Why are posts like buses?

26 02 2009

I don’t know. You wait a week for a post and then three come along at once…

…except that’s four now! Doh!

Isn’t this just what a good parish priest does?

26 02 2009

One of the local clergy at a recent social gathering asked my wife what was so different about what I am doing. Why call it ‘pioneer ministry’? Isn’t it all just what someone might do as a parish priest?

Well my answer to that question is somewhat fuzzied up by my involvement with St Luke’s – a parish church.

But a difference has been crystallising in my mind in recent days.

I have seen more than one  model of parish ministry. I have seen someone operate as pastor/chaplain to a fair-sized congregation. I have observed another trying to grow their fair-sized congregation by moving into more of a chairman-like role – leading the leaders (or serving the servants if you prefer!) Those models are more prevalent, I think it’s fair to say, in more evangelical settings.

I’m not here to dis’ those approaches. They work to an extent if by doing so you can motivate your congregation for the work of mission. But you need a fair-sized congregation to start with. And it tends to result in an attractional model of mission. All well and good if you’re focused on the open dechurched. But if you’re attempting to make church happen out where the unchurched and closed dechurched people are at, it may well not get you very far.

Another model is a more incarnational one. Often, in more catholic leaning parishes, the priest sees her/his role as focused on the parish directly, not the parish through the congregation so much as in the previous models I’ve mentioned. That form of ministry places the priest in the community. It’s a ministry of presence. That’s perhaps closer to what I’m about in the pioneer role I have.

The difference, I think, is that those sorts of parish ministry tend to be about breadth of presence. You just are seen about in lots of different settings and so the community gets to know and trust you. Brilliant. But not the same as what I’m doing. I will be in a variety of settings over the next six months. But in order to identify/choose the one that will be the focus. A lot of what I do may well be about presence. But it will be sustained presence in one place. I will be looking to make *church* happen. But church as sharing a journey of spiritual exploration with all sorts of people – certainly not just those with a christian commitment. So it’s about depth of presence.

Now as I said that is complicated by my dual role, because it may be that one or two of the things I leave aside in making a choice about pioneer ministry, I pick up in relation to my parish role. But even that may well involve a new form of church community that doesn’t look quite like what church has traditionally been expected to look like. The St Luke’s post was advertised as requiring some form of fresh expression. We (the community at St Luke’s) don’t know as yet what form that will take, but we’re certainly asking the question…

ps. Sorry, this is a very Anglican post. I am an Anglican priest, and the language I have for exploring this topic is Anglican, but I know these issues are not being faced by the Church of England alone!

How shall we sing the Lord’s song…

26 02 2009

Following on my last post, I began to wonder about whether this group might be better off, just practically, meeting in the pub next door which doesn’t have music. That would be okay, I guess. I feel that it would be a shame. [I’m running ahead of myself here – this group might well prefer to continue meeting at our house. I’d be fine with that. But I will just pursue the thought…]

I don’t know why I chose the Fleet especially. Partly it was because I had in mind that I wanted to arrange a Beer and Hymns night on Easter Day. [Still not sorted, but I’m working on it.] But partly because I just felt drawn to it. And maybe it was just one of those jumping in type choices – it seemed as good a place to try as any other and once I’d plumped for it, I wanted to see it through and not spend the whole of my ‘immersive’ fortnight wandering from one place to another.

Since choosing it, I suspect that I may have been the butt of the divine sense of humour…

The pub has a 90s nightclub attached called… Babylon. I can‘t believe I didn’t spot it straight away! But there it is. Much indeed has been made of how the church’s current condition is like the Exile. I won’t go over all that ground again. But suffice it to say, that the optimism, even arrogance of the nation of Judah that their position was unassailable, is not dissimilar to the position once occupied by the church in this country, not to say the West. Now we find ourselves in a strange land. We can retreat into little enclaves of churchiness or we can try to work out how, like Boney M, we can sing the Lord’s song in the cultures we find ourselves in.

