Dorothy Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Four Years ago) Micah 6:8 Church.

I went to visit some projects in London with my friend Chris Harwood amongst these we visited were the Franciscan’s “House of Divine Compassion” in Plaistow, and the Catholic Workers’ House of hospitality in Harringay, places in a busy, mad and often lonely city where people can come and experience peace, rest and love.

I had expected both places to be a little austere but neither were; the Brothers were warm with infectious laughing that was truly contagious, the Catholic Worker house was led by a lady called Nora (in my head I pictured an older slightly scary lady) who turned out to be a young German hippy in her twenties!
One of the Franciscan Brothers said: ‘everyone needs a friend sometimes, and a family to drop in on when it all goes wrong!’ I loved the idea of Church being ‘a family where whoever you are, you can come and hang out with us’, more than that ‘a family that welcomes you if you do their stuff their way!’
Both places welcome people who cannot afford to pay but are welcomed for free, one of the team at the Catholic Worker Movement said ‘finance (as in Government money) limits our ability to love’, they don’t want the government to be pulling the strings of their mission and ministry, dictating who they could/could not help.

Both these houses of hospitality felt like homes, the furniture was nice, there was art on the walls and books on the shelves (which you could help yourselves too) and it said “you are welcome and wanted”. Here people were called “guests”, “family” or “brothers and sisters”; yet many Christian groups I’ve worked with feel more like an institution with language of ‘clients’, in cold church halls with orange 1970’s plastic chairs and go-pack tables, smelling of disinfectant, scruffy second hand furniture and full of laminated signs everywhere tell you what you can and can’t do –a reminder that you are in someone else’s space and they don’t want you to forget it!

We helped on the Friday night at the London Catholic Worker’s House for Hospitality we were involved in cooking and serving food for the community, a mix of us in the kitchen including two very jolly Catholic nuns and a guy from the Metropolitan Community Church alongside two Anglican vicars trying their best to chop vegetables, the food was an eclectic mix and the portions were more than generous (Mother Theresa used to scold her nuns who skimped on portion sizes saying: “isn’t Jesus very hungry today” -reminding them that Jesus said “when I was hungry did you give me something to eat!”), there was a beautiful sense of Godly extravagance with the way people were generously given their food. (Much of their food is home grown on the London Worker Farm which is also a refugee for women fleeing domestic violence).

We helped the community get ready for a celebration they were holding the following day moving boxes around from one place to another, we came across boxes and bags of banners of all sorts of brilliant colours protesting about all sorts of human right violations; when the community had a fag break (and Chris and I had a pint of water each, they seemed to have a lot of herbal teas but couldn’t find any coffee) we spoke about their protest work. Nora talked about this being her “spiritual disciplines” repeatedly making the choice to stand up for something, to be inconvenienced out of love and to risk imprisonment for the sake of Christ revealed in the most vulnerable people.

I (rather stupidly) asked: “have you ever been arrested?”

“Dhuh yeah loads of times!” came the reply!

They then told us that on one occasion the same policeman who had arrested her for protesting had turned up a day or so later with someone they wanted them to help!

“They don’t know what to make of us!” she said laughing.

I wondered if people probably said the same thing about Jesus and his early followers.

I thought about my politics and activism, and realised that the world needs me to do more than post a facebook meme or sign an on-line petition. My friend
Chris has gone on to do many more protests than I have, on one occasion sitting in front of a tank, as he was picketing an arms fayre. The Police tried to persuade him to move saying that eventually the road would be cleared to which he replied “maybe, but at least tomorrow I can look my children in the eye and say that I did what I could!”

Being a bit more of a conformist than my friend Chris who is a bit more anarchistic I asked them what they thought about Paul’s words in Romans 13 about “obeying those in authority”, but they reminded me that we also serve a Jesus who kicked over tables in the temple, prophets that spoke truth to power, disciples who said “are we to obey you or God” when they were dragged into court, standing at the start of a long line of Christian protestors and freedom fighters, including their (inspirational) founder Dorothy Day.

Chris and I talked about the longing for a 24-7 Church (rather than an hour on Sunday morning) where prayer and worship happens all the time with different people taking a turn, and the door always open to welcome and food to be given away, with teams of people supporting each other so no-one has to burn out.

Indeed, whilst we were staying at the Catholic Worker Movement someone came and was given a bed for the night in the early hours of the morning. The next day we laughed with the staff as someone mentioned a truth about Christian Ministry: “real life doesn’t keep the 9-5 rules, it works nightshift, weekends and bank holidays”.

Chris and I left the house of hospitality in Harringay, having seen something embodied of a vision of two communities that gave a glimpse of another way of doing, and being, Church. A reminder that the Church we have inherited does not (indeed should not) be the same as the ones we hand on. We had been inspired and a fire burned in our bellies (which could have been the previous nights’ curry) of, a Church that lives out Micah 6:8 “Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before your God”


More Beer Vicar??

After the memory café in the pub I grabbed a bite to eat with Chris and he talked more about the relationship they had with the local pub which had began with gathering for meals (particularly breakfast!) there as a community and the relationship had developed and so when the memory café idea was birthed it became the natural place to birth it. Chris even enquired about whether he could do a shift in the pub behind the bar just to be helpful and visible.

