Bristol Part 1.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing my tour from Cornwall to Carlisle which has been something of a bonkers dream for a while now becoming a reality!

This becoming a reality has also prompted another question: “What next?” -we live in a world that wants to know the next thing before we’ve done the previous thing, like living in a game of chess thinking three moves ahead but missing the moment!

One of my prayers is: “Lord don’t let me run ahead of you, not lag behind you, don’t let me wander from you to the liberal left or the religious right, instead help me to keep in step with your spirit”… I know I have “got out of step at time in each of these four directions”.

At the Bournemouth School of Mission evening John Good urged us to imagine we are chained to the King -handcuffed to Jesus- going where and when he goes staying when he stays and moving when he moves, a challenge to the activist and the contemplative, the liberal and the legalist.

Yet in order to do this, we need to learn the lessons that God wants to teach us, and sadly we can all be a bit slow on learning lessons.

Last Sunday I returned to Kingswood to do a talk at a friend’s Church when they were doing a sizzle in the car park. It was a fun event with puppets, choirs and face-painting and I realised that for too often I had been in the mentality of the talk being the “main event” but wondered actually as I wandered around chatting to people whether actually this might be the thing God uses to change and bless someone’s life?

I have come to realise that in some senses everything we do can be missional and everything is evangelistic, it’s a way of life not an activity we partake in on occasions, and things the Church calls evangelism, pastoral care or discipleship are so clearly distinct when in relationship with real people, life can’t be compartmentalised quite that easily!

It was lovely chatting to old friends and some of the conversations were faith related and others life related and that felt okay. It felt weird coming back to Kingswood especially as my own life and future still isn’t as clear as I’d like.

It was great too as a friend who leads the Moravian Church (if you’ve not come across the Moravian’s they are worth a research!) popped into see me as did another friend who heads up the kids work in my last parish. I realise she’s free to come because this Sunday they now have Messy Church at 3:30. Inwardly I felt torn, do I drop in later and say hey or not?

I did my talky bit about needing to ask for help and how we need to surrender to Jesus and ask him to help us live our lives for him. I had a fun prop of eating donuts on a long pole which is technically impossible but people struggled to try and make it work, probably how we all do with life lived on our own in our own way, but actually needing to surrender and ask God for “help!”

God who helps us when we are struggling, was probably the testimony of the last few years of this Church as they came out of a nightmare time, and had also seen the Church split, and a “Splant” form up the road, it had been a tough road, yet here they were out the other side with an exciting new vision for the future, and in this God had changed them from an inward looking Church to an outward and missional one.

I know I need God’s help, feeling daunted about the forth coming mega road-trip pilgrimage, would it all work, praying for travelling mercies and logistics; also with how to work out how I can do what I feel called to do and make a liveable wage, as I ponder about getting another job or whether pushing on and living a bit more by faith is what God is calling me to as Poole New Monastics and The School of Mission both slowly begin their journeys.

As the event drew to a close, I drove past another of my former Churches, and saw they were doing a BBQ for the new residents who had moved in to the new development around the Church. I remembered with that pang of an unpleasant memory about how I couldn’t get anyone from the Church to go to the meeting about the potential new developments, clearly some within the congregation had had a change of heart, and for a second I felt a twinge of jealousy “why would they rally around and help with mission for a new vicar and yet didn’t help me?”

The problem with returning to a place where we had poured ourselves into for 8 years is that even though there are a lot of wonderful memories there are some very raw scars too.

I then wondered whether this particular Church would welcome and love new members, especially if the new members had ideas and maybe took on roles and jobs that maybe threatened some power-bases, I prayed that not only would the Church become good at being missional it would be a great “Incubator/green-house” that enables people to flourish in a secure and loving environment.

Everyone says they want new people, but when they start “messing with stuff” -especially the things we like- sometimes it is a challenge, my prayer is that they respond to the challenge with God’s help/grace and support.

I looked at my watch and gasped as I realised what the time was, I needed to get over to the other side of the city to see my friend Malcolm who was in hospital, I’d actually been up two days earlier as the information I’d had sounded like he was at deaths door, and was pleasantly surprised to see him sat up in bed flirting with the nurses! When I finally got to the hospital he was in a wheel chair being taken to Costa’s by his son.

I thought of him and how rarely I saw them because I was always working, and wished now I had spent more time with them rather than at the endless (and often unproductive) Churchy meetings. This group sometimes called the “Tw@ts of the round table” and more recently Ohana (from Milo and Stitch) which says “no one left behind or forgotten” and wondered that this was probably more of the essence of the Kingdom of God and understanding of what it meant to “be” Church that many Churches with there institutional religiosity that doesn’t look a whole lot like a Jesus-y community.

