In the beginning….

This blog is a space for me to share the meandering thoughts that occur to me during my sabbatical.  I hope, through having to write and formulate those thoughts, something worthwhile will come out of it all!

Currently I work as the Free Church Chaplain at Keele University where I have been for nearly 8 years. I was ordained as a minister in the United Reformed Church in 1996 and spent my first years of ministry in a small community church in an outer city estate in Birmingham.

I have tried to tidy this blog up a bit. I have now put all the reflections on different Churches/communities etc that I have visited onto their own separate page along with a page of my reflections on my trip to the US. This page will continue to have occasional personal reflections that don’t fit on the other pages.

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Final Thoughts

The Church in the West is in a period of great change. Phyllis Tickle in her recent book ‘The Great Emergence’ likens it to a giant rummage sale, a time where treasures are re-found as well as the unwanted cast off. She would suggest that out of this time of turmoil a ‘new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge’p17 alongside the reconstitution of the established historical forms of the faith. Others, such as Eddie Gibbs in ‘Churchmorph’ have also mapped out the changing times we are in concluding that ‘In the long term, churches will either morph or become moribund’p31

The churches and communities that I have visited are a small snapshot of this time of change. They are churches that are ‘morphing’. Many of the themes that have emerged during my visits have been echoed in the wider writings of those concerned with mission in these changing times. They are themes that, it seems to me, are helpful if we are to constructively engage with the cultural shifts and become churches that reach out in mission. Phyllis Tickle points out that historically ‘every time the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread’. These are not just times of decline but times of opportunity.

Experiential: Heart and soul

I was struck by a comment from Nadia Bolz-Weber at Greenbelt this summer (she is the Lutheran Pastor of ‘All Saints and All Sinners’ an Emerging Church in Denver). She was speaking about an issue around the inclusion of ‘new-comers’ in their Church. To deal with the issue she had had a meeting when the old-guard and the new-comers had met together. At the meeting she had simply asked the new-comers to tell their story. Discussions regarding the nature of the Church, where it should be focused etc. were seen as secondary to the power of the individual personal story.

We live in a culture that highly values personal experience. It is the shift from trust in an overarching Big Story (meta-narrative) to a focus on our individual personal story. This can be seen in the style of documentaries such as ‘Who do you think you are?’ – history through the telling of an individual story. Even in the academic world that I work in students are far more likely to come and listen to an ex-Mafia boss talk about his ‘experience’ than an academic debate on the nature of suffering.

This is a pattern that could be seen in many of the groups that I visited. The significant question would be how does my experience connect with your experience, my story with your story. And alongside that how do our stories connect with the story of Jesus and the experience of faith. Adam from Foundation said ‘we are all sharing the burden of this journey of faith’. This is a journey together, a shared experience, a shared story. In order for that to be possible many of the groups remained small, tight networks of friendship where people felt safe to share their story. Or, as at Taize, there is a small group structure within the large gathering. But always the focus is on the individual personal story and its interconnection with others and with faith.

Brian McLaren in ‘A new Kind of Christianity’ speaks of this shift in relation to the use of the Bible. ‘Revelation through conversation’ is how he describes it, and suggests that in the past evangelicals have put us under the text and liberals have put us over but that instead we are now in the text. ‘in the conversation, in the story, in the current and flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God’ p125

Our worship, our meetings, our church life therefore need to connect with people’s hearts and souls, not just their heads. They need to begin with people’s experience, their story and through that explore faith. If we put a rationale for belief before the experience of faith we will have lost people. I believe one of the reasons that my own denomination is struggling at the moment is that it has historically put a high value on a learned ministry as if the preacher’s sole task (sometimes wearing gown and academic hood) was to impart knowledge. Culturally we are out of step with a generation that learns through experience and learns collaboratively and we will continue to fail to connect with people unless we can touch their hearts and their souls.

Clear Mission Focus

There has been much debate over the idea of the Homogeneous Unit principle (HUP) a notion first put forward in the 1970s. Rev Dr Michael Moynagh, a key figure in the Fresh Expressions movement, has argued strongly in favour of HUP and in his book ‘Emergingchurch.intro’ suggests ‘A local church offering one-size-fits-all will deny choice to those who don’t fit, and be ignored.’p67 Many other people, though, will argue that it is important that the Church and its worship is there for everyone and therefore to deliberately focus on one group is to deny the broad inclusive nature of the gospel. But worship cannot help but be culturally expressed: it is just that currently most of the mainstream churches are dominated by a style of worship and environment that culturally suits the over 50s (or 60s?).

