Day 15 further thoughts

I got to meet up with more people from COTA today (wednesday)and this is really helping me to get more of an idea of what COTA is and how it is seeking to discover how to be church.

This morning I met up with Jana in what has become my favourite coffee shop here, and I learned a lot about how she found COTA. It was again a privilege to be able to hear someones story.  I also learned loads about how COTA is funded as she is the treasurer too. There is a desire for the community to become self sufficient, mainly from within COTA itself, but with lots of students or those just starting work most people here do not have a lot of income. I was surprised, though, to hear that between a third and half of all funding comes as regular monthly giving from the COTA community. I think that is pretty impressive and gives a solid foundation to move from.

This afternoon I sat in on the staff meeting and gained more insight into what goes on. I was able to reflect on the services that I have experienced and could share that, from my perspective as a newcomer, they were excellent. I felt very much at ease, knew what to do and was able to use the experiences to engage meaningfully with God. the ambience of the services, in particular, has been something that I think has been very helpful in allowing people to rest and worship in the grace of God. Nothing has been forced or hurried, but instead we have gently moved through the liturgy and music together, meeting with God on the way.

I’m just off to officiate at Vespers in the abbey. I like the opportunity to do this as it is a service that I really love to be part of.

So today I have experienced more of how COTA ‘ticks’. Tomorrow I have 2 or 3 more interviews and then I will start to re-listen to them and look for common insights and connections – buit before that I will need to spend some time praying and thinking on the lectionary passages for this weekend so that I can write a homily to give on Sunday night.

Day 14 … reflections and chance meetings

Tuesday started with Matt and breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe. I interviewed Matt while I mounted an assault on my massive pancakes – which caused me to need no lunch, and quite a small dinner!

It was good talking to Matt as ever. He is another one of the very creative people here at COTA and at the moment leads the Liturgy Guild of COTA which is responsible for developing the liturgy for the seasons. He has a great vision for liturgy being both accessible and meaningful in a way that helps people connect in a real way with God. It was good to chat with someone else who is passionate about creative liturgy but has the freedom that many of us don’t to be able to develop things. I am in a better position than most at home, as I have a little permission to be creative with certain bits of our liturgy, but if we are to seriously engage with people outside of our churches then this permission needs to be far wider spread than it currently is.

Following my time with Matt I met up with Eric, another great guy from the COTA community., We had a great conversation about the strengths of COTA and how he and others connected with he community. He initially connected through a chance meeting with Karen at a monastery. This made me smile as I think back to the fledgling community we have at home. I think it is amazing how chance encounters and conversations result in things like churches developing. God seems to be at work before our plans and somehow things seem to come together.

I guess, though, I am struck by the fragility of it all. I reflect on conversations I have had and am very conscious how just a few minutes either way would have had different results, i.e. the conversation would not have happened. Is it chance, or is it a God engineered encounter? There’s a question!

For dinner, Ned took mye for a Mexican experience in Fremont – that was cool and very much appreciated. The day ended with Ned, Jeanette and Karen in Kells – a great Irish bar where we got to hear Liam (Ned and Jeanette’s son) sing. A good end to a good day.

day 13 … connections

Monday was another really interesting day.

I explored another neighbourhood, Wallingford, a little as I needed to find a post ofice to send home the obligatory postcards. On my walk there i passed the Episcopal Bookstore so decided to have a nosey on my way back. It srprise3d me in that it had a much better stock tan my local bookshop – even a supply of stoles…. although I was able to contain myself and not buy any ;-). There was even a section with Archbishop Rowan’s books which caused a smile as I couldn’t even find one in the bookshop at home! A purchased a couple of things to bring home.

I met up with Steve Ridgway for lunch. Steve works with Open Doors and I was connected with him through Al, another Open Doors worker, who I was ordained deacon with in September 2008. Al and I kind of connected and have stayed in touch as we were both interested in each others roles following ordination – him in the middle east and me in the pubs! Steve and I had a good time talking about our roles and the settings we were in and how God had led us to where we were. Steve has not long got back from a trip to Gaza, supporting the church which is under serious persecution. We had an interesting chat together. Steve also bought lunch – so even better!

Later in the day I met up with Lacey, who is the Music Director at COTA. I have been really impressed by the quality, creativity and authenticity of the worship I have experienced. (that sounds like a line for an essay…) COTA as a whole is brilliant at involving people. It is a church where people are actively encouraged to become participators and welcomers rather than remain consumers and welcomed. There is more than that as well though. I am seeing more and more than people within COTA really believe in and have a passion for what they do here. People like Lacey are very talented and that passion for worshiping God in an accessible and real way is quite contagious for others, who then want to join in as well.

I later met up with Kristian;was another great chat which reinforced what I am hearing over and over again. COTA is a church that welcomes, is deliberate in its mission to Fremont, and is serious about involving as many people as possible.

