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Preaching on Hanham Mount.

Hanham Mount is where Wesley preached to the Miners of Kingswood taking over from his friend George Whitefield.

Whitefield had a successful ministry happening preaching to the miners of Kingswood, who were considered the toughest and most dangerous group around Bristol, yet Whitefield got a job in America and wanted to ensure that his miners continued to hear the good news of Jesus, and talked his friend John Wesley into continuing his work. Wesley was reticent believing that the ‘right place’ for sermons was in Church not on a hillside, until he remembered that Jesus himself preached the sermon on the mount. Wesley preached to 16’000 miners and there was an anointing on his words and many responding to the Gospel message with ‘white-tears’ cutting through the rivets of soot on their faces as people turned to Christ.

From here Wesley preached all over the U.K travelling on horse-back the same distance as from earth to the moon (he must have been very saddle sore!)
Hanham Mount has been for me what the Celtic Christians would call a “thin-space” somewhere where heaven feels more accessible, I used to go up there on days when everything felt really tough and cry out to God, I discovered a prayer in Habakkuk that I used to pray there which was “Lord, I have heard of your fame, I stand in awe of your deeds, renew them in our day, and Lord in your wrath remember mercy! On one occasion a group of us were praying up there and some tourists came to take photos, one of these was a lady called “Mercy” who (unlike her friends) was worried about interrupting our prayer time and urged us “keep on praying, keep on praying!” My friend Mark a veteran of the Christian scene in Kingswood said: “I think that was a prophetic word… ‘Mercy calls us to keep on praying!’”

It was at Hanham Mount that my ministry in Kingswood ended as after my last service a few of us went us to Hanham Mount to share communion together and to pray for the city.

The Mount itself is a bit of an unseen treasure, a Methodist world heritage site, but many people in Kingswood do not know where it is, or what happened there. Indeed, many Christians in the city do no know of its existence and have never been there (although ironically some people will travel across the world to come here!).

At the top of the Mount there are several inscriptions one says a quote of Wesley “all the world is my parish” -as he was thrown out of many Churches for preaching the Gospel, the Bishop of London said he “did not like enthusiasm” and the Bishop of Bristol described the manifestations of the Holy Spirit convicting people of sin and bringing to repentance as a “horrid thing”!

The words “all the world is my parish” chimed with me in a new way, as since leaving Kingswood I have been trying to explore where God is calling me and also trying to get re-licenced with the Church of England locally which has be painful and problematic. At the moment I have no Anglican Parish to properly call home and feel a bit rejected and unwanted in the Church I have called home for my Christian life, but knowing too that “the one who calls you is faithful” and that I can trust him with my future.

Wesley also said: “Church or no Church I must preach the Gospel” and I wonder too often our starting (and finishing) point is the Church rather than the Gospel message, as when we start with God’s story of salvation and follow where he is at work in his world Church will born, but when we start with “Church” -or what we have called Church- then we might never actually preaching the Gospel.
Another inscription on Hanham Mount is a verse “blessed are the feet of him who brings good news”, slowly as I waited people from various parts and times of my life in Bristol (and some people I had never met as well) came and joined us on the mount, and my friend Wes began to play his guitar, and there was a beautiful sense of God being with us. One of my friends brought a small child with her who she’s fostering who was running around everywhere, and I was reminded of my time at Dan’s Church earlier that day. I was reminded of a quote which said: “Go with the confidence of a four year old in a batman T’shirt” and looked and something blessed me about how kids just embrace life, people they don’t know and are always exploring new things, climbing things and are completely un-phased about danger. Perhaps there is something of this in Christ’s command to become like little children?

I looked around at this group and was going to preach my sermon about: “if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, confess their sins and seek my face, then I will hear from heaven and heal their land” -but for some reason that talk didn’t feel right, so I prayed “Lord, help me know what to say”, because although I’d seen lots of amazing stuff, I was also exhausted and was worried about babbling incoherently -also I was still chewing over what I was thinking about stuff too! Two thoughts spontaneously lit up in my mind, one was a quote from Shane Claiborne who asked: “are you a believer (passive but full of head-knowledge) or a follower (someone who is actively pursuing Christ)?” the second was the vision of the School of Mission: “Our aim is to see every Christian in the UK comfortable and confident in sharing their faith in Christ Jesus, through deed and word, with wisdom and sensitivity under the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit”.

Following my talk, my friend Mark let us in prayer for Kingswood, Bristol and the nation, and he led us all to the stone with the verse inscribed about “blessed are the feet of those who bring good news” and as a response to God’s call, if we wanted to, to put our foot/feet on this stone, as a pledge to God of our desire to be bringers of good news.

My friend Paul had a prophetic word he shared about kids at school do “show and tell” where they bring something in and tell the class about it, and that this was a call for the Church to live out our faith in deeds and actions but also to speak about our faith too. Slightly embarrassingly I was reminded of the kids song which says: “Shine from the inside out, that the world will know you live in me…” with the chorus “know me, love me, fill me, send me…” which seemed a suitable blessing to send them off with.

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Meeting Teresa at the Eucharist.

I crept into Church late on the Sunday morning during a hymn, I was less surreptitious than I would have liked as everyone had turned around to look at Dan the curate who was adjusting the CD playing sound-system at the back, he gave me a quick hug and I crept into a pew and I joined in the service, a traditional Anglican Eucharist, which I had not been to for quite a while. e.

Dan had been a placement student with me whilst training at theological college for a month whilst I was in Kingswood as part of his ordination training. It is an unusual experience having someone watch and reflect on what you do, in some ways it feels a bit vulnerable -although fortunately Dan was very gracious. I knew Dan would be a fantastic minister and it was great to see him ‘in situ’ and seeing the call of God on someone’s life be recognised and see them flourishing in the context where they have been called.

Dan introduced me briefly in the service and they prayed for me and the tour, which I found really moving. It was a great reminder that even though these people had never seen me before, in Christ we are joined together and on the same mission.

During the service Dan’s daughter wandered up to see him, and ended up holding hands with one of the servers, which was lovely as it showed how the Church clearly loved this family and were very relaxed about the presence of children in their Church. Sadly, I have come across too many Churches where kids do what kids do and have heard older members “tut” and “mutter”.

Welcome being so much more than just saying “hello” on the door, but is something that permeates everything we do, and who we are. It is through welcome that people feel loved, valued and accepted, through this we move from feeling like guests to feeling as though we belong to part of the family.

As part of the service there is a moment called “the peace” where we greet one another, I wandered around shaking hands with people I suddenly recognised two of them, Chris and Teresa. I was surprised to see them as they were out of context. Teresa had worked with me as an associate minister for a while in Kingswood before moving to a parish up the road in Mangotsfield and had been part of a steering group I chaired wrestling with the question of what God was calling us to do with the new housing estates that were fast rising up all around the outskirts of the city.

