they managed to acquire from the Congregational Church a disused Church building next door to a residential home for adults with learning difficulties. Steph, the Pastor, and Jane, his wife, boldly stepped into an unknown future with great faith, Jane began a toddler group.

Mother Teresa spoke of “doing small things with great love” and this was something I felt, this was not just “doing some chaplaincy” or “running a toddler group” but meeting, welcoming, befriending and loving people, these activities were catalysts for relationships and friendships, they were sharing their lives with people sacrificially and beautifully.

Steph the Pastor said that he didn’t find being a people person easy, a brave and vulunerable thing to share, but in this vulnerability others shared about health and other difficulties they faced but in sharing this they were pointing to a God who uses us as we are for his glory. This is a very special community.

They shared their story of Sunday worship which was designed to be both accessable and bespoke for the community but Steph was also clear on his desire to allow people to clearly hear the message of Jesus in an accessable way they could understand and respond too!

Just then another guy walked in, he was a newer Church member, having encountered Christ in a dream which drew his (and then his family) to Church. He was wanting to learn and teach, and found his enthusiasm infectious, and was excited to see this new Christian hungry to learn and to share and being mentored and encouraged by this community.

I also was reminded of a friend who came to Alpha having encountered Jesus in a dream which lead him to explore further about who Jesus was. Important to remember that God is an evangelistic God, who reached out and encounters people, including through supernatural means such as dreams, rather than it all resting on our own Missional efforts.

In the conversation this guy mentioned that they had had ten baptisms in the last eighteen months, real people largely from outside the churchy culture becoming Christians and working out their faith in the context of a discipleship community.

Although this Church maybe small and hidden away in a corner of Birmingham it has much to teach us about radical hospitality, incarnational living and allowing the missional God to transform the lives of local people.


York and Eastbourne: Can these bones live?

When I was 21 I worked for a year at St. Michael le Belfrey in York, in the youth and children’s department. It was a large Church working with lots of students and ran Alpha three times a year.

The Church has an inspiring story, when in the late 1960’s a young curate took over a dying Church in York called St. Cuthbert’s Peasholme Green, and the Bishops first words to him were “what are we going to do with you when we shut St. Cuthbert’s!” Hardly the encouraging words you want to hear from your boss!

This curate was called David Watson, a protégée of John Collins (who became the Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton) and the American revivalist and founder of the Vineyard movement John Wimber, and was an early advocate for charismatic renewal, God at work in and through his people working both through the naturally and the supernatural. He began to reach out, speaking evangelistically, exploring using arts and music in connecting with people and engaging with them, and the Church in York began to grow and grow, till they out grew St. Cuthbert’s (which became the Church offices) and planted themselves in a redundant Church next to York Minster at the heart of the city, continuing to reach out to the people of the city of York.

This image of Churches resurrecting and turning their vision around from inward-looking to “seeking first the Kingdom of God” lived out where God had called us was something that chimed with me and my story.

My dad, Bob Mason, was Vicar of a Church -All Souls’ Eastbourne- which was small, struggling and under threat from the diocese who wanted to shut it; the Church had had a lengthy interregnum and so was -like David Watson in York- a brave post to accept.

Dad worked both at the inward transformation of the Church, “upping the spiritual temperature”, seeking to engage in the local community, pursue “growth through evangelism” and make reaching the next generation a top priority; slowly at first it began to transform and grow slowly with ordinary, local people becoming Christians.

All Souls at that time was an exciting place to be (although initially was at times a tough slog) and sadly although we saw growth and changed lives we also had plenty of pain and suffering within our community too, now twenty years it is hard to believe that this thriving Church was once struggling and under threat!

When I was in my previous parish, this was something I thought about a lot, we often talk about “God doing a new thing” and about “planting new Churches” -both of which I am passionate about and believe God is calling us to do to see our nation transformed, but I also believe that part of our obsession with new Churches/plants etc is that we can have a “throw away and start again” mentality, whereas God is calling his people to both pioneer new Christ-centred communities with new people, and also to resurrect and renew the Church that bares his name in this country.

In many ways the callings that David Watson and my dad took on are difficult and unglamorous jobs, often having to over-come internal opposition and external apathy (and sometimes baggage too!). I believe that God is saying to our nation that he wants his Church back from whatever (or whoever) is holding it back from thriving.

One of our key texts Ezekiel and the vision of the valley of the dry bones, God asks Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?” To which Ezekiel answers “you only know Lord” -they can if God brings his life to them, yes. This topic was our strapline for a sermon series for so long that Sam my former intern threatened to shoot me if I ever spoke about Ezekiel’s bones again!

