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You know those times when things, or something, some particular issue or situation weighs heavily? Not specifically more importantly than all the other things to pray for and about, but sometimes some things are to the fore. I’m having [another] one of those times.

homelessjesus

Been here before. and before. and touched on before. And of course I still have my dream.

I have been touched and inspired by the work this last few months of Making Winter Warmer, begun as a small scale intention to do exactly that, give out some rucksacks with some warm clothes, sleeping bag, flask to some of the ‘street friends’ around the city. The girls who began it have seen it take off big time. It’s been a privilege to see it blossom – though sad to see the need. They’re collecting things that are needed. We’ve taken quite a bit of stuff in donation for them. We’ve also taken some cakes. This week I also took books. They’re collecting things, but there’s so much more to it than that.

homeless-feet

One of the bigger things growing  is that a super cafe, 99, right in the centre of Newcastle, has brought suspended drinks and meals into the mainstream, and closes its doors on Saturdays early, to cook as many meals as have been bought during the week. They’re given out, along with the rucksacks – or requests for particular things, by the amazing making winter warmer team.

But there’s more. These angels don’t just do, they be. For a couple of hours, or whatever it takes, they then hang around and keep company, listen, talk, hug. They see. They hear. They make, just for a tiny moment in a miserable [or insert stronger word here] week, people think they matter. Instead of being ignored and invisible. There is, perhaps, no greater love. Each week when there’s a circulated update, it breaks my heart and makes me cry. Each time I read one it makes my heart sing to know there are people out there prepared to do that.

invishomeless

Making Winter Warmer isn’t a faith-based organisation, it’s grown from a few friends knowing that there was a need, that they couldn’t sleep till they did something about. Faith-based or not, I thank God for them, and I ask his blessing on them and the work they are doing, and the Christ they are being to those in need.

This weekend, I’ve been at Shepherd’s Dene retreat house with colleagues, being wonderfully fed and treated in front of a log fire with permanent good coffee on tap. The rooms – I didn’t know this before – are all en-suite. And the kind of en-suite you usually get in a very good hotel. Wonderful bonus. Often I don’t sleep well in a random strange bed, and often corporate showers in a less than very good hotel leave much to be desired.

But this weekend I’m doubly grateful for them, because these last few weeks, more than ever, the plight of living in a world where so many people have neither shelter nor shower weighs on me. Weighs on me like the life size crosses we see so many bearing through the streets on  Good Friday walks of witness. There’s nothing that makes me feel better than a hot shower. Every morning I know that I hurt for the people who don’t have them. Our involvement with the foodbank tells us you most certainly don’t need to be homeless to struggle with warmth and the freedom to stand in a warm shower, but stripping away these basic dignities of the day make the outdoor all-weather nights and lack of food harder to bear.

There must be solutions. Making Winter Warmer are doing the most amazing job. Let’s join them and those like them. But we still need to be upstream, looking at where people are falling in. There’s no choice. It’s a gospel imperative. Every time I regret the lack of warmth in church, I wish we could open the hall to those who would find it positively tropical, and dry, and safe. And I wish we had showers.

“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
(many great posts on  http://kenburkey.com/tag/homeless/)

homelessjesusicon

How do we repay the costliest gift of all? We live the life He taught us to.

 

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Not quite on the back of a fag packet, though I think in all honesty it began on a paper napkin…

Some [long] time ago I said something about my Es. And I was encouraged to sketch them out for @vicarvernon.

I can’t even remember why I was doing it at the time, though I do remember that having carefully lettered ‘Entrance’ on our new external sandwich board, the Vicar remarked to me that he kept reading it as

tr.v. en·tranced, en·tranc·ing, en·tranc·es

1. To put into a trance.

2. To fill with delight, wonder, or enchantment

and I thought, what a lovely word for a service. Not a seekers’ service which is dumbed down and entry level and patronising, and not at all either reflective of what actually goes on in church or reflective of the great and mysterious beauty that can/could/should* come with it.

I would have done these many times in my old job, tried to help people shuffle out the mass of ideas, of priorities, of competing stuff into buckets to work with. And as I worked in my dissertation at Cambridge with various threes – believe, belong, behave; live as Christian, think as Christian, live in the Church; and with for example Ann Morisey’s domains, I found myself putting together a non-linear way of accessing and growing, of approaching and discipling which can be entered almost anywhere and worked around. And around.

the EsOn reflection, I think they’re pretty self-explanatory. One should be able to meet us at any place on here, and we might want to focus our development or prayer or priorities on one section at a time for a while, or on something from each in turn.

Essentially (see what I did there?!) it’s possible to say that lots of the things that might fall in one box would also fall in another, I just choose to place them termporarily or nominally where they are.

