Mind the Gap: Exploring the Tubestation, Polzeth.

I am not a surfer but I had long heard about a “surfers church” in Polzeth called “the Tubestation” and was interested to check it out.

It was a baking hot day and I parked on the beach amid lots of crowds, looking up I saw people eating, drinking, chatting and laughing around what looked like a funky café, then I saw the word “Tubestation” written across the front of the building, and realised that the building had once been a Methodist chapel. This is where I had come to see.

As I drew closer the sign said: “Art gallery, cafe, church and skate park” -I loved the fact that they were unapologetic about their faith and who they were, sometimes Christian projects ironically seem to downplay the faith in element to the point where they sound embarrassed, apologetic even about being Christians (and I also feel that sometimes people can feel a little bit conned when they discover that there was “a hidden agenda”) but here was comfortable with admitting that faith in Jesus was part of the DNA of the project but also that everyone was welcome (sometimes a difficult balance to strike!)

I was a little early so wandered around their art gallery before wandering around the grounds when a very cool looking guy came up to me, asking “how I was doing?” and began to chat to me with a grin, I smiled and thought about those T.V shows where someone goes in undercover to see what something is like from a “punters perspective” -here they were doing well and being friendly and welcoming (either that or I looked so unsurfy that I stood out!)

I explained who I was and that I had come to see Henry, I met him -and got a free coffee- and he just finished up a couple of job before joining me. I had a look around and the venue was a funky café, with a skate half-pipe at the front of Church, above our heads were surf boards with the disciples’ names on the ceiling (I was sat underneath Judas, maybe not the best seat to sit in!), and tried to log on to the wifi (where their password was written up on an old hymn board and was “Romans 15”).

Why Romans 15, I wondered? I read Romans 15 and wondered why the had chosen it, I was struck by two of Paul’s prayers (I love the way Paul weaves seemlessly between preaching to and praying for in his letters):

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A prayer for Christians to strive to have an attitude like Christ (which causrs us to be fruitful) which takes endurance and we need to be encouraged that we maybe united to have one mind and voice -and that mind and voice be same -be one with- Jesus which brings glory to God. What a great prayer to pray over a Missional project that we are united not just with each other but also with Christ.

The other prayer in Romans 15:
”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

This is a prayer I believe reminding us of our salvation and what we have in Christ, an evangelistic prayer. We named my little girl Hope. Hope is something our society and world desperately longs for. Peter reminds us that our hope is not a blind optimism but the person of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.

Anyway, I was jolted from my theological ruminations by Henry one of the leaders of the tube station, we wandered outside and say looking at the amazing view. I wondered how can people look at a view like this and believe in a creator God?

He was an interesting fella this Henry, the was telling me about the Cornish Christian heritage with the Celtic Saints who are often ignored (the previous evening where I was staying I had found a book on their book case and had a bit of a ‘crash course’ reading up on many wonderful heroes of the faith who had served God here in Cornwall). He was a bit of a New Monastic (which excited me, as myself and my friend Mark are trying to establish a new Monastic Community in Poole based around Activism and Contemplation, with exploring shared values and a rule of life). Someone on my wavelength when I was not expecting them to necessarily be on the same page as me!

The conversation sparked around all sorts of things, including how did the Church in the book of Acts (especially Acts 2 and 4) were people shared their lives together as an interdependent transformative community has somehow been reduced to passive attendance of a service in a building that lasts for just over an hour. “The problem of the Roman influence which over-took the Celtic Saints” was Henry’s reply (or it might have been mine!). Laughing, Henry said, “I guess you want to know about the Tubestation!”

The Tubestation may have a fantastic venue, in an amazing location, but is primarily about being a community of blessing (but being very grateful to God and the Methodist Church for their prime-site and facilities).

The Tubestation is something if oasis and centre for people to come and encounter Christ and is a welcoming community where people can just hang out and “BE”. I thought about the importance of somewhere that people can be, feel welcomed and feel a part of something positive and productive.

Henry continued saying that too often people come to the Tubestation and just want to ask questions about their Sunday worship, which over-looks and undermines who they are and what they do from Monday to Saturday.

Too often we have this weird “spiritual secular divide” where we prioritise the bit that is most familiar with our understanding of Church, yet a “Spiritual Secular divide cannot exist in a Christian world view which ceased to exist when God took on flesh and become one of us in what Christians call the incarnation, this idea was ripped apart when the Holy Spirit tour the temple curtain in half, declaring to the world that Jesus had cleared away every barrier between us and God).