The resurrection call in this vision of Ezekiel comes from his obedience to do what God says “prophesy to the bones, and keep prophesying even when they look ‘sorted’” the call for our Churches resurrection lies in our obedience to the God who will find a way where no-way appears. I have noticed that every failing Church has their own worked out narrative of “why it could not work here” often forcibly and persuasively deceiving many within the congregation, and yet we read here in Ezekiel that God re-creates dry bones to living flesh and resurrects by his Holy Spirit.

Although this was initially a picture to the nation of Israel, I feel it realise as though it can be a message to us personally, our community and our Churches. We need to remember and rediscover that God is a God of restoration and resurrection who is the bringer and breath of life. The bones come together and become covered in skin and tendons -they look alive but are dead -I have looked as a Vicar at many Church profiles and websites which look and appear alive, but are they really? In the vision the bones were only alive when the spirit of God breathed into them (echoes of the creation story in Genesis) and they became truly alive.

The scattered bones, became a unified army, unified in Christ, to often as Christians we are fighting our own agenda or preserving our own narrative rather than humbly seeking and following Christ corporately together, each carrying the others burdens and spurring one another on.

As I thought of the St. Michael/St. Cuthbert story I realise that some maybe being called to be Ezekiel’s in some contexts that might feel like a valley of dry bones. I have been there it can be a tough and difficult place to be, it might be easier to jazz up a web-page or update the Sunday morning worship play list, to look and sound alive, but I urge is all to hold out for God’s resurrection and restoration.

God call for our existing Church communities not to give up hope, not to sell out to defeatism or believe Satan’s lie that “it cannot ever happen here”, but instead seek God’s voice, the creating and re-creating breath that caused humanity to rise from the dust to come and blow again through us both individually and corporately, the Holy Spirit that resurrects his Church, raised Jesus from the grave and is active within us.

The story of York, All Souls’ Eastbourne and vision of the resurrection of the dry bones reminds us that with God there is always the hope of resurrection and new life, with God longing to partner with us in obedience, the issue is whether we focus on the death and dryness within the bones or the power of the living God?

I’ll close with another story also from scripture, the spies that Moses sent out to look at the promised land who came back and saw and spoke through the lenses of fear “this city cannot be taken, the people are giants!” whereas Joshua and Caleb said: “the Lord will give us this victory!”

Can these bones live? The answer if “yes, with God all things are possible”, yet the real question is will you be willing to partner with God through your obedience to see resurrection in our lives, communities and Churches.


Dorothy Day.

It was my visit to the London Catholic Worker Movement that I discovered one of my heroes of the Christian faith Dorothy Day. She once said: “Don’t call me a Saint I don’t want to be dismissed that easily”.

She had had a tough life with having had an abortion and a child out of wedlock, which not only gave her empathy with other people’s life situations but also enabled the movement she founded (with her friend Peter Maurin) to have non judgementalism right at its core. Never cosying up to power or loosing touch with the suffering of the world around them.

She was a tough journalist in America who used her writing to highlight inequality and injustice, as a child she had seen and experienced bouts of poverty. She wanted to change the world, wanted to make it s better place and thought that communism and socialism were the ways to do this.

She was incredibly politically active, a radical campaigner, and after one particular protest she was imprisoned which is where she (an atheist) read the Bible and discovered the greatest revolutionary of all time, Jesus Christ, the one who truly changes lives, communities and the world. She became a Catholic, and continued her relentless work to help lift people out of poverty.

She once famously said: “the root of the problem is our acceptance of the whole stinking system!” echoes of Paul calling us to see ourselves as aliens in this world which we are called not to conform to but instead be ambassadors of a different Kingdom living out a life that is radically salty, living a life of radical non compliance with exploitative systems and injustice.

She formed these communities of resistance, called the Catholic Worker Movement taking on voluntary poverty, not just come to or with poor people but rather “as” the poor, living out their faith incarnationally and sacrificially.

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “We are not merely called to bandage the wounds of those caught under the wheel of oppression but to stick a spoke in the wheel itself” words which resonated with Day and her followers continually fighting the causes of the marginalised and disenfranchised, mixing religion and politics together in a way that made the establishment of both the Church and the state a little nervous.

Her work spread and these houses of hospitality have sprung up in many cities across the world, centres of protest not afraid to speak out as lights in the darkness about issues of injustice.

It is said that in polite company we should talk about neither religion or politics, and certainly not to mix the two, Dorothy Day ignored this advice and constantly wrote and spoke about both with fire and passion that changed the lives of many.

It is said “how do you find the Christians? Ask the poor and they will show you where they are!” by this measure of someone who spent her life feeding the hungry and providing shelter for the destitute and homeless, she was for many people the hands and feet of Christ.