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Aiden: The Apostle of the North.

The danger with writing about Christians from the past is that people will read this and say “we need another St. Brendon the navigator”, “we need another John Wesley or Jackie Pullinger”, “who is the Spurgeon of our age?” This, I believe is wrong thinking, it is relying on God rising up another ‘heroic leader’ to make everything okay for us, whilst we sit back and say “didn’t they do well!”

Yet, hopefully what some of these writings have done is shown what happens when ordinary people allow themselves to be used by an extra-ordinary God.

Too often when we think of Saints we see them in stained-glass windows, with halo’s and ethereal faces, and they look nothing like us with our everyday challenges, frustrations and baggage. Yet they were people just like us, with hopes and fears, gifts and weaknesses, they were obedient to God, they did what they could, with what they had. As John Welsey said: ““Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
As I came to the end of my journey I began to explore some of the Northern Saints and came across Aiden, who is often called the Apostle of the North.

Little is known about his young life, other than he was a monk, at that time the North had been ‘converted to Christianity’ but had largely slipped back into Anglo-Saxon Paganism, the south was largely Roman Catholic and the North still had their own Kings and a more Celtic Christianity. Perhaps as we verge on the edge of a country that is largely ‘post-Christian’ the challenge facing us is not dissimilar to that of Aiden and his friends.

At that time some of the North was ruled by a young King Oswald, who seems to be God’s person like Queen Esther of scripture, called for “such a time as this” and he asked the monastery to send missionaries.

At first they sent out a Bishop called Corman, yet he was largely unsuccessful and Aiden criticised him for being ‘unduly harsh’.

I used to be very generous with other Christians doing things that I might not choose to do, and in ways I would not do, thinking “at least they are having a go” but I came across this verse in scripture that challenged me about my attitude, and it was this : “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. A man’s own folly ruins his life” –although zeal without wisdom is folly- might be a more apt translation.
Sadly we all know from experience that sometimes well meaning efforts (done badly and tactlessly) can do more harm than good.

It is interesting that even centuries ago people still wrestle with the same problems, often stemming from failure to take seriously Peter’s advice to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have, but to do so with gentleness and respect” –it sounds like ???? was a bit of a “bull in a China Shop” whereas Aiden was a wise and Godly man who walked closely with God and joined in with what the Holy Spirit was doing.

As Aiden challenged Corman’s evangelistic methods, he ended up replacing him with the task of evangelising the north of England.

It seems as though Aiden largely walked around the North East of England, with a stick, talking to people and having conversations with them, alongside this there are many recorded acts of charity, mercy and kindness that he did for people as he wandered from place to place, and many recorded miracles of praying for sick people to be healed who were. Aiden seems a great example of someone whose evangelistic efforts featured “words”, “works” and “wonders” as part of his normal, everyday life, chatting, helping and healing. Too often we write of great speakers like Spurgeon, or people who do amazing acts of kindness like Mother Teresa or tell testimonies of great miracle workers like Smith Wigglesworth, but that –I feel misses the point- we may be more gifted in one element of evangelism but we are all called to practice all three, all the time as the need and opportunity arises.

Aiden refused to travel by horse (except in extreme cases) as he feared he might miss opportunities to meet and engage with people, something I wonder if we do when we get into our cars and drive everywhere(!?) and seemed to have transformed the north one conversation, one loving action, one prayer for God’s blessing and healing at a time.

I remember in the early days of starting Street Pastors we went around chatting to one another, walking too fast, and not seeing much fruit, but as we slowed down, looked around, listened carefully, we began to see opportunity upon opportunity. The fields are white to the Harvest –Jesus promised that- but too often I discovered I was going by too fast to notice what God was doing around us.

Aiden’s world and our world may look both vastly different and incredibly similar to our own, and his approach, making himself available and allowing God to use him is something we can all do within our context. In many ways I think Aiden’s approach seems timeless, and is a great example for today.

As Aiden wandered around ‘doing the stuff’ Churches and Schools began to appear, and eventually Aiden became Bishop and settled at Lindesfan (somewhere I wished I had included in my activist pilgrimage).

Bishop Aiden and his monks served on an Island which could be reached by walking over the sand during the day but when the tide came in the island was cut off. Aiden established a rhythm whereby when the Island was accessible he and the monks served the poor, sick and hurting and when the waters came up, they prayed and received from God for themselves.

Ministry that is sustainable needs to be ‘plugged in’ to God whereby our times of prayer and our spiritual growth and health are not seen as an optional extra to the work of serving in the world, but actually is prioritised as a necessity.

So, to conclude, so although Aiden is an amazing example of someone who did what he could, with what he had, something we can all do, and through his faithfulness saw God use him mightily, our prayer ought not to be “Lord, send another Aiden” but rather “help me to be faithful to do what you call me to do, take what I have, use what I’ve got, and please make me fruitful for you –whether I see it this side of heaven or not-“.

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Henry Venn: Three Selfs, and aiming for redundancy.

Sometimes I like to be provocative, I once was asked what my big goal for ministry was, and I replied “redundancy”.

Actually I think that should be the goal for all of us within any form of ministry, to do ourselves out of a job, where new people have been risen up and able to take our place, and the baton has been faithfully passed on to those who will move forward to new places and then when their time comes will pass the baton on faithfully too.

I remember thinking about this, the idea that things only work when it can carry on after you have let the stage.

One of the heroes, and pioneer thinkers of the missionary movement is Henry Venn (whose grandson ‘invented the Venn diagram’), although he is sadly often forgotten, his theory was for a Church to be truly authentic, indigenous expression of Church, it must be a “THREE SELF CHURCH”.

By which he meant:
⇒ SELF GOVERNING, it is run not being propped up by some leader parachuted in from a ‘head office’ somewhere, but is actually led and overseen by local people, this vision was embodied when Samuel Crowther, an African, was consecrated Bishop of Nigeria, the first African Bishop in the Anglican Communion.

⇒ SELF FINANCING to be financially independent, able to raise their own money from the giving from faithful disciples and to use this money as they see fit and appropriate. In many ways as we think of teenagers making the transition into adulthood we see the move from being financially dependent on their parents to being independent from them, and so this ought to be the pattern (Venn argues) for the Church.

⇒ SELF PROPAGATING, the Church was always meant to be growing, reaching each new generation and people group in turn, the Church is missional by nature, reaching and impacting new people. The Churches future ought to stand or fall by its obedience to the great commission, of how it creates new disciples, it’s future ought not to be dependent on other groups in other places, but rather is a place has truly been won for Christ it ought to be missional by nature, and as such be reaching new people and seeing some of them respond positively to the gospel message.