I remember being at a Deanery Leadership Team and I said about how we really ought to be talking about how our deanery (collection of local Anglican churches) needed to think about the vast amount of new growth and housing springing up all around us; the area dean somewhat fobbed me off with a “if you’d like to do it Andy go for it!” So, a small working party was born, it was great to hear various clergy colleagues exploring how they could reach out to their new neighbours as they arrived in their newly built homes (often surrounded by mud and building work).

One of the group, Howard, greeted every neighbour with a welcome pack, a hamper and a bottle of wine. He also was part of all the new neighbourhood groups and could be found flipping pancakes or lighting fireworks or some community event. Another colleague Rachel used to say “never underestimate the power of a McMillian Coffee Morning” who had a real gift for gathering small groups of people together, she also dressed as a banana for the whole of fair-trade fortnight which was a unique (but very surprisingly successful) way of getting to know the neighbours and builders.

As the service finished and we went to get our coffee, Teresa came up to me and saying that her parish now have a small church called ‘Inspire’ meeting in a school in the new area with local people coming to it which I was delighted to hear.

I shared with her about the work my friend John Good, a Baptist Pioneer Minister (known as John the Baptist) is doing in the area of Hamworthy that I am living in, as we prayer walk each week, have done a neighbourhood survey and actively seeking to be a blessing most recently giving out to the local people lots of frozen ice-pops as a random act of kindness.

Dan came over to join us and had a chat, his training incumbent (the Vicar who is meant to be looking after him and overseeing him like an apprentice) is leaving which is going to leave Dan looking after the parish. As the congregation disappeared it was great to pray a blessing on him as he prayed for me too.

As I drove away, I had thought I could easily have missed this morning as I did not actually ‘do’ anything but I was so grateful that I had gone along to the Church that morning as it had encouraged and inspired me afresh with seeing and hearing about God at work in various different settings, and a reminder that God is always at work reaching out in mission to his world.

I stuck my car into gear and headed towards Bristol.

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Unlikely Travel Companions: Barnabas.

As I think about mentoring, my mind goes to Barnabas, who is one of the great unsung heroes of the bible, his name means ‘encourager’.

Barnabas is a sacrificial guy he sells a field and lays the money at the apostles feet (when I was at college my friend ‘Mad-Dog’ -now an archdeacon- said that he wondered if the unnamed rich young ruler -who walked away from Jesus as he loved his wealth too much- might have been Barnabas and in laying the money at the disciples feet was him realising what truly mattered! I’ve no idea if this is true, but part of me sort of hopes it is!)

We read of Barnabas taking a risk on Saul/Paul gives him opportunities to go on a missionary journey with him when no one else was prepared to give Paul a chance because of his horrendous past. I believe Barnabas saw the potential in Paul and invested in him, giving him opportunities to grow and thrive. It was through this that I believe Paul became a fantastic evangelist and apostle. So much so that in Acts 13 the narrator (probably Luke) stops writing “Barnabas and Paul” and begins to write “Paul and Barnabas”.

Giving people opportunities to serve can be a difficult thing to do, if they do not do something as well as you can that can be challenging, and if they do something better than you that also can be hard too!

As Paul began to excel, we see an amazing model of humility, Barnabas retreats quietly into the background. Echoes of John the Baptists statement about Jesus “I must decrease so he can increase”, a quote I used to have on my desk when I was a youth worker was: “Let our ceiling becoming their floor”.

Barnabas clearly has a Christ-like character with a lot of wisdom as he mentors Paul, yet I wonder do I know many people who are like Barnabas? In our world we have many people who are opinionated but few who are wise -James counsels us “if anyone lacks wisdom, they should ask God who gives generously”.

Yet sadly, even this mentoring relationship goes a little sour, with Barnabas wants to take the risk on John-Mark who had previously let them down on a previous task. Perhaps a bit of the older brother syndrome here from Paul, forgetting what he was like when Barnabas first took a risk on him?

Anyway, Paul and Barnabas fall out, and Paul goes off with Silas and Barnabas goes off with John-Mark and the gospel flourishes -but was no doubt painful for both Barnabas and Paul.

As we follow Paul in the scriptures we see him starts to mentor, we see this in
the letters he writes to a young Church leader called Timothy, these letters are full of encouragement, I get the impression that Timothy is someone full of potential but a little hesitant by nature, needing someone like Paul to call him from his comfort zone to be all that God has enabled him to be.

Mentoring is a bit like a relay race, if Barnabas hadn’t taken a risk on S/Paul and S/Paul hadn’t done the same with Timothy, we might not be sitting here.
Who is mentoring us? -Are we humble enough to let people speak into our life positively? “Iron sharpening Iron as one person sharpens another”.

Who are you mentoring? -Are we looking to encourage those around us and taking a risk on people, even if they might appear to be unlikely people?

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Sunflowers on the streets of Newquay

Many years ago before I went off to theological college to train to be a Vicar, I went on a lads weekend away to Newquay. My friend Brighty -who was also a Christian- looked up at the campsite which read “18-30’s” (which are notorious for all sorts of drunken behaviour and promiscuity) and we both looked awkward.
The trip had been organised by our friend Andy Dorning and it was surprisingly cheap (Dorning has a gift of getting a good deal!), looking at the sign we both said: “I’m gonna kill him!”

When we had calmed down, we realised that it was just a place to pitch a tent and sleep for a couple of nights, but even so the reputation of the organisation running the site did make me feel awkward.

Anyway, we had a couple of cracking nights out and then on Sunday Morning a few of us said we were going to go off to Church -in fact our whole party decided to go!

“Where you lads off to?” the guy asked as we all got in.

“Church” one of us said, “do you know a good one?”

The guy laughed thinking we were joking!

Then Dorning -who was probably the most blokey of us all- said: “yeah, we love a good night out, but some of us are Christians and we do take our faith seriously!” -At that moment I could have kissed him (well, maybe not actually!) but I was impressed by how relaxed and unashamed he was about the fact that he loved, followed and served Jesus.

Anyway fast forward fifteen years and here I was coming to do Street Angels on the same streets that I had previously partied on!

So, what are Street Angels or Street Pastors (or ‘Pasties’ we used to get called!)? The idea is that we are people who seek to bless the town and the people in the night-time economy, often through small acts of kindness and service -a bottle of water to someone who has had too much to drink, a listening ear to someone who is upset, sweeping away broken bottles and giving out flip-flops for those who are walking with bear-feet.

Angels are part of a larger group of “angels” that work at festivals -and Newquay/Cornwall has a lot of festivals- as part of the wider work of Christians at work in the night-time economy.

Street Pastors insist that all the volunteers are Christians and belong to local Churches, Street Angels allows people who are not Christians to join in with them but must respect our Christian ethos.

As someone who has been a Street Pastor in Kingswood (Bristol) for just over a decade I have often wondered how these young people can hear about and experience Jesus in a way that they can understand and respond too? Standing around at 2:00 in the morning I have realised afresh just how little contact we as Church and Christians have with this generation.

I used to talk about Street Pastors putting a human face on the faceless institution of the Church, and liked one of the previous taglines of Street Pastors: “Church in action on the Streets”, and thought as we were “caring, listening, helping” being a prayerful presence on the street I was struck by the passages such as being “salt and light” and ambassadors for Christ afresh.