Instead, the whole project is seeking to reach out to the communities of Polzeth with love and friendship. The whole project is Church, God is at work through and in people through the whole week rather than just on the Sunday morning.

Henry spoke of the place being upheld with a rhythm of prayer and how there are times when people are chatting about faith informally or perhaps gathered around exploring the Bible together. The Tubestation is more than just a load of social stuff spread around a Sunday morning service, but rather is a blessed community sharing blessing all the time.

Once again, I resonated with our current obsession with Sunday morning congregations, where “going to Church” in the form of a service is prized over authentically learning what it means to be the Church.

Henry began to also share how they get fed up with being called “a surfers church” (I did a quick check of what I had said earlier and was relieved to have once not put my foot in it!). Although many people who are part of the community enjoy the surf, there are lots who have never surfed (or skated) but instead it is a community seeking to bless Polzeth (“we are not some homogeneous unit, but a quite diverse community”) He spoke of blessing Polzeth, this means blessing a very transient groups of summer surfers who live elsewhere (and where you might not ever see the fruit that has done through their work and witness). Also, within Polzeth there people who have either holiday homes or come regularly and even though they are not here all the time a relationship can be built with them.

Henry also was keen to stress how they also want to bless the local residents, and talked about the life in Cornwall that is often unseen and hidden from the Tourists eyes, and how to minister to different groups and how the place changes during different seasons (and even different weather) requires them to be very reactive to what happens.

The work of the Tubestation changes to respond to the various seasons and rhythms of the year seeking to be a blessing and a witness, so it is a community in constant state of flux and transition, trying to follow the leading of the Spirit.

This I found refreshing too often Churches do their own thing no matter what else is happening around them “this is what we have always done” they say regardless of how ineffective or irrelevant is now is to the community and context they exist within.

Their building, is a versatile space, used by the community for all sorts of things (in fact it is hosting a wedding the next day) it is a physical space but one used as a resource around which a core community uses as a base around which they use to do life together and many people join with them sometimes briefly or for a season (alongside this the Tubestation also has workers who commit to coming and serving here for a year often from abroad again adding to the diversity of the community).

I shook hands with Henry and wandered off to meet the Street Angels of Newquay, my mind buzzing afresh about Church being a 24-7 missional community reacting, changing and responding to the ebb and flow of its context rather than a static unchanging edifice which people have to learn to accommodate and navigate which can at times be our experience of Church.

The challenge to dream afresh what the original divine dream of God was with his Church and to see it restored again in our time, and in our generation.


Chaplains, Pastors and Responders: A visit to Taunton.

And so from this wirlwind tour of Devon and Cornwall I arrived in Taunton (Somerset) pretty exhausted!

Taunton I realised was not a town I had ever actually been too before (although I had driven past it on many occasions).

I was staying with Adrian and Hazel Prior-Sankey, who describes himself as an “unconventional minister”. I first met Adrian when I was at the launch of Salisbury Street Pastors he was the representative from Street Pastors governing body the Ascension Trust.

I was there at Salisbury Street Pastors with mixed emotions, this was a project I had spearheaded for a couple of years but as curacy (apprentice vicar) is a short term contract I had just taken a new job as Pioneer Vicar/Mission-Priest/Minister-at-large in Kingswood (Bristol) and so someone else, a lovely guy called Pat, had taken the project the last mile. I had returned and was cheering from the sidelines and also feeling a bit sad and slightly envious, but -praise God- a little over a year later he came to Kingswood to commission twelve Street Pastors for Kingswood, he came again to commission another three and also when we birthed (sadly only for a short while) Kingswood School Pastors.

I was interested to visit Taunton Street Pastors as had heard a lot about their work and more recently I had seen an exciting sets of new chaplaincy projects launched across Taunton, alongside seeing pictures on Facebook of Adrian and his team serving as Chaplaincy at Glastonbury and preparing to serve with the Taunton Flower show (at a guess very different audiences!).

I have always wanted to “Street Pastors” at the Glastonbury festival (although partly I want to go because I love to hear the amazing bands performing live) although could imagine there is probably really hard work with lots of people needing help and support.

Also, the Street Pastors at the Taunton Flower festival made me realise that although I’m not really a ‘flower festival’ kind of guy(!) things like this are important part of a life and story of towns and so often when I was in parish ministry often when the community was gathered too often the Church was absent (most notably when the Christmas lights were turned on which often used to clash with a parish supper!) yet here the Church was getting involved in what their local community prized and cherished.

Here in Taunton the Church is not a faceless institution hidden away behind closed doors as it lives out a “salt and light” existence as ambassadors of Christ in the public arena.