Within Church leadership circles one of the questions that is often asked is “who pastors the pastors?” yet it is often in many areas bar staff who have spent the evening with local people listening to their lives and problems, hairdressers and taxi-drivers too often hear peoples life stories which can be pretty harrowing too, perhaps too these people who listen (or are a captive audience!) also need some support too, reminding me of the work Adrian is doing in Taunton with the Street Pastors and the community chaplains, we all need someone to listen to us and this is an area where the Church can really play its part.

Alongside this, Chris and the Church also run a pub quiz at the pub too, again Chris is there with his dog collar on being recognisable, many of the people from his congregation attend, as well as many people from the local community who just want to enjoy a fun friendly night out.

I am a bit of a fan of pub quizzes (despite rarely knowing the answers!), when I was leaving my last parish in Kingswood Bristol, I went to the pub quiz and lots of people came to join me, one of my friends, Malcolm, who I met at our “Pints of View” gatherings joined us, and ended up as we were a large number of people becoming a couple of teams for the quiz, Malcolm joined the team who regularly used to attend the quiz, mainly people who would not call themselves Christians or Church goers, and yet over the weeks and months after I left they took Malcolm to their hearts. Malcolm was diagnosed with cancer and the guys from the pub team went with him to hospital appointments, painted his flat and a few months ago many of us did a “bucket-list trip” with Malcolm back to his home town of Salford, and visited Liverpool’s “Cabin Club” where the Beatles played (as Malcolm loves his music) and then Old Trafford Grounds (as Malcolm also loves his football). It was an incredibly beautiful and powerful weekend away, and again I thought “these guys understand what it means to be Church much more than we who call ourselves ‘the Church’ do”. As they didn’t have a Churchy language to explain what they were doing they talked about Ohana (which went on the back of our bucket-list T’ shirts) which is in the film Milo and Stitch but is Hawaiian for family, and means “where no-one is forgotten or left behind”, which I thought was really pertinent due to being around in the morning with many vulnerable and older people, as sadly many in our Churches can feel forgotten and left behind. I was recently talking at a Church on Mission, and they spoke of “being lost in Church” or perhaps more accurately “feeling lost in Church” and we ended up having a conversation about the call “to not just love the lost but also love the ‘found’ too”. Jesus says “by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you love one another” -yet sadly too often many of us have at times experienced greater love, support and friendship outside the Church than in it!

As the Quiz started I ended up joining with a couple who wanted to play the quiz, we got chatting and having a laugh, they were lovely and good fun, and realised afresh that sometimes to actually to “do something” with someone actually helps conversation flow -especially with blokes as to ‘just talk and make conversation’ can be hard work -especially with strangers!- but having questions and things to do makes conversation easier and less awkward for people to come together. One of the questions was a Bible question, which I knew the answer too, and saw Chris’ eye sparkle as if to say: “Andy you ought to know this one!” This prompted a conversation about faith and Bible knowledge, and through this was able to share something of my story in a normal and natural way!

The couple talked about how fantastic Chris was (and he is an amazing bloke) but I wondered whether Chris realised how much many people appreciate him here. When I was Vicaring we often hear the nasty things’ people say and not the positive or up-building comments: “You should tell him that!”

My mind raced back to Ohana in Bristol (which is their new team name when they do the quiz, which is certainly an improvement on “Tw*ts of the Round Table”!) and thought about a culture of building people up, encouraging words and speaking well of people.

As I said goodbye to Chris I realised what a positive “shop window” these activities are for the local Church, often our Churches are invisible to our communities, people do not know what happens behind our ornate doors, and the Church is often a faceless institution, but here in Northolt the Church has a human face on it, one that smiles and knows their name, asks after their friends and family and has a bit of cheeky banter too! Chris rightfully priorities people and presence in his ministry.

Yet, sadly what Chris is doing is rarer than it should be, I was helping at a community event hosted in a prominent Church in our Town, the Vicar briefly appeared for two minutes to “do a prayer” and then disappeared off to write her sermon for the next day, which I thought was crazy, a Church full of people many of whom do not come to Church and she prioritised writing a talk for the faithful over hanging around, meeting people, being the fragrance of Christ.

Too often it is easy not to choose mission, to talk to those we know that those we do not, we all have a bias for the comfort we retreat too, indeed as I thought back of the job I have left, where so much of my time was spent sending and replying to emails, reading and writing various bits of paper we often get drawn into a more introverted life and more maintenance ministry; mission has to be intentional, mission is a mindset to see and recognise the opportunities that God puts in front of us, too often we are too busy to do the things that matter because we do not see their value, and we need to renew our hearts, mind and eyes to see the world as Christ does, one which is impacted by our presence. Scripture talks of us using our time to “build with gold, silver and costly stones” things that don’t perish rather than “wood, hay and straw” which soon burn up or rot away.

I used to receive a crazy number of emails when I was in parish life I used to take a laptop to a local coffee shop wearing my collar, and in doing so I often had lots of good conversations and was visible and approachable -available to the community and the Holy Spirit-, rather than hidden away in my study at home.
Chris and his Church are a great model of being Church outside of their building and making friends with those around them in their local community. I think God is using this mightily, but probably many might not see it as to the people there it just looks normal, organic and indigenous; but I believe the Holy Spirit is calling his Church to rediscover this important missional ministry, the power of being present and incarnational.