I used to feel that the difference between Saturday night on Kingswood High Street and Sunday Morning in the Parish Church was not just a matter of hours but probably about two centuries, literally belonging to two very different worlds. In a small way I believe Street Pastors and Street Angels do something to build a relationship between the two worlds.

Since I became a dad in 2011 to a beautiful little girl, Hope, I have also realised just how vulnerable and dangerous the streets are for our young people, and see and feel something of the parental heart of God looking out with love and pain at his children, and I know when my daughter goes out one day on a night-out I would want Street Pastors to be there to look out for her and help keep her safe.

I arrived in Newquay and met Debbie who was in charge that evening, I had to put on a black ‘Pirans Angels T’shirt’ over what I was wearing alongside a hi-viz jacket, I had a flash back in my head to my previous visits to Newquay and remembered how wild the town had been (and if I’m honest had a pang of fear), yet I remain firmly convinced that Jesus would have been out on the Streets and that for him there were no ‘no go areas’ or people ‘off limits’ for him.

We met the others on patrol that evening, interestingly all women I was the only bloke on the team, and we loaded up our bags with bottles of water, a cheese and tomato sandwich for the homeless people we might come across, lollies and sweets to give out to people, some bible tracts and a Bible, some plastic gloves (and one of us also carried a dustpan and brush and a first aid kit).

We began to pray, and these guys took prayer really seriously, and the Churches in Newquay was soon to be birthing a prayer room “The Prayer Shack” soon to intercede for both Newquay and Cornwall, and was reminded that no great move of God has happened which has not been birthed in prayer first, I thought back to my hometown of Poole and remembered how vibrant the prayer together as local Christians used to be and how it has tragically dwindled.

Carol (one of the Street Angels) told me about a fantastic older lady who used to stay back at base as a prayer pastor with a real fire and gift for intersession, she told me that this lady: “prayed the lap-dancing clubs shut in our town!” (there had been a number) she said: “Demons would panic when they saw her name on the rota!”.

Where-ever Street Pastors/Angels has been established there has often been a drop in crime statistics and I think this is because not only do Street Pastors defuse tensions and look out for vulnerable people (who otherwise are potentially victims of more predatory people) but also because people are sacrificially praying for the Kingdom of God to become manifest in their area, which is a prayer I believe God loves to hear and honours.

As we chatted one of the ladies Elaine showed me that she had painted some rocks with sunflowers on them and she leaves these lying around the town centre, they have written on them words like “you are loved”, “Hope”, “you are precious” and “you matter”, which I thought was a wonderful blessing.

“Why Sunflowers?” I asked.
“Because Sunflowers turn to face the sun!” she replied.

We began to wander through the town slowly together, chatting and bantering with passers-by, we came across a local resident that wanted to chat for a bit long -he was amazing guy covered -and I do mean covered in tattoos and piercings- so much so that a documentary was coming to film him later that month. A few steps later a head emerged from a hedge to ask “what’s a street angel?” -he looked at me and I thought “angelic” probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind when people see me! We chatted a bit to him, and he was blown away by the fact that these ladies come out into Newquay for free as volunteers and served this community. One of the team, gentle pushed a tract into his hand that simply explains what Christians believe, which he look with a look in his eye that made me think “he’s going to read that later” as he surreptitiously put it into his pocket.

As we walked along the beach for a while we came across a group of Campervans and got chatting to the people there, it was clear that some of the work and blessing of Street Angels here in Newquay may not ever be seen by them (as many of the people they encounter are visitors to their town) but they still sow generously with faith and love. Elaine (one of the Street Angels) gave a couple who had just got engaged a stone with “love” written on it, and they promised that this would be on the dashboard of their van from now on. I pray that when they look at it, they may remember us crazy people on a beach in Newquay and the word “Love” will speak to them deeply.

A few minutes later we got a call on the radio and ended up helping a homeless guy who was having a fit in a doorway, an ambulance was called and the Street Angels prayed for him and held his head so when his seizures happened he didn’t bang his head on the concrete steps/wall he was slumped on. We were also joined by some town medics who evidently knew and respected the Street Angels. The Street Angels knew the person in trouble by name. We waited until the ambulance arrived (sadly we heard later that the man -who clearly needed help and treatment- had refused to get into the ambulance).

As we came around a corner we ended up speaking to a club promoter who was unloading electrical equipment from his van who said that they were having a good evening and everyone was happy and quiet, just as another guy wandered past and realising we were Christians began shouting abuse at us which was completely unprovoked and just a little weird, and a bit unsettling. I wondered if something had happened to him in his past which meant he didn’t like Christians but was shocked by the intensity of this. We huddled by a lamp post and prayed for that young man, we didn’t know his circumstances, but God knows him and loves him, and prayed that God would encounter him and bless him.

We saw a guy crying, his mate had his arm around his shoulder, but he didn’t want to talk to us, so we respected his wishes and carried on, but we did pray out of sight and earshot, as I think about the rise in mental health and suicide in young men and how all of us have pain we often try and hide from the world. I thought too about him all dressed up for a night out and thought too about how often life does not turn out as we had expected or hoped.

The tide was coming in and we spoke to a couple on the beach that they needed to make sure they could get back safely, then later we met a stag party, which ended up talking for a while with a stag party one of whom was rather drunk and a bit flirty with the Street Angels.

Then we met a rather large parrot, or rather a guy dressed as a parrot pointing people towards a nightclub, and we ended up having a selfie with the parrot! It reminded me of the craziness of much ministry where we are one moment sympathizing with the hurting or giving water and tissues to a drunk person one moment and the next having a selfie with a Parrot.

Somewhere in the night we returned back to the base for a coffee (was glad of the caffeine, although later when I actually wanted to get to sleep I was less glad of it!) and began to walk up the road, Carol one of the fab Street Angels team who lived locally shared about how in Newquay “pop-up brothels” had started to appear -or that they had discovered their existence, I remembered the day before listening to the guys from “Transform Plymouth Together” saying that human-trafficking was prevalent in the South West but largely unnoticed as everyone assumes that ‘it doesn’t happen here’ or ‘only happens in big cities like London or Birmingham’. We prayed for safety and for these businesses to shut down in this area.

We came across broken glass which we swept away, and chatted to people, visited their homeless project -where the medic team were drinking coffee (again great seeing Christians providing hospitality), and again I was encouraged to see how Christians are seen as a normal and helpful part of the night-time economy. A fight was brewing and the atmosphere changed, the door-staff emerged, and it dissipated. We came across a homeless guy and chatted to him and gave him some sandwiches, we chatted to a group of girls, they again couldn’t believe that we were all volunteers. We had a long conversation with a drunk guy about getting back to his hotel, and in the end, he jumped in a cab!

We then got chatting to some lads, they were all a bit flirty too with the street angels one even said: “I’m old enough to be your mum!” -which didn’t deter him!- Emilia (another Street Angel) had been incredibly successful at getting people to take a gospel flyer managed to get a great conversation with a young lad, so many so that he wanted to take a Bible (which his stuck down the front of his trousers because his pockets were not wide enough to fit it in!).

