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?