(Later the idea of being Self Theologising has been added) that the Church, if it is to be truly indigenous, needs to be able to think collaboratively together around the issues and challenges they face within their context and community and be able to respond with an answer that is truly Christian.

When watching the kids film “Nanny McPhee” with my daughter I was inspired by a line in the movie which said: “When you need me but do not want me, I must stay; when you want me but don’t need me I must go” –which reminded me of the Apostle Paul and his Church planting strategy, he did not stay with a Church community longer than he needed to, but clearly in his letters leaving these Christian communities was incredibly tough for him.

This also may mean someone else –probably your successor- getting credit that you worked hard for (often invisibly) passing it on is something easy to say but harder to do… but always worth doing.

Henry Venn’s idea of success wasn’t just getting a successor, but actually heading towards redundancy, when you are no longer needed anymore (that’s not to say you are not massively loved and people would want you to say).

Yet, by holding on to something that we should have laid down, we run the risk of actually killing it, shortening its life or never letting it become all that it could be.

Both Nanny McPhee and Henry Venn (that’s a sentence you do not often write!) both understood the need to invest, equip and enable people to be able to ‘do the stuff for themselves’ and then to be able to sacrifice their own ‘need to be needed’ and stay and be involved longer than they should.

The Apostle Paul knew that raising world transforming disciples –which is what they called the disciples from Thessolonica, people who turned the world upside down- was a ‘team effort ’ – “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” again a picture of the interdependent body of Christ where none of us is Omni-competent but rather we need to both step up to the plate when it is time to fulfil our calling and allow, encourage and facilitate others to fulfil theirs at their time.

Statistics show that within the Church of England clergy fall into two dangers, we neither stay long enough in our parish (best growth normally happens after the seventh year) –needing time to find and invest in the future leaders- or we stay too long –and people will never exceed us and take our place if we never vacate our seat. Too often we start by wanting to be catalysts and we end up becoming corks!

I am often struck by how much trust and responsibility both Jesus and Paul gave to their followers, sending them out unsupervised to ‘do the stuff’ allowing newish and young Christians to lead and take responsibility the Kingdoms outworking in their locality.

As a dad I remember the first time Hope, my daughter, rode off without her stabilisers, I was sure she was not ready, and was pretty neurotic, but unless I let go of her bike, she would never learn to ride it herself.

The same was true with the white colonial missionaries, they had to trust the power of God and the people they had nurtured to be able to ‘do it for themselves’ –sadly, not all the missionaries heeded Venn’s wisdom and were far too controlling of these fledgling Churches, imposing unnecessary cultural baggage on these new shoots.
Jesus’ talks of dying to live, yet we know from nature the truth of the idea of “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a grain of wheat but when it dies it produces a ten, twelve hundred fold harvest”. Yet, in dying, it is about self-sacrificing, to enable what comes after us to rise up.

Jesus returned to heaven, and said ‘it is better that I go away’ he knew that with him there the disciples would not live out the Kingdom and life in the Spirit, he needed to go so that they would step up and do it for themselves.

In a world that As John the Baptist said “I must decrease so Christ must increase” -Maybe we need to decrease and allow others to grow, letting people do what we love doing will be a painful sacrifice, but one worth doing.

is about power grabbing, I’ve recently over the last few months thought much more about ‘power giving’ about enabling and empowering rather than doing stuff myself which as an activist and an enthusiast I find this something really hard to do..

But in letting other people grow as leaders and become confident in their faith this is probably the most effective thing I can do with my time in fact my life.

When I was at college I ran some of the youth and children’s work there and used to say (somewhat controversially at the time) : “In your Sunday School you may have the next archbishop of Canterbury, so you’d better be nice to her!”

Lets aim to be redundant unneeded as others are empowered and the Kingdom of God is advanced, and lets embrace the vision of Venn of Christian Communities able to flourish, standing tall not propped up, free to be all that God has called them to be, realised for mission and ministry to this hurting and broken world.

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A Faithful Saint. Mother Teresa.

Everyone remembers where they were when Princess Diana died over twenty years ago, and her funeral was one of the grandest and most memorable in history. Yet, about the same time, a little old nun also passed away, her funeral was much more humble, and yet I heard someone say: “she was the only person on earth who could outshine Princess Di” –that woman was of course Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

A little old lady who humbly served the destitute and dying all her life, owning nothing, giving everything and yet her life and message deeply challenge many of us today, already within these few pages that I have written she has been someone I have quoted regularly as her profundity and wisdom are as timeless as they are challenging.

Yet what I really admire about Mother Teresa is her persistence, she just kept on going, remaining faithful to what God had called her to do. In a world of possibilities, options and temptations it is easy to get distracted and diverted from doing the things that we could and should do. I remember hearing a quote that said: “Christians often quit before the miracles kick in”.

A friend of mine is currently training for a marathon and is talking about when running he hits ‘the pain barrier’ but in order to complete the run he must learn to push through that, which is difficult and uncomfortable, but every athlete must go through this if they want to achieve their goal.

Too often in our spiritual lives when it starts to get uncomfortable –we hit the pain barrier- we often quit and give up, rather than push on through to victory.

When I was young there was a character on the television called Mr. Motivator, maybe you remember him? He would encourage people to do exercise with him, and one of the pieces of music he would play was “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going” –yet the danger for many of us the truth is ‘when the going gets tough –we stop trying!”

When my friend Mark Rich and I were setting up Kingswood Street Pastors he found a verse which became foundational to us as a small group of local Christians seeking to see a Kingdom revolution locally and it was: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal.6.9).

About this time I remember hearing a sermon (ironically by a Pastor who was about to fall from grace) who took as his text: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and those who are dishonest with a little will be dishonest with much” –challenging us be faithful in the small things, the every day choices, as if we are faithful God will trust us with more and more. Perhaps, sadly the truth of his words but the struggles that surfaced within in his life that made this message so memorable.

Mother Teresa is someone who was faithful in the small things, as a child she was prayerful and fascinated by the stories of missionaries and saints, and at eighteen left Albania for Ireland to begin her journey of becoming a Nun.

Aged 19, she arrived in India, in Darjeeling, learning Bengali and teaching at a school there, and was faithful in her calling to teach the students, she eventually became its headmistress. Imagine if she had stopped there, as many of us might have been tempted too?