We wandered back to base as one lad continued to flirt with one of the team, I tried to walk with her as a deterring presence as a couple of girls walked with the other two Street Angels clearly feeling safer walking up the road with them and the rather drunk flirty lad tagged on to the end.

For me the work of Street Angels and Street Pastors reminds me of the prayer of St. Theresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

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The Wild Goose Cafe (Bristol)

“Running late” I text Andy as traffic was at a stand still

10 minutes later having moved about 100 yards I write: “so sorry, traffic be with you as soon as I can”.

10 minutes after that I was tempted to text a loud of swear words about how frustratingly slowly traffic was moving but just managed a: “really sorry am so late”.

I had forgotten how much of a nightmare Bristol traffic was, as I ulled up by Andy’s house he was there waiting for me.

“Happy Birthday!” he said, I had completely forgotten in the stress of the morning that it was my birthday! It wasn’t the greatest start to the day!

Andy got in the car and we began to hurtle down towards the wild goose cafe where we were going to help make breakfast for about one hundred homeless people in Bristol.

I like Andy, he’s a ball of energy, he became a Christian later in life and really takes living out his faith seriously, “this is what I believe we are supposed to do as Christians” he would say. He is involved in many projects of blessing across the city, a street pastors in Kingswood, helping with two homeless projects and also Churchwarden at his local Church. Andy’s (mainly unseen work) blesses and benefits some of the most struggling in the city.

Andy came to faith through the funeral ministry of a local church when he tragically lost his first wife and was later invited by one of their ministers to do the Alpha course, which was life changing for Andy as he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

Yet Andy wasn’t prepared to just become a Christian and carry on as normal, he served in lots of ways faithfully but was hungry to learn more and experience more of God.

I believe our Churches need to see people like Andy, people who have discovered Christ and taking seriously what it means to follow him. New Christians often provide us with fresh insights, new eyes and profound questions, about why we do (don’t do) what we do (or don’t do).

We parked on Stapleton Road, which rather unhelpfully became labelled as statistically the most dangerous road in Britain, which reinforced the negative few the people have of themselves and others have of the area and the people who live there.

The Wild Goose Cafe, a converted pub, that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is a Christian response to homelessness and poverty in the city of Bristol.

As I looked out at the busy café with people eating and drinking a free breakfast, I noticed the décor and realised firstly how just like a normal café this looked (some soup kitchens look pretty clinical and uninviting) but here effort had been made to make it look attractive and welcoming.

I first heard of the Wild Goose Café when I was in Salisbury and it featured on the television programme “the secret millionaire” who gave a very generous amount of money towards this project, but interestingly the programme had edited out anything that was Christian in the project, which must have been an achievement as there were Bible verses and Christian things everywhere in the café, as I thought about this I realised this was clever as they were being upfront about their faith but also it was not pushy either.

The Wild Goose Café is also part of a wilder network “Crisis Centre Ministries” which runs a female night shelter, foodbanks across the city and the “Life Recovery Groups” which are a bespoke mix between Church/homegroup but also very much like the AA/NA recovery group.

Before I left Kingswood I tried to see if we could bring a life recovery group to Kingswood, knowing that within our area we had many people who both loved Jesus but struggled with life controlling addictions (we also tried something similar with the Christians Against Poverty ‘Freedom’ course a couple of years earlier).

Many years earlier when I was at theological college I did a year-long placement at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Nottingham, it was at times pretty tough and gruelling, but I also remember on one occasion when I was sat within the group meeting where a wealthy businessman was in tears with a young lad who had been on the streets having his arm around his shoulder comforting him as they shared each other’s burdens; supporting, encouraging and challenging one another I thought “this feels like church, real church, but yet never any church I had been a part of!”…

I was jolted from my daydreaming by Andy clearing his throat as we were talking to a couple of the helpers as we were setting up. “I’d just like to say…” he began “how grateful Denise and I are for all your help last week”…

Not knowing what that meant I chatted to Andy later, and tragically it transpired that his stepson had passed away very recently, he had had a long battle of addiction which sadly claimed his life. The guys at the Goose had rally around and supported them, putting on a Wake after his funeral service for their family and friends. “Andy, I’m so sorry I didn’t know…” I blurted out. I had not seen anything on Facebook and no one else had mentioned it. It made me realise how often we have no idea what those around us are carrying and going through. It also showed this community at its best, not just people who provide a service, or working together, but loving one another. Jesus said: “by this will all people see you are my disciples that you love one another”.

Andy and I soon got to work chopping, spuds, veg and frozen meat for the lunchtime meal as the guys came in and were eating breakfast. I found this an interesting challenge as would have really liked to have been out in the cafe chatting to the guys rather than chopping stuff! Yet thought that it was better for the guys outside to chat to people they would be seeing again with the potential of an on-going relationship.

As I chopped, I thought about how often so much of what we do that is valuable us also unseen and invisible, yet crucial, if we did not chop all of this many people would be hungry at lunchtime. I also wondered whether when I was a Vicar had I got a bit “high and mighty” and thought I was above such jobs (I hoped not, but our pride can creep in anywhere, and needs to be constantly kept in check!).

I chatted with Andy and I thought about a monk called Brother Laurence who wrote about “practicing the presence of God” about seeking and abiding in God’s presence at all times, including in the most mundane of tasks. As I thought of my first visit to Jeremy and Yvette and “Open Heaven” I thought about discovering the presence of God in the here and now of normal life; in routine and the undramatic, unremarkable and unexciting parts of human existence. Brother Laurence once wrote about encountering the presence of Christ when he milked the cows each say, and I loved that idea of seeing and serving Christ in everything.

As I left, Andy said that he’d been at a service at the Cathedral where a preacher had asked “what would you say to Jesus if he was sat next to you?” (A great question) but Andy said: “How would I know it was Jesus?” which prompted a question of whether Jesus would be found sitting around at services at Cathedrals or would he be eating with the homeless at the Wild Goose Cafe? Andy has found Jesus very much in this place, as well as in the grand Churches and Cathedrals too, my next destination is St. Martin’s in the Field, the large Anglican Church on Trafalgar Square.

I gave Andy a hug and set off in my car for London, as the journey was a long one, I had bought an audio book of Michelle Obama’s life called “Becoming”.

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Mind the Gap: Exploring the Tubestation, Polzeth.

I am not a surfer but I had long heard about a “surfers church” in Polzeth called “the Tubestation” and was interested to check it out.

It was a baking hot day and I parked on the beach amid lots of crowds, looking up I saw people eating, drinking, chatting and laughing around what looked like a funky café, then I saw the word “Tubestation” written across the front of the building, and realised that the building had once been a Methodist chapel. This is where I had come to see.

As I drew closer the sign said: “Art gallery, Cafe, Church and Skate Park” -I loved the fact that they were unapologetic about their faith and who they were!