Jesus said: “let the elderly come to me…”

We wondered who you were, we thought you were too fat to be the keep fit instructor!” said an elderly lady looking up at me from her quiz sheet, as my friend Chris introduced me:
“This is Andy, a Priest mate of mine!”

It was funny as having stepped away from the institutional Church for about eighteen months, this somewhat took me by surprise.

To be fair, a more Anglo-Catholic understanding of Priesthood would see someone ordained as always a priest, and even though I come from a more low church/evangelical stable I certainly think the promises I made to God at my ordination should be kept whether or not I can wear a bit of plastic in my collar or am paid by the Church of England.

It was interesting that the word “Priest” did result in people treating me differently!

“Ooo I’m sorry I didn’t realise you were a vicar!” the lady said (not sure why its okay to be rude to a random stranger but not to a vicar!)

My friend Chris -or Father Chris- as they called him is Vicar of Northolt, an area of North London. I knew Chris from when we both worked for a Schools work Trust doing assemblies, RE lessons and lunchtime clubs. He was wearing black with a clerical collar, clearly visible as to who he was. Today he is running a memory cafe for (mainly) older people (with keep fit) group as well, in a local pub. The Church Chris runs is beautiful and on top of a hill with pews, it has been a mutual blessing for both the Church and the pub to work together, the pub providing a warm, comfortable accessible venue and the Church providing volunteers and energy. Indeed many people would walk into a pub -and feel comfortable three-dimensional who might not walk into a Church or churchy feeling space.

I think for too long Churches have a “come to us” mentality (and indeed spending thousands on building projects to make “coming to us” a nicer experience!) Yet Jesus did sit in a religious building and wait for people to come to him, rather Jesus knew if he wanted to meet people he had to go to where they are.

In creating a dynamic and reciprocal partnership with the local pub the local church had broken down the “you come to us” (and we have the power as hosts) or “we come to you” (and we are guests on your turf) but meet somewhere where we can be an “us” places of mutual belonging.

Like Chris when I was a Vicar I hung out often in pubs, normally wearing my clerical collar (as he was today) being visible, accessible and approachable, and was amazed at the amazing Jesus-y conversations that would happen just by the power of presence, just being there, what I called “sanctified hanging about”, often a pint appearing in front of me and someone asking a huge question about life and faith. This became so fruitful that we ended up planting a Church “Pints of View” in the back room of a pub, called ‘The Kings Arms’ which seemed very appropriate!

I joined a table trying to work out various questions with the answers beginning with “G”, it was an interesting challenge as the questions were easy enough to not make people feel stupid but also taxing enough not to patronise either. I wandered around circulating and it was clear that this group was something of a life line for many people, both those with dementia and also their carers too.

The previous evening I had slept at my aunt’s house, and I had mentioned I was going to s memory cafe the next day. She said that my grandparents went to one of these for a while as my grandmother had dementia and my grandfather cared for her (although was heavily reliant on my aunt too) and I remembered how heartbreaking it was seeing my grandmother, an interesting, intelligent glamorous lady gradually succumbing to this cruel degenerative illness. I remember on one occasion my daughter dressed in pink sparkly dress with her hair in bunches was with her and she kept thinking that my daughter was me, I’m pretty sure I never wore sparkly dresses or had hair in bunches as a child!

A few minutes later I’m dragged to the keep fit area but a couple of quite flirty old ladies and saw my friend Chris laughing at me taking a photo on his phone! Whilst I was doing excersizes for the elderly I spotted a couple of Community Street Wardens coming in to chat to the people there, and talking about safety. Realising that here Chris has not just created a memory cafe but rather a catalyst for connectivity within the community.

I thought of the work Chris was doing faithfully at the memory cafe and my respect for him increased, he’s there every week and knows every family by name, working with the elderly is not glamorous work with lots of kudos but incredibly worthwhile to make a positive difference. We often imagine Jesus sat with addicts and prostitutes if he came today, but I think that often it is our lonely and isolated older person who are often are most marginalised.

Sadly, many people who have been faithful members of Churches all their life are often ignored when they get frail and unable to ‘do their turn’ on whatever rota, do they get a lift to Church, people come and visit, taken communion? Many years ago I worked in a nursing home, and people noticed the pastoral care that they did/did not receive. Interestingly I had a friend Sheila who joined our Church in Eastbourne because her friend was a funeral director (she was the administrator at the crematorium) and said “I don’t go to Church, but if I did I go to Bob Mason’s (my dad) Church, because he clearly cares about the families of the people whose funerals he takes! When we show love, it not only blesses the recipient, but I believe ripples out and changes the world just a little bit!

Another story that I was reminded of came from my friend Paul Mundy, a chef in a residential care home telling us that he had arrived to cook breakfast as an unmarked ambulance was taking away a resident who had died in the night. “I wonder if they knew Jesus?” he thought to himself, which began a call and a journey within him. He went to the home and asked if he could do a service with old fashioned hymns and a bit of a talk and a few prayers? The home was delighted and offered to pay for refreshments, which Paul’s school aged daughter and friend helped with (so kids who didn’t go to Church heard each month a bit about Jesus). I came a few times and there was a wonderful sense of God’s presence in the room and people asked for prayer and talked naturally and enthusiastically about Jesus. Paul even ended up taking several funerals from his work at the home, which is now (led by someone else now) must be in its fifth or sixth year.