Yet in 1944 she experienced what she called “the call within a call” which was: “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”

As I thought about this, she had been faithfully working in the school for twenty years, she could have assumed that God was calling her to carry on with what she was doing, yet she was faithful, she was intentionally taking time out to seek God and to listen for his voice:, too often I believe my own comfortableness and presumptions can deafen my heart and my hearing to heed the spirits whisper.

Following this Teresa left the familiarity of the convent and changed from her nuns habit to a sari , and gathered a small group of women around her. Her first year was really tough, and they had to beg for food and supplies, it was a lonely time for Mother Teresa and her sisters, but rather than running back to the sanctuary of the convent, they pressed through the pain barrier, and kept on “doing good” and “being faithful” in what they could.

She wrote this: “Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [the convent-school that had been her home for the past twenty years) came to tempt me. “You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again”, the Tempter kept on saying. … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.”. –I am sure I would have shed plenty of tears of self pity for my situation!

Eventually she received permission from the Vatican to form a religious order ‘The Missionaries of Charity” with “(the desire was that they, the sisters, would love and care for) “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”. The first home, or hospice, was launched in 1952, in a former Hindu Temple, and it became known as ‘Kalighat home for the dying’ where people who were forced to “live like animals could die like angels”. The work grew and developed, working with AIDS victims and lepers, running orphanages and hospitals, with many nuns and volunteers joining this remarkable work of treating the most marginalised with love, care and dignity.

Taking seriously the words of Jesus that in serving the least of these we are somehow serving him.

Part of Mother Teresa’s gifting was her knowledge hat she could not help everyone, but she could help whoever was nearest to her. I have found that when we start to value our work with individuals then every new person we bless and encounter presents a newness and freshness that we have not previously encountered before.
She understood that faithfulness is not the grand gesture but in the habitual small acts of love that all of us can do each and every day. She advocated smiling –something small we can all do- “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” and “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
She kept going active in serving and loving those who were brought to them, and despite two heart attacks, a bout of pneumonia and a broken collar-bone she continued to actively until her death in 1997. Upon her death there were 4000 sisters operating in 610 missions in 123 countries.

As I thought about how discouraging ministry can be at times to finish her race as faithfully as she did is remarkable. I will close this section with one of my favourite of her quotes:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway”.

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Eyam, the plague and the power of self sacrifice.

Many years ago I helped with a group of young people from Eyam Church in Derbyshire who were at the Christian Youth Festival “Soul Survivor”. It was an incredible week, and we were very blessed to see many of them make commitments to follow Jesus that week.

Despite knowing Eyam reasonably well, I did not know it’s story.

I knew that Christianity had spread radically during the second and third century by the Christians “heedless of danger (the followers of Jesus) took charge of the sick attending to their every need” said Bishop Dionysius, in the forth century the Roman Emperor Julian was astounded that the Christians were not just caring for fellow Christians but anyone who needed their help, the historian Pontianus remarked: “Good was done to all men (and women), not merely the household of faith”. Centuries later when a plague hit Germany in 1527 rather than running to save his own life Martin Luther and his followers set about helping, serving and blessing those afflicted with the plague, this choice caused Luther to loose his daughter Elizabeth. And then we come to Eyam, this obscure village in the Peak District of Derbyshire, with its remarkable story of bravery and self sacrificing love.

In 1665 the local taylor brought some cloth up from London and his assistant, a man called Viccary, hung it by the fire. The cloth was full of fleas infected with the plague, and Viccary died a horrific death. Soon the plague took holding Eyam. People were about to rush off to stay with friends and family across the county when the local Rector, William Mompesson, stopped them. He realised that this would spread the disease and cause many hundreds if not thousands to die. He persuaded the villagers to remain in the village and to choose self sacrifice to save the lives of others. It was a tough and brave decision. They voluntarily quarantined themselves, they formed a ring around the village, and paid for their produce with coins soaked in vinager. By the end of the plague out of the three hundred and fifty people living with in that village two hundred and sixty of them died. Yet the numbers who lived who might have died if the plague had not been contained cannot be estimated.

This small village managed to embody the quote of Christ who said that “no greater love has anyone than to give up their life for their friend!”

As I thought of the deeply challenging message from this village of sacrificial, love, I was reminded of the words of Christ who calls us to “count the cost” when deciding whether to follow him, knowing that his words and example were for us all to “pick up our cross and follow him”.

As I thought about the costs of ministry I realised how resentful I had become about how much saying “yes” to Jesus had cost me.

I thought back to a few Sundays previously where we had sung the song “I surrender all” and spoken about Jesus being the pearl of great price, based on the story Jesus told () about the merchant looking for fine pearls and when he found one of such beauty, purity and magnificence that he sold everything he had to buy the pearl. I had said Jesus was worth giving up everything for, which he is, but I realise how many things I am hanging onto unwilling to sacrifice and surrender them to Christ. I thought of my life “given to Christ” but too often I had my hand on the handbreak ready to stop if it got too painful or costly. I remembered that words of Jim Elliott, a missionary who himself was martyred, who said: “he (or she) is no fool, who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot loose”.

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Father Damien: Holding the lepers hand.

When I was at school in RE we watched a film called “Father Damien the leper priest”, I always liked it when we got to watch telly at school as normally meant an easy lesson, normally passing notes around the class.

This story however gripped me, and although no doubt probably including some artistic licence!

The film began with this repressed, stiff and starchy young Priest arriving at his new posting at a leper colony, looking aloof and disapproving. He gets off the ship and onto a small boat to take him ashore and flinched with disgust as a leper offers his hand which is covered in sores and has fingers missing, they offer him a wooden oar to hold onto instead.

Holding the hand of a leper was dangerous as the disease could spread, the oar was safer, but I have come to believe that ministry is not meant to be safe.

In the film, this moment was one by which the new priest would be happy judged. What of us? People notice our choices, they see our reaction and observe our behaviour.

This scene might not have actually happened, but I wonder how many times I have “taken the oar” rather than “accepted a human hand”. It is easy to keep people we feel uncomfortable with at a distance, we place barriers between us and them. Yet (in the words of one of the Anglican eucharistic prayers) Jesus “touched the untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean” -including touching (and healing) someone with leprosy.

With the rise of the Corona virus we can glimpse something of the panic and fear that surrounded people with leprosy at that time. Akin too to the fear and social stigma that surrounded the aids virus in the eighties. After any human contact there is a rush to decontaminate ourselves from having briefly touched someone other.