Sometimes some Christian projects ironically seem to downplay the faith in element to the point where they sound embarrassed, apologetic even about being Christians, which can make people feel a little bit conned when they discover that there was “a hidden agenda”!

Instead here this project was overtly stating that their faith in Jesus was part of the DNA of the project but also that everyone was welcome (sometimes a difficult balance to strike!)

I was a little early so wandered around their art gallery before wandering around the grounds, I had a look around and the venue was a funky café, with a skate half-pipe at the front of Church, above our heads were surf boards with the disciples’ names on the ceiling (I was sat underneath Judas, maybe not the best seat to sit in!), and tried to log on to the wifi (where their password was written up on an old hymn board and was “Romans 15”).

Romans 15 has the prayer in which Paul prays: ”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. As I looked around at this buzzing cafe I thought this was an awesome prayer to be praying for those who come here. Suddenly a very cool looking guy came up to me, asking “how I was doing?” and began to chat to me, with a grin I explained who I was and that I had come to see Henry.

Henry was one of the leaders of the Tubestation, very chilled out guy with a smiley face and sharp mind. We wandered outside and sat over-looking the beach, the sun blazing on us. I did wondered how can people look at a view like this and believe in a creator God?

He was an interesting fella this Henry, the was telling me about the Cornish Christian heritage with the Celtic Saints who are often ignored. He began to talk about New Monasticism -which made me smile as this was not what I was expecting him to talk about!

The conversation sparked around all sorts of things, including how did the Church in the book of Acts (especially Acts 2 and 4) where people shared their lives together as an interdependent transformative community has somehow been reduced to passive attendance of a service in a building that lasts for just over an hour. “The problem of the Emperor Constatine and the Roman influence which over-took the Celtic Saints” was Henry’s reply before (Christianity was this dangerous underground movement which became sanitised and respectable when the Emperor of Rome converted to Christianity in AD 313 and Church buildings were erected and services were held based around the Roman Assemblies). Henry said, “I guess you want to know about the Tubestation!”

The Tubestation may have a fantastic venue, in an amazing location, and is primarily about being a community of blessing. Its origins are from the generousity of the Methodist Church who blessed them with their prime-site and facilities.

The Tubestation is something of an oasis, a welcoming community, a place where people can just “hang ou”t and “BE”.

Henry continued saying that too often people come to the Tubestation and just want to ask questions about their Sunday worship, which over-looks and undermines who they are and devalues what they do from Monday to Saturday.

Too often we have this weird “spiritual secular divide” where we prioritise the bit that is most familiar with our understanding of Church. Yet for the Christian the incarnation crucifies the heresey of a “Spiritual Secular divide” with God took on flesh and become one of us. An idea ripped apart when the Holy Spirit tour the temple curtain in half, declaring to the world that Jesus had cleared away every barrier between us and God. Everything is spiritual because everything -every atom in the cosmos- matters to God.

Instead, the whole project is seeking to reach out to the communities of Polzeth with love and friendship. The whole project is Church, God is at work through and in people through the whole week, in everything they do, rather than just on the Sunday morning.

Henry spoke of the place being upheld with a rhythm of prayer and how there are times when people are chatting about faith informally or perhaps gathered around exploring the Bible together. The Tubestation is so much more than just a load of social stuff spread around a Sunday morning service, but rather is a “blessed community sharing blessing all the time”.

Once again this resonated with me, I struggle with our rhetoric which speaks of “going to Church” (in the form of a service) rather than a more Biblical understanding of “being the Church”.

The challenge facing us in the 21st century to authentically learn afresh what it means to be the Church.

Henry began to also share how they get fed up with being called “a surfers church”. Although many people who are part of the community enjoy the surf, there are lots who have never surfed (or skated) but instead it is a community seeking to bless Polzeth (“we are not some homogeneous unit, but a quite diverse community”). He spoke of blessing Polzeth, this means blessing a very transient groups of summer surfers who live elsewhere (and where the people of the Tubestation and Polzeth might not ever see the fruit that has done through their work and witness), I laughed suggesting they should have the tag-line “blessing the Churches of Surry and Tunbridge Wells”. Henry was more gracious and talked about it all being about building God’s Kingdom!

Within Polzeth there people who have either holiday homes or come regularly and even though they are not here all the time a relationship can be built with them.

Henry also was keen to stress how they also want to bless the local residents, and talked about the life in Cornwall that is often unseen and hidden from the Tourists eyes, and how to minister to different groups and how the place changes during different seasons (and even different weather) requires them to be very reactive to what happens.

The work of the Tubestation changes to respond to the various seasons and rhythms of the year seeking to be a blessing and a witness, so it is a community in constant state of flux and transition, trying to follow the leading of the Spirit.

This I found refreshing. Too often Churches do their own thing no matter what else is happening around them “this is what we have always done” they say regardless of how ineffective or irrelevant is now is to the community and context they exist within. Instead, I love that the Tubestation sought to adapt its rhythm to best respond to the community it served.

Their building, is a versatile space, used by the community for all sorts of things (in fact it is hosting a wedding the next day) it is a physical space but one used as a resource around which a core community uses as a base around which they use to do life together and many people join with them sometimes briefly or for a season (alongside this the Tubestation also has workers who commit to coming and serving here for a year often from abroad again adding to the diversity of the community).

I shook hands with Henry and wandered off to meet the Street Angels of Newquay, my mind buzzing afresh about Church being a 24-7 missional community reacting, changing and responding to the ebb and flow of its context rather than a static unchanging edifice which people have to learn to accommodate and navigate which can at times be our experience of Church.

The challenge to dream afresh what the original divine dream of God was with his Church and to see it restored again in our time, and in our generation.

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Chaplains, Pastors and Responders: A visit to Taunton.

And so from this wirlwind tour of Devon and Cornwall I arrived in Taunton (Somerset) pretty exhausted!

Taunton I realised was not a town I had ever actually been too before (although I had driven past it on many occasions).

I was staying with Adrian and Hazel Prior-Sankey, who describes himself as an “unconventional minister”. I first met Adrian when I was at the launch of Salisbury Street Pastors he was the representative from Street Pastors governing body the Ascension Trust.

I was there at Salisbury Street Pastors with mixed emotions, this was a project I had spearheaded for a couple of years but as curacy (apprentice vicar) is a short term contract I had just taken a new job as Pioneer Vicar/Mission-Priest/Minister-at-large in Kingswood (Bristol) and so someone else, a lovely guy called Pat, had taken the project the last mile. I had returned and was cheering from the sidelines and also feeling a bit sad and slightly envious, but -praise God- a little over a year later he came to Kingswood to commission twelve Street Pastors for Kingswood, he came again to commission another three and also when we birthed (sadly only for a short while) Kingswood School Pastors.

I was interested to visit Taunton Street Pastors as had heard a lot about their work and more recently I had seen an exciting sets of new chaplaincy projects launched across Taunton, alongside seeing pictures on Facebook of Adrian and his team serving as Chaplaincy at Glastonbury and preparing to serve with the Taunton Flower show (at a guess very different audiences!).