Most of the groups I visited did not overtly say that they were trying to reach a particular demographic but the very time, style, place of meeting did, in fact, express their mission focus. For example, a midweek evening pub group is unlikely to be for young families. A worship space with mostly floor cushions is likely to be for the under 30s. Equally, in our publicity conscious world, the style and content of a group’s advertising clearly reflects who they are hoping to connect with. Even the Taize community, much loved by people of all ages and backgrounds, seems to me to have a clear mission focus on the under 30s. It is expressed by the way visitors over 30 are limited to one week a year, and by the provision of very basic food and accommodation which becomes increasingly less attractive the older you get!

Churches are often fearful of an overt mission focus on one demographic group, as if in doing so they are denying the gospel to those outside that group. There is also a fear of losing the vision of the Church as a broad-based community where all are welcome, yet throughout history the Church has always been a culturally expressed institution. There was no golden age when everyone worshipped together: in earliest times there were already Jewish churches and Gentile churches. This does not mean that we are not right to yearn to be one community, one family of believers, but how that is expressed is not through a one size fits all Sunday morning service that either suits no-one, or simply plays lip service to a broad-based appeal.

A clear mission focus is crucial if we are to connect with people beyond the Church in a culturally appropriate way. Most churches understand the importance of targeted initial contact through, for example, playgroups, youth groups, book groups, but they then attempt to jump those who have shown an interest from the group to Sunday morning service when the Sunday morning service is culturally out of step with the very people they are trying to reach. A clear mission focus may not be about Sunday morning at all, but about finding culturally appropriate ways of enabling people to follow the way of Jesus.

First Impressions

First impressions aren’t everything but they do help and the first impression for an increasing number of people will be a church’s website. All the groups I visited had a good web presence, indeed that was the only way that I found them. Churches need to invest time and energy into this important ‘first impression’. Equally noticeboards need to be attractive and up to date, publicity needs to be good quality. Coffee shops like ‘Starbucks’ have long known that their success is as much about the comfy sofas as the quality of their coffee. The same is true in a Church context. We need to be looking at giving people a good initial experience on many levels e.g. quality of coffee, time of meeting, welcome of children, comfy chairs, good publicity. The focus of that first impression depends on whom we are trying to reach (our mission focus).

While many people will initially come through some personal connection the back-up of a good web presence, publicity etc. is hugely important. That is where many people will check-out their friend/acquaintance recommendation before risking a visit. If that first impression has enabled people to go through the door then it will be the quality of experience both in worship and in terms of relationships that will affect whether they stay.

A lot of time and creative energy had been put into the worship of many of the groups that I visited. Often a lot of effort would go into creating a beautiful worship space (Sanctuary in Birmingham transformed a cafe into an Asian-style worship space). There was a recognition of the importance of the totality of the worship experience; the sight, the sound, the touch and a shift away from the protestant focus on ‘the word’. There was a desire often to recreate a sense of mystery and drama within the worship but combined with an informality. All of this enabled a positive first experience of worship

My own tradition offers huge creative freedom and we need to use that as well as drawing on other more ancient traditions of liturgy and worship. It seems to me that the creativity in my own tradition has been focused on ‘words’. We have many beautifully crafted hymns, prayers, meditations and sermons but we need to rediscover the importance of space, of sight, of sound, the totality of the worship experience. As Eddie Gibbs suggests ‘As Protestant and evangelical churches morph from modernity to post-modernity, this process will entail the reinstatement of a sense of mystery in our worship, as was evident in pre-modern times; yet now the mystery can be embraced without the superstition that then prevailed’.p21

Alongside the first impression in terms of worship there is the importance of connecting with people and providing the opportunity for people to make relationships. COTA in Seattle had a monthly newcomers dinner, others would meet in the pub after the service. There needs to be an expectation that there will be new people and an easy way for them to begin to build relationships within the community.

Many of those in the Church today are there because they had a good initial experience and they now have friends and relationships, but there are as many who are not in the Church because they had a negative first impression. Of course unless that ‘good experience’ and those ‘good relationships’ move into a transforming journey of faith with Jesus then people’s involvement can remain very superficial. But unless we begin with the good experience and good relationships then many people will not even realise there is a journey to be had.

Soft edges but a committed core:

To be growing Christian community or Church there needs to be soft edges, where it is easy for people to come along, get involved, build relationships. It is about creating an environment where people are able to belong before they believe and where there is no hard line defining those who are in and those who are out. The first impressions, discussed earlier, are crucial in enabling soft edges.