I remember too, when I was single, how physical touch was something that was rare but precious, and its absence damages us emotionally as we were created to be interconnected and interdependent with one another. Solitary confinement and isolation are actually forms of abuse and torture.

As the film continued it told of the journey of a Priest who came to minister to a leper colony on an Island near Hawaii, he ended up serving them by building roads, hospitals and other facilities, he ate with the islanders with leprosy, chatting and smoking with them. Eleven years amongst them he contracted Leprosy and became one of them, using words like “we” and “us”.

As I thought about this journey I began to think of the incarnation, God becoming human in the person of Jesus.

Jesus was not remote or aloof, there was no ‘professional detachment’ or separateness with Jesus, he came as one of us. Too often ministry is often “too” (or at its worst) “at” -“with” is better- but “of” is where we identify as one of them, and they identify you as belonging as one of them.

Shane Claiborne talks of ‘not just making poverty history’ but rather ‘making it personal’ -actually knowing the people, their name, their personality, their preferences -their likes and dislikes- rather than just giving them a generic label of their problem ‘the poor’, ‘a beggar’ or “a leper”.

We will probably never be called to a place where we will contract leprosy, but what might we have to take on or give up to truly understand what it means to be part of this community?

As we do life deeply do we know people as people or just by the label they have been given?

With our choices each day are we grasping the human hand or playing it safe and taking the oar?

Are we doing ministry “too” or “at” people, how can we learn to do ministry “with” people, and how can we truly becoming incarnational and be “of” or “as”?

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Wilson Carlile: Getting the Church Muddy.

When I was running Kingswood Street Pastors I used to commission the new Street Pastors to be missionaries not just on the Streets of Kingswood, but to their own Churches as well, telling the stories of their encounters on the streets back into their Churches. I used to call them “missionaries to the home crowd” –actually, often from my experience, a tougher call than the mission outside the Church.

Wilson Carlile, the founder of the Church Army, considered this to be a vital and much needed role, of bringing the world into the Church, and the Church into the world, as they were never meant to be kept separate. We need missionary members to call us back to what and why we exist. He once said this:
“We do not seek to drag the Church of England into the mud but to bring some of the social mud into the church.”

One of my friends, another Vicar, did a Christmas talk where by he brought into Church a stinking bucket of manure, and then put the crib scene into it, talking about Jesus coming into our mess and meeting us there. The Church, us as Christians, ought to be following Christ’s example and running to the mess, rather than from it! The sacred and the secular were never meant to be two separate things.

Yet too often the Church often does feels sanitised version of the world, whereby people get worried about such things as swearing in front of the Vicar! Or even worried about things like wearing jeans! e realise how separate they have become, the ‘sacred and secular’ heresy was dispelled by Jesus with his incarnation, the holy and pure one of God submerged himself into the deepest grot of humanity. For the Church to truly and authentically be the Church they need to be engaged with what is happening on the streets of their local area, yet too often Church is clean and tidy and the mess of many peoples daily reality is sanitized out. It is easy to write the words “the Church should” but in reality I’m talking about us, you and me, we are the Church, the people who love and want to follow Jesus, we need to be that bridge connected the muck of life with the grace, power and love of Christ, often through our hands, feet and actions.

Wilson, had hit upon something radical, that ordinary Christians (not the minister) talking fruitfully to normal people about Jesus and doing the work of the Kingdom everywhere (especially the grotty bits!). Mission needs to be demystified and made to be a common thing that happens as part of the everydayness of our Christian lives.

This was the dream of Wilson Carlile who founded the Church Army, which now has its headquarters in Sheffield, named after him (originally based in Blackheath in London).

Carlile is a fascinating character; he came from wealth and privilege but found that it did not satisfy that deep yearning in his soul for God. Jim Carey the ‘rubber-faced’ Hollywood comedian said: “I wish everybody could become rich and famous, so they could see that it is not the answer!” Too often Christians looking at peoples ‘outside lives’ (made worse in an age of facebook and instagram) and believe –often falsely- that everyone is ‘sorted’ and would not be interested.

Yet the answer came for Carlile when the depression hit and Carlile had a breakdown, and recovering in hospital began to read Christian literature, and through this had a life transforming experience of Jesus. Describing it thus:
” I have seen the crucified and risen Lord as truly as if He had made Himself visible to my bodily sight. That is for me the conclusive evidence of His existence. He touched my heart, and old desires and hopes left it. In their place came the new thought that I might serve Him and His poor and suffering brethren”.
Following his conversion Carlile was a teachable young man, keen to learn what God had for him. ‘Teachability’ is I believe at the heart of discipleship and Christian maturity –and Wilson appears to have this in bucketloads-, and yet is so rarely mentioned, indeed many of us try so hard to appear knowledgeable and sorted that perhaps we don’t realise, embrace and value the gift of having a teachable spirit.

Alongside being teachable, Carlile chose to hang out with people who would stretch and challenge him, too often we settle for being ‘a big fish in a little pond’ rather than constantly wanting to be stretched and to grow, which we can only do by intentionally hanging out and learning from those people who are ‘ahead’ of you in the game.

Carlile volunteered his services to work with the Evangelist D.L. Moody and his musical companion Sankey and played for them in their band and was mentored by them, going with them on missions, including one in Camberwell –where he trained the choir, and explored how music to aid mission. Alongside this he also visited regularly the Salvation Army, on one occasion, Bramwell Booth (son of the founders) reported seeing Carlile covered from head to toe in mud (which had been thrown at him and the other members of the Salvation Army) but said that even this did not stop him singing his praises to God. He went to college and studied divinity. He was sent as a curate to Kensington, yet felt deeply uncomfortable that the Church felt like a middle class exclusive members club, and wanted to reach out to the people of the parish who were missing from the pews and invisible to the minds of many of the congregation.

Wilson, no doubt learning from his mentors began to hold outside services, and reached many of the local guardsman, his meetings became so popular that the police were called to move people on.

Carlile saw the need for communities of ordinary people to grasp the calling to be evangelists within their own communities, seeing the need for mission in Britain and not just abroad (which was very much the understand of many at that time). This was a bold and prophetic move for at that time the Church/Christendom model was strong and the assumption of most people were that they were already Christians by nature of them being British and ‘good’ people.