Perhaps today Jesus may say “let the elderly come to me”? I remember in my curacy the first funeral I helped with, visiting the elderly widower, Frank who was at that time 87, after the funeral and from there had the privilege of seeing him make a commitment to Christ, get baptised and confirmed and he proceeded the read the entire Bible! Jesus says “the fields are white to the harvest” but I wonder whether too often we are looking in the wrong fields, too often obsessed by reaching out to the ‘young, cool and shiny’ do we miss people like Frank?


Living Deeply, locally and Incarnationally. (Bow)

I was sat drinking (a rather fantastic) coffee in the front room of a large vicarage that was alive with Star Wars lego, which was for me a distraction from listening to what Cris who we had come to see had to tell us.

I felt slightly intimidated by meeting Cris as I have read one of his books and our old homegroup used one of his DVDs for our study course and so was at first slightly worried of saying something stupid that made me sound like some fan-boy stalker! Fortunately he was pretty normal and down to earth, my Mother in Law’s highest compliment was “they’re very ordinary” meaning they were easy to relate to and very human, which is how I found Cris.

Mark sat on another seat (and didn’t seem as distracted by Star Wars as I was) and scribbled down notes furiously which left me and Cris largely doing most of the talking.

“So, yeah, cool, um, tell us about what you are, sort of, doing here, yeah?” I asked, thinking I’ll never be a journalist with my crafted nuanced questions. Cris said that they had been here in Bow for about ten years and as a family they felt called and feels called to the area. This reminded me of my wife who when exploring somewhere new says “keep going until someone tells us to stop” -to be where God wants us (even if uncomfortable at times) and to remain there (again even if it is uncomfortable at times) is what we are called to do.

The family live in a large (and I mean really large) vicarage, but they also share it with a number of people who feel called to bless the area, and are living as an intentional community together. Each night (except Friday) they eat and pray together around the kitchen table which has become their family prayer altar. They pay into a shared purse for food and has a commonality of life here, and they are all reading the same scriptures each day. This community house however is only one of several community houses dotted around the local community, again eating and praying together and sharing the same scriptures together.

They are communities which are both intentional and missional, seeking to serve the people of the local area. All Hallows Bow came from Holy Trinity Brompton and could easily be attracting the bright and shiny from across London, but instead is seeking to serve its local community first. Jesus spoke of reaching out to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the early; yet too often we ignore the Jerusalem on our doorstep. Cris said that if it takes you longer than 10 minutes to walk to their Church (or so) then this Church might not be for you, the Church car park is often pretty empty when the building is full, because All Hallows is a local Church serving and blessing local people.
We are seeking to “live deeply” he said, the phrase resonated with me, it is about taking time to build real and authentic relationships, listening carefully to what is happening, and avoiding the temptation of the “quick fix” or “easy win”. Community work, especially in poorer areas, is for the long haul as too often people (sometimes the Church included) have “over promised and under delivered” words like “committed too” and “staying here” are clearly important ways of being.

“Our model for mission is the incarnation” Cris said, the idea of living amongst people just as Jesus lived amongst us, loving, helping, blessing, serving, praying, healing, listening and sharing Jesus with those around them. Christ proclaimed with their lips and lifestyles.

Whereas the Bromley by Bow centre was doing much good work with the government and statutory sector, primarily it seems like All Hallows was much more grass roots and was more about getting to know their neighbours and talking about the issues they face, including things such as knife crime, rather than having lunch with the chief of police and talking to him about antisocial behaviour.

Cris let us have a quick peak out of the window at the garden, and he said that this is one of their greatest resources, getting people together over food and having fun is something they are committed too. From my brief meeting of Cris is he’s clearly a guy who like a laugh and thought I can imagine people wanting to come around to his garden for a BBQ because it would be a great afternoon, not because “I ought to go the Vicar has invited me!” -I wondered about the attractiveness of Christianity and the Christian life style and wondered if perhaps we need to be more like Jesus and have more fun and welcome people to come and hang out with us more, or ask if they’d mind us hanging out with them.

As he spoke clearly people from the local community had become Christians and been transformed by coming to know Christ. I remembered our tag-line at All Souls’ the Church some friends and myself planted back in Kingswood Bristol “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus” and thought that this Church was a great example of that prophetic statement of intent.

We went out for a wander, I often worry about looking like an off duty copper when I walk around other peoples areas, but as I’m now longish hair, scruffy beard (and a bit of a beer-belly) I think that’s less and less likely now! Cris, showed us the outside of the Church which is going to have a coffee bar open all the week, and would help local people learn to be Barista’s which could help them get other employment in the hospitality industry. Also, they would serve quality coffee at cheap prices so that large families and people on lower income can have a great morning out without it being prohibitively expensive.

We wandered to their community centre, many people who use this centre are from a number of different faith communities, including Muslims, there are some lovely photo’s on the wall of Cris and someone who looks like he’s the Iman, having fun and doing socials. “In a community like this you have to get to know one another and become friends, ??? is a really nice guy” he said.

