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Ending in Carlisle…

“Yeah mate I reckon about £20 for that” said Chris confidently in the warehouse to a couple of customers, a moment later I caught his eye and he grinning at me and shrugging his shoulders as if to say “I’m blagging it!”

It was the first time I had been to see my friend Chris since he had moved up to Carlisle almost a year earlier, and was great to see him settled. There was plenty of banter between him and the guys he works with, and get to see him in his element working with people and seeing them thrive.

Chris works brilliantly with communities that are often over looked, he’s especially good at working with “white blue-collar/working class blokes”, a demographic the Anglican church rarely reaches well -and indeed appears to have no strategy in place for reaching. He has been on the journey for a long time and is great to see him settled after having a long battle trying to find a place that would let him do what he was passionate about which was outreach to non affluent communities, without having to caretaker a load of dying parishes, and do the vocation and incredible gifting that God has placed deep within him as a sideline activity (which would be squashing Chris into an ill-fitting mould and probably would not make the congregation happy either).

Chris ‘stuck to his guns’ and held out for a job doing what he felt called for (although sadly he had to take a house for duty and a pay cut to do it which was a step of faith for him and his family).

In my experience although the Church of England talks about pioneering new things and reaching out to people the Church has failed to connect with they seem more worried about keeping the tiny (and often prickly) members of tiny congregations happy than trying to connect the vast numbers of people who for whom the Church is largely seen as a Fossilised Irrelevance. The fields maybe “white to the harvest” but the labourer is immobilised by congregational baggage that keep us from the fields.

Just over a year ago, literally weeks before his previous job ran out and he and his family would have been homeless. Chris was offered a “house for duty” which is where the Anglican church gives you a house in exchange for some work. Chris is paid to oversee/manage some “op-shops” which are charity shops run largely by supported volunteers with a warehouse to service them (which is a lot less money that he should have with a stipend).

Although many bishops and senior clergy made encouraging and supportive noises about what Chris wanted to do, few were prepared to put their money where their mouths were. As I thought about Bishops and apostolic leadership it ought to be seeing potential, releasing people and taking risks, but sadly this is not the reality too often in Anglican circles.

I hope if I was a Bishop (not that this is likely!) would I be someone that spots what God is doing and takes the risk on people (and paying them in faith that the God will provide and fund his mission)?

Perhaps I am jaded and cynical about the spiritual leadership of this nation, sadly too many career clergy wanting to climb up the greasy poll, and have a photo opportunity rather than the apostolic, prophetic Christ-like and sacrificial leadership that is prepared to step-out in obedience to Christ and lead with faith-fuelled risks on the certainty of a faithful God.

Anyway, I arrived with him to the warehouse and he was greeted with lots of banter, clearly the people there are very fond of Chris. He has a weekly meal at his home and is trying to grow food for it on his allotment. Each day he leads some prayers with the guys and has written a great liturgy that features the fruits of the spirit which they read every day. Chris was saying hearing that familiar passage each day challenges him afresh each day on where and how is he exhibiting fruit in his life.

Another project Chris runs is the “men’s sheds” project, where guys join together and create stuff -often wood work- where they chat to one another whilst they work together and again it has formed quite a community.

Chris’ desire was to live and work in a truly gritty place -and there is poverty in Carlisle- but also much beautiful with amazing scenery all around which Chris loves -and has provided new opportunities for Chris to grow into- and it is hard not to feel this place is pretty ‘bespoke’ by God for Chris.

As I thought about this I thought about God’s goodness in blessing Chris with things he enjoys alongside where he feels called to serve, I also wondered too that often when we step into a new role we discover that God has elements we were not expecting that stretch and grow us, it is only with hindsight that we look back with the eyes of faith and we spot God working in us, and through us, in places we had not previously expected and anticipated.

When Chris worked in Poole (in a parish which has some of the most wealthy and most deprived living close by)he talked of Mother Teresa saying we all have to “find our Calcutta”, where we find the places of pain and suffering where we can bring God’s goodness and grace.

Chris also wanted to live with a community and build community within his home, wanting to share his life with those he works with rather than just throw some theology bombs at people or do a quick superficial pastoral visit before rushing back home and rising up the draw-bridge. Chris has taught me over the years a lot about incarnational ministry where are beliefs are ’embodied’ by how we live them out amongst people, and where we are brave enough to let people see us at our most vulnerable and broken knowing that despite not being ‘sorted’ that something of God’s glory shines through us!

Later we finished with a pint, sitting down in a pub together, Chris turned to me and said: “so Mase, what have you learned on your tour? What’s the next step for you and for the school of mission?”

I took a long swig of my beer, cleared my throat and replied.