We want to welcome people in. We want our Entrance to entrance (our lobby, believe me is far from entrancing right now, major priority). We want there to be a warmth and a light and a grace that meets you wherever you are, hesitant in the doorway, anxious at the gate, expectant at the threshold. We want you to meet not just with us but with a living God and a living faith, one which attracts and infects, enlightens and encourages (believe me, I have many Es, let me know when you get fed up of them!); transcends and transports. We may be good at what we do, if you don’t mind the slightly solemn formality, but it’s quality. We might want to work on the provision of a wider range of services (though we are happy to engage in discussion about shopping and choice and to what extent the body of Christ in this place should worship together). We might want to extend our healing Eucharist or prayer meeting to offer a service which is sensory overload, so the beauty and liminality hang and envelop you. Some of us might think that Compline can be as compelling as water-soluble pen on pebbles in bowls.

We want to offer and meet in genuine Encounter. We know that people are still drawn to our buildings, and at certain times to the deeper yearning of what they stand for. But we also know that many are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, feel uninformed and uncertain. How do we provide points of information, points of open questioning, points of signposts or of quiet encounter? What do people want to know, to ask, to accuse? How do we offer a truth which is for all, to all in a way that they can experience and explore (see, plenty of ‘em) this as fits their circumstance and need?

We want to Enrich those teetering on the edge, and grow those already within. Discipling is about deepening the relationship, from wherever you are. That might be in getting to much more personal grips with scripture – either to revisit or to read for the first time. That might be in getting together with others of similar interests, to share an afternoon or an evening in fellowship based around something ostensibly non-religious – baking, beer, knitting. It might be in sharing thoughts and feelings around ‘non-religious’ books and then realising that over safe ground you have begun a conversation much more theological. How are people empowered to understand how they will flourish in their faith? And how will they then propagate that?

Church is not just about ‘in here’. It’s also about ‘out there’. But both out there and in here, there are always things to be done, things to join in with, things to share. There are ways to take on a more involved role when you have been around for a little while and through study groups have gained in confidence and want to offer some of your confidence back in the service of God. There are always little projects ongoing which you can be a part of without any commitment to the Church itself, if you are a little new and a little tentative. You can serve the missio dei in many ways while you are yourself drawing nearer, perhaps because of it. Perhaps you even come across us in the first place by seeing a friend knit a small hat, ask why, and do a few for us, then come along and ask what else we do and why…and then you might see an invitation for one of our candlelit services and think that might be a perfect way to spend that particular evening…

There is something for everyone, and somewhere to start for everyone. There is also something to work on for those of us wanting to maximise each and every possibility for people to meet with the living, all-merciful and entrancing God, to throw open as many doors as possible for the barriers to be broken down and the boundaries to be fluid.

wpid-Photo-Nov-17-2012-1058-AM

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It’s not about bums on seats. It’s not about the figures that get entered into the register. It’s not about ‘beating’ last year. But it is about giving thanks for a church which was considerably fuller over the last week than the same service set last year. In some cases by more than double. Christmas Day morning was less, but then we’ve lost a couple of long-standing families retiring away which made a dent on the hard core for that service. But a massive gain overall. How? And, will it last? And, should it matter?

“Not as bums on seats, but as curious or careworn, being embraced by the simple truth of the grace and mercy of our God” – from the sermon gone into January’s magazine. Mission is only about numbers in the numbers of people being touched by and brought into the presence of God. But those numbers also are fed and sent out – exponential, and are from whom more vocation is sought.

‘Mission’ has been on the agenda a fair bit recently. We mostly recognise we are a large church building with a pretty large parish and a lovely hall and in theory a fair bit of potential. Which we are far from realising. And some have no desire to change. But others, who want to see the church (not building) grow and flourish, recognise we need to work at this. So we’ve been chipping away at some things that might seem common sense. We have a website now (though, mea culpa, it needs updating already). We have a brand. We have non-mouldy ancient things in one of the noticeboards and the hall noticeboard has been euthanased. We have a consistent look to new materials (mostly) and a professional finish (mostly) to stuff we produce. We do posters and cards and newsletters. (the latter is a tentative start, it’s on the top of the current priority list). We have banners slung outside and signs offering welcome. Usually, these days, the outside doors are both open wide.

We have better advertised services and we have a new service. We haven’t got rid of the organ and brought in a band. We have brought in some toys and bags for children and to some grumblement tried to instill that children are welcome. We have a coffee machine that can make proper coffee, although not all coffee-rota-ers risk it. We have a prayer board and a children’s film club in the hall and better relationships with the hall users.