I have always wanted to “Street Pastors” at the Glastonbury festival (although partly I want to go because I love to hear the amazing bands performing live) although could imagine there is probably really hard work with lots of people needing help and support.

Also, the Street Pastors at the Taunton Flower festival made me realise that although I’m not really a ‘flower festival’ kind of guy(!) things like this are important part of a life and story of towns and so often when I was in parish ministry often when the community was gathered too often the Church was absent (most notably when the Christmas lights were turned on which often used to clash with a parish supper!) yet here the Church was getting involved in what their local community prized and cherished.

Here in Taunton the Church is not a faceless institution hidden away behind closed doors as it lives out a “salt and light” existence as ambassadors of Christ in the public arena.

As I heard about this, I was reminded of the verse about “the fields are white to the harvest but the workers are few, so ask the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers” (crop whitening meaning that the fields were ‘on the turn’ with only hours left to save them) and this made me realise that there are openings for mission and ministry everywhere we just need to look and maybe engage a bit of apostolic and prophetic imagination.

The vision of Pastors/Chaplains/Responders serving their local community brings joy to my heart. I have heard it said, often in more Pentecostal gatherings “bless what God is doing”, but one of my college lecturers on my MA turns this on its head with the phrase “bless and see what God does with it!” Blessing and seeing what God does with it seems a pretty good mantra for the Taunton Pastors.

These Pastors and Chaplains are local people from the local Christians Community who have undergone a rigorous training programme (the street pastors training programme is eighteen weeks and was described by former Home Office Minister Tony McNulty described it as “the best course on citizenship in the country!”) and give up their free time to serve and bless where they live.

These guys are overt about being Christians but not “preachy or pushy”, and free-gift from the local Churches to the Community. These include Street Pastors, going out on a Saturday night in the town centre working with people coming out of the pubs and clubs, the homeless and any in or around the night-time economy.

School Pastors, being a presence in Schools listening and chatting to young people a positive presence (always in pairs) both within the school and locally after school (in some instances also includes going on the school bus etc,).

Alongside this great work there is the town chaplains who minister primarily to the retail sector, also there are chaplains working with the homeless (indeed later on that evening I met one of the homeless chaplains who is also a team leader with the Street Pastors), Chaplains working in the care sector primarily supporting residential care homes for the elderly and lastly their latest outlet of blessing “Rail Responders” who are there for pastoral support for those travelling on the railways.

As I thought about this amazing network of chaplains service their local community I wondered if this had only become possible through the history of Christian service that had happened over the past decade in Taunton.

Adrian himself is a fascinating guy originally a Baptist Minister, a local councillor and former Mayor of Taunton. His wife Hazel is now chair of the council and was formerly the Mayor or Taunton too, a life-time of blessing their local area, often serving in unglamorous locations and often sitting through long and tedious meetings often making thankless decisions for the benefit of all those in the community.

So, my mind was buzzing before we went out into the town to first pray and then wander with the Street Pastors, they had a good number of people out that evening, they ran a prayer team, a mobile street team and another team in the centre of Taunton under a Gazebo giving out tea, coffee and I think I spied a hot chocolate.

Prayer is at the centre of Street Pastors, I am reminded of the story of Moses standing on the side of a mountain praying with his arms outstretched whilst Joshua fought a battle in the plain bellow him, when Moses’ arms began to tire Caleb and Hur placed a bolder under Moses and held up his arms to enable him to continue to pray and victory was won. The Street Pastor prayer team is like Moses, Caleb and Hur -unseen but instrumental in the victory of God at work in this place.

I was reminded of the concept of “Sodal and Modal Mission” as I joined both the (Sodal) responsive team wandering the streets, chatting to homeless folk, door staff and people on a night out alongside (more Modal) a static base where people know they can come and get help, a drink and someone to listen to them.
There were some good conversation happening and always good to remind people that the Christian community exists and is active within the town as a source of blessing, although unlike the previous evening in Newquay no one asked if we were paid or volunteers (but I thought after ten years of ministry in the centre perhaps most people knew what Street Pastors were and what they did).

Yet my two most interesting parts of the evening came later that night, the first when chatting and making tea and coffee for people, three girls appeared and were excited by the work of the Street Pastors and asked if they could join up? Sadly, they couldn’t as Street Pastor rules say you must be part of a local Church for a year before you can join, as being a ‘free-gift’ from the community is an important part of their identity. I understand the rule (and part of me agrees) yet part of me felt there was something sad about turning down people who had glimpsed something of the Kingdom of God.

A few days later I was having a coffee with a guy called Mark Berry who works exploring mission with people, and he spoke of a similar project he ran in Telford called “The Sanctuary”. He said that very few of the people they served on the street (as far as they know) became Christians however they had many people join the team that worked to put on the Sanctuary became friends, explored faith and some decided to follow Jesus.

And finally something struck me as I came back to Adrian’s house and spotted a picture of him receiving an MBE from the Queen (which he doesn’t mention, I think if I ever got one I would be a shocking name dropper; “when I met the Queen I…”) and he said: “would love to have your feedback!” This struck me, in many ways Adrian was definitely a Street Pastors Organ-Grinder and I was very much the monkey but he was asking for my opinion!

As I pondered this a bit, I thought perhaps that is the secret of their success that they seek feedback and use criticism to enable themselves to constantly grow and develop. Too often there are many project where I wouldn’t offer an opinion as would be afraid that the person would be hurt and would damage a friendship, but here there was a humble and teachable spirit, which are great treasurers which I believe are rarely prized or valued enough.

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Coffee, Bacon Butties and Transforming Plymouth.

Running late and my mind racing (probably from the caffeine overdose from a long drive!) I arrived at my first port of call on my activist pilgrimage! I was greeted by: “Hi, Andy, what can I get you to drink?” to which I replied: “a black coffee please!” -even as I said it I thought this probably wasn’t a great idea, and feared I might look like the guy from trainspotting who took speed before his job interview -just take make proper sure he didn’t get the job!

I was meeting with Chris and Hannah from Transform Plymouth Together.

Chris handed me a wadge of information about Transform Plymouth Together, and as I had been thinking about St. Francis a bit whilst stuck in traffic, I had been pondering our goal of equipping and empowering the entire Church in the UK to do mission and evangelism well frequently and fruitfully seemed impossible.

I looked down at a book mark in front of me which quoting St. Francis: “start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and then suddenly you are doing the impossible!”

A quote very apt for Transforming Plymouth Together which was birthed from the Church Urban fund to empower local Christians/churches to work together to see their city transformed.

Transforming back city may sound impossible and doing it with and through the local Churches sounded doubly so. I had served for a number of years on both the Deanery leadership team and as Vice Chair of Churches Together in Kingswood, and found trying to get Churches and Christians to work together like herding cats (a difficult job!).

Over the years I have at times been caught up in the debate which rears its head every so often about whether we as Christians should be more concerned about “saving souls” or “filling hungry bellies” -for me it had always been both! Words and deeds matter and at its most fruitful and Christlike when co-existing together, our works and words coming together to point people to Jesus.