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Pioneering with young adults in West Bromwich…

I arrived at the YMCA in West Bromwich to meet my friend Peter, I had made a note to myself to remember to call this the black country rather than Birmingham as I had heard like people from Salford don’t like being called Mancunians people from around here don’t like being labelled Brummies.

Peter took us for a wander around the area, which was fascinating, hard to believe that a few hours earlier I was wandering around the dreamy spires of Oxford. We passed a Methodist Church and Peter told me about the work Wesley did reaching the industrial areas of the midlands and the north, the Church was meant to mark the spot where Wesley preached.

Part of Peters job was to work with young adults and was being paid by an Anglican deanery. He was involved in chaplaincy work at a number of the further education colleges in the area, one of Peter’s passions was his art, especially graffiti style art which he uses as a Missional tool to help unchurched young people explore questions around meaning, worth and value.

He is also chaplain at the YMCA, involved in many of the work that happens there with teenagers and young adults who haven’t got somewhere where they can stay, this group is very transitory, Peter said about working with these guys and they often move on quite quickly and that you have to trust the Holy Spirit that he will continue to work in people’s lives even if you no longer service them and they’ve moved on, trusting that God will have used you and the blessing you gave.

He showed us a chapel he had and talked about some of the work with mindfulness he did with the young people, and thought of how we all need safe space to go, and places where we can just “be”.

This project was interesting as when I heard Peter worked for a deanery with young adults I had visions of lots of middle class students and young professionals, this was much more edgey meeting a demographic the Church has largely failed to reach and engage with. Also, many of the Churches in the Deanery did not have strong youth work and so this work needed pioneering rather than just maintaining relationships with young people as they got older.

After this we ended up joining a youth session in their common room, was interesting observing them chatting and trying to get to know them, in the end I began to play Jenga with a couple of them. They looked a bit scary, and I was a bit nervous talking to them, but as we continued to play Jenga I realised that they were just like anyone else (although perhaps having had a more challenging life than many young people their age) and realised how often we have all sorts of fear and baggage we project onto people and we need to meet them as equals, sat on the floor trying to remove Jenga blocks is a good methodology for life!

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The Crypt and the Lighthouse (Leeds)

“What do you think?” said Fiona handing me a couple of sheets of typed paper “I wanted to say something comforting”.

I am staying with friends Jonathan and Fiona from Bristol who now live in Selby, where Fiona has developed a career as a civil celebrant taking weddings and funerals. She had been on at me after I left my job to look at doing funerals, but I’m not very keen!

I looked at the peice of paper, it was a funeral service for someone who lost their fight with alcoholism. Fiona had tried hard to be comforting and helpful, yet despite the truisms and platitudes it was hard to say much that was comforting without talking about Jesus, the resurrection and our eternal hope.

Perhaps that’s why I’d be rubbish taking secular funerals!

My mind raced to earlier today when I had visited the lighthouse project at St. George’s Leeds and realised that many of the people who they work, some who I met today, their stories could have ended how this story did in a eulogy at a funeral service from drink and drug addiction.

I remembered a lad I knew and liked, his baby was my first baptism in Kingswood, who died due to his alcohol addiction and the lostness he felt talking to his family and friends before and after the funeral stayed with me. As a Vicar I rarely cried after taking a funeral service in a layby on the way back from the crematorium, but I did at his funeral.

Maybe this was false guilt or a prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I thought of how busy I was with projects, preaches and programmes whilst a few streets away a young person was drinking himself to death, and vowed that people like this guy, outside the Church, would be my priority.

I thought about today, arriving in Leeds and finding St. George’s Church. This Church looks like a big successful evangelical charismatic church, which I have become a little disillusioned with, often filled with people who have drifted from fellowships that needed them to a large congregation that doesn’t. The sermons normally skirt anything challenging in the text and a worship band led by someone with the right t shirt, skinny jeans and hair cut (often with a swagger that makes me uncomfortable!) As you can see, I had made up my mind about this Church before going in and meeting anyone (didn’t Jesus say something about judging people?)

Anyway, I went into Church and met Katie who was one of the people running the project, she had just got married and this was the first day back at work following her honeymoon. She seemed quite normal, my mother in law used to say “they were ever so ordinary” as her highest compliment which meant “down to earth”.

Katie talked about a previous Vicar who had come to the Church in the 1940’s and said: “You won’t find me in my study, but rather with the poorest and most hurting people in the city of Leeds”. I warned to this guy, and thought how radical this must have been then in a Church culture with lots of expectations and societal norms that today, and yet here was an Anglican Vicar saying “my ministry isn’t going to conform to your stereotypes but rather it is going to seek to look like the Jesus who I follow. He began to convert the crypt to become a soup kitchen and homeless hostel.

About 5 years ago a young curate Jon came to the Church, things had not gone as he planned he had thought God was calling him to the word of accademia and theological education but he ended up at a Church in Leeds, and through a number of “Holy Spirit nudges” felt drawn to develop this work.