I began to think of my desire for community of love/support and a message of hope, often we are good at explaining salvation but embodying our faith together as community, what does it mean to be good news rather than just “speak about good news?”

Perhaps, I was right in my earlier pondering as I wondered of the chatting was as important as the the preach -perhaps more so?!


Exeter: Living and Telling Mission.

Following our School of Mission weekend my boss Dave and I went to Exeter for the launch of a course he had written/re-written with a friend “Living and Telling” under the banner of Agape.

Dave had been a youth worker in Exeter for fifteen years so knew the city well and this mission weekend had evidently had happened regularly each summer with mainly students and young people.

The venue we used was unlimited Church, this Church was born by James and Liz Greer who got out and did detached youth work with signs and wonders and grew a church in a redundant church building. Exciting Missional DNA in the bricks and mortar! Also, something in this inspired me, here was a job within the Church of England that was actually doing the things I’m passionate about, sometimes when you feel disillusioned it’s good to see Jesus’ people doing his stuff.

The conference was amazing thinking about mission and particularly evangelism, looking at things like telling our story or asking good questions, on the following day we went out in pairs to chat to local people about Jesus with three questions to help facilitate a Jesusy chat…

I was paired with a young guy Josh, we ended up chatting with a really nice guy who was really open to thinking about faith, and had a good 10 minute chat til his phone went off. We then had some banter with a couple of teenagers before wandered around and ended up chatting to another young guy who was a mental health nurse who was getting married in the summer, but was pretty anti-faith and then we ended up chatting to a girl who was lovely but wasn’t what she thought about Jesus and faith, they all took some flyers for a local church and a little booklet on knowing God personally.

Success Living and Telling said was “talking about Jesus in the power of the spirit and leaving the results up to God”.

Great to be part of this and excited to what God is doing equipping ordinary people to talk about Jesus…


Bournemouth School of Mission Part2

So, turning up on Friday night, I had a few people who had said they were coming, admittedly we only wanted a few, but I was still feeling a bit disappointed as it is really hard sometimes to get volunteers for things especially mission stuff, inviting people to talk to people about Jesus shouldn’t feel such hard work, but it is.

Yet most Church mission takes it for granted that Christians are relaxed and confident about gently and normally talking about their faith, run a café and staff it with Christians to talk to the customers, start Street Pastors and go out onto the streets and talk to people…

Yet, in my experience this is rarely actually the case, most Christians feel very uncomfortable talking about their faith, yet this is in some ways understandable as it is rarely taught and nor is it modelled; indeed the feedback from some at the Bristol School of Mission Day was about the desperate need for Missional Mentors, someone to help listen, advise, encourage and support them to grow into mission.

Dave who was teaching us this first session talked about how he wanted a missional Church which encouraged all of the people there to be actively sharing their faith, somewhere where people couldn’t hide away, that grew through evangelism not simply by attractional methods of Christians swapping Churches to the lastest place with the biggest buzz. This reminded me of my original home Church, the original All Souls (Eastbourne) which in my dads time used to talk about “growth through evangelism”, local people finding Christ, something which has been lost in what appears to be a desire for “growth at any cost irrespective of where they have come from”, which creates another danger consumer Christianity which has a list of expectations but doesn’t want to serve in roles that are costly, uncomfortable and sacrificial which mission and outreach often is.

Dave talked of their vision to see “strangers become friends” which chimed with me because at All Souls (Southey Park) our motto was “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus” too often we wont let our walls down enough for strangers to become friends, evangelism at arms -length, and often we feel more awkward talking with our friends or family about Jesus than strangers. Yet here we were up for talking to strangers, getting to know them, maybe meeting them for a coffee or a chat?

One of the visions behind “Bright Idea Church” is for the Church scattered to learn to be effective and fruitful in taking the opportunities to make Jesus known in the normal everyday life of being a Christian, not just on a Church recruitment drive but to genuinely make friends, get to know people and in a normal everyday way talk about our faith naturally and approachably.

Sadly only three of us came to the training, which was excellent, Dave had three great questions to ask people as a bit of a ‘tressell’ something to help hang a conversation on and help it progress, these were:

 “What do you think life is all about and what do you want to achieve?”
 “What do you think Jesus was about and what do you think he was trying to achieve?
 “If it were possible to know God personally, would you want to know him and why?”

We were offering sweets and the questions were a form of a survey, also we were partnering with a Christian kids dance school (dancing to worship music, but not cheesy stuff) -and they were very inclusive lots of other kids joined in the dancing that afternoon, including some random teenage cheer-leaders!