I noticed that there were Bible verses all around the Centre and he clearly noticed me noticing and said something about how the Muslims actually respect us as Christians when they see us taking our faith seriously. Too often we try and hide our faith for fear of offence rather than being open, honest and up front about it which he has found many people of other faiths (and people of no faith) respect as it is being honest and authentic.

As we walked down the road the conversation moved to knife crime, and Cris shared that nearby someone got murdered and sadly it was filmed and posted on social media. It was a heart-breaking story.

We sat on a park bench, to pray for each other, but I was worried we might look like a drug deal, and asked God’s blessing on Cris and the community he leads here in Bow. We parted on the street corner and Mark asked how to get back onto the main-line tube station, which involved us taking a stop on the train to Canary Wharf. Stepping onto the posh glass shopping area when we got off the train with its incredibly expensive produce it seemed hard to believe that literally a couple of minutes earlier we had been such a vastly different, and much poorer, part of London, the contrast between the areas was stark, yet Jesus is good news and longs to be known by people from every walk of life.


From Clevedon to Catford.

I stood at West Wickham train station waiting to meet my friend Michael. Michael and Rebecca used to be the Salvation Army officers in Kingswood where I was a Vicar. They became friends and on one occasions shared Christmas together.

It was so good having other Church leaders who longed not just to keep their congregation happy but to reach out beyond the four walls of Church to meet and become friends with those not in our fellowships and to share Christ with our communities through our deeds and words. Allana and Hope (my wife and Daughter) were blessed by the fantastic work Rebecca did with young families; I worked with Michael on Alpha, blokes and Kingswood Street Pastors.

Sadly for us they left Kingswood to go down the road to Clevedon, a seaside town in Somerset, and did some wonderful things there, but now have been stationed in Catford, a reasonably deprived and multicultural area in London.

He appeared around the corner grinning and gave me a hug and we sat together waiting for the train.

After we had asked after each others families I asked the question that had been playing around my mind: “Catford and Cleavdon are vastly different (understatement!)… how have you settled in? What’s it like working in such different community?”

In many ways it’s a silly question as every community is different and requires us to love and listen, listening to both our community and to God. To relate and create relationships, connecting people, and building with people a different future.

In many ways starting a new role in a new area causes us to ask afresh “what would the Kingdom of God look like here if fully realised? And what is God calling us to do to get closer to this?” Yet also the question is “what is God already doing here, and who is he doing it with, and how can I support and bless the existing mission?”

One of the things I love about Michael and Rebecca is their lack of ego and their willingness to serve where-ever they can.

I remember seeing a job advert that said: “must get out there and smell the sheep”, I giggled a bit not considering myself much of a sheep smeller(!), but it made a valid point that you can’t really understand people and an area from a google search but rather amidst and amongst people.

We got to Catford and went out giving out flyers and to get chatting to locals, this was mission without any sugar coating (well, maybe a bit, we did have sweets to give out) but we were just out there to have conversations and get to know folk, it was no gimmick but the hard graft of being where people are as a presence, making conversations and building relationships.

Michael had his Salvation army uniform on where I was just dressed in shorts and a t shirt, I was a guest in their community as Michael was becoming part of their community, I was just hanging out with him for a day.

One thing I love about the Salvation Army which I find inspiring, especially having just come back from visiting All Hallows Bow and the Bromley by Bow Centre (with very different ideas of mission and blessing the community), is that the Salvation Army are one of the best denominations of Christians for rolling up their sleeves and feeding and clothing the hungry and homeless, providing shelter for those in need and blessing through practical means those around them. Yet, they haven’t forgotten their message of salvation, they proclaim Christ in their words and their actions, indeed many Salvationists are expectant for answers to prayer and to see God at work in people’s lives, including with signs and wonders. I have done lots of training over the years in mission and evangelism and I talk of “words (what we say), works (what we do) and wonders (the supernatural encounters with the living God)”; as a denomination they have a wonderful heritage of all three, and with people like Michael and Rebecca this is an on-going reality.

The Salvation Army manages to both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” and when we chatted with people in Catford (particularly the older white people) they were initially hostile/dismissive until they saw the Salvation Army logo and then they’d take the flyer and say something like “you guys do great stuff!”

Despite having done a lot of Christian work hanging out seeking to engage with people, I still find that I feel awkward and self-conscious when doing this, but I do realise that sometimes you end up having a conversation, or meeting a person that makes it all worthwhile! Michael ended up having such a conversation with a lady in the street for about half an hour, whilst I was left hanging out trying to chat to people and give out flyers. The area was very diverse. One thing struck me was that when talking to people a number self-identified as Christians, especially those from the black community.

Michael said later that there are many Churches which operate with one predominant ethnic group, but he feels called for the Salvation Army in Catford to be a place of all nationalities and social groupings, he used two phrases which I loved “we don’t want to be multi-racial where lots of races come together but in predominantly white middle class led Corps, instead we want to be inter-racial, where everyone is welcome and the leadership team (and everything) is as diverse as the community it serves. Yet this is a challenge we often want to surround ourselves with “people like us” and other cultures do not do things are way or value what we value, so creating this type of Church will mean that everyone learns to be mutually inconvenienced by one another in love.