Actually the work they were doing with the homeless was already pretty good, he could have said: “it’s not broke so why fix it?” Some of the guys did come to the evening service but culturally it didn’t work to well.

So, the Jon began to open up on a Sunday for an evening meal, and did a bespoke service with those who wanted to come, straight talking message, songs that they knew -often popular “secular” songs with spiritual lyrics, lots of prayer and testimony and it just found its own rhythm and style. It also got its own name “the lighthouse” it was a Church within a Church”.

They wisely made the meal together something where anyone could come to, the cost of dinner was not having to go to the service. Often at various things for the homeless or for young people they get things for free/cheap but the hidden cost is they have to listen to our mini sermon. Here, they could come to the service if they wanted to, or not if they didn’t want to, and they could get food irrespective of whether they were or weren’t interested in finding out more about Jesus.

I got shown around the crypt, and was impressed that it had been decorated really nicely, too often homeless shelters smell of disinfectant and urine with plastic chairs and tables and mismatch crockery, but here care had been taken to treat everyone who came with dignity, worth and value. As we were looking around Jon joined Katie and I with his two small children in tow (they were munching a handful of communion wafers to keep them quiet which made me laugh as this would have caused some people I know to have a major strop!)

We came to a (B/w) photo of this great Vicar who poineered all of this way back all those years ago, he looked just like an ordinary vicar of that time. Katie and John said they wanted something to commemorate him but his son had been less keen. It turns out the son resented all the ministry his father did as he felt his dad neglected him and wasn’t there for him giving his attention to his ministry instead.

This chimed with my story of parents who were so committed to their Church stuff I felt overlooked. Yet even more tragically -and despite promising myself that I would do things different- history repeated itself. On one occasion Hope my daughter put a stole around her neck and began running around saying “busy”, it was both funny and heartbreaking at the same moment.

We visited a small chapel in the crypt which had Jesus and the disciples in paintings around the room, all painted by a homeless guy, he didn’t want to paint anyone as Judas so he painted himself in that role. It was some of the most beautiful and moving chapel I had ever been into.

A guy came over to where we were sitting and he was asked if he minded sharing his story, he had been homeless, on heroine and with bad mental health, he is now housed and off heroine, his mental health is still difficult at times, but he is part of a community that he clearly loves and they love him. He serves with various jobs and it just seemed really lovely.

Jon was complaining of a headache and this guy prayed for him with a real love and passion, often Pastors are happy to “do the praying” but here Jon was to receive ministry as well as give it.

It turned out that over the past 5 years there have been 85 baptisms, many had gone and completed detox and rehabs, and many were involved in their Bible study called “the academy”. I asked if this name put people off (schools isn’t always a happy memory for people) but instead they said that in giving people certificates for completing units for many was a positive experience that many of them treasured. Sadly some have relapsed but many haven’t -this type of project literally saves and transforms lives-. This felt exciting the type of Church I had been longing to see but had doubted actually existed.

I left repenting of my cynicism about this Church, inspired by what can happen when we do Church with people rather than too them, and long to see this type of work flourish more and more.

As I stood in Fiona’s living room reading her eulogy for this poor lady who had passed away, I remembered s tagline Katie had said; “it’s not a pill, priest or programme (that’ll change you) but the person of Jesus Christ. Yesterday Anthony’s had challenged me to be bolder in proclaiming Christ, here I had seen a project unashamed to do just that.

I looked again at these words Fiona had written and longed for this woman’s story to be one of finding hope, salvation and transformation…

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The best view in the world… (Young people hearing about Jesus in Schools)

As I began to explore the story of Brendan the navigator I found the questions I asked myself asking were: “what happened when he arrived and got out of the boat?” What did he say? What did he do? “Where did he go?”

For me the first thing I did was sign up with the Church Mission Society to do a Master’s degree in Mission and Leadership, as wanted to think afresh and deeply about making Jesus known.

For me setting off, making the jump was uncomfortable, but landing and making a new home was really difficult, finding a new role or niche and where God was calling was pretty painful. Yet, we had an advantage that Brenden didn’t have, for Allana and I it was a return home, we knew some people and places, we had history.

Fortunately Allana and I were both able to get part time work back where we used to work, she returned to working with children with special needs and I got a job back working for PACE, a local schools work charity I used to work for doing assemblies, RE lessons and lunchtime clubs.

A colleague of mine at Pace said that he had the best view in the world -which wasn’t the sea or the sunsets- but is hundreds of kids hearing for the first time the stories of Jesus.

In this I have seen God’s hand at work, as although leaping around making a fool of myself in an assembly is still good fun (despite feeling my age and knowing that the days when I was -even vaguely- cool are long gone). Yet it is still a privilege to go into school and talk about Jesus, and to share why I am love and want to follow him.

