“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.