The Church Army was formed by Carlile to equip the Church by training and releasing evangelists into local contexts to be catalysts for mission, realising that the local Churches were often under-resourced to be able to adequately respond to the demand and opportunities in their communities, a demand that was not just about having “more priests” or “more services” but actually going out from the Church to meet people where they were at. Rather than the ordinary people in the congregation receiving their ‘instruction’ from the minister and having religion ‘done to’ them by the clergy, Carlile sought to empower the laity –to see ordinary Christians equipped and empowered for mission, indeed he realised that the local Vicars were normally upper middle class and remote, many ordinary people had a significant gift for talking and sharing with their friends and families the amazingly good news about Jesus, and sought to raise up ‘indigenous evangelists’ were local people with established networks were encouraged to share their faith with those around them.

The Church Army still has this heritage within their DNA, there vision (is): “for everyone everywhere to encounter God’s love, and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action”.

The Army imagery I find challenging, I am not a fan of violence and armies remind me of colonialism and empire, but scripture does make it clear that the Christian life can feel like a fight, and although our enemies are never people, we do have a real enemy, we certainly get battered and bruised, and gain and loose ground, things are achieved and lost, and in the face of many challenges do we contend for our message of hope or do we capitulate with the world and back down, nor is settling for the world and our contexts to look as they do now, but believing that we need to partner with God to see transformation happen.

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Good News for the Rich…

As I chatted to my friend Anthony who is moving from affliuent Cheadle Hulme (outside Manchester where many of the footballers live) to Blackpool -a town which has some significant areas of poverty- we end up talking philisophically, and he says “We often talk about “good news for the poor”, but “what is good news for the rich?” -“After all the Gospel means good news, and the Angels proclaimed it as good news for all people!”

This made me think of the area I now live in, Poole in Dorset. Recently there has been a real renewed emphasis on prayer in parts of the Church in Poole, one such group is the fantastic interdenominational group that meets and prays fortnightly in Turlin Moor, which is one of the areas which historically has been one of the more deprived areas of Poole. It is great to pray there, and brilliant to that the wider Church has grasped something of God’s heart for those who maybe marginalised by sections of society, yet I have become increasingly worried about how we equate wealth with our need of God. True there are statistics available in most disenfranchised communities that can be pulled of the web which as Christians should rightly challenge our hearts and prompt us to pray. Yet everyone needs Jesus. Christ is good news for both rich and poor alike and all need saving! When I hear people talking of praying for Turlin Moor, I want to start a prayer meeting in Sandbanks (the most expensive and exclusive area of Poole) because they need Jesus too!

Certainly a lot of our mission work has elements of social justice within them -such as food and clothing banks- which (rightly I believe) have a bias to the poor- but these things are unlikely to be needed by the wealthy (although having worked in affluent Salisbury we often do not realise that there is ‘nested poverty’ where people might appear to be rich but actually not have food in their cupboards) but I have rarely heard strategies for riching the rich and the successful with the good news about Jesus?

Perhaps, the rich are harder to reach than the poor? Certainly with their gated communities, weekend homes and long drives they can be pretty inaccessable. Also there is no glamour in serving the rich as scrubbing the toilets of the soup kitchen has a certain feeling of servitude and sacrifice, whereas drinking excellent coffee in a lovely sitting room doesn’t feel like frontline spiritual warfare (although I believe it very well could be!) And Jesus himself said that “it is harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (i.e. impossible!). Jesus said many challenging things about wealth such as his parable of the Rich Fool who gains wealth and then dies, discovering that he cannot take his money with him. Jesus said: “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world and then loose their soul?”

Certainly if a Christian makes a lot of money there is great responsibility upon their shoulders on how to use their resources wisely, then I realise that living in England with the internet and a freezer at home I am in the top 4 percent of the worlds richest, we often think of the rich as “someone else” but compared to many in our world we are very affluent, and whether we are rich or poor I have come to realise that every pound we spend is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in, and every penny I have ultimately belongs not to me but to God and I am accountable to him about what I do with my money and how I use (or misuse it).

For many years Christianity has flourished amongst those who have the least -just look at the work of the Wesley’s and the Booths, but now in our day Christianity has become very respectable and middle class with expensive cars in the Church car park -and I wonder what happened, have we tamed the wild Jesus and made him a comodity the middle class can enjoy?

Perhaps in our mission to the affluent and middle class has caused us to get confused with what it means to follow Jesus and inherited Christendom, middle-class morality and Daily Mail reading bigotry, has confused us and left us failing to embody a Kingdom distinctiveness amongst our peers?

What does it look like to be ‘within’ and ‘in-with’ an wealthy culture (or any culture) and still follow the carpenter from Nazareth who had “no where to lay his head”.

Jesus sent the rich young ruler away with the challenge to “sell all he had and to give the money to the poor” -the rich man went away sad for he was very wealthy- but I wonder would we do the same thing as Jesus, or would we be buttering him up with pound-signs in our eyeballs wondering what we could do with his cash if he started to tithe to our congregation?

How do we reach the rich without selling out? What does discipleship look like amongst the privileged, do we too often ignore the elephant in the room and making the gospel very spiritual and not grounded into the challenge Christ makes to our wallets (often the last part of us to get converted!).

Indeed, with great wealth and privilege comes great responsibility and challenge. John Wesley said ““[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds … you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”

The Bible talks of “the love of money” being “the root of all evil” and I do wonder whether money itself might not be the issue but rather our attitude towards it, I have known people who have nothing but are very generous and those who are not, just as I have met wealthy people who are generous and those who are not, what is our attitude to wealth -and what are we ultimately putting our trust in. Indeed, by writing this message I am wondering whether I am falling for the worlds financial obsession? Many will remember when Mother Teresa (a nun who worked in the slums of Calcutta) came to the UK she talked of a different type of poverty: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everyone I think is a greater hunger, much greater poverty, than someone who has nothing to eat” Mother Theresa she went onto say: “The hunger for love is more difficult to remove than a hunger for bread” -Many people -including many who are wealthy- are lonely and feeling unloved and we know that Jesus and his followers have good news to bring here. Recently I visited a project in the financial district of London and they talked about the number of suicides they encountered from young wealthy profesionals who outwardly would appear to have everything together, but in reality were hurting inside. Perhaps in a society and world that is money obsessed the Church has much to say about how to live differently, and this could be a great opportunity.

So, we are faced with the challenge of working out how to live an authentic faith following Jesus in the midst of wealth is a challenge for us personally, and complex to work out within a Christ centred community too and difficult to share the message of Christ with those who think they have everything but actually have nothing.