As I heard about this, I was reminded of the verse about “the fields are white to the harvest but the workers are few, so ask the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers” (crop whitening meaning that the fields were ‘on the turn’ with only hours left to save them) and this made me realise that there are openings for mission and ministry everywhere we just need to look and maybe engage a bit of apostolic and prophetic imagination.

The vision of Pastors/Chaplains/Responders serving their local community brings joy to my heart. I have heard it said, often in more Pentecostal gatherings “bless what God is doing”, but one of my college lecturers on my MA turns this on its head with the phrase “bless and see what God does with it!” Blessing and seeing what God does with it seems a pretty good mantra for the Taunton Pastors.

These Pastors and Chaplains are local people from the local Christians Community who have undergone a rigorous training programme (the street pastors training programme is eighteen weeks and was described by former Home Office Minister Tony McNulty described it as “the best course on citizenship in the country!”) and give up their free time to serve and bless where they live.

These guys are overt about being Christians but not “preachy or pushy”, and free-gift from the local Churches to the Community. These include Street Pastors, going out on a Saturday night in the town centre working with people coming out of the pubs and clubs, the homeless and any in or around the night-time economy.

School Pastors, being a presence in Schools listening and chatting to young people a positive presence (always in pairs) both within the school and locally after school (in some instances also includes going on the school bus etc,).

Alongside this great work there is the town chaplains who minister primarily to the retail sector, also there are chaplains working with the homeless (indeed later on that evening I met one of the homeless chaplains who is also a team leader with the Street Pastors), Chaplains working in the care sector primarily supporting residential care homes for the elderly and lastly their latest outlet of blessing “Rail Responders” who are there for pastoral support for those travelling on the railways.

As I thought about this amazing network of chaplains service their local community I wondered if this had only become possible through the history of Christian service that had happened over the past decade in Taunton.

Adrian himself is a fascinating guy originally a Baptist Minister, a local councillor and former Mayor of Taunton. His wife Hazel is now chair of the council and was formerly the Mayor or Taunton too, a life-time of blessing their local area, often serving in unglamorous locations and often sitting through long and tedious meetings often making thankless decisions for the benefit of all those in the community.

So, my mind was buzzing before we went out into the town to first pray and then wander with the Street Pastors, they had a good number of people out that evening, they ran a prayer team, a mobile street team and another team in the centre of Taunton under a Gazebo giving out tea, coffee and I think I spied a hot chocolate.

Prayer is at the centre of Street Pastors, I am reminded of the story of Moses standing on the side of a mountain praying with his arms outstretched whilst Joshua fought a battle in the plain bellow him, when Moses’ arms began to tire Caleb and Hur placed a bolder under Moses and held up his arms to enable him to continue to pray and victory was won. The Street Pastor prayer team is like Moses, Caleb and Hur -unseen but instrumental in the victory of God at work in this place.

I was reminded of the concept of “Sodal and Modal Mission” as I joined both the (Sodal) responsive team wandering the streets, chatting to homeless folk, door staff and people on a night out alongside (more Modal) a static base where people know they can come and get help, a drink and someone to listen to them.
There were some good conversation happening and always good to remind people that the Christian community exists and is active within the town as a source of blessing, although unlike the previous evening in Newquay no one asked if we were paid or volunteers (but I thought after ten years of ministry in the centre perhaps most people knew what Street Pastors were and what they did).

Yet my two most interesting parts of the evening came later that night, the first when chatting and making tea and coffee for people, three girls appeared and were excited by the work of the Street Pastors and asked if they could join up? Sadly, they couldn’t as Street Pastor rules say you must be part of a local Church for a year before you can join, as being a ‘free-gift’ from the community is an important part of their identity. I understand the rule (and part of me agrees) yet part of me felt there was something sad about turning down people who had glimpsed something of the Kingdom of God.

A few days later I was having a coffee with a guy called Mark Berry who works exploring mission with people, and he spoke of a similar project he ran in Telford called “The Sanctuary”. He said that very few of the people they served on the street (as far as they know) became Christians however they had many people join the team that worked to put on the Sanctuary became friends, explored faith and some decided to follow Jesus.

And finally something struck me as I came back to Adrian’s house and spotted a picture of him receiving an MBE from the Queen (which he doesn’t mention, I think if I ever got one I would be a shocking name dropper; “when I met the Queen I…”) and he said: “would love to have your feedback!” This struck me, in many ways Adrian was definitely a Street Pastors Organ-Grinder and I was very much the monkey but he was asking for my opinion!