The URC is currently involved in launching the ‘Radical Welcome’ campaign. It is, in many ways, about promoting a ‘soft edge’ Church. But there also needs to be a committed core that offers a challenge of commitment, of the transforming nature of following Jesus, to the wider, less boundaried community. Without the committed core at the heart of the community there is no focus or clarity, and those who wandered in may just as quickly wander out.

Many of the groups I visited focused on having soft edges but were more wary of a committed core because of the problems around defining that core. Many of those involved were casualties of traditions that focused on a narrow doctrinal commitment and so were keen for a greater openness. In seems to me that the new monastic movement (that has often gone alongside the Emerging Church) is about attempting to define a committed core in a way that moves from a modernist set of beliefs (if you believe this you are in) to a way life that is about the practice and experience of faith. Reimagine in San Francisco was group that clearly felt that a committed core was crucial, but the commitment was to a radical lifestyle shift and not to propositional doctrines.

Within the mainstream churches we are still caught up in a committed core that is perceived to be based around an institutional function (Eldership, Deacons, Stewards etc.) and that is far less attractive to those who are looking for a transforming experiential commitment. It is not that we ask too much of people but that we ask the wrong things.

Institutionally light but sustainable

There is a wide spread distrust of institutions and a falloff in terms of involvement in many institutional structures (parish councils, church committees etc.) In many churches (and other voluntary groups) committees struggle to function and formal roles remain unfilled. At the same time we are a far less deferential and hierarchical society with an increased expectation of collaborative leadership.

All the groups and churches that I visited were institutionally light, functioning in a more fluid and organic way than mainstream churches. There were ad-hoc groups formed when needed to meet specific tasks and individuals gifts were used appropriately and not shoe-horned into a pre-formed role. Culturally we increasingly work in collaborative rather than hierarchical ways and the church structurally needs to shift. The URC, already constitutionally more collaborative, should find such a shift easier but that does not necessarily seem to be the case.

While many of the Emerging Church/Fresh Expressions that I visited sat lightly to their institutional connections there was frequently a financial dependence on the mainstream Church. There perhaps needs to be a more honest relationship on both sides. The Emerging Church/Fresh Expressions needs to recognise their true financial relationship to the mainstream Church. Too many, I felt, dismissed the background costs of buildings and ministry. There needs to be an honest exploration of financial sustainability through, for example, imaginative fund-raising as at Beyond, or through more sacrificial giving by those involved.

On the other side the mainstream churches need to recognise that they have always funded long term ‘Fresh Expressions’ in terms of sector ministries such as University Chaplaincies, hospital Chaplaincies etc. Equally overseas missionaries were funded with little expectation that there would be any quick financial return. If these Emerging Churches/Fresh Expressions are seen from that perspective then the pressure from the mainstream churches for them to be quickly self-financing could perhaps be reconsidered. But equally if these new expressions of Church really represent the future long-term shape of the Church then financial sustainability and long term institutional structures will, at some stage, need to be addressed.

In conclusion…

It has been a fascinating and inspiring few months. The Emerging Church offers no easy solution to the current crisis in the mainstream churches, but it does help to highlight some of the crucial areas where the Church needs to grow and develop.

 

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Closing time

There is a rare moment of evening peace in the house as Dave has taken the kids to their trampoline lesson. My sabbatical is drawing to a close, just two weeks left before I shift gear – not back to work but six weeks off with the kids. It is a gentle way back into work moving from this rich me time, to a family focused time and then in September the onslaught of work.

I remember back in January sitting with a friend talking about my approaching sabbatical and spontaneously bursting into anxious tears, unable to articulate their source. But as I stepped into this space, it was as if those fears were simply left behind and I have felt myself expand, become more substantial. I have spent more time inhabiting the place that I am in rather than mentally juggling two, or three, places, people, emotions at a time.

I see time (a weird idiosyncratic gift/curse my mother also has) in terms of shape, colour, direction – in an instant I can visualise the days, weeks, months between now and my return to work, or Christmas, or Easter, or even next summer! The gift is that it makes me an exceptionally good planner, the curse is that the off button is hard to find. But I have been working at the off button, at inhabiting this present moment through painting, writing, prayer, and really being with family and friends, and I have begun to feel the texture of the time that I am in.

I thought I might read a lot, but in fact I have written a lot. I have met people, gone to places, listened and experienced and then I have spent days reflecting and writing in a very introvert fashion for extrovert me! It has felt indulgent; spending time on the shape of a sentence, the choice of a word, simply for my own creative satisfaction. But it has also opened up a creative space in me that I had long ago forgotten.