’The Parable of the rich fool’, ‘the parable of the rich man and Lazarus’ and Ezekiel’s image of the dry bones that came together to form perfect looking bodies but without the breath of God within them were still spiritually dead all show that need for something that we all have that only God can satisfy. After-all “what does it profit a person who gains the whole world but loses their soul?”

Wealth, affluence and privilege may be an obstacle to people coming to know Jesus but it is not an obstacle that is insurmountable to the missionary Spirit of the Living God who long for all to know him. Rich and poor, privileged or marginalised, affluent or destitute no one is beyond the reach of the love of God.

So, let’s respond to this challenge and let us pray for the people of Cheadle Hulme or Sandbanks with the same passion, zeal and fervour that we pray for the people living in deprived areas, and lets learn to embody a message that is both challenging but also good news for everyone.

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Wakefield: Grace and Failure.

As I thundered along the motorway, my eyes came across a signpost to Wakefield and almost on autopilot I turned off.

Wakefield to me is a place of great significance in my spiritual life and journey. When I was 18 I took a year out here with an organisation called “Careforce” working part time for a home mission agency called CPAS and part time for a local church in a place called Sandal on the outskirts of the city of Wakefield.

This year for me was transformative, a spiritual green housewhere my faith grew and flourished.

Looking back I’d got comfortable in my spiritually small world in somewhat sleepy Eastbourne where I was kicking around a familiar cul de sac and the growth that had followed my recommitment to Christ 12 months or so earlier was in danger of plateauing or perhaps fizzling out all together?

Somewhere there had been a longing for more of God and more of life than I had seen, a holy discontent, that had led me to apply for a year out and give up my flat and my full time job (I remember my hand literally shaking as I wrote my letter of resignation to my work and ending my tenancy with the landlord. I remember the night before I was due to leave, I had an attack of cold feet, of panic and nerves that felt overwhelming, stood in my friend Deansy kitchen I blurted out all my fears and said that perhaps I’d be doing everyone s favour if I just pulled out. Deansy turned and poured me a coffee (for those of you who know him it’s rarely coffee, but on this occasion it was!) and said “if God’s calling you to do something what gives you the arrogance to think you can f*** it up!” -incredibly wise words that I needed to hear (even if not delivered in the way God normally speaks to me!) but I was putting my faith in my own abilities to fail and fall rather than God’s greater ability to call and equip.

So, I arrived in Wakefield, an on occasions I did manage to f*** it up! On one occasion I was leading a kids group called “the really small theatre company” and one of my bosses’ children (aged about seven) goaded the other and they ended up in a fight and drawing blood! Another time I was doing a kids talk and managed to gash my finger open on a dog food can -which actually contained melted mars bar- illustrating that people look at the outside but God looks at the heart! Yet, even so, I was in a fantastic Church led by an amazing couple -Rupert and Sally Martin- who were so gracious and encouraging, and even when I didn’t do something very well, they gave me repeated chances and opportunities.

It was here, in this loving and supportive environment that I really began to grasp two life transforming truths, the first was that God loved me. This was a truth I had known for a long time in my head, as a theological fact or a hypothetical concept, but here in Wakefield I began to take the risk on believing it personally, allowing this truth to fall from my head into my heart! Secondly, I began to believe that God could use me, in fact

God wanted and delighted to use me, and to dare to believe that God had a plan for my life.

The Church was a safe place, but a place that was taking risks -a new redevelopment of the Church hall as a coffee shop, clothes store and with a developing youth centre underneath “the well”; a risk on a large youth project doing a collaborative alpha across the city putting 40 kids from lots of different churches through the alpha course. At that time I just thought that this continued stepping out in faith was normal Christianity -and indeed I believe it could and should be- but sadly I have since discovered that this culture of love and risky faith is sadly quite rare in many Churches (and sadly turning up the volume on the sound system is not a replacement for this).

Rupert and Sally seemed to always be having people in their home (and garden when the sun was out) and learned that love and hospitality is best learned when modelled, and when modelled well is deeply attractive and profoundly contagious. A place my mind wanders back to often when exploring questions of fresh expressions and new monastic of how can we be community, what does it look like? How does it feel? How does it look as an embodied reality?

Recently I’d driven past and saw Rupert and Sally, they had a refugee family living with them and Rupert said his summer highlight had been water-fights with the kids. I smiled as although 20 odd years had passed Kingdom living and being community was still happening.

It was here that I first began to see Church as something I was, something to ‘be’ rather than a service to attend or events to “consume”.

In my heart I’d like everyone to have their own “Wakefield experience” where they discover God’s love for them and his ability to partner with them and use them, from a context of a loving, gracious and risk-taking context that allows you to make mistakes, get it wrong and to quote Deansy f*** it up!

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Derby: Sharing Our New Monastic Journey.

Sharing Our Monastic Journey!

My last activity in Derby was to share something of the ‘New Monastic Vision’ of what I am involved with in Poole with the people from St. Thomas’s.

Simon said: “it is good for them to hear someone else talking about exploring these things too as it is not just us doing our own crazy thing here!” I laughed and said: “Always good to know there are other nutters about!”

As I was about to speak to them, I felt my stomach tighten as I wondered what I was going to say, or perhaps whether they would “get” what I was on about? In one sense I wondered if I truly knew what I was on about either!

I start by trying to explain that New Monasticism has become a phrase that is used to describe many varied groups, events and activities often that look radically different from one another, and often wonder how can these different ideas, people and communities possibly have anything in common at all? A forest church in a wood somewhere might call itself ‘New Monastic” just as the homeless project could based in the city centre might cite a monastic influence or perhaps a prayer-room in a university campus covered in art, post-it notes, Bible verses with worship music blaring from the stereo might also use the term “New Monastic”.

Yet traditional monasticism has always had various interpretations, expressions and practices, yet often what is meant are values around prayer, the corporate-life/shared-life together, justice, hospitality, ecology, sacraments, study, simplicity, discipleship, mission, spirituality (and no doubt many others!) and the Missionaries of Charity (founded by Mother Teresa in India) which runs hospitals and orphanages for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta looks vastly different to the mobile-missionary order of the Jesuits –originally going from place to place as travelling evangelists with no fixed abode; Or the Trappists –taking on vows of silence and praying for hours in their cell in a remote Sussex village.

My mind wandered back to my journey that brought me to this point.