Faye who was leading this dance school was talking about the different ethos they had which is more about nurturing their souls and their self-expression, rather than the kids becoming ‘really stiff’ trying to get the dance moves right, loosing confidence and esteem, and removing the competitive elements from the dance with no grades etc, making the kids feel like ‘successes and failures’.

I thought about evangelism and thought this probably is applicable, people feel ‘very stiff’ about doing it wrong, feel often like failures and loose their confidence and knocks their esteem.

We had a good afternoon with some long and positive conversations with people, I chatted to a lady who was an atheist from Poland who really softened by the end of the conversation, a guy who was a Christian but had recently lost his wife and asked if I could pray with him, a guy who was a big fan of Francis Bacon and a lovely Christian guy in a wheel chair who I think was quite lonely. Dave and Rachel ended up having a couple of much longer conversations with a couple of guys, and we all gave out a number of invites to Bright Idea Church the next day, one lady came who we had invited a Muslim lady who was someone we thought less likely to come, but she loved her morning and there is a lovely picture of her dancing away loving her time with new friends (made me realise afresh too how lonely it must be being in a new country and people who welcome and love you must feel very special).

Then that evening we had our School of Mission training evening on living missionally, it was really hot and a Saturday night, deep down I had this fear that no-one was going to come. I got to the Church and helped AJ set up the venue, it looked really cool -was so grateful for this Churches blessing-. Despite being a warm evening we still had people come and engage and AJ said “you could ‘live-stream it Mase!’” -I nodded like I was up with the technology and he went ahead and did something with my mobile and people could watch it from elsewhere (135 of them to be exact, not sure what God did with that but pray that this will have ripples of blessing from whoever watched it). I was all stressing, but soon as John Wilson began to lead a bit of worship I chilled out a bit and felt God say “Mase, I got this!” and despite the heat and everything people were engaging and getting into the presence of God and he was doing what we can’t do touching and transforming lives. Hilary came and spoke powerfully about prayer and intersession and about how our everything needs to be birthed in prayer and our relationship with God -If its not birthed in prayer is it birthed in pride? Talking too of “mission being finding out what God is doing and joining in” -yet too often we rush to the joining in end of this spectrum rather than the “seeing and finding out” end which is revealed out of that place of intimacy with the father, she taught of “contemplative activism” -which is actually what we are exploring as Poole New Monastics- but this was truly holding the two intension -too often people talk about contemplation but they never seem to actually engage in the salt and light transformation activism stuff, but this was different this was prayerfulness with ‘dirt under the nails’ prayerfulness that is not retreating from the world, but rather in our prayers drawing closer and deeper into the world and our connectedness to it.

This was followed by John Good speaking who shared about thinking of new ways of living out our faith in our daily lives rather than just reciting faith-statements but rather trying to live out a faith that actually makes a statement that is not all hypothetical head knowledge or endless rhetoric from our mouths, but practically living out our faith as embodied people -the phrase that one of the overseers of the School of Mission Chris Harwood uses a lot faith is about “embodied not espoused” -you are what you do rather than what you say you do -or what you intend to do one day! His final thought was about freedom coming from our closeness to the King, seek first the King and the Kingdom. In the discussion time afterwards AJ and I talked about this idea of being handcuffed to Jesus and how that would take you to different places -where would you go and not go, what would you be doing, which caused something to burn within us.

We worshipped and then spontaneously people began to pray for Bournemouth and for the Church it was beautiful. We ended by talking about wanting to be a catalyst, helping the Church to think seriously about mission -a call to be the grit in the oyster- but also a call to community, how can we do all we can to see God’s Kingdom coming here in our conurbation on earth as it is in heaven, suggested a 4 times a year meeting up.

I also mentioned the forth coming tour, which is feeling scarily close now, and felt God say “the Kingdom often comes in inches not miles” but each step I have discovered not only Gods faithfulness but also his missional heart, longing to partner with his people again and dream with our eyes open of the coming of his Kingdom, dreaming with our eyes open -not asleep- as something is being birthed in reality amongst us and in our nation.


Bournemouth and the School of Mission… How we got here?

Since leaving paid Vicaring trying to find where and what God has been calling me to has been a slow (and quite painful) journey of seeking him and his call on my life, as we returned to Poole (with God’s remarkable provision) we have seen something of his great providence with being local for my wife’s mums unexpected passing and my Father-in-laws poor health, and in this time I have learned so much more about being a husband and a father which I neglected in the obsessional drive to be the best Vicar I could, perhaps God saving me from the worst of myself?