Too often I have (probably very clumsily) tried to “crowbar” an explanation of “why Jesus had to die” into the conversations and talks with the social action/justice work I’ve been doing, but over the years I’ve asked myself about the good news of the Kingdom of God being good news for all people, a gospel that speaks into issues of poverty, hunger, explotation and suffering, and Jesus who is able to meet and identify with those on the margins and side-lines, the challenge of liberation theology has reminded us that we are not just called to proclaim good news but rather to ‘be good news’.

Chris and Hannah talked about trying to get Churches and Christians to work together better which is an on going challenge. Too often we as Christians exist within our own churchy bubbles, often having little or no relationships with one another, sometimes even doing the samething nearby on the same evening (and ironically often both stretched with their need of volunteers!)

“One of my roles is sometimes just linking up and making introductions of local Christians with other local Christians!” -I laughed, sometimes the cost of a coffee linking people up can be one of the most fruitful things we can do for the growth of the Kingdom of God!

Then conversation moved to collaborating together, sometimes Churches want everyone else to help run their thing (and sometimes that is right and appropriate) but often it is more subtle and naunced than this, in Poole a friend started a group SMILE, which supports lone-parents, they publicize local messy churches -a service for children, parents, grandparents and anyone who wants to come to a craft based service with teaching and food! These are popular with many people who are struggling to find something positive and affordable to do, yet in Poole they were all happening on the same evening, so the suggestion was if they each moved their messy church to a different Wednesday in the month then there is more provision, people are going to a Church more often and even on occasions people can help at more than one messy church.

This is a small example of how something much more beautiful can be birthed by working together which resonates with the prayer of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane “that they (us, you and me and all who follow Jesus) will be one as we (the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit -a perfect unbroken community of love) are one’.

Recently I was profoundly moved by a clip on YouTube of Christians in Mexico and America sharing Holy Communion (and the peace) together with the wire-mesh barrier that marks the boarder separating them. Scripture talks of “how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity”.

I have wondered why we struggle to love “the lost” as Christians and wonder if perhaps it is because we have not even learned to “love the found” (other Christians). How can we love our neighbors whom do not often know when we do not even know -or live-in our own brothers and sisters in Christ? I believe God is calling his Church to put their “roots down” into Christ (know what they believe and why they believe it) and to bring their “walls down” to one another.

Just then Chris’ bacon sandwich arrived with a salad garnish and I chuckled at the ‘conscience salve’ of trying to make you feel healthier eating a bacon butty by putting a bit of lettice and tomato on the side of the plate!

The cynic in me wondered whether an annual awkward service together and an occasional lunch where wedding and funeral anecdotes were exchanged by various ministers was a bit like salad on the side of a bacon sandwich, not unpleasant but a bit superficial and token-gesture rather than a serious and committed attempt to be obidient to the yearning of Christ at Gethsemane?

Chris talked about how Transforming Plymouth Together was born through conversations asking the Church and the community, what it’s needs were? Interestingly I wondered about how many Churches people drive into because they like the style of worship but there is little or no real engagement of the context the Church exists in.

It is an important question about what is happening in our communities and where their needs are, too often weake presumptions rather than really listen and engage with where Jesus has placed us. Important too to engage with other agencies also working in the community (for me as a Church Minister it was many of the community activists and professionals I met in my work who also became friends, and were refreshingly outside the churchy bubble too).

Often as Churches we have a narrative of scarcity, believing we have little to offer our communities, which often is untrue. We often have people and volunteers, we have buildings and resources (often in good locations) we have people with expertise, we are part of our communities and will be there long after a particular pot of government money has run out.

When we realise (with perhaps some sacrifice and generosity) that we have some, perhaps many, of the tools that are needed for the transformation of our locality (and with other Christians/Churches) also sharing what they have, with us all placing our resources into the hands of Jesus (however meager we may think they are), the miraculous multiplication -like with the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the 5000 happens again (and again!)

So, as the community gathered in Plymouth to explore their communities needs, several key issues were highlighted as being vital needs within their area:

The prevalence of modern slavery (people expect this to exist in cities such as London, but sadly is much more widespread than we think, probably in your local largish town).

Migrant vulnerability: it is difficult living in a different country and culture and easy to become exploited and isolated, and here many Churches are helping people learn English, fill out forms or are places where people can relax and make friends;

Social Isolation: Even though we have more ways of contacting one another we are more and more isolated, interestingly in this context ‘social isolation’ was not just talking about elderly people who rarely have a visitor (although does include this) but actually affects people from all walks of life, and probably people you would least expect. Yet Churches are once again learning how to be catalysts for creating (and recreating) community.

Financial Resilience: One in four of us are in debt, and as my curacy in Salisbury taught me poverty can hide behind the nicest front doors. Managing our money well can have so many benefits (especially for our mental health) and yet many of us struggle with “too much month/week at the end of our money, this is exasperated with the rolling out of universal credit and punitive sanctions which plunge whole families into poverty.

Child Poverty: It angers me that in the 21st century in the 6th richest country in the world kids are still going to bed hungry and are living in poverty. Hannah spoke of a number of holiday hunger programmes they run which are called “fun feast days”, a name which sounds fun and exciting and designed to give the families using them dignity and self worth as sadly sometimes Churches are ostentatious about the positive work they are doing but no one wants to feel like a charity case. Helping combating child poverty (but doing so with dignity).

As I heard of the practical ways the Christians in Plymouth were learning afresh to serve together and to be a blessing to their local community, living out their faith practically with their sleeves rolled up.

As I began to think about how how Transform Plymouth is trying to bring the Christian community together and am reminded of the call for us to “embody” our faith -not just empty rhetoric- but backed with action as I pondered Jesus’ prayer that he taught his disciples to pray whereby we are called to seek “(the Fathers) Kingdom to come on earth as in heaven” -we know that in Heaven there are no exploited, marginalised, isolated or hungry people- as we love and bless our neighbours within our community we help our little bit of earth look a little bit more like heaven.

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Missional Mentoring.

After the launch of the school of mission our key note speaker Jackie Leswell and I were talking and she reflected that there felt as though there was a real need amongst the guys at the Bristol launch for some mentoring, many of us were trying to work out how to live authentically and missionally. It feels as though we are often misunderstood, as we try and unpack what God is calling us to do, whilst juggling other people’s expectations and our own baggage too.

I have in the past gathered supportive hub around those of us in the Bristol area seeking to do new things missionally but has been difficult as people were constantly moving in and out and the hub never gelled but did have some great conversations and prayer times (and normally included breakfast which is always good)!

This was different rather than a group based around a location with people arriving and leaving, this was about working and walking with individuals, rooting for them and wanting them to thrive.

As younger Christians with passion, fire and enthusiasm I have found that a number of leaders are more like ‘corks’ rather than ‘catalysts’ that squash rather than release, I want to be a leader who takes a risk on people; I’ve tried to do this when I was a Vicar and it has been the source of both my greatest joys (when it’s gone right) and (when it’s gone wrong) has been heart-breaking!

