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.