Dust and ashes

4 03 2009

I had an interesting exchange with Michael Volland down in Gloucester about the future of the church and its ministry/mission. You can read it here.


5 02 2009

At the end of a one-to-one meeting today, when I was feeling especially enthusiastic about how it had gone and really wanted to celebrate the other person’s work, I asked if I might say a prayer. They declined.

I don’t mind saying it pulled me up short. It was not their reaction. It was the feeling I had that I had been a poor guest. It assumes an awful lot to imagine that someone will want to join a moment of celebration with you in your way.

It got me thinking again, that for all my fine words about mission being about being with people in their space, I’m still caught up in ‘Christendom’ ways of thinking. I’m still unconsciously expecting people to join my party. I’m still operating as if I’m the host.

When Jesus sent out his followers he didn’t send them as hosts but as guests. They weren’t to impose on their hosts, but bring a greeting of peace and receive whatever opportunities they were offered.

I need to remember that in each place I go, whether public or private space, I am still someone’s guest. I have been conscious of that actually as I’ve gone into the pub. I have approached groups of people sat at a table or near the bar. I am entering their social space. I have felt a little reticent. But as I think about that story from the gospel of Luke, I am reminded that those first missionaries were sent to look for hosts who would welcome them. That is perhaps like what I’ve been doing. I have given people the opportunity to offer me hospitality. Mostly so far it has been offered. Where it has not, I have drawn back.

I haven’t quite shaken the dust from my sandals. Partly because if I was wearing sandals (especially with socks) I would look like people think Christians are supposed to look. And partly because that seems awfully final. I can’t quite believe God is saving some especially awful fate for people who don’t want some trendy vicar interrupting their quiet lunch/pint. I think I might tell me to sod off. Thankfully though, so far, most people have been better hosts than I’ve been a guest.

Peace be upon this (public) house.

A meeting of minds

23 01 2009

Last week, I had a very positive meeting with one of the leaders of one of the new churches in the city.

We found that our approaches to mission converged a great deal. It was encouraging to find so much common ground with someone from a different tradition. Several points from our conversation were particularly stimulating.

First, we both identified a tendency within the city, whether we called it a cathedral or a mega-church mentality, that wanted to attract people into a large, gathered congregation. The problem we identified with this approach was that, again, as welcoming and hospitable as we might actually be, we were still expecting people to come to our party.

This prompted me to reflect on Jesus’s style. He’s always at parties. But he is always at somebody else’s party. It reminded me particularly of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus. Zach responds with openness to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t tell Zach to come and join his gang. Instead he says, “the kingdom is here, so let’s have a party at your house!”

We also reflected again that the overwhelming proportion of Jesus’s time with his disciples isn’t spent on the ‘mountaintop’ but in, with and for the crowd.

Perhaps more controversially we both wanted to affirm that Jesus has no strategy. I have heard people talk about Jesus’s strategy but that’s always seemed anachronistic to me. It’s trying to impose 20th century management speak on a first century wanderer. He may well have a good idea of where he is headed. He also has strong and clear values based on what he understands God’s kingdom to look like. But he mostly avoids a mission statement, vision and strategy in favour of just making relationships, seeing what his Father is doing and getting stuck in to that. Very pioneering!

The crowds press on around him and he sometimes as a result wants for rest but there’s no sense that there’s any frenetic drive from him. It looks to me that although his awareness of where this is all probably leading brings a certain sadness and seriousness from time to time, he’s mostly relaxed and (back to those parties again) having a lot of fun.

We also had a more challenging discussion on the appropriateness of or need for ‘sacred space’ as part of our mission. We had a difference of emphasis here. We both recognized from our own experience, he from chaplaincy, me from the Friday Fridge, the primacy of conversation. But though my friend, a fan of Celtic spirituality, recognized the value of sacred space for himself, he was not so ready to recognize its pertinence in mission in public spaces. For me sacred space provides both a reflective response to or follow on from conversation and also, if it’s sufficiently arresting in its conception and implementation, a focal point for conversation. It can provoke interest and question. Going back to the reflection above on how Jesus works might suggest it’s superfluous but I think he creates sacred space and sacred moments through his very presence and where he takes people them in conversation. Sometimes people run away. More often they break down and found healing, peace and new direction. I think we need to be creative to enable those moments of opportunity and encounter for people. We don’t quite have the same force of presence!

So I still think sacred space is worth pursuing in the city centre. We need to pray for some premises! Be they permanent or provisional is yet to become clear but my hunch is that the latter speaks more of the kingdom of God.