As I pondered this a bit, I thought perhaps that is the secret of their success that they seek feedback and use criticism to enable themselves to constantly grow and develop. Too often there are many project where I wouldn’t offer an opinion as would be afraid that the person would be hurt and would damage a friendship, but here there was a humble and teachable spirit, which are great treasurers which I believe are rarely prized or valued enough.


Coffee, Bacon Butties and Transforming Plymouth.

Running late and my mind racing (probably from the caffeine overdose from a long drive!) I arrived at my first port of call on my activist pilgrimage! I was greeted by: “Hi, Andy, what can I get you to drink?” to which I replied: “a black coffee please!” -even as I said it I thought this probably wasn’t a great idea, and feared I might look like the guy from trainspotting who took speed before his job interview -just take make proper sure he didn’t get the job!

I was meeting with Chris and Hannah from Transform Plymouth Together.

Chris handed me a wadge of information about Transform Plymouth Together, and as I had been thinking about St. Francis a bit whilst stuck in traffic, I had been pondering our goal of equipping and empowering the entire Church in the UK to do mission and evangelism well frequently and fruitfully seemed impossible.

I looked down at a book mark in front of me which quoting St. Francis: “start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and then suddenly you are doing the impossible!”

A quote very apt for Transforming Plymouth Together which was birthed from the Church Urban fund to empower local Christians/churches to work together to see their city transformed.

Transforming back city may sound impossible and doing it with and through the local Churches sounded doubly so. I had served for a number of years on both the Deanery leadership team and as Vice Chair of Churches Together in Kingswood, and found trying to get Churches and Christians to work together like herding cats (a difficult job!).

Over the years I have at times been caught up in the debate which rears its head every so often about whether we as Christians should be more concerned about “saving souls” or “filling hungry bellies” -for me it had always been both! Words and deeds matter and at its most fruitful and Christlike when co-existing together, our works and words coming together to point people to Jesus.

Too often I have (probably very clumsily) tried to “crowbar” an explanation of “why Jesus had to die” into the conversations and talks with the social action/justice work I’ve been doing, but over the years I’ve asked myself about the good news of the Kingdom of God being good news for all people, a gospel that speaks into issues of poverty, hunger, explotation and suffering, and Jesus who is able to meet and identify with those on the margins and side-lines, the challenge of liberation theology has reminded us that we are not just called to proclaim good news but rather to ‘be good news’.

Chris and Hannah talked about trying to get Churches and Christians to work together better which is an on going challenge. Too often we as Christians exist within our own churchy bubbles, often having little or no relationships with one another, sometimes even doing the samething nearby on the same evening (and ironically often both stretched with their need of volunteers!)

“One of my roles is sometimes just linking up and making introductions of local Christians with other local Christians!” -I laughed, sometimes the cost of a coffee linking people up can be one of the most fruitful things we can do for the growth of the Kingdom of God!

Then conversation moved to collaborating together, sometimes Churches want everyone else to help run their thing (and sometimes that is right and appropriate) but often it is more subtle and naunced than this, in Poole a friend started a group SMILE, which supports lone-parents, they publicize local messy churches -a service for children, parents, grandparents and anyone who wants to come to a craft based service with teaching and food! These are popular with many people who are struggling to find something positive and affordable to do, yet in Poole they were all happening on the same evening, so the suggestion was if they each moved their messy church to a different Wednesday in the month then there is more provision, people are going to a Church more often and even on occasions people can help at more than one messy church.

This is a small example of how something much more beautiful can be birthed by working together which resonates with the prayer of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane “that they (us, you and me and all who follow Jesus) will be one as we (the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit -a perfect unbroken community of love) are one’.

Recently I was profoundly moved by a clip on YouTube of Christians in Mexico and America sharing Holy Communion (and the peace) together with the wire-mesh barrier that marks the boarder separating them. Scripture talks of “how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity”.

I have wondered why we struggle to love “the lost” as Christians and wonder if perhaps it is because we have not even learned to “love the found” (other Christians). How can we love our neighbors whom do not often know when we do not even know -or live-in our own brothers and sisters in Christ? I believe God is calling his Church to put their “roots down” into Christ (know what they believe and why they believe it) and to bring their “walls down” to one another.

Just then Chris’ bacon sandwich arrived with a salad garnish and I chuckled at the ‘conscience salve’ of trying to make you feel healthier eating a bacon butty by putting a bit of lettice and tomato on the side of the plate!