As I reflect on the last few days I think I am seeing that COTA is not just a church of young people guided by the ‘more mature’. COTA is a church of young decision makers and, in essence, COTA develops in the way that these decision makers take it, with the guidance of Karen and others. I wonder if actually what I am seeing here is a pretty good outworking and understanding of the priesthood of all believers?

Day 12 part 2

This afternoon and this evening I have spent time with different parts of the COTA community and I am learning more and more that they, as a group, love each other and enjoy the company of each other.

At 3.00pm I joined the Liturgy Guild. This is a group of people that plan the liturgy for the services. COTA develops seasonal liturgy to reflect the liturgical seasons. Today we were looking at the lectionary readings for Lent and trying to develop the liturgy and practice that COTA will use in the services throughout lent. This was a small but creative group as they sought to find ideas that would help people to connect with God in a significant way and so leave the service changed in some way becasee of an authentic encounter with God.

In remember Karen saying a while ago people wanted the liturgy to change each week. After working with them the practice is now agreed to be seasonal. We are currently in Epiphany and the liturgy and practices for the services reflect that. I like the idea of liturgy and practice for the season. In the Church of England we already follow that practice in the daily offices, but I like the creative ‘write your own’ and ‘curate the service’ approach which I think as a community we can pursue when we start to become more established.

I’ve just realised the excitement this afternoon brought shows me that I love liturgy. I think it is a way we can easily connect with God and express our love in a language that means something. The word, if you don’t know, means ‘work of the people’ and it is pretty impressive how COTA creates this so that it really is the work of the people. The trust from Karen towards this group is amazing too.

After the guild meeting we had COTA Eucharist at 5.00pm. Another creative service. I am not a fan of music in worship. I know its been said by many before, but I do find myself increasingly more frustrated with the songs that people sing in lots of churches. They are not just ‘I love Jesus like my girlfriend’ type songs … but I think it is the shallowness and bizarre theology of some that give me concern.

Despite my aversion to music in worship I find Lacey’s curation of the woship in COTA to be sensitive, stunning and challenging. We sing words and chants that mean something and that allow us to become aware that we are in the presence of God. I am meeting with Lacey tomorrow and look forward to hearing from her about her story and why she leads in this way.

The service tonight was fantastic. It was simple yet profound in a way that allowed us space with God. The structure, or ordo, that COTA uses is great and the ‘open space’ section after the homily, where people can reflect ina  variety of ways from using icons to watching video, acknowledges that we are not all one and the same.

COTA is going through an interesting time and the last meeting of the day was after the Eucharist when I joined the group that are making plans for a morning service. COTA is in good shape, it is in the community in various ways and now looking to move from 1 to 2 services on a Sunday at the abbey. I enjoyed being part of the discussions and hearing peopels ideas and dreams of getting this service of the ground.

It’s been a packed and really good day, and I am strting to learn more and more about the COTA community, particularly as options for interaction with people with COTA seem to be increasing.

Day 11 : Space Needle or Reflections on the city

Saturday I had a day off so explored more of Downtown Seattle.
I started by catching the monorail from downtown Seattle to the Seattle Centre. A nice quick ride. From there I ascended the 520 feet at 10 mph in the lift, sorry elevator, to the 360° observation deck of the Space Needle. Despite an overcast day the views of the city were still quite stunning. The structure of the building is pretty impressive too, and it is hard to believe it was constructed in the 1960’s.

I had a coffee (there’s a surprise) while I looked out across the city. As well as taking lots of photos, I also walked around with the flip video and you can watch that here if interested.

Looking at the patterns and variation of the city caused me to reflect upon more of whay I am here and how varied, yet ordered God is. You can tell from the video and photos that Seattle is a fairly varied city. There is Pike Place market, the area around the Space Needle, the water, the skyscrapers, the low apartment blocks, industrial areas, dock areas …. I could continue to list. It’s very diverse and yet it is all Seattle.

Like wise, you can’t point to the Space Needle and say ‘that is Seattle’. As much as I, and many others love Pike Place Market, you can’t point to it and say ‘that is Seattle’. You might like the waterfront, but again you can’t point to it and say ‘that is Seattle’. Seattle isd a collection of them all. Without one part, something of the character of Seattle would be lost. To get an understanding of Seattle I need to visit a variety of areas. I am told to get the best understanding of Seattle I need to go on the underground tour. This shows the original Seattle that has been built on top of. To understand Seattle, I would need to look underground to learn something of its history.

In many ways this is similar to how we can grow in understanding of our faith in God. Our different interpretations of scripture or prayer are as varied as the buildings and neighbourhoods of Seattle. To understand more we need to observe and listen to all areas. To gain greater understanding of God we need to go underground with him, and explore the past roads of faith.

As we do this we need to realie that we will never come to a full understanding of God! Sermon over!