For me my journey in all things monastic began first when I was working for a Church in York when I was twenty-one, felt a bit disillusioned –they seemed obsessed by spiritual gifts (which are great) but felt very much like we were just chasing a bit of a spiritual high and buzz, with the latest Christian music- theologically it seemed that we spent all our time focused on life beyond the grave, which felt like “pie in the sky for when you die”, yet what about life now –Jesus talks about giving us ‘life in all its fullness and abundance” (Jn.10.10) which seems to be talking about both eternal life and life in the here and now, “steak on the plate whilst you weight” (apologies to any vegetarians!). One evening my friend Luke appeared after the evening service with a huge bag of cooked sausages from a barbecue he had been having (must have been quite a party, either that, or he had massively over-catered!) with the idea to give these out to the homeless of the city (York has a lot of homeless people). Myself, and a couple of others, went out with him, chatting to the homeless, praying for them and giving them some food to eat, in many ways not very radical but this was the first time I had done any work with the homeless, and it birthed something in me, which was a greater understanding of the Kingdom of God, that involves both the supernatural and the super-normal, prayer and practical concern, serving in the rain whilst sitting in the gutter as well as singing praise-songs in the sanctuary. Proclaiming good news is a calling to be good news. This was the birth of understanding the Kingdom of God is advanced and expressed through our words (what we say), our works (what we do) and God’s wonders (God working through us/despite us). Salvation has echoes of the Jewish word “Shalom” which means “wholeness”, the good news is both holy and holistic, speaking into every area and element of life.

Too often our vision is to fill our Church buildings, rather than transform the world, and there is nothing that the good news of Jesus does not have something meaningful to speak into the situation that calls upon the Christian to respond to with actions, prayers and words, we are called to be people who turn this upside down world the right way up for Christ –instead we have too often swapped this for a few platitudes and a bit of quiche.

For me, I continued to feel discontent and dissatisfied with what I was presented as ‘normal church life’ often looking so different from not just the Acts of the Apostles but also sometimes not feeling like it has much in common with Jesus either. I sometimes wondered whether Jesus might get angry and flip over a few tables at some of our church council meetings when we spend vast sums of money on ourselves and little to nothing on the ‘last, the least and the lost’.

As I looked for Christians who were living lives that seemed to grasp something of the reality of what I believe the normal Christian lives should look like, I began to notice that many of these guys were linked with intentional communities and monasticism. To live the life that God is calling us as his people to is one that is costly, sacrificial and challenging so tough that I do not think it is possible to do on our own –we need to be part of a community to try and change (not just the Church) but the world, this community needs to be one that goes further and deeper than just offering one another sympathetic looks and gestures over coffee once a week after when we make small talk over coffee, or the polite chit chat we have the nerve to call fellowship when in reality it is nothing of the sort! Whilst I was a youth worker in Poole in my early twenties, there was quite a group of us who were Christians (and there were always a fair few who hung out with us who wouldn’t call themselves Christians) but many of us used to pray together regularly, and there was strong levels of honesty and accountability (sometimes quite uncomfortable so) yet I knew these guys ‘had my back’ they genuinely cared about me, and in this period of time was when I felt I grew most in my walk and life of faith. Scripture uses these images of interdependence a great deal, and yet too often much of our spirituality in the western church is individualistic and consumerist, yet the monastics teach us that we need each other we can function fruitfully without being rooted and grounded in an authentic Christian community.

One of these friends was a guy called Chris Harwood, who I am seeing at the end of the tour, he was offered a bungalow on an estate with a negative reputation and he and a friend lived there as an intentional community, praying and working there as a youth worker. There house –which they ironically called ‘Rose Cottage’ as it was far from picturesque! Also became a hub for others to come and join with them to pray. I remember Chris being worried about looking like a posh middle-class boy coming to an estate to ‘do God’ to the people there and so was very respectful and wise about how he lived, talked and acted; sadly often Christians with a heart for mission work in deprived areas with an unintentional colonial or patronising attitude which (unsurprisingly) is not missionally fruitful!

It was largely through Chris and his work in North Bournemouth that I really understood community, and his flat became a community hub for many people, Chris began to explore things around New Monasticism, which I initially thought was weird, but got the idea about how intentional communities can sustain long term mission to an area, and offer something beautiful that the world is longing for.

Sadly, too often, Churches talk about community rather than actually practice it, community needs to be real and authentic and yet too often it can feel hypothetical, token-gesture or just empty rhetoric.

Community is not an optional extra for the Christian –nor is it something we should romanticise –people stuff can be hard work as they (like us) are broken and we tend to ‘catch’ on each other but , it is vital to our on-going spiritual health, we need and are needed. I am someone who rushes and gets burned out a bit, and I keep having to remind myself of an African proverb which says: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go together”.

Scripture expects the Christians to be living in community sharing resources and building one another up, I wonder if the early apostles would recognise our “hour on a Sunday” and an activity or two in the week as Church, when their idea of following Jesus was much more corporate and collaborative in a way that is rarely seen in our inherited church, but still is very much part of monasticism which often has a high value in the communal.

Following getting bruised and burned out in my former parish of Kingswood I was reminded not only of my deep need to real (and reciprocal) relationships to enable me to follow Christ well, but I also need rhythms (some people use the word rule) to help me practically and spiritually. It is in those times when the ”wheels come off the wagon” that we realise the need of some spiritual disciplines to help you pray and keep going when you are struggling, and people who love you to walk with you, and hold you in prayer when maybe you can’t really pray yourself.

In a world obsessed by ‘well-being’ the monastic tradition is full wisdom of living well, authentically and deeply, perhaps this is why so many people who wpuld not call themselves Christians still see something attractive in monasticism which (when done ‘right’) is living in a way that draws us into Christ.

I was struck by a story of a monastery that was near a Buddhist Meditation Centre, and often the monks were ‘interrupted’ by knocks at the door with young backpackers asking directions to the Temple. Eventually the monks began to talk to the guys calling in, and soon they realised that what these young people were looking for Christianity had to offer in abundance.

In our community in Poole we have a lady who is a Buddhist and a guy who has walked with the Bahia faith, we have plenty to learn from them just as the Christian tradition has plenty of riches too, but I believe that monasticism is tapping in to a deep hunger people have for real and authentic spiritual lives, to journey deeply, to understand what (and how) can we be “good people” and is offering something traditional Sunday Morning congregations often don’t .