It has also been a very full time, not busy (that implies a rushing around that I haven’t felt) rather I feel as if I have been sitting down at a feast of experiences, with so many different flavours to savour and enjoy, rather than my usual place, rushing around in the kitchen cooking it all up for everyone else! But of course, now, I begin to think about how I might recreate that dish, add a bit of that spice that was so tasty, emulate that particularly good service that I received; mentally I am moving back from receiver to giver, from guest to host, wanting to take with me all that I have learnt and cook it up in my own kitchen.

And therein lies the tension as I return to work; I long for a better balance with more me time (and more family time) but at the same time I have a huge desire to bring back some of the richness of this time away, with new ideas, new projects etc. to my work. My supervisor once wisely said to me that what is tough in ministry is not discerning between a good and a bad idea, but that frequently there are lots of wonderful ideas, important things we would love to do, it is that we have to let go of good ideas.

I have, though, inherited my parents’ high energy levels and robust health both of which lull me into the false illusion that I am indeed superwoman and that I can do it all. Letting go of a good idea is like pulling teeth as far I am concerned, it is extremely difficult for me to do! But, how ever painful it is, I may indeed need to pull a few teeth!

I also, like many, am prone to turning my faith into a morality code rather than God’s gracious gift. I read a wonderful quote recently: ‘God does not love you because you are good, God loves you because God is good’ . The underlying basis of my hyper activity can be, if I am not careful, a desire to make myself good rather than trust in God’s goodness. That is neither healthy for me (spiritually or physically) nor a good role model for those young Christians around me.

Dave always laughs that me slowing down is everyone else’s ‘normal’ speed – so maybe it’s time for a bit of normality!

 

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Taize days

Taize has been part of my faith journey; I came here first when I was 20 at the end of my first year at university. I came for a week and stayed for two and felt as if I had discovered prayer for the first time. The rhythm of monastic life, the bells ringing, thousands singing and praying in silence. Taize had all the things I longed for and didn’t find in my own tradition – beauty, mystery and young people!

I came back on and off during my twenties – looking back I am surprised I never came for an extended stay – I was waylaid by a crush on a Scandinavian man and ended up in a retreat centre in Sweden! I now have a useless grasp of Swedish and can’t understand a word of French, such are the twists and turns that life takes.

Before my husband and family burst into my life Taize was always a place of retreat and silence for me. Many young people come enjoying the international community as much as the life of prayer, but after by first visit to Taize I always came and spent the week in silence.

Returning with my family was therefore a challenge and the first time I came, 7 years ago, with just the two boys I found the week almost unbearable. The contrast between my memories of Taize and the reality of being here with two autistic boys aged 4 and 5 was too harsh. I also had, foolishly, come on the week when there was no family welcome so I was managing the boys on my own.

But even in the midst of that difficult transition I remember being moved by the way the boys responded to the beauty and the peace of the prayers. They were children who never stayed still yet I sat with them through the silences as they lay, hidden under a large scarf I had brought, peacefully calm.

The children in 2007

Two years later, with the addition of Hannah, aged 15 months, we decided to bring another group from Keele but this time try the family week at Olinda – and so began my new Taize days. We discovered a place where we could worship as a family, where the children engaged with the theme and the activities in a way they never did any where else. Where Dave and I could have a retreat together and share with people from across the world what it means to live out the Christian life as a familiy today.

My boys, like most autistic children, struggle with language based teaching. For many, many years we would always back up anything we were telling them with visual aids, with images and pictures. Reformed worship with it’s language based liturgy is probably the worst style of worship for them and traditional ‘Sunday school’ is no better. Here at Taize the children’s work, and particularly the afternoon ‘show’ that follows the story of the theme, has to be visual and not language based because you have children from so many countries – it is perfect for my children. The regular monastic life with the rhythm of the bells gives them a sense of structure and security and the worship is experiential not verbal.

The Show!

So Taize now is part of our family life, and this year was our 5th time in Olinda. Taize no longer means a time of solitude for me but a time as a family when we reconnect, when we some how are grounded again in what it means for us to be a family together. But at the same time space within that for quiet and prayer. This year I sensed the beginning of a new transition as Thomas turns into a moody autistic teenager engaging little with others. When I asked him to rate the week between 1 and 10 he said 1! When I told Brother Paolo he laughed, whereas my response was tears!