The cynic in me wondered whether an annual awkward service together and an occasional lunch where wedding and funeral anecdotes were exchanged by various ministers was a bit like salad on the side of a bacon sandwich, not unpleasant but a bit superficial and token-gesture rather than a serious and committed attempt to be obidient to the yearning of Christ at Gethsemane?

Chris talked about how Transforming Plymouth Together was born through conversations asking the Church and the community, what it’s needs were? Interestingly I wondered about how many Churches people drive into because they like the style of worship but there is little or no real engagement of the context the Church exists in.

It is an important question about what is happening in our communities and where their needs are, too often weake presumptions rather than really listen and engage with where Jesus has placed us. Important too to engage with other agencies also working in the community (for me as a Church Minister it was many of the community activists and professionals I met in my work who also became friends, and were refreshingly outside the churchy bubble too).

Often as Churches we have a narrative of scarcity, believing we have little to offer our communities, which often is untrue. We often have people and volunteers, we have buildings and resources (often in good locations) we have people with expertise, we are part of our communities and will be there long after a particular pot of government money has run out.

When we realise (with perhaps some sacrifice and generosity) that we have some, perhaps many, of the tools that are needed for the transformation of our locality (and with other Christians/Churches) also sharing what they have, with us all placing our resources into the hands of Jesus (however meager we may think they are), the miraculous multiplication -like with the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the 5000 happens again (and again!)

So, as the community gathered in Plymouth to explore their communities needs, several key issues were highlighted as being vital needs within their area:

The prevalence of modern slavery (people expect this to exist in cities such as London, but sadly is much more widespread than we think, probably in your local largish town).

Migrant vulnerability: it is difficult living in a different country and culture and easy to become exploited and isolated, and here many Churches are helping people learn English, fill out forms or are places where people can relax and make friends;

Social Isolation: Even though we have more ways of contacting one another we are more and more isolated, interestingly in this context ‘social isolation’ was not just talking about elderly people who rarely have a visitor (although does include this) but actually affects people from all walks of life, and probably people you would least expect. Yet Churches are once again learning how to be catalysts for creating (and recreating) community.

Financial Resilience: One in four of us are in debt, and as my curacy in Salisbury taught me poverty can hide behind the nicest front doors. Managing our money well can have so many benefits (especially for our mental health) and yet many of us struggle with “too much month/week at the end of our money, this is exasperated with the rolling out of universal credit and punitive sanctions which plunge whole families into poverty.

Child Poverty: It angers me that in the 21st century in the 6th richest country in the world kids are still going to bed hungry and are living in poverty. Hannah spoke of a number of holiday hunger programmes they run which are called “fun feast days”, a name which sounds fun and exciting and designed to give the families using them dignity and self worth as sadly sometimes Churches are ostentatious about the positive work they are doing but no one wants to feel like a charity case. Helping combating child poverty (but doing so with dignity).

As I heard of the practical ways the Christians in Plymouth were learning afresh to serve together and to be a blessing to their local community, living out their faith practically with their sleeves rolled up.

As I began to think about how how Transform Plymouth is trying to bring the Christian community together and am reminded of the call for us to “embody” our faith -not just empty rhetoric- but backed with action as I pondered Jesus’ prayer that he taught his disciples to pray whereby we are called to seek “(the Fathers) Kingdom to come on earth as in heaven” -we know that in Heaven there are no exploited, marginalised, isolated or hungry people- as we love and bless our neighbours within our community we help our little bit of earth look a little bit more like heaven.


Missional Mentoring.

After the launch of the school of mission our key note speaker Jackie Leswell and I were talking and she reflected that there felt as though there was a real need amongst the guys at the Bristol launch for some mentoring, many of us were trying to work out how to live authentically and missionally. It feels as though we are often misunderstood, as we try and unpack what God is calling us to do, whilst juggling other people’s expectations and our own baggage too.

I have in the past gathered supportive hub around those of us in the Bristol area seeking to do new things missionally but has been difficult as people were constantly moving in and out and the hub never gelled but did have some great conversations and prayer times (and normally included breakfast which is always good)!

This was different rather than a group based around a location with people arriving and leaving, this was about working and walking with individuals, rooting for them and wanting them to thrive.

As younger Christians with passion, fire and enthusiasm I have found that a number of leaders are more like ‘corks’ rather than ‘catalysts’ that squash rather than release, I want to be a leader who takes a risk on people; I’ve tried to do this when I was a Vicar and it has been the source of both my greatest joys (when it’s gone right) and (when it’s gone wrong) has been heart-breaking!