I remember as a child hearing both brilliant and dreadfully dull assemblies and lessons about Jesus and the Christian faith, and remain astounded at how it is possible that people can make a character as awesome and a book as controversial as the Bible boring!

We in the UK have the privilege of going into schools and being able to speak meaningfully about our faith which is not permissible in many countries. Yet the tragedy is too often clergy, ministers and youth works ignore and squander this opportunity in our local schools.

The youth charity Urban Saints reckon that 95% of young people have no contact with our church based youth work, and too often we try and work out ways of getting them into our building, rather than us going to then, most young people are in schools each day with an expectation that they explore different people’s world views and think about issues of purpose, character, truth and meaning.

Many years ago my former boss at PACE Danny Brown was taking an assembly and made a throw away comment about “chatting afterwards if anyone was interested” one lad there was having a tough time and asking some big questions, and he got chatting with Danny and began coming to both the youth group and their young people’s mid week Bible study (called for some reason Colin’s Cod, not that anyone knew anyone called Colin, but I remember COD stood for Christians On Discipleship) and became a Christian, thrived in his faith and got baptised and ended up leading his Christian Union (and saw it grow and thrive). I recently saw this guy at a wedding, married now with a couple of children, but still following Jesus.

People often think that kids aren’t interested i religion, and they’re probably right, but (like all human beings) are fascinated by the big questions of “who am I?’ “Why am I here?” “Do I and my life matter at all?”

We run a number of lunchtime clubs and take RE lessons and am amazed at the great questions young people come up with which includes “who was the first person to milk a cow and what did they think they were doing?” and “why is Donald Trump Orange” alongside “why do bad things happen to good people?”, “Does prayer work?” or “is heaven real”.

For me the lunchtime clubs us a the highlight to work through questions and ideas with young people (over donuts), and I believe it was here as a young Christian youth worker that I developed my passion for what is sometimes called “pioneer ministry” by which I mean hanging out with people who are asking questions, seeking something (even if they can’t necessarily articulate what they are longing for) and exploring them together and see God at work doing that which only God can do namely drawing people to himself!

Recently my new colleague/friend/boss Dave has run a series of lessons alongside a friend of his David, who is chair of the local humanist group, and the young people have to compare and contrast the difference in world view. It is a fun and fascinating lesson, interestingly the young people realise that Christianity is not just about being really good but about our need of God’s grace and mercy met uniquely in Jesus. For me as I listened to the humanist speak (and he’s a lovely guy) I realised what a dark and pessimistic world view there is if you take away the cross and the empty tomb where there is no hope, no love or value just nothing we know about or understand.

I continue to believe that there is something so intriguing about Jesus that even the most cynical and jaded atheist cannot help but be fascinated by the preacher from Nazareth.

When I worked as a Vicar in Kingswood I had to do an RE lesson with a Muslim guy, and many of the kids were wanting him to “win” although we made a point of being gracious and friendly to each other. Why do people believe that you cannot be friends with someone with a different world view and opinion to ourselves? We can, indeed we should have friends that challenge, stretch and provoke us! Yet as I had to respond to questions such as “you Christians believe in three God’s don’t you?” I was reminded of two verses from the Bible, the first was a description of God’s Holy Spirit as “the spirit of all truth” -why should I worry when God is real and truth will resonate because it is who God is and how we are created to respond!- the second thought was that scripture talks of “God’s word not returning void” and I need not put my faith iny own articulateness but rather in a God who chooses to work in my, through me, and despite me.

As I thought of working with young people I was reminded that there is little else of such importance within the mission of the Church to reach and engage with the next generation and pray that we may see them rise up as followers of Jesus, receiving the baton from old farts like me where our ceiling of what we can believe is barely possible is their starting point, their floor! The fields truly are white to the harvest but sadly too many people refuse to grasp the opportunities that exist within the school environment.

So, what did Branden do when he got to dry land, the answer we don’t know, but perhaps our best missionary strategy is to work with the young people, the next generation, and believe that God wants to make himself known to them and transform the world through them.

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Wydale a thin place to encounter God.

This journey from Cornwall to Carlisle had been pretty relentless, one thing I had neglected was to book in much Sabbath time, in fact I hadn’t really booked in any other than a Friday evening curry with my friends Simon and Elizabeth in Derby and a cheeky pint with Chris in Carlisle really this was a working tour. I wanted to get back home to my girls as soon as possible. Yet I have noticed I have a relentless streak to my nature where I don’t always prioritize self care or Sabbath time, and have spent too long on the edge of burn out and too often neglecting not just Allana and Hope but also the most important relationship of all that of my relationship with God, that secret place from which everything flows.