Thomas at Taize 2011

I have stayed on for a week in silence, a return to what Taize had always meant to me in the past and strangely the first day was a difficult shift. Everywhere I walked I saw places where we were together as a family. Motherhood wounds you, it opens you to deep attachments that mean solitude has a different texture. There is a connectedness that changes the shape of who you are and therefore the way you spend time in silence with God. Taking a retreat here at Taize had, in my mind, been about returning to the youthful me who had so loved the silence at Taize. But instead I realise that Taize is full of my family, like shadows round every corner, and those shadows do not need to be banished but embraced.

Our 'house' at Olinda

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Slippery Fish

My mother wisely warned me that it might not be so easy readjusting to life back at home after my 10 days of ‘freedom’ and after the delight at seeing my family again it has been an odd few weeks.

During my trip to the US I had met people who, seemed to me, were really living out the implications of following Jesus in their lives and were finding ways to impact others. While this was inspiring it was also unsettling. There was a nagging feeling of ‘I wanted to do that once but look at me now!’

I was reminded of my passion for simple living in my twenties and returned to my family where my 12 year old feels he is deeply deprived because he doesn’t have a Nintendo 3DS and my 6 year old daughter sits watching the adverts with a constant commentary of “I want that, I want that”. (We do have two computers, two Nintendo’s, a Wii, an ipad and more toys than any child could play with – this is not a deprived household!!)

I came back full to bursting with ideas, experiences that whirred around my head that I couldn’t fully articulate. My instinct is always to grab an idea and run with it. It means that I am not good at letting ideas to settle and giving time to sift through for the gems. But this time I have to because I have no clarity; I sense a shift, that there are things that I am learning, but it is elusive, like a slippery fish that I can’t get hold of.

At the end of the week (12th June) we go on our annual trip to the Taize community in France. We will have a week there as a family and then I stay on for another weeks retreat. At Taize life slows down and prayer is the rhythm of the day. There will be time to play with ideas without feeling the need to instantly ‘implement’ them, to dream some dreams without rolling out a programme and maybe I will come back with some clarity.

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Head-space

Our 6 year old daughter, Hannah, is a born extrovert. Almost every day on the way to school she will ask if she can have a friend to play – she will then work her way through her ‘favourites’ list beginning with her ‘best friend’ down to anyone who might possibly be willing to come and play. She would rather have almost anyone than be expected to play on her own (or with her Mum!)

I recognise very clearly where she has inherited this particular trait from! I relentless fill every moment of every day with interaction. I have a people focused job and I love building relationships with diverse and interesting people. My ‘spare’ time I fill with a myriad of friends and family – I will always choose coffee with a friend over time on my own.

And yet, one week into my sabbatical, and I feel as if I am shaking off my extrovert clothes and allowing a quieter more inward part of me a brief look-in. Letting go of the hubbub of people and stuff felt really hard. My last week at work my head boomed and the e-mails flew as I tried to organise the world for my absence and I faced the space of letting go.

First painting in 13 years!

But it’s good! My head is slowly emptying and I begin to discover the joy of slow thinking – not the breakneck speed thinking that I am used to where everything has to be decided now and done yesterday.

I went to an art class this week and painted for the first time in 13 years (my eldest son is 12 and half, need I say more!) I was reminded of the person who would disappear into art for hours at a time.

I am an extrovert and I love to spend time with people, but to put down for a while the people responsibilities is liberating. To be ‘allowed’ to spend the morning sitting in the sunshine reading and writing and losing track of time, is blissful.

Before children and full-time job my extrovert, super organised self was balanced out with time on my own travelling with no pre-planned agenda, with time reading and painting. Since children (who inevitably make the most introvert person more extrovert) I have simply relentlessly increased the pace of life and lost many (but not all) the counterbalance to my natural extrovert self.

Many an introvert would look at my sabbatical; the communities I am visiting, the people I am seeing, the socialising I am fitting in, and think there was little space in it to ‘be’. But, for someone like me, the people stuff is crucial as a balance to my new found discover of ‘personal space’.

I have just finished reading a great book. It is a book to be read slowly and it explores silence as the heart of prayer. The book speaks of the way that silence is the way into the heart of who we are, it is a way of letting go of all the clutter that fills mind, and heart and soul. And that as we go deeper into ourselves, and into silence, it is there, at our core, that we meet the God who loves us and transforms us.

I am rubbish at finding time for prayer, for silence, for stillness.  That is probably why I organise Sacred Space, the weekly alternative worship group, because through organising it I make myself stop and be for a while.