Theologically the only human-being to really manage to understand how to live the human life as it was intended by God was Christ, and his life and discipleship method looked more pilgrim/monastic than like what we are used to in traditional Church.
If we are trying to be Jesus-y, can we imagine that if Jesus were walking the earth today would he do the stuff we do? (And the way we do it?) Would he say:
“Yeah, this is my sort of thing!” A local Church in Bristol used to talk of re-producing the DNA of Jesus worked for our time, context and community rather than trying to blend into –and be like- the world.

As these ideas fizzed and crackled through my head I kept on meeting more and more people who were interested in, and exploring, New Monasticism, or linked somehow to the religious life, and somehow I realised that I had developed a heart for monasticism.

Many years later, following our move to Poole, I was having a beer with Chris (before he moved to Carlisle).

“Mase, you need to meet Mark Phillips!” said my friend Chris, draining his pint, “You’d really get on with Mark; he’s actually doing the stuff, not just talking about it!” Chris continued, flicking his eyes towards the bar, as if to say: “Catch up, Mase, my glass is empty!”

I ordered two more pints of beer and a plate of nachos, which had become a tradition, and continued: “I’m so tired of the odd token-gesture event mission/justice event appearing randomly on the church programme feeling like a conscience-salve whereby people can say ‘at least we are doing something’…”

Chris grinned with a smile that revealed, ‘I know exactly what you mean!’ “Cheers, Mase,” he said, as he took a swig of beer, before adding, “Mark’s the real deal!”

I had not yet met Mark, or become mates, but Chris went on to explain that Mark was the Community Worker and centre manager at Parkstone United Reformed Church. He was doing great stuff engaging in community action and activism, and building community with a diverse bunch of people all through the week, eating together each day, alongside a rhythm of prayer; exploring the tension between activism and contemplation.

“Sounds an interesting guy,” I said, taking a first sip of beer from a new pint, “I’ll have to look him up.” One of the advantages of being a newbie (or a returner) to a town is you can just drop people emails and say, “Hey, I’m interested in exploring stuff. Can I shout you a coffee and pick your brains?” Which has opened many really exciting doors over the years!

“I think Mark is doing some work with addiction too,” said Chris, his mind evidently thinking about Simon. Chris was also a friend of Simon’s and, like me, was in shock at his passing. Both of us had been speaking about how we would like to do something in his memory.

So, I managed to meet Mark and he asked me to speak at one of their morning services, at the end of the service Mark pressed a key into my hand and said “use here anytime you want for whatever you need!” –this deeply touched me as I was exploring what God was calling me to and where he was calling me.
Chatting to Mark he gave voice to his heart once as “longing to open the first monastery in one hundred years” a community in which all are welcome, where there is practical help –with the hungry fed, clothed and given shelter, where addictions are broken and people are healed by love- in a place which is both prayerful and practical. Mark offers radical hospitality to all who visit, he always seems delighted to see you when you walk in the door, and always instructs you to “put the kettle on and lets have a brew!” It is not always from bone china cups with matching saucers, but it feels like family, come as you are and hope you can accept us as we are. As part of the community here in the building there are a couple of people ‘hot-desking’ some admin staff and some volunteers from a project called “Life Works” many of these have additional needs such as poor mental health, in recovery or suffer from things such as Asperger’s so is a pretty disparate but wonderful bunch of people, that truly feels like a foretaste of heaven. Each day the community begins with prayer (although its sadly is only a few of us who come regularly to this), the entire community stops and eats together both at lunchtime and also at 4:00 when we have tea and toast together. If you are a visitor and happen to arrive near lunch-time or near time for tea and toast people are made welcome!

With Mark, we have begun to explore New Monasticism a bit more intentionally within Poole. The two words we have focused on are: ”Activism” and “Contemplation”; Activism risks burn-out and contemplation can give birth to lethargy but learning to harness the benefits of both elements forces us to become ‘reflective practioners’, acting wisely, living intentionally deeply whereby our activism brings practical reality and physical embodiment to our contemplation.

Activism with contemplation (or contemplation with activism) enables us to go deeper and to reach out further, and as we reach out further so we can go deeper.

Both Mark and I are by nature of the scale activists, but have come to realise and value the need of prayer, reflection and space to hear the voice of God afresh and to operate out of a healthy place of wholeness. Both of us have previously struggled to make time for retreats and reflections we now stop each month for a day and take some cars up to nearby Dorchester to a Friary there with whoever wants to come along with us (sometimes some interesting mix of people) and just allow God some space and time to encounter us, speak to us, and change us. Some of the volunteers come regularly to Hilfields, and I remember an early session hearing one of the volunteers really open up about meeting with God and I had thought that perhaps they were just enjoying a free-day out, but God really challenged in that moment my judgemental attitude as I was fighting back the tears, as clearly God was doing something real, deep and beautiful in their lives, and I had been incredibly judgemental in selling that short.

One of the things many of us –including Mark and I- have been exploring is a rule, rhythm or way of life, withsome shared values to live by and to hold one another accountable to, and as we began to talk we ended up wondering if we really asked ourselves about how we could practically make real and achievable changes in our daily lives to better reflect the values of the Kingdom of God.

We began to do regular monthly events exploring themes such as “Doing December Differently” where we looked at issues around trade-ethics, localism, sustainability, stewardship and we invited many local groups that were implementing positive different ways of celebrating Christmas, which was not only a lot of fun and helped network together Christians and community activists, but has continued to be an on-going question exploring about doing Lent (how about keeping Lent local?), Advent (how about a reverse calendar putting something in for a foodbank each day) (or choosing not to wrap our presents in plastic that ends in landfill or buy crackers that just end in the bin), Harvest (where perhaps we can look at reclaimed food being used to feed the hungry), Easter and Pentecost differently in practical ways.

As we have set out on this journey we have inadvertently discovered that it has attracted people to us and the journey we feel called to, on one occasion after posting some photos of an event a mum facebooked me and said “My kids would love this, could we have an event more children focused?” which was never part of the original vision but having children with us has radically transformed the feel of us as a community, with prayer stations and acts of random kindness I have discovered that the children really encounter God through different ways of praying, and often end up sharing remarkable and thought provoking things to the adults.

So, as I splurged all this out before the guys at St. Thomas’s I realized just how much we had done, and just how far we have come, what God had done (and what God was doing) if I had not had to talk about it to these people at St. Thom’s would I have realized how much God has already done her amongst us in Poole.

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