Sometimes there is a logical place to start, but this probably isn’t it.
I’m seven days into a fourteen-day tour of England, from Cornwall to Carlisle, in what a friend called ‘an activist pilgrimage’ -seeing and joining in where I can where God is at work . Often this has been in doing the unglamorous jobs such as sweeping up broken bottles with Street Angels/Pastors or chopping up vegetables in a Bristol soup kitchen.
I’m having coffee with a guy called Mark Berry, who leads Safe Space in Telford, and also works for Birmingham Diocese. He has also been involved in various missional activities such as offering a safe (and pretty funky!) place for people from the night-time economy called ‘Sanctuary’ and being a chaplain to Telford Football club.
Yet this isn’t what set my heart racing (cool though it is) it was the story of how their community, ‘safe space’ had chosen their Patron saint, Brendan.
I did not know Brendan’s story, he was a guy who knew, loved, followed and served Jesus. He and his friends wanted to tell others about Jesus, the pearl of great price worth sacrificing everything for. So they decided to just set off to the unknown in a Kayak with the desire and commitment to preach the gospel where-ever he landed, he went where the wind-blew and God directed.
Yet, sat in his Kayak -pushing out into the deeper waters- Brandon is a picture of both mission as defined by “going” but also mission embodied by “being” -you put everything you want to take -including yourself- into the boat.
Mark talked about his missional community, which rather than a gathering where we invite our not yet believing mates too, this is a small group -rather like a cell like- is where people eat and share life together radically, authentically and honestly (with communion as part of the meal). As he talked about his community, where (like Brendon’s Kayak) everything was on the table, the call to “go” was not negotiable and quite how it looked or what it would cost was unknown. This little community together exciting (or perhaps terrifying) missional dreams are dreamed together and each is held accountable for their Kingdom dreaming before God.
This I thought is the kind of faith I have been restlessly searching for most of my Christian life but rarely seen.
A group that said they “struggled in Church” which resonated with me, I had been a vicar in Bristol for eight years but eighteen months ago I left, disillusioned not with God but with the institution of the Church. I still love Jesus but as a family we as a family had bumped and bruised by Church and people who call themselves Christians.
A few days earlier I was stood on Hanham Mount where John Wesley had stepped out of his comfort zone and preached to the Miners of Kingswood, and saw many repent and come to faith, we were worshipping there and one line of a song spoke to where my heart had been at for a long time asking the question that “there must be more than this”. I knew there was more, much, much more.
When I was first ordained I was full of fire and passion, hungry to serve and go where-ever God called, over the years I have been called “naïve” for believing that God is still wanting to transform lives and communities and have had people talk of “reigning in” or “clipping wings”, but I refuse to believe that there is anything spiritually mature about a defeatist and pessimistic outlook. I have become so sick and tired of Church that almost apologise for being Christians with bland and inoffensive vision and practices that feel so tame and repetitive, often with straplines that seem to be created to pull together three words that mildly ambiguous and no-one could possibly disagree with.
As I left the Church of England people have said “what about your pension?” urging me to stay in the comfort and security of the institution, but deep down I know that following Jesus was never meant to be safe, so despite my bumps and bruises -and many questions, doubts and fears- I want to, like Brendan, get up and get back in the Kayak again, and go where-ever the Holy Spirit leads.
Mark reminded me that the early Celtic Christians talked about the Holy Spirit being like a “Wild Goose” that was unpredictable, precarious and scary to chase -hence the phrase “Wild Goose Chase” but something about this was exciting -even if it was dangerous and costly.
Too often in the current Church climate we speak a lot of vision, strategy and leadership a great deal, but leadership in and of itself is utterly futile unless the leader is primarily a follower of Christ Jesus themselves, and strategy and vision are both good things provided our strategy and vision line up with and surrender to the will of God. At an interview I was once asked about my strategy -which I said to love people and to pray and (to quote Jesus’ mother Mary at the wedding of Cana) “do whatever he tells you?” (Jn.2.5)
The boat goes where-ever the wind takes it, the person in the boat has little or no control, Brendon is a picture not only of surrender but if trusting the wind of the spirit. One of my prayers over the years has been “Lord, don’t let me run ahead of you, or lag behind you, don’t let me wander to the liberal left or the legalistic right, but instead keeping in-step with you”.
This small community, with their excitingly eccentric patron saint, felt like a pint of ice-cold water on a hot day, quenching something within my soul; perhaps like me you want to “push out into the deep water” and leave the comfort and security behind throwing off the lie that jaded cynicism is the same as wisdom and maturity and set sail for what is unknown but being guided by the one who calls us, and we know him to be faithful.