I was visiting Wydale hall, York Diocesan retreat house in Scarborough, which a former colleague, Mark, from my time in York had taken over. Two of the tag lines for this retreat centre was “renewing the Church in mission” and “more than just a venue”. As I sat in the sun with Mark, it felt like I was visiting an oasis, a place of refreshment, where people can return to their daily lives reinvigorated having met with God, having been set free from things holding then back and been inspired afresh to keep pursuing the missional God.

We all at times in our Christian journey need those spiritual pit stops, a chance to check ourselves out and keep ourselves road worthy.

If we are wanting to see our nation transformed for Christ we cannot neglect our own soul, we need places like Wydale where we can come and recuperate. Mission and ministry is hard and we can sustain some very deep knocks and sometimes need space to lay down those painful things we have had to endure at the foot of the cross of the one who loves us most. We need to dream again, often our vision gets stale and dry, we remember that the scriptures warn us that “where there is no vision the people perish” but the reverse must also be true, “where there is vision people have life and thrive” -we need those places for our vision to be born (or born again) into our hearts, to be grasped or re-grasped, rediscovered.

I once heard someone talking about two lumberjacks who had a competition to see who could fell the most trees. The first went for it using all his energy but soon he noticed that he was loosing. He turned to the other lumberjack and asked how was it possible that the other had cut down so many trees in the time, the lumberjack replied “after every tree I fell I re-sharpen my axe” -I think too many of us in the body of Christ need to re-sharpen out axes and we need places like Wydale hall to do this.

The hall is beautiful and set within wonderful views and gardens. It is a place with space, where people can just be, and have space to receive from God and maybe dare to dream again, perhaps a place to rediscover our first love -recapture and revive our faith. Mark described Wydale hall as a “thin place” which is something the early Celtic Christians used to talk about which meant a place where it felt as though God was near and accessible.

The Christian element of Wydale permeates through the whole place with Bible verses painted on the walls -the mist prominent of these is the Lord’s prayer around the walls of the main hallway, the call to see “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” is a good reminder of what it is all about.

Also in the grounds is a beautiful wooden labyrinth an activity that challenges us to think afresh of life as a journey with Jesus. The same Jesus who says “come to me all who travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you” thinking of the challenge for us all to dedicate ourselves to the cause of the Kingdom inviting Christ to join us on our journey with him.

As I thought about ministry in which I pursued growth I realised I was pursuing the wrong things as pursuing health made more sense, and healthy things grow and produce fruit.

So, I thought we need more places like Wydale where people can take time out to meet with Jesus, the God who changes us and transforms us.

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Lego, Jesus and “do we have to keep on talking about Church?”

I had a great heap of lego on the table and asked people to create something representing Church from the bricks. I live doing this as there are so many different and exciting takes on what it means to be Church. Interestingly with Lego the spots that are useful to join and connect each individual brick with another soon get noticed and the conversation normally moves from abstract ideas about the Church to thinking about our friends/colleagues/neighbours and family members and how they are going to meet with Christ. Which often leads to the question of “how does Church help me chat to my mates about Jesus?” Are their other blocks also relating to my peer group, and am I block supporting someone else in their missionary endeavours.

How does the Church help us in our evangelism? Often sadly the answer it seems the answer is too often “it doesn’t really!” Does it help us know how to spot a divine conversation moment? Does it help us ask good questions and authentically answer others? Does it help me understand what is the good news and why it’s good?

Or perhaps it helps put on events that we can invite people too that might help people in their journeys of faith. Some Churches take this really seriously with lots of though and prayer in exploring how to move from gathering a crowd to developing a core of disciples (with Missional events that gradually increase the spiritual temperature from Korma socials to Vindaloo gospel appeals).

Sadly I fear sometimes Church manages to create such a perfect and comfortable bubble that we soon ditch our non Christian mates to hang out with our Christian buddies who think the same way as we do, and soon we’re wedded to a clique.

As we chatted with people exploring Lego and ideas around connection I was reminded of the verse in Romans which says “how will they hear if not one preaches/speaks to them?” With people realising that the most likely way those we are in contact with will come to know Jesus is through their relationship with us.

Which made me ask, how easy is it for people to talk to you about your faith? Are you open about it? Are you approachable? Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?

My colleague in Kingswood used talk (metaphorically) about how often he tried to build beautiful bridges for people to walk over, but they rarely did, he realised he needed to do the inviting, and walk alongside people on their journey of faith, rather than build a bridge a just “point it out” to people.

As the Lego bricks began to be used less and conversation moved away from a theological understanding of Church to asking how each of us could be more fruitful in personal evangelism.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I was worried with this session for Simon might get stuck in the cul de sac of Church. Too often I worry that too many people believe that if as Church we just had the right posters, music and sermon then the place would be buzzing and none of us would have to worry about chatting about Jesus because the Church has done it for us.