I like a challenge. I think it’s better that we stick with the place we/I have found ourselves in and work out how we can be church there, despite or maybe even because of the difficulties it presents…

That all said, I want to reassure any members of that group that I will not impose that setting on you. We can continue to meet in my home. It’s been most helpful to see what it might be like to have some form of more recognisable church there. It doesn’t mean it has to be you/us. But maybe it could be.


26 02 2009

On Tuesday, the St Luke’s ‘home group’ met in the Fleet. I put home group in quote marks there because it wasn’t in a home!

It was a very different experience for us all. But I think a positive and enjoyable one. We all like going to a pub, I think. It’s a social occasion. Most of us enjoy a drink. So the home group didn’t take a lot of persuading! They were pleased too, I think, to come to the place where I’ve been spending some of my time recently. Barbara and I arrived early for a bite to eat and met up with some friends (also members of the home group). We were beginning to think the others weren’t coming when they all arrived.

After settling in, getting drinks and so on, we spent a little bit of time, picking up our theme from Sunday, thinking about prayer. I wanted to do this in a light-hearted and fun way. So I made some cards (laminated to protect them from beer stains!) with a whole lot (54 in fact) of different words that people might associate with prayer. You can see the words I produced here. The file is called ‘prayer labels.pdf’. I spread them all out on the table and asked each person to choose the three that chimed most with their understanding or experience of prayer. I deliberately made sure that there were no duplicates so that everyone had to choose three that were unique to them. I then invited each person, if they wanted to, to share in turn, ‘Why those three words?’ I then asked people to put their words back. I then invited everyone to join in as we placed as many of the words as we could in one of five circles. (The file is called ‘Lords prayer circles.pdf’ [with apologies to Lynn Truss for the lack of an apostrophe]) Each circle had one phrase from St Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. (That’s St Luke the gospel writer, not St Luke’s as in our church!)

I think that second exercise got people thinking but nobody really responded to my invitation to talk about what had come out of it for them. That was okay. I then made a connection with the season of Lent which was going to begin the next day, and spread out a series of forty cards on the table with suggestions for things people might want to consider either giving up or taking on for the season. They were all pretty light-hearted in tone. There were twenty suggestions each for things to fast from and things to take on as a discipline during the forty days of Lent. I invited everyone to take one card away with them, not necessarily to do what it says on the card but just as something that would prompt them to think during Lent. Of course, if people did want to use them as a commitment, that was fine too.

I tried to show a film (a slideshow of Simon Smith’s wonderful illustrations of Jesus’s forty days in the desert) on my iPhone. Partly just because I could. (Look at my iPhone… shiny…!) That didn’t really work. Maybe because it’s slow and meditative. [I’m planning to use it on Sunday instead] Maybe really short, arresting little films could work. I’ll let you know. The other reason it might not have worked is that the pub was showing the Champions’ League match between United and Inter. I ended up watching that instead too!

What struck me as I was preparing those materials and after Tuesday night, was how what we were doing was like a game. And actually how appropriate things that were game-like would be in that setting. People play games in the pub. What if we could play games with some spiritual content? I want to get hold of a copy of Richard Passmore’s ‘FaST game’ for next Tuesday. (Which kind of blows my plan to run a lent course out of the water [or should that be beer? 😉 ]) I’ll let you know how that goes…

It was really great to see what would happen if you took church into the pub. On this occasion, it worked. I wonder what it would be like to share a eucharist in that setting. This is a different way round from what I have been working on over the previous couple of weeks. That was about the pub becoming a setting for new church. This was existing church making its home in the pub. Compared to what church is often like, it was a lot of fun, I thought. There’s a buzz of conversation and fun that can *sometimes* be lacking in a church building. Just having a lot more people around than there are normally in the particular church building where I’m associate priest was good! Even if they were unconnected with what we were doing.

The challenge will be to ask if this group would be happy to make this their permanent home. As the evening went on, and the footie finished, the music was much louder and the conversation was harder…