It’s a start. Baby steps. But across the year, we’ve had people come to the Bereavement Service ‘because that lovely invitation came'; to bacon butties at the Great North Run ‘because we saw the banner'; to the Carol Service ‘I wouldn’t have thought about it but then someone put that beautiful card through the door'; to the Crib Service ‘because her cousin [grandson] was baptised here and got the invite but they were busy, but I thought I could bring her [granddaughter]‘ – and took away a baptism application. We gave out lots of messy church invites to parents – and children – who listened to me for 5 mins before the start of the school nativities tell them about what goes on here.

We’ve begun to look seriously at the fundraising required to build a toilet in church, hopefully with a kitchen. We’ve agreed that it’s ‘suicidal’ not to have one. We’ve built an accessible ramp to the main door, and planted up much of the gardens. We’ve cut down four trees and much much ivy/bushes/random vegetation. We’ve designed and just taken delivery of the first of three new roadside signs. We’re no longer invisible. When I asked around in the parish when I arrived, I often heard ‘what church?’ The reality for many, despite being pretty much in your face, is our church was invisible. Yes, it has been costly, both in financial terms and other – mentally and emotionally exhuasting to do all that on top of the ‘normal’ church work.

But isn’t mission the very work we were sent to do – just as much as worship? For much of our parish, the reality is that they no longer knew what we were here for, or even that we were here. We buried a not-even-day-old baby the week before Christmas ‘because you look like a proper church’ and God willing we will baptise his sister at Easter, we now being inextricably linked with their family story. So this week, mid the exhaustion, we allow ourselves a small hope that the eagle eye we have been keeping on the numbers is not for the sake of the numbers themselves, but to see and feel the vibe which results from a fuller church praising God and meeting with him and working with him. People are asking what the next ‘project’ is, after bra collecting and hat knitting and coats collecting. The foodbank box overflows with generosity from those who don’t have masses to start with, but know that God hallows what they have when they offer it back to him.

This year just gone, we have genuinely prepared some ground for growth. We’re enjoying sowing and being ready to sow some seeds. We know we have much work to do. We have a welcome course planned, and a list of people being written to to invite onto a welcome greeters team. We’ve begun to develop our own children’s resources and make them available. We’re ready to try to be proactive about children’s teaching and have plans for school to be in more often. We’re expanding the lunch club for our elderly – though we shall need some help when the chef has her hip done in Feb. We’re choosing materials to be available in church in the afternoons when church will – thank God – be open for a period. We’re ready to expand the newsletter trial to work on reaching much higher % of the parish. We’re working on updating the churchyard guide and the church history booklet in advance of the Open Heritage Weekend.

We’re excited. Tired, but excited. God moves in this place and we want to get the doors open and chase out after the Spirit to go where he wills. Bring it on.

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this ought to be a thought through post, but it’s not, it”s a getitoutofmyhead post that maybe I’ll come back to one day. It’s far from the first time I’ve contemplated mission and football – I even did a spell with the Cambridge Utd chaplain as part of my training – not least because when you live up here (unlike at Cambridge Utd) it’s pretty impossible not to know that the biggest religion is football.

Last year in the all-age training day, one of the speakers talked about rugby (she was from Worcester, so it’s understandable, we could all translate it in our heads) and about how people look forward to the game each week, talk about it during the week, share expectations, ask others if they’re going, make it an all day affair sharing and (hopefully) celebrating with friends and family and wider people who were once strangers but who, through a shared devotion, became more than acquaintances. If someone is missing, it’s noted and asked about. There is joy, sadness, fellowship and experience shared. People sing, chant, weep, laugh and adore. When it’s time to go home, noone really wants to, they linger and when they do leave, they discuss over and over what they have experienced together, sharing different views and moving moments. Warm goodbyes are said, with the prospect of doing it all over again next week, already looking forward to that, and talking about it during the week…

Oh how we wish that might be about church…! What do we do to bring ourselves even into the playoffs for the same league?

Graham Tomlin (I think it was) at the Church Growth Conference last month said something really interesting. He asked ‘have people stopped going to church because they have stopped believing? … or, have they stopped believing because they’ve stopped going to church?’ I tossed this around a fair bit at the time, and have kept coming back to it since. Partly because it is striking in itself, but partly because I found myself thinking it again when someone invited me to the football.

To a certain extent, there is an unwritten understanding round here that you do not need to ask if someone follows football, though you might query (carefully, and tbh some places you wouldn’t even need to ask that – I am only half joking when I suggest that the only percentage of ‘inter-faith’ we have is the few Sunderland supporters) who someone supports. I have been a football fan since I could walk. In fact by the time I went to school I spent every Saturday afternoon at district league football matches and occasionally in the directors’ box at leeds road, courtesy of Dad’s involvement in football. Football has always been a part of my life. I even owned a Hull City shirt when the university sponsored them – I’ll watch football at any level. I like hearing the kids’ teams playing out the back of my house at the weekend, sadly just out of sight from my study window.