I began to think afresh of mission in a vastly different context to a Somerset sea-side town to this London Borough, but then thought of the mission of God -Missio Dei- who is always at work in/through (and also despite) us, and thought that where-ever God sends us he will be providing ‘keys’ and ‘opportunities’ within the life and story of a place, and different contexts may look different to one another (indeed in scripture I find God rarely does the same thing twice) and often his ideas are a bit wacky (would you hit a stone when you needed a drink, or invade a city by processing a choir around the walls?) but despite often flying in the face of conventional wisdom God’s ways work and are fruitful! I began to wonder whether the danger is in working in familiar type of areas we think we know what we are doing, we are professionals, and rely on our own understanding, the books we have read and the conferences we have attended rather than seeking God’s salvation plan for our area, and being obedient even when it appears a bit wacky.

Yet, I long to hear the phrase: “this might be a bit wacky but I think God might be saying” a lot more within our Churches (rather than I have an idea you should do!). Obviously, we need to be careful that when we say this, we are not just putting forward our own idea with a “God says gloss” but rather are sharing a prompt from the missional God who speaks and partners with his people. As I began to think around this I was reminded of two very different evangelistic missions: Peter in Jerusalem at the birth of the Church at Pentecost talking to a largely Jewish audience and Paul speaking to the Greeks in Athens at the altar of the unknown God to Gentiles. I wonder, am I like Peter preaching the best Jewish Gospel to a Gentile audience and then am surprised when they don’t respond. What does the Gospel look like for this community? Part of the Anglican ordination service calls us to “preach the gospel afresh to each generation” but I wonder do we simply “proclaim it again to every generation”.

So, as I ended up eating Bacon Sandwiches back at their home later that day I was struck by the context changes and perhaps we have to lay down previous patterns of work and styles of doing things, but I leave knowing that God will be faithful to Michael and Rebecca in their new context, and that they will be seeking him for his way forward, knowing that they love Jesus and the people he gifted them to serve (and the people they serve have been gifted wonderful leaders to partner with too).

I remember doing the ‘sharing your faith’ module with Michael with the Kingswood Street Pastors he spoke of “double listening” -to God and the community we serve- as we continue to love and pray, relating to who we meet and partner with God to see his Kingdom advance.


Franciscans, hopscotch, and stale cookies.

In Poole with our emerging Fresh Expression of Church Ekklesia -a new monastic group- we regularly take groups to Hilfields Friary a Franciscans residential community deep within rural Dorset, near Dorchester.

It has been a wonderful oasis for us, where all sorts of people have joined us from those just wanting a bit of space to some of our friends from the life works charity who are in recovery, struggling with mental health or just released from Prison some of whom have more complex needs. We are a mixed bunch that turn up each month for a day retreat, but God is faithful and meets with us. The ancient Celtic Christians talk of “thin places” where people can meet with God, and for us we come with an expectation of encounter.

We often misunderstand monasteries and friaries, think of them as cloistered escapism retreating from the world into a fluffy-spiritual bubble. Yet this misunderstands religious movements, that can be best understood as communities of resistance, refusing to conform to the culture or the Empire, capitalism, consumerism or whatever, a choice to live radically and differently from the conventional wisdom and expectations of the prevailing culture. A life of intersession is not running away from the world, but in intersession we run deeply into the world and its pain and problems discovering God’s heart afresh, a costly call. Franciscans are Friars, which are people who live out their faith in active service within the community.

Hilfields runs like an organic farm pioneering green and ecological thinking as they manage life together in a sustainable way stewarding creation well following the example of Patrick, they offer retreats and Spiritual Direction, in a rural setting, yet there are many Franciscans that live and work in a very different setting.

There are other communities, such as the house of divine compassion in Plaistow, in East London, which supports and blesses many people in need in this community, both Mark and I had been here separately before, my abiding memory was of an elderly Friar -in his 80’s- Edwin, playing hopscotch (in his habit) with a woman with mental health issues who was presenting as a child. This image of care and love, but also sharing joy and fun really struck me, too often we feed, clothe people and signpost them to other agencies, but do we take the time to laugh with them and bring them joy? This elderly cleric could have held onto his dignity and refused to do something as demeaning as skipping around in the back garden (with lots of people watching!) but he clearly cared more about blessing this woman that looking silly. This was an image I found deeply moving.

Later I got to ask Edwin how he sustained his faith and spiritual life, he smiled and said: “sometimes you need to go where there are more trees than people!” -reminding me of Saint Aiden who used to live on an Island that was only accessible when the tide was out, and people came and visited them for help and care, but when the tide began to rise people left and he and his followers were able to pray and do their devotions. I remember an athlete talking about how they factor into their work-outs ‘intentional recovery’ which in a sense is what Edwin and Aiden had discovered for their own emotional and spiritual health and well-being.

We were hear to meet Brother Sam their “head-honcho” but the Franciscans are very ‘flat-line’ as a community without pomp, ceremony and hierarchy and he is very much part of the team, indeed he was cooking the evening meal when we dropped by to meet him.

The previous evening we had met a wonderful group of young Franciscans in London (mainly in their twenties) whom we had had a very eclectic meal with jerk chicken, pizza, soup, figs and tequila sorbet before joining them in their beautiful but simple chapel for shared night prayer together.