I remember hearing a friend talk about sharing his faith and he had a bit of a plan, 1) Admit you’re a Christian 2) Pray for opportunities 3) spot the opportunity and take it 4) and be gentle, wise, living and respectful.

As we spoke together it felt like people getting their own personal responsibility for helping to enable and facilitate conversations about our faith in Jesus. Several people shared how other people had been instrumental to them themselves coming to faith, a there was the implicit challenge that “if other people had reached out to us, perhaps we should reach out to those other people around us?”

As the session drew to a close invited people to come and get prayed for and to be anointing with oil as a commissioning to go and take the opportunities that God has created for them where he has placed them.

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Just before she returned to back to work she said…

I was wandering around Oxford, a beautiful city wasting some time before I met a friend’s mum for lunch. I walked passed a plaque which told of the martyrs Ridley and Latimer, who were burned at the stake, who talked about their desire to see “all of England illuminated”.

I have often wondered whether I would have their awesome courage to die for my faith like they did, and like many millions of Christians around the world who loose their lives or suffer horrific persecution for their faith in Jesus.

Indeed I wonder whether our comfortable environment for our faith has made us as Christians apathetic and complacent about our faith. Turtilian a Roman historian said that “the blood of the Saints waters the seeds of the Church” and we see growth of the Church in persecuted countries that we rarely see in our contexts.

I met my friends mum Diane for some lunch and we chatted, her son Chris worked with me in Kingswood and was a community missioner (including chaplain to the local steam train, which he loved!). He was about to start a new post in North Wales, and be ordained in the Anglican Church as a priest (he had been a Deacon within the Anglican and Methodist Churches) which had been something he had been patiently seeking a long time (although he taught me a lot about the role of what it meant to lead as a Deacon in the Methodist Church, which is a Missional order with a strong emphasis on service and justice). So was great to hear some of his news. His mum talked about serving as a lay reader in her local church, also as a parish councillor and active in regular prophetic prayer walks in her village.

Yet the exciting thing she said was just before she returned to work (she had met me in her lunch hour) and she said about how a friend she works with and her meet up a couple of times a week and pray together, praying for each other and for God to bless where they work too.

I thought of how exciting it is that Christians all over the country are living out their faith in their work places, being the fragrance of Christ, praying blessings where they serve. Christ’s am ambassadors deployed in every area and context.

I remembered how exciting it is seeing thriving Christian Unions in Schools and colleges, praying for their friends to know Jesus and rejoicing when they see lives changed, at the school where my wife works some of the Christians there ran an alpha course for the staff. Another friend runs a Christian Union in a factory plant and they mobilised the work force to do Christmas shoe boxes for children living in poverty, which drastically changed people’s view and perception of Christians and the Christian Union.

As I thought more about Diane returning to work, I realised afresh at how poorly we are at equipping people to minister and serve in their work places, which are their Missional front lines, the place they spend most waking hours, yet too often Churches ignore this and expect people to serve by doing things in the Church, rather than the Church asking “how can we support you to live missionally and be a blessing in the place where God has placed you at this time.

I thought afresh about Ridley and Latimer and wondered if they just lived in a religious bubble only talking and hanging out with people who agreed with them, then they would probably die in their beds as old men, but because they were prepared to be known as followers of Christ, and live out their faith publicly they lost their lives in such a brutal way. I wondered whether our absence of persecution might come from the fact that we only ever talk about our faith to other believers in the safety of a Church building!

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On an industrial estate in Swindon.

I was sat in a cafe in the middle of an industrial estate in Swindon chatting to my friend Antonio, who is a Pastor from Brazil, whose come to the UK, sent by his denomination a Church planting network, as a missionary planting Churches.

It is interesting to think of the UK, a group of countries who sent missionaries all over the world, now needs missionaries to come here as we are a family of nations where most people who live here have never heard the good news of Jesus in a way they can understand and respond too.

He spoke of how he has seen God do many encouraging and inspiring things around the world, but has found England “hard ground” and found ministry here really difficult.

The Church Antonio leads is English speaking but has people within the Church family from many different countries, and they have achieved the dream that Michael and Rebecca had for Catford of not just a multiracial Church but an inter-racial one, with people from all nations serving together in various ways including leadership!

Also with the variety of languages spoken by his congregation they have blessed many people with interpretors especially being able to support asylam seekers and refugees.

Antonio is actively involved in bringing Churches together in Swindon and meets regularly with other ministers to pray. This has led to a number of Churches to come together and run a training programme for Christians across Swindon to share their faith with leaders from different Churches teaching together a variety of topics such as “prayer and evangelism”, “telling your story” and interestingly there were some sessions on work not just with people who were unchurched but also the dechurched as well (a group that is often over-looked in courses such as these).

I was thinking that this is a key missionary strategy not just being someone who is good at evangelism but enabling, equipping and empowering the people of God to be comfortable and confident in sharing their faith.