But as my chattering head quietens down for a while, so everyday life is more immersed in silence and my awareness of God’s presence becomes more attuned. I am still not very good at making ‘time’ but it doesn’t seem to matter so much any more.

There is a great quote from Mother Teresa who, when asked, what did she say when she prayed to God, answered “Oh, nothing, I just listen”. The questioner then asked, “So, what, then, does God say to you”. She replied “Oh, nothing, He just listens”. That tuning in involves some of the noise in my head stopping.

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Me and the Church

The focus for my sabbatical is the Emerging Church – an incredibly broad and elusive phrase. I am interested in places where there are new forms of worship and church and in exploring whom they are reaching, what is their mission focus and how they relate to the mainstream church. Alongside that I hope to explore women’s leadership within the Emerging Church. My intention is to meet and interview a number of people here and in the US who are involved in this broad based movement and explore the issues that they raise.

In a way I have always been interested in new ways of being Church, but had no language for expressing that. Reading a book on Emerging Church recently it spoke of the sense of disconnection many younger people feel in the Church – the cultural, social gap between their life in the Church and their life in ‘the world’ . This is something I have always felt. I am not ‘the younger generation’ (despite my purple DMs and nose stud I have to remind myself sometimes that I am 46!) but I am part of that post modern generation and grew up with that sense of disconnection.

I grew up in a liberal United Reformed Church. My own family were committed Christians and committed Socialists and the two were bound together (imagine my shock when I discovered in my early teens that it was possible to be a  Christianand a Tory!). Our church was an open and welcoming place where my family were key members and a place that has always felt like home, but the worship for me was always intellectual and dry.

I was the artistic, creative one in the family (my siblings were musical). Making string puppets at 8, directing plays from the age of 10, and in my teens painting huge dramatic oil canvases (mostly nude self portraits, much to my older brother’s embarrassment!) I needed worship that was colourful, creative, that touched the heart as much as the mind and I didn’t find it in my church – and this continues to be something I struggle to find within my own tradition. While faith came to play a significant role in my life, leading me to  ministry in the URC, that disconnection between what I yearned for in worship and what I experienced remained.

Alongside that I had a social life that was nearly entirely outside of the Christian community.  At University, while remaining a committed Christian and active in that world, I found my real peers in Student Community Action, the Women’s movement and the Peace movement . I longed for the heart felt worship of the more evangelical churches, but my liberal  theology meant I didn’t feel at home there. I found myself worshipping in quirky high Anglican churches with a few old ladies. My life outside the Church seemed to have little to do with what went on inside the church. There was a huge sense of disconnection.

I wanted worship/church that connected with my life – a place where it would feel possible to bring my non-Christian friends without cringing, a place where my friends would not be judged, a place where there were people like me. It was something I yearned for, but didn’t really believe was possible and so, in a sense, I just lived with these two worlds in tension.  I continued to live with that tensions throughout my training for ministry. At my ordination I said I was a square peg in a round hole, because that is what it felt like.

Going to ‘Greenbelt’ (Christian arts festival) was a significant moment for me. There was creative worship, there were passionate speakers, there were people like me. ‘The Post-evangelical’ by Dave Tomlinson, a key book at that time, also strangely resonated with me. Of course I wasn’t post-evangelical, but I was, sort of, post-liberal! While my theology, in many ways, remained broadly liberal I didn’t have the modernist liberal mindset. I wanted a faith that changed lives, that transformed the world. I believed in a personal relationship with the person of Jesus.  I wanted worship that was emotional and passionate. I began to not want to live in two worlds but  to bridge the cultural gap between my Christian life and the rest of my life.

Which has all led me to an interest in the Emerging Church and over the years to exploring alternative worship (I have run a small group called Sacred Space). Also increasingly in my time as a Chaplain at Keele I have become interested in finding ways of reaching those who are outside of the small Christian bubble – I have become interested in mission.

I have found the process leading up to this sabbatical space  a tricky one; at times I have felt quite paralysed by the thought of ‘producing’ something and waves of inadequacy have overwhelmed me.  I don’t have a PhD, I borrow books I never read,  I haven’t written anything more than a sermon in 15 years! My mother said ‘Just do some art’, and friends said ‘you don’t need to write anything’ but that felt a cop-out.

So often I define myself as a doer, not a reader or reflector – but that’s not wholly true and this times is a space to explore and develop that side of me that rarely gets a look in. To step back from the heat of people and relationships, to make space to think, to listen, to create. And who knows where that space will lead me to!

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