Mark and I had struggled to find them (a bit of a theme here!) and ended up chatting to a guy called Tim who gave us directions. He asked about what we were doing and somewhat encouraged by our previous meeting with Dave, we began to talk about New Monasticism and Jesus, he was really interested and said he’d try and “look them up”. I believe that so many people in our generation have had a belly-full of consumerism -and most of the empty promises that our world regurgitates constantly- and are seeking something real, deep and authentic in wanting to escape the rat-race and ‘the system’ daring to believe that call that is at the heart of us all “that there truly is more to life than this”.

These guys had been working hard to pay the rent to the Church of England, all with other jobs on top of their commitment to communal life, hospitality and prayer, and a common purse, but even so was tough going, it turned out that it had been Sam’s influence that had caused the diocese to ‘cut them some slack’ with their rent. I wondered whether this mild mannered man (with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes) was gently pushing invisibly from the sidelines many prominent people to step out in faith and Christ-like obedience and generosity, we need more Brother Sam’s!

He also introduced us to an amazing and inspirational young brother called Finian.

They both asked us about our journey as a New Monastic Community, Mark and I spoke about our desire to be a community that helps one another to be all that Christ would have us be, and how to spur one another on and hold one another accountable to pursuing Christ-likeness. We spoke of our desire to work out a rhythm or rule of life (although we prefer the phrase “way of life), and how to hold together a life of activism and contemplation; practically and prayerfully living out our faith each day.

Yet rather than giving us a great “how to” guide -which I would I admit have quite liked but would probably have ignored!- they asked lots of insightful questions, realising that this “soul work” cannot be ‘short-circuited’ by just ‘quoting experts’ but rather wrestled prayerfully through the knottiness of trying to live for Jesus authentically every day, but through the questions helped clarify and crystallise our thinking.

After Sam went off to cook the tea, Finian chatted about how he has recently been involved in the Extinction Rebellion Protests, and how he feels passionate about “talking truth to power” -something Francis did very well- and how he had wonderful opportunities to talk about Jesus to those who were surprised to see a young guy in a habit at a protest.

I asked Finian about his call and vocation, a similar question to one I had asked the previous evening to the young Franciscans who talked about: “Going deeper with God -‘deep calling out to deep'” or the inspirational figure of St. Francis who spurred them on in their walk with Christ. Finian said something that chimed with the beginning of my journey when he said: “it’s all about encountering the presence of God which transformed my life and is the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced!” Admittedly his encounter with Christ might stylistically look different from Jimmy Rocks and the guys at “Open Heaven” but a reminder that at its heart Christianity is about “knowing God” not just “knowing about God”, the reality of encountering Jesus, being transformed by him and loving, following and serving him in the power of the Holy Spirit.


The Bromley by Bow Centre.

My friend Mark and I couldn’t find the 24-7 prayer room in the heart of the financial district of London, we were looking for. I was struck by the opulence and wealth that seemed to cry out to me “you don’t belong here Andy”. Eventually we gave up and got on the train to Bromley by Bow, literally a couple of stops on the tube from Canary Wharf, but despite being geographically close it felt like they existed within different worlds.

Bromley by Bow felt like a deprived area as we got off the tube, the financial poverty around us was evident.

The Bromley by Bow story is an inspiring one, a Church with a dwindling congregation, decided to do something radical with their building (rather than leaving this wonderful resource locked up for the majority of the time, as sadly so many Church buildings are). I remember hearing an archdeacon (a senior clergy person) ask a congregation “why have you stolen your building from your community?” -our buildings (and all our resources) are meant to aid the cause of seeing Christ’s “Kingdom come on earth as in heaven” and we have the privilege of being together as an outpost of heaven. The Bromley by Bow centre is a multi-award winning projects which has created a network of local community facilities together in one location, with a doctor’s surgery and health clinic, with educa-tion hubs that help teach English as a second language and computer skills to aid peo-ple’s return to employment. There is a crèche and a cafe, multiple art studios and at the heart of this beautiful develop is a spirituality and prayer room and stationed in the centre of this was a Russian icon of Jesus on the cross. The centre was buzzing there were people in every room doing something positive and hopefully transformative.

I thought of the networks of partnerships that had brought this centre together talking not just with other Churchy people, not just to residents in the community but also to councillors and those allocating budgets, writing policies and making decisions. Too of-ten as Christians we are afraid to enter the sphere of what could be termed political but we need to learn to speak truth to power afresh like the old testament prophets, we need like Joseph and Daniel to speak prophetically and wisely into the situations facing our nation and our local context. Jeremiah urges us as to “seek the welfare and prosperity of the city”. Often the call to be salt and light in our communities might result in sitting in stuff conference rooms with long council agendas, often tedious (and sometimes pretty dull!) but this work can and does result in transformation and blessing beyond what we will ever know this side of eternity.

I began looking at their notice boards (often a good place to look when trying to get a feel for a place), lots going on. I began looking for any information about the Church that meets here, I could not find anything (maybe I was looking in the wrong place) and even tried asking some of the staff who did not know either.

I wondered that despite so much structured work with professional workers that with an active and dynamic worshipping community at the heart of this building could be wonderful, as alongside peoples immediate needs is a need for community that loves and welcomes them, new networks of relationships that can give new opportunities and different advice from what they have grown up with.