I was really excited about many Christians and Churches across a town coming to learn together about practising and living out mission and evangelism better. I wondered about the different Church leaders running the course and hope that they don’t just turn up for the weeks they are speaking but learn from one another and learning with Christians from across the city. Sadly I expect that some will just turn up for their sessions, but thought that exploring evangelism and mission with Christians across the area you serve should be the top priority. I remember when I was on a leadership course called “the arrow course” I had to send a letter to my younger-self and give it to an emerging leader with advice that I wished someone had given to me. My advice was to keep the most important thing (making Jesus known) the most important thing (which is not easy as so many things seek to grab out attention, energy and time).

Excited that in Swindon the Church is not just coming together to do works of justice but also to explore together how we share our faith with one another, learning from one another, both people who are Swindon born and bred and those from other countries across the world but all seeking the Kingdom of God to come more fully here in Swindon.

When I was in Kingswood as a Vicar I put on some faith sharing training every year, and always invited others to join us, but there was rarely much take up.

Why is it so rare I wondered for Christians from across a local area to join forces and explore mission and evangelism together to see the outworking of God’s salvation and transformation locally?

After all any town could, and should do this, perhaps where-ever you are reading this this might be something you could try? -And the vision of the School of Mission would be to support this!

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Lessons from London.

As I got of the tube at Westminster I was shockingly underwhelmed, everything looked as it normally did. My friend John Good and I had a look around parliament to see if there was anything happening there, but there wasn’t, on hearing the news that climate change had brought Central London to a standstill was exaggerated.

Yet we did see lots of police presence, ironic as in normal everyday life we barely ever see the police on our streets, hoovering above our heads was a police helicopter (no doubt pumping all sorts of toxins into the atmosphere).

We began to walk Trafalgar Square we where the protest had its heart, and heard a speaker saying: “Our government has declared a climate emergency, but where is their emergency plan?”

Anyone who had been an episode of “Yes Minister”/”Yes, Prime Minister” (or been involved in much Church life!) will know that there is a vast sea of difference words/rhetoric and action/implementation.

Yet I was struck by this speech that it deterred away from issues we would normally associate with climate change, particularly education, the D.W.P and the arms-trade/war in general. All important issues, but wondered about the risk of loosing focus, but also realised that issues of sustainable living effect everything, and are more far reaching than we realise.

Some music started, and it did feel a bit of a party atmosphere, reminding me of a mini Glastonbury, Greenbelt or Banksy exhibition. Lots of art and creativity with some powerful quotes including Wilberforce’s words “that we can choose to look the other way but we cannot say we did not know”, or one simple placard saying “what did you do in the climate crisis dad?”

Boris Johnson has characterised this as a whole load of “nose-ringed crusties”, “dread-locked hippies in bivouacs smelling if hemp” and many other Borisy insults, and there were plenty of people who fulfilled that stereotype, yet there were many of us who were fairly ordinary people who care what we are doing to our planet and how it effects us all, and will/is effecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our world.

There were plenty of tents, and some gazebos offering art and creative opportunities for banners and T’shirts, some drew on the ground with chalk. I spied an unusual tent, a science tent, where XR volunteers were dressed in lab coats and talking to people about the science around climate change.

“What if climate change was a hoax?”
“I wish it was a hoax , but even if it’s not and we clean up our air, land and sea and try and live more responsibly that can’t be a bad thing can it?”

We got chatting to a lovely couple from Chichester, who had been influenced by the Christian group the Quakers, again normal people doing what they can, this ladies husband has taken time off work to protest, a sacrificial act.

We ended up talking about our kids, -want my child to stand up for what she believes to be right- and she said that they had been nervous of taking their kids here, but we all agreed that actually it felt safe and child friendly.

I thought of my Facebook feed filled with comments like “stay safe” which is ironic considering actually things such as street pastors etc are potentially more dangerous, we view getting arrested as an awful thing (and no one wants to get arrested) but this made me realise how compliment we are as a nation. Thinking of Christians in North Korea living out their faith in much greater danger, hearing a woman speak the year before last at New Wine their prison system sounded so barbaric imprisoned in an over crowded camp for simply praying with another Christian. Getting into trouble or being unpopular should not stop us doing what is right.

I had to fly off for to St. Martin’s -in what their associate vicar, Sally Hitchiner, calls London’s most ethical cafe- to meet two friends, Nick and Eileen.

Nick and Eileen are the brother and mum of one of my best friends Simon, a wonderful and fun guy who died shortly after we moved to Poole. Simon was a nurse who worked amongst the homeless in London, before moving to Nottingham and where we met and became friends. Indeed, Simon helped me through a really tough time which I will always be immensely grateful. Simon we discovered later was more than just a guy who liked to party but sadly was an alcoholic. He ended up going to rehab in South Africa, and then working in rehab. “Treatment for all” was his mantra seeking to make funding for rehab for drug and alcohol affordable to all who needed it regardless of their ability to pay. They are exploring something to do in Simon’s memory.