Yet, I believe that’s probably how Jesus felt -imagine the heartbreak of seeing your enemies come to arrest you led by one of your best friends? Yet imagine too the joy of Christ as Peter gave the Pentecost Sermon and saw such a huge response.

For a year I did a placement in drug and alcohol rehab whilst at theological college, for this community the expectation was that everyone had a sponsor (mentor by another name) but also were mentoring someone, so was a community not of experts and clients but knowing we each have things to give and things we need to learn, surely this is a picture of how the Church of Christ should be?

Interestingly when selecting a sponsor, the people were asked to “find someone whose recovery you admire” and learn from them, give them permission to speak into your life.

This also raises the challenge of what kind of role model am I? Would people see in my relationship with God anything to admire and emulate?

The Church is meant to be “iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another” -but as I thought of this image of allowing ourselves to be reshaped and seeking to positively speak into other people’s lives it can cause sparks, it is costly and painful, it’s not comfortable, but I have come to the conclusion that being Church and following Jesus together can be a wonderful and beautiful thing but, perhaps it was never meant to be comfortable?

I explore this idea of missional mentoring on the first day of my “Activist Pilgrimage”, when I had a coffee with Paul Taylor.

I had met Paul once before at a prayer event in London, he was a friend of a friend of mine and it made me realise how much wisdom exists already within our Christian community, or at least within our own relational networks.

This made me ask perhaps the people we need with the wisdom and expertise to do whatever it is we feel God is laying on our hearts are perhaps already in our lives, or at least not far from us, remembering the that when God calls he also equips, and has the resources we need to flourish.

Paul Taylor, had recently given up pastoring a Church in Crawley to go and live in Bude in Cornwall, and had joined a local fellowship, the Pastor there was struggling with many of the questions that I have been wrestling with, primarily how can we see ordinary Christians sharing their faith in a normal and cringe-free way.

The Pastor looked at the Church homegroups and was worried that these were not the outward Missional catalysts that they longed for and the Pastor asked Paul to look and see if he could make them more Missional.

I believe this is a problem in many Churches and often the group’s get a new name/branding but rarely achieve a more Missional result.

People become comfortable in their groups, they often think they are friendly, welcoming and outward looking it looks very different when you are at the heart of a clique to being on the outside of it.

Is the group happy as it is, or are they yearning to grow?

Is it a place where crazy ideas and bonkers dreams can be birthed and shared? -And are everyone’s ideas listened too, or is it just a privileged few?

Is there opportunities to invite along friends that aren’t Christians and would they be made welcome?

Good questions to explore when thinking about the Missional fruitfulness of our homegroups!

Back in Cornwall Paul did some training and teaching with the group before giving the groups, before going to a local estate their church was blessing and encouraging people to get to know folk, to do things like help at local fayres and do face-painting positive things to make an impact.

One lady said “I want to be on the prayer team” but Paul persuaded her to give it a go in the community team. First few times out with him he did most of the talking and she listened, and then she grew in confidence and began to chip into the conversation and soon she was happy and comfortable chatting to people.

A couple of days before I visited Paul in Cornwall he was sharing about how they had got chatting with someone with a painful knee, and Paul asked this lady to lay her hands on the ladies knee and pray for healing for her. The ladies knee got very hot, and so Paul encouraged his friend to continue to pray, and remarkably her knee was completely healed.

I thought about this, Paul taught the group and helped them to re-discover the Missional dream of the homegroup, he gave them opportunities to put it into practice with real people. He stretched people, inspiring the last from the prayer group to join those chatting to people. He modelled what he was seeking and took people with him, allowing them to find their voice, walked with and allowed them to grow and flourish with him there encouraging them.

It is easy to think of straplines and strategies but harder to slowly walk with people until they gain the courage to do it themselves, yet it is I believe vital on rising up missionaries from their local communities and releasing them to speak to and bless those who cross their path.

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Ashamed of the Gospel?

I like Anthony, he’s a mate of mine from theological college who took Allana and my wedding. He’s a straight-talking guy who thinks deeply, so I asked Anthony the question I have been struggling with: “Why do you think so many Christians struggle to talk about their faith?” -And the follow up question: “and what can we do to help?”

His response deeply challenged me, “I think we have become ashamed of the Gospel. We don’t speak or act like we believe it works or matters anymore! We get embarrassed to talk about sin or our need of repentance, instead we just tell people that God loves them, and the cross is a demonstration of love, and people shrug their shoulders and walk away and say: ‘So what?’”.

As Anthony said this, I was reminded by a quote from William Booth: “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”

Scripture we believe comforts the afflicted but also afflicts the comfortable, and yet too often we pull our punches and try and make our message seem more palatable for an enquiring world; Christianity has always been controversial, the Cross Paul writes is: “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1.Cor.1.23).

It is a gritty message, but nature teaches us that without the grit in the oyster there would be no pearl. We are called to be salt -which when it gets into an infected wound really stings- or light which when we have become used to the darkness hurts our eyes.

Anthony has a gift of teaching and I began to wonder so often we think of growth just as “new people coming to Church” but growth more accurately is measured by the fruit of people’s changed and transformed lives. Anthony has grown people with a deeper understanding of what they believe and why they believe it.

I wonder whether to have properly and deeply fed some ‘sheep’ is more fruitful for the Kingdom of God than to have entertained a load of goats? Yet, playing to a big crowd of people who are enjoying what you are saying does feel successful -and the Diocese will love it!- but ultimately the main recognition we are seeking has nothing to do with numbers in a service book but rather the “well done good and faithful servant” from the master himself.

Jesus never spoke of making converts but rather disciples, and a disciple is someone who makes disciples -someone who reproduces the DNA of Jesus in our lives and the lives of those around us.

Sadly, I fear that sometimes Church has become a bit consumerist, indeed our language reflects this “I have come to be fed” -rather than share/serve/love/give/bless- it is the language of getting, rather than giving. A verse that Anthony used to sometimes say at college has stuck with me “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2Tim.4.3).

When I preach am I faithful to God or just playing to the gallery? As I have said earlier in this piece I am passionate about Church unity, but although we need to be loving and wise we also need to remember truth really matters, and to have within our grace-filled relationships space to stretch/challenge and help us all grow together in Christ.

Peter writes in his Epistle challenging the Church to move from spiritual milk to meat, a call to grow up and become wise and discerning, to understand what we believe and why we are to believe it. Growing up is uncomfortable, full of growing pains and a soft diet is popular (who wouldn’t want to live on ice-cream forever?) but comfort makes us sleepy and lethargic and is, I believe, literally killing the Church in this country.

When my dad was a Vicar by the entrance of both vicarages was written the words “I am not ashamed of gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe”, for me over the last few weeks this has become my prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to be ashamed of your gospel, give me great boldness and confidence in you and your good news, and remind me again, that it is your power to bring salvation to all who believe -help me to share it faithfully and well whenever you give me the opportunity”.

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