It has been wonderful to see how the Poole New Monastics Project has flourished from just a couple of random dreamers to now a small fledgling community where God is doing something exciting.

Yet alongside the New Monastics there had been another thing bubbling up within me “the School of Mission” the dream of which: “To encourage every Christian in the UK to feel comfortable in sharing their faith in Jesus through deed and word with wisdom and sensitivity and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit” has been something been wrestling with for a while in fact it has been gnawing away for years within my head and heart. The phrase is reasonably clear, but the question I have kept on asking God is “yeah, but how?” I wish God had given me a funky strategy and even better a whole series of podcasts, rather than just taking a tentative step which sets us off on a different direction from where we first thought, and now about to take the next step really not quite sure what God’s doing (and not even quite sure how we got where we have) but believe that God has and is within it all.

Alongside this the dream and the word that God gave me about doing a trip from Cornwall to Carlisle which filled me with faith now makes me feel slightly sick with nerves, it’s as though somehow I’ve erected a massive great diving board and now I have to jump off it! How did I get here! I wondered if Moses felt like this when the ark first started to float from the land and after seeking to step out faithfully a dream becomes a reality, the fuzzy safety of a fantasy controlled within the safety of our heads develops that life of its own.

So, somehow, we ended up with a weekend in Bournemouth, first starting with volunteering to help a friend with outreach/invitation for his newly planted Church “Bright Idea Church” on Saturday afternoon. I remembered our last School of Mission day in Bristol where we spent a day thinking really deeply about mission -and God did some wonderful stuff- but I wanted not just to be another ‘talking shop’, rather I wanted to roll up our sleeves and getting ‘dirt under our nails’, learning to be contemplative activists and reflective practitioners. So, with some outreach by the square as the ‘centre part’ of the sandwich we ended up with a training event before it, and what was initially planned as reflection after it (and local Bournemouth mate also got involved with his Church hosting the Saturday night bit).

I was excited too, that this event was happening anyway, we were just blessing a friend -as so often there is so much silly politics around whose doing what with mission, rather than just working together with a Christ-like, Kingdom mentality; rather than the sins of egos, empires and entitlement which we know from scripture that such behaviour ‘grieves the holy spirit’, but where there is unity God commands a blessing.

It was funny the next School of Mission happening in Bournemouth, as Poole is really on my heart, but perhaps it was right to not blur this work of encouraging mission/evangelism alongside my current work in schools and with the new monastics, anyway Bournemouth felt like a door which God has opened and it felt right to walk through in obedience. I wondered perhaps maybe God likes alliteration Bristol, Bournemouth -where next Birmingham/Bognar/Bradford??

From this we ended up doing a training session for anyone who wanted to help with this outreach, and then from there we ended up with an evening afterwards exploring about how to live in a way that draws people to Jesus, or at least that was the initial plan. Although, it ended up feeling more like a buffet than a sandwich with different people expressing an interest in the Friday training evening and the Saturday outreach (although actually it was only three of us who ended up coming to the training and going on the streets).

My friend AJ who is a youth worker in Charminster who with his Church were fantastic with hosting our Saturday evening event, and talked with him a lot about street level outreach, he is involved with a YWAM mission that comes down each year and work with his young people to go into Bournemouth and share their faith by giving out “home-made-friendship-bracelets” with a green bead for creation, a grey bead for sin, a red bead for Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, a white bead for the cleansing and new start he gives us and a yellow bead for the glory of eternal life that Jesus brings; and was surprised to see people listen, accept the bracelet and “pray the prayer” -although he did realise that praying the prayer and going to continue on to live a life following Jesus. We spoke about how short-term missions can be problematic as it can make mission feel a bit ‘tick box’ but how these missions can be a catalyst as doing mission with/alongside people normalises talking about Jesus, talking about how we long for mission to be a life-style rather than an event, with the key question being “how to talk meaningfully about Jesus without behaving like a muppet” -which echoes Peters challenge to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect” (2Peter.3.15).

It was this theme that caused us to refine our theme (I was wanting to do something about “Words, Works and Wonders) but instead about mission as lifestyle (everyday, all the time and completely normal) and two speakers God seemed to highlight for us, the first Hilary was talking about intersession and about how in prayer we are not hiding from the world but entering into it and its mess/beauty/pain/suffering/reality/cost/sacrifice and I realised that at the heart of mission is our relationship with God and our deep connectedness both with him but also with those real people all around us whom we are called to pray for. The other was our friend John Good the new Baptist pioneer in Hamworthy who has become a mate and I’ve wrestled these questions with him and found real rich seem of God’s wisdom flowing within him.

So, the planning had come together with place, programme and people.
But what would happen in reality on the day?