But being asked if I’d like to go and watch made me think again about Graham Tomlin’s comments. I just wrote ‘a football fan’ and I think that is no longer true. I’m still a football follower, but I had to give up my season ticket while in Cambridge as I simply couldn’t afford it any more, and the unpredictability of the television schedule on fixtures and the unpredictability of clergy schedules means I’d hesitate now to reclaim it even if I could afford it. I no longer feel like a fanatic in the way I used to be. And I reflect on two things.

Firstly, I used to be in an environment where people around me also followed football. Even if we supported different teams (massive inter-faith experience working in Middlesbrough…) we still shared the same love, and it was often a discussion through the week. Even most of my friends who didn’t actually attend had a shared vocabulary and shared understanding and usually knew what was happening in that world. It was easy to stay involved – even in Cambridge. But now? Now I don’t have so many friends close by to spend time with anyway, and those I do are not so football-oriented. It’s not an obvious topic of conversation. It’s no longer a guaranteed shared interest, experience or vocabulary.

And I no longer go. I can’t afford my season ticket and work means I can’t physically be there every game. I don’t have time to check up on the gossip during the week and I don’t always remember to find the radio to listen if I happen to be at home. Gradually, I’m sliding further away from it being something people used to know very clearly was one of my ‘things’. I confess I probably struggle to name you more than half of the first eleven this season. My Dad will be turning in his grave in confusion at that. It used to be our first chat every time I spoke to him.

And then someone invites me to a game, and that’s great. I shall look forward to going. But it’s not an every week invitation and I’m ok, if not glad about that. And suddenly I realise that I’m only a fair-weather follower now, and I don’t really know how that happened. And I wonder if it is a declinee that began when I stopped going to every game, and didn’t spend my time with a majority of people who felt the same fanaticism. And I wonder, if I no longer go because I no longer believe, or if I no longer believe in the same way because I no longer go. The vocabulary is still in my head, and I’m there following the special events, but it isn’t what I plan my diary around now.

Again, Graham Tomlin’s words echo round my head. I accept the invitation to a game. I wonder if it will turn into a regular invitation, or if I will be drawn back into the fellowship and excitement and shared joy and sorrow and experience and family and become a fan again [and I realise how apt this would have been for Back to Church Sunday] or if it will be a nice trip out but somehow the recapturing of my heart will not quite happen. And I wonder… do people stop going because they no longer believe, or do people drop off believing because they have dropped off going? And I wonder… what are we to do about this?

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The closing of William Booth’s address at the Royal Albert Hall on May 9th 1912:

While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight; While there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!

Amen… more…

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Last night I went on a course run as part of a Fresh Expressions mission training for the North West. I was thinking about the content, the people, the kinds of things that are defined as missional or ‘fresh expressions’ as I got home and was getting ready for bed, while trying to keep an eye on the twitter stream from Vegas. And I found myself thinking how much some of the thinking about mission was similar to good scaffolding of learning in LMS/VLEs. more…

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…these seem to constitute the majority of my bookshelf here (only the tiniest fraction brought, honest), along with 2 books on bereavement and ‘The Deafening Sound of Silent Tears’ plus John Pritchard’s new book ‘God Lost & Found’ that I picked up en route here. There are no prizes whatsoever for what this may say about me (and I may need to emphasise that the adjoining shelf does have DP, BCP, Lectionary and a Bible) but it does say something about the things I’m probably going to be writing over the summer. more…

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God has 100 names. 99 of them we know, the 100th is only known to camels. But if he only had one name, it would be compassion. +Jack’s second address was about mission. What is God like? more…

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What a difference. Yesterday afternoon, the annual Bray lecture hosted by Westcott had a Ugandan cleric speaking. First and foremost, the irony wasn’t lost on us. He came, welcomed by Westcott,  preaching love. There wasn’t the whole Federation here, but there was the odd representative from other houses, which was good. Let me bring love and greetings from Uganda to my Christian family here, he said. There was, I confess, a lump instantly in my throat. more…

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Technically, as far as Cambridge teaching sees it, it’s “vacation”. Some of us are in prison (on social context placements, I hasten to add), some are writing essays (mine have gone to deep freeze, sadly), some are on long placement, some are preparing to appreciate the services and events of Holy Week for the last time as a ‘spectator’, some are walking in pilgrimage with carious legs of Student Cross from around the country to Walsingham, some are smart enough to be having a rest (though not very many are managing to fit this in) and some of us are mad enough to be more…

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