I wondered that in delivering so much wonderful provision whether the original community had lost its raison d’etre of making Christ known, although it is wonderful to feed, clothe, listen and love people we have a message of hope and good news to share with them, and it cannot be loving to with-hold this from them. The Bishop of Swindon, Lee Rayfield, used to say: “let people say their own “No’s’” -or perhaps they might say “yes” to Christ just no-one has given them to opportunity to hear and understand the Christian message in a clear and understandable way they can respond to.

So, plenty to think about as we began to try and work out how to get to our next destina-tion.


Forest Church in the city!

Getting off the tube at the rush hour peak in Ballam, a lively London suburb filled with coffee shops and bars, this seemed an unusual place to meet someone to chat about Forrest Church and all things New Monastic.

Forest Church is Church outside in nature, often using the natural world to help us understand both God and ourselves better. Scripture is full of images and themes we see in nature such as rootedness, fruitfulness, life from death, beauty and brokenness. I remember seeing beautiful flowers entwined around a rusty, decaying matresses that had been ‘fly tipped’ and the image had really struck me.

The nearest Forest Church is in the New Forest is run by our friend David who is part of the Aiden and Hilda community. David had put us in touch with Des -a Pastor from Ballam- who takes a group from London every two months to experience Forest Church, and to get his folk out in nature and away from the city.

We arrived at the Church a little bit early and we were let in and made very welcome by a woman who was doing some cleaning. We looked around nosily and saw many local maps on the walls and posters and flyers for community events and realised that this Church is clearly rooted into its context.

Mark and I began to whisper about how exciting a partnership it is (or could be) with the rural and the urban communities sharing and learning together, and from one another, with the dynamic of urban a rural settings informing one another.

Just then Des the Pastor arrived and we got chatting. Somehow we got chatting about the maps on the wall and the exciting Missional projects that are happening in and around Ballam. I wondered the more people ask creative questions, dream differently and spurn the curse of conventional wisdom then others are given permission for sanctified and prophetic imagination for a different and more glorious future.

I liked Des immediately he had a warm and encouraging nature, asking Mark and I about of dreams for God’s Kingdom being birthed in Poole. Some people have a gift for asking insightful questions and listening well for the answers. Interesting too, to hear the answers of someone you work with and your own, a stranger helping you hear the story afresh and notice new things within it.

Des’ story was he has been a Christian and a Pastor for many years, and over the last few years the Holy Spirit has led him to explore around some monastic inspired spirituality. Some in his Church have loved and seen them thrive in their walk with God, others have not found it so easy to embrace.

This helped him see things in the life of the Church differently particularly recognising God at work in places he might not have looked previously, such as the rollablade group which meets together in their hall providing joyful community, relational networks in a often lonely city, offering health and fun. He challenged me to think more broadly about God at work in his world -not just at work in the more obvious and overtly religious bits.

Des’ asked a fascinating question “what makes a group a ‘Christian’ Group?'” Is it that it is led by a Christian? Or located in a Church? Or does its logo has a cross in it!? Or is it recognised by its fruit? Are the fruits of the Spirit radiating from it? Is God at work blessing people through it? The challenge is not for the Church to run every group, but for us all to seek and strive to see God at work and to join him in his ministry.

He then talked about how some groups in and around the Church centre are not lead by people who would call themselves Christians but yet God is at work, people understand our values and go the extra-mile he said showing us the amazing work a volunteer had done. In recognising and celebrating God’s hand at work amongst us this spurs us on in his service.

We left knowing that the next time we see Des will probably in a wood in the New Forest somewhere.


A stranger called Dave.

As my friend Mark and I were trying to get our phones to upload Google maps, a guy approached us and offered to walk us to just by the Church as was near where he lived.

London is often considered to be an unfriendly city, but here we were blessed by someone’s random act of kindness. We chatted as we wandered down the road to our new friend Dave, who looked effortlessly cool like a well groomed hipster, “I work from home most days so pop here for a coffee as it gets a bit lonely at home all day, besides they do the best pannies. As we were looking for All Hallows Bow conversation naturally turned to faith, he told us he wasn’t religious himself but did consider himself spiritual. He was interested as my friend Mark explained about new monasticism. I had heard people say: “inside the church the concept of new monasticism is not understood but outside the church people get it” but hadn’t believed it to be honest but here with Dave it clearly resonated and opened the discussion up to spiritual things and practices. He spoke about his sister going for ordination in the Church of England. We also chatted about the local area “a real mix” he said, clearly the area had some real poverty here, but Canary Wharf was literally a stones throw away and some of the old housing was probably still worth a fortune. I remember attending Peckham Wellsprings (another new monastic community) and finding the evening prayer community an interesting mix of Nigerian women and funky hipster guys, and thought how wonderful it was that places like the Bromily by Bow centre and local churches like Wellspring or All Hallows are places where diverse communities can come together, meet, talk, share and journey together. Suddenly we were on the right street and our friend disappeared, I really wanted to offer to pray with/for him but the moment was gone -perhaps God saving him from my over zealous Missional impluse!

Yet as he walked away, I thought over the conversation, there would have been a time when I saw this as a missed opportunity, but now I wonder whether this was a moment where there was just a tiny conversation but one which had a slightly higher than average salt content, and God is able to use even our feeble words for his glory and for the transformation of peoples lives.

The Church we were looking for appeared around the corner with the Vicarage next door, we were at our next destination!