Yet, I believe that’s probably how Jesus felt -imagine the heartbreak of seeing your enemies come to arrest you led by one of your best friends? Yet imagine too the joy of Christ as Peter gave the Pentecost Sermon and saw such a huge response.

For a year I did a placement in drug and alcohol rehab whilst at theological college, for this community the expectation was that everyone had a sponsor (mentor by another name) but also were mentoring someone, so was a community not of experts and clients but knowing we each have things to give and things we need to learn, surely this is a picture of how the Church of Christ should be?

Interestingly when selecting a sponsor, the people were asked to “find someone whose recovery you admire” and learn from them, give them permission to speak into your life.

This also raises the challenge of what kind of role model am I? Would people see in my relationship with God anything to admire and emulate?

The Church is meant to be “iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another” -but as I thought of this image of allowing ourselves to be reshaped and seeking to positively speak into other people’s lives it can cause sparks, it is costly and painful, it’s not comfortable, but I have come to the conclusion that being Church and following Jesus together can be a wonderful and beautiful thing but, perhaps it was never meant to be comfortable?

I explore this idea of missional mentoring on the first day of my “Activist Pilgrimage”, when I had a coffee with Paul Taylor.

I had met Paul once before at a prayer event in London, he was a friend of a friend of mine and it made me realise how much wisdom exists already within our Christian community, or at least within our own relational networks.

This made me ask perhaps the people we need with the wisdom and expertise to do whatever it is we feel God is laying on our hearts are perhaps already in our lives, or at least not far from us, remembering the that when God calls he also equips, and has the resources we need to flourish.

Paul Taylor, had recently given up pastoring a Church in Crawley to go and live in Bude in Cornwall, and had joined a local fellowship, the Pastor there was struggling with many of the questions that I have been wrestling with, primarily how can we see ordinary Christians sharing their faith in a normal and cringe-free way.

The Pastor looked at the Church homegroups and was worried that these were not the outward Missional catalysts that they longed for and the Pastor asked Paul to look and see if he could make them more Missional.

I believe this is a problem in many Churches and often the group’s get a new name/branding but rarely achieve a more Missional result.

People become comfortable in their groups, they often think they are friendly, welcoming and outward looking it looks very different when you are at the heart of a clique to being on the outside of it.

Is the group happy as it is, or are they yearning to grow?

Is it a place where crazy ideas and bonkers dreams can be birthed and shared? -And are everyone’s ideas listened too, or is it just a privileged few?

Is there opportunities to invite along friends that aren’t Christians and would they be made welcome?

Good questions to explore when thinking about the Missional fruitfulness of our homegroups!

Back in Cornwall Paul did some training and teaching with the group before giving the groups, before going to a local estate their church was blessing and encouraging people to get to know folk, to do things like help at local fayres and do face-painting positive things to make an impact.

One lady said “I want to be on the prayer team” but Paul persuaded her to give it a go in the community team. First few times out with him he did most of the talking and she listened, and then she grew in confidence and began to chip into the conversation and soon she was happy and comfortable chatting to people.

A couple of days before I visited Paul in Cornwall he was sharing about how they had got chatting with someone with a painful knee, and Paul asked this lady to lay her hands on the ladies knee and pray for healing for her. The ladies knee got very hot, and so Paul encouraged his friend to continue to pray, and remarkably her knee was completely healed.

I thought about this, Paul taught the group and helped them to re-discover the Missional dream of the homegroup, he gave them opportunities to put it into practice with real people. He stretched people, inspiring the last from the prayer group to join those chatting to people. He modelled what he was seeking and took people with him, allowing them to find their voice, walked with and allowed them to grow and flourish with him there encouraging them.

It is easy to think of straplines and strategies but harder to slowly walk with people until they gain the courage to do it themselves, yet it is I believe vital on rising up missionaries from their local communities and releasing them to speak to and bless those who cross their path.


Ashamed of the Gospel?

I like Anthony, he’s a mate of mine from theological college who took Allana and my wedding. He’s a straight-talking guy who thinks deeply, so I asked Anthony the question I have been struggling with: “Why do you think so many Christians struggle to talk about their faith?” -And the follow up question: “and what can we do to help?”

His response deeply challenged me, “I think we have become ashamed of the Gospel. We don’t speak or act like we believe it works or matters anymore! We get embarrassed to talk about sin or our need of repentance, instead we just tell people that God loves them, and the cross is a demonstration of love, and people shrug their shoulders and walk away and say: ‘So what?’”.

As Anthony said this, I was reminded by a quote from William Booth: “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”

Scripture we believe comforts the afflicted but also afflicts the comfortable, and yet too often we pull our punches and try and make our message seem more palatable for an enquiring world; Christianity has always been controversial, the Cross Paul writes is: “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1.Cor.1.23).