As we finished our coffee (fair-traded of course!) Nick spotted on his phone that XR were taking action to the BBC with a protest.

John and I rushed over to join them, John being fitter than I was saying wise words and I wheezed agreement. Talking about this being a generation wanting to be heard and leave a legacy.

I remember the music of people like the Manic Street Preachers saying “if we tolerate this then your children will be next” or bopping around in a field at Christian Festivals like Soul Survivor singing Delirious’ “Historymaker”, but I think this feeling has grown and grown.

For a long time apathy and complacency has paralysed us -anyone who follows politics knows that government are elected on smallish percentages of the eligible vote. Yet, with the Brexit debate and the Extinction Rebellion (whatever your views on this) however we have seen people have engaged or re-engaged, maybe not in the way we would like, but they are engaged.

We thought about how fear grips people, young people especially, when the fear narrative threatening both the environmental and economic future is making young people feel deeply anxious, and unheard. Yet, I know for me personally how fear and guilt are poor (but powerful) motivators, instead I want to see Hope as better incentive.

Martin Luther King said “riot is the language of the unheard”, we know the more and more we are ignored and overlooked the more angry and frustrated with the way the world is. I was reminded of a Franciscan saying about “shouting at the night” and many of us have deep sympathy with the sentiment saying “we don’t like the way the world is going”.

As I gasped for breath, and side stepped a group of tourists.

I wheezed something about “being a society where everyone is speaking but no one is listening” -which isn’t entirely true when we think of YouTube influences etc- but “how do we speak and get listened too ?” But it is an interesting question, do we just shout on the echo chambers of facebook, or to the already converted in our churches. How do we really speak and listen beyond those who think the same as us, how do we engage meaningfully outside our ‘tribe’ or ‘group’?

We arrived at the BBC about the same time as an army of police, I did think that John and I looked like off duty coppers(!)

I thought about the BBC an organisation I have come to feel more uneasy about who appears to have become very biased. I remember in the days of Blair and Major (yes I am that old!) feeling they were trying to be balanced, but now (whatever your politics) they are softly right wing and remain in their outlook, speaking a lot about Brexit but little about climate change and its effect on the world’s poorest.

I saw banners saying “tell the truth” everywhere I looked and then saw people in suits with pape mache animal heads, reminding us how close to extinction some of these animals and their natural habitats are. The protesters wanted a meeting from someone from the BBC and clearer reporting on the science of climate change.

As we stood there in the cold we chatted to people, one lady passed around free (vegan) flapjack, I was struck by this movements open-heartedness, welcome and hospitality.

A couple of people had climbed on the roof and although the police officers were pretty chilled at the start of all this, I did suspect they would end up getting arrested, and knew that eventually this area would get cleared but for now it was all reasonably calm.

There were some more speaches and a citizen’s assembly where people votes by a show of hands as to what the next phase of action would be.

After a while here we headed to Lambeth North to the Oasis accademy to meet Tom, a friend of John. Tom works in a hospital for Oasis with young people and the victims of knife crime.

As I thought about the tragedy of young people killing one another, and many are so scared to go out that they are arming themselves in self defense. I remember hearing a friend, Luke, who is doing an MA with me, talking about as a response to knife crime in Luton they did a prophetic act of making a sculpture from the blades that had been surrendered on the street. A prayer for peace, and echoing the sentiment of turning spears into ploughs and shears into pruning hooks, longing for the day when people practice war no more.

I snapped out of day dreaming and tuned into John and Tom reminisinf about working with young people in a place in Southampton called “Shirley Warren”. Many of the young people from this estate were marginalised and disenfranchised, where they lived as a community together and served sacraficially for a number of years. It was amusing listening to their conversation (with laughter) “do you remember our burgled?” and “remember that house when we got a brick through the window… Didn’t that happen twice?”

This reminded me that good quality real relational youth work changes -and I believe- saves lives. Sadly too often this type of youth work doesn’t happen as much as it should in our Churches, where the youth worker too often works keeping the middle class churchy kids happy, rather than seeing the local young people reached with the amazing good news of the Kingdom of God.

I sensed the Holy Spirit was moving and speaking as these guys reminisced, and wondered that although I had come up to London to think about protest and climate change, God had been wanting to get my attention about the plight of young people with the dangers of knife crime in our towns and cities.

John’s phone rang and he had to go and meet his wife who was picking him up from an outer London station, we left and went our separate ways getting on different tubes.I got onto one going back into central London and picked up the Evening Standard and saw the main headline “Two Teen Knife Murders in just 5 hours”.

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