It is a gritty message, but nature teaches us that without the grit in the oyster there would be no pearl. We are called to be salt -which when it gets into an infected wound really stings- or light which when we have become used to the darkness hurts our eyes.

Anthony has a gift of teaching and I began to wonder so often we think of growth just as “new people coming to Church” but growth more accurately is measured by the fruit of people’s changed and transformed lives. Anthony has grown people with a deeper understanding of what they believe and why they believe it.

I wonder whether to have properly and deeply fed some ‘sheep’ is more fruitful for the Kingdom of God than to have entertained a load of goats? Yet, playing to a big crowd of people who are enjoying what you are saying does feel successful -and the Diocese will love it!- but ultimately the main recognition we are seeking has nothing to do with numbers in a service book but rather the “well done good and faithful servant” from the master himself.

Jesus never spoke of making converts but rather disciples, and a disciple is someone who makes disciples -someone who reproduces the DNA of Jesus in our lives and the lives of those around us.

Sadly, I fear that sometimes Church has become a bit consumerist, indeed our language reflects this “I have come to be fed” -rather than share/serve/love/give/bless- it is the language of getting, rather than giving. A verse that Anthony used to sometimes say at college has stuck with me “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2Tim.4.3).

When I preach am I faithful to God or just playing to the gallery? As I have said earlier in this piece I am passionate about Church unity, but although we need to be loving and wise we also need to remember truth really matters, and to have within our grace-filled relationships space to stretch/challenge and help us all grow together in Christ.

Peter writes in his Epistle challenging the Church to move from spiritual milk to meat, a call to grow up and become wise and discerning, to understand what we believe and why we are to believe it. Growing up is uncomfortable, full of growing pains and a soft diet is popular (who wouldn’t want to live on ice-cream forever?) but comfort makes us sleepy and lethargic and is, I believe, literally killing the Church in this country.

When my dad was a Vicar by the entrance of both vicarages was written the words “I am not ashamed of gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe”, for me over the last few weeks this has become my prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to be ashamed of your gospel, give me great boldness and confidence in you and your good news, and remind me again, that it is your power to bring salvation to all who believe -help me to share it faithfully and well whenever you give me the opportunity”.


Praying with Kev.

I met Kev in Lidl’s car park, my first contact with him had been on Facebook when I posted online what I was exploring doing and even though I had not met him before he’d opted in. He was pleased I was visiting Okehampton, and greeted me warmly.

He took me to a random hill outside the town (did worry I was getting kidnapped) and we walked to a vantage point where the whole town was spread out before us. “Our Church has been coming up here to pray for years” he said.

The view was impressive and he explained and pointed out many of the key buildings interspersed with passionate and heartfelt prayers: “this guy can pray” I thought, I love praying with people who are passionate about prayer as their fire and passion is contagious, I needed a bit of that contagion as had been out on the streets the previous evening with the Pirans’ Street Angels and was feeling tired and achy.

Kev it transpired was a local councillor and was really informed about the local area knowing its road names and streets with encyclopaedic knowledge and also knew the opportunities and challenges facing the local area too.

As I heard Kev talk I was reminded of an evening we had held in Bournemouth with the School of Mission and my friend Hilary Bond a local minister had spoken about how prayer and intersession is not an escapist activity but rather draws us deeper and more emotionally into what and who we are praying for. When we truly intercede God also often asks us to become the answer to our prayers and causes us to walk more deeply within our communities, such was clearly the case with Kev.

Kev then pointed out to us a Roman Crossroads where slaves were set free which had obvious gospel parallels and felt like there was a prophetic element too. I have often wondered whether there are Gospel images and Kingdom gems scattered all over the place pointing back to Christ at work in his world.

We then went and wandered around a new housing estate to pray for the people who would be living here. When I was in Bristol I chaired a new housing group with people exploring what to do with their parishes when they would suddenly expand, grow and develop a new demographic, it was one of the most fun groups I did, I loved seeing fellow Church leaders eyes light up with talking about making connections with real people and impacting real communities, one guy Howard used to give every new arrival a welcome hamper and was doing regular community events such as pancake parties etc, another friend Rachel used coffee mornings (such as Macmillan or other charities) to bring people together and on one occasion went around dressed as a giant banana to promote “fair-trade fortnight” and over that fortnight she spoke to many people! It was great too to see the Church ahead of the game, ready and anxious to serve, thinking about welcome and well-being.

Another area Kev was passionate about was the area of outreach to blokes, as so often our Churches have a real gender imbalance and many guys have little or no connection with Church. I remember my friend Mark who did Street Pastors with me giving a doorman called Alan an invite to Alpha, Alan thanked him and said: “cheers mate, I’ll give that to my Mrs!” -which to me sums up the problem! Kev is doing a meal in a golf course with a Christian guy from the TV show Gladiators coming to speak, we prayed for this event.

As I left Kev I realised that over the couple of hours we were together I had gone from feeling tired and grumpy, to energised and fired up about who God was at what I believe he was doing on this tour.


Stuck in traffic.

As I began my tour, setting off with trepidation I was delayed on the drive for an hour due to a fatality, on the other side of the road, on the outskirts of Plymouth.

Little did I know that sadly the theme around death and how we live our life, how we use this time we have on this earth, would be something that kept on repeating itself over the journey.

As we saw them erecting screens to hide the sight from us as we drove past, I thought for a moment about death and how we shield ourselves from it, the last taboo in our society we talk about sex, politics and religion all the time but some how death remains a subject off limits.

Recently I have been attending a group called “Death Café” -which I think sounds like a goth band- which meets every month -with fantastic cake- and people share their experiences and talk freely about death.

This group is not Church run, or a Christian group, I would urge Christians to join groups like this as helps us all to learn from one another, too often in Churches we want to ‘run’ everything; this is a group a friend runs and I attend just as me, a random bloke who has lots of questions and things to explore but loves and seeks to follow Jesus.

Interestingly thinking about death rather than being morbid is both life-affirming and challenges my desire at times to procrastinate as the realisation is that sometimes tomorrow might not come, and opportunities to say and do things might not arise.

For me, when I was nineteen and living in Eastbourne, the sudden death of a friend, Samantha Wood, jolted me out of my complacency where for too long I was sat on the fence about whether I was going to run with my Christian faith or whether I was going to go off and join the crowd at some party or other.

I vividly remember the last conversation I had with Sam, she was sat outside a corner shop that was opposite the Church where my dad was Vicar. She asked me “if I still went to Church” I answered her in a moment of real honesty “that I did still go to Church fairly often, but I’d rather find out about God when I was 40 or 50 and settled down to be boring!” -I cringe at the ageism of that statement. A couple of weeks later her dad went to wake up for a driving lesson and found her dead.

At that time I worked in a nursing home so was pretty used to people dying, but Sam was my age, my friend, she did many of the things I did, and her death made me ask about the point of life and death, and heaven and hell, and what really mattered?

What had real and eternal value and what was just a passing phase? It was a painful process, Sam died in the September and it was the Easter day that year that I finally surrendered, gave in, and rededicated my life to God. I remember using the phrase “I don’t want to ‘play’ at being a Christian, I want to follow Jesus for real” (also at that time a friend Deb was very influential in challenging me and inviting me to Church, and again to my shame at times I was not very gracious).

The death of Sam, along with the reminder of the crash ahead of us reminded me again of both the finality of death struck me afresh along with the preciousness of life.

Recently at the death café someone shared how their life had been transformed when as a child they received a life-saving and life changing transplant operation, and talked about how feeling feels the need to “make her life count” feeling they owe it to the donor, realising life’s fragility and seeking to do things they wouldn’t normally have done, grasping the opportunities whenever they present themselves.

For me this resonated with my Christian faith, that we have received salvation and eternal life that we now live for Christ, but too often we live lives that are comfortable and safe, vanilla and without adventure, opportunities whizzing past us like an incompetent goalie during a penalty shoot-out.

As I remembered Jesus promise to give us “life in all its fullness” which is translated elsewhere “as life in abundance” (Jn.10.10) -a white knuckle rollacosta ride of a faith journey. I wondered if part of my frustration with my own journey, and why so many people dismiss Christianity as “boring” is because we fail to see our lives in the way that woman who had received a transplant did. John Wimber described faith as being described “R-I-S-K” but most of my Christian life I what I have experienced was sadly often pretty dull and uninspiring -so very different from the Christ we profess to follow! Over the last couple of years I have looked at a number of parish profiles, vision documents and faith statements as I sought where God might be calling us after Kingswood, and I realised I didn’t just want to read some statement of faith, but rather seeing “faith that made statements!”. I remember on a course I was on a leader spoke of saying to his Church “we want to have a faith that makes you gulp rather than yawn!”

I wondered if more people would follow Christ if more of us threw off our complacency, caution and comfort and sought to live our lives more like Jesus.