After all this reflection I soent money on gifts for the family to take home and then I met up with Ned to listen to some music in the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea House – (just look at all these coffees they offer!)a pretty cool end to the day!

Last night …

 Today also had some goodbyes.

This past week I have enjoyed chatting with Sue and Scott, church leaders from Victoria, who came over on the Clipper Service last saturday to have a break in Seattle and drop into some of the stuff we were doing. We have had some great chats over beer, pizza, sushi and more beer …. or strawberry lemonade, coffee and … well you get the picture. I’ll miss them being around next week. I may well take a day out and visit them in Victoria though – who knows!

We also said good bye to the Lutheran students from Wartburg Seminary tonight. They have been on J-team and spent the week at COTA learning about emergent church. They have had a rough week as one of their fellow students, Ben Larson, was killed while on a similar team in Haiti. I can’t believe how his family must be feeling, nor how the students coped!

It’s been good having these guys around as well. I’ve laughed with them, joked about the language differences between the US and the UK and even found an ally in Jutta, having a year out from Germany, in talking about real football …. although she did seem to forget the 1st September 2001 in Munich.

I’ll miss laughing with these guys and sharing with their enthusiasm. I hope they have a good trip back (they will be on a train for 30 hours!!!!) and, who knows, if they ever visit God’s own country of England we may catch up again.

Day 10b Pub Theology

Tonight (Friday) we met up in a bar for Pub Theology. This is a format that COTA have been using for a while and was started by Jon Myers. I think it is pretty self explanatory but people go to a pub, have a beer, something to eat and talk theology.

Jon said that on the first week he took a topic to discuss, but he never had to do that again for over a year as people kept suggesting thinsg, or things simply developed from the initial topic and were carried over into the next week.

I like the concept, and not just because I like pubs. I like the idea of people getting together to chat theology in a normal natural environment. The idea of giving a relaxed space to explore questions, to argue, to share understandings, and misunderstandings, speaks a lot to me of what the church should be doing. I like the way this takes the ‘academic’ out of theology and, as Jon says, ‘there is something very refreshing about being in a pub, drinking beer, being very open about our frutrations and our doubts and hanging out together at a pub. At a pub I can be a little more free.’  I think this is probably the easiest thing yet that I could just ‘lift off the shelf’ from Seattle and try out in the UK.

I recorded the ‘interview’ and have posted a clip of it here to listen to.

In Seattle it works pretty simply … every 2 weeks, this pub at this time, come if you want to! I’d like to start a little research now from a distance – why not email or message me if you would be up for something like this in Medway. I’d love to pull together a group and see how this goes.

Day 10: Bishop Greg and Dr. Dwight Friesen

This morning I met up with Bishop Greg. After I was invited to visit COTA by Karen I wrote to Bishop Greg to let him know about why I was coming and he asked to meet up when I was here – so today we did. I said earlier in the week how large a diocese this is, and Bishop Greg is very talented person and needs to be to run a diocese like this.

I met with the bishop for about half an hour and he was interested to know my story as well as knowing about what I was doing in England.  I then spoke to him about his vision ofr emerging and pioneering work in the diocese and it is clear that he wants to encourage it and bless it as much as he can. One thing in particular that he was keen on was working on training ordained pioneers in the diocese of Olympia using the skills of people like Karen. That’s a pretty good vision to be having.

I realise how fortunate I have been to spend some time with the bishop of the diocese I have been visiting. I want to thank him publicly for giving up time in an amazingly hectic diary to see me. It’s clear that he has a passion for mission and engaging with those outside the church. I hope he is able to continue to support emerging church here, and particularly able to look ahead to see what investment is needed now to ensure the future looks good for churches like COTA.

This afternoon we spent time with Dwight Friesen of Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle (which has no connection and thankfully a very different theology to Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church). Dwight came to talk about Network church and he said a few things that have really made me think; and things that I have noted down in my ever growing mind map so that I may reflect upon them later.

When talking about community he spoke of the Trinity and how each member of the Trinity perpetually empties themselves to raise up and support the other.  This is known as kenosis.  He then went on to say as a church they were askign what does this perpetual pouring oneself out for the sake of others look like in our community. The Trinity gives the image of perfect community, and so he was looking to that for guidance.

I find that amazingly simple yet profound as well as an impossible image to come close to. But … there surely is a lot of truth and sense. If we are to consider how to be community as church we need to look to the perfect community, the Holy Spirit, and ask how can we act in a way similar to that?

I was then very surprised with his response to be asked ‘if starting again, what would you do?’ His response was that he would not pioneer something new. Instead he would look for a small or stagnating church and work with them, find out what their passions are or used to be, and work with them on becoming mission focussed in a contextual way in their neighbourhood. That’s quite an interesting response to make to a group of seminarians who have signed up for a week to experience emerging church and church planting. It is also a fresh challenge to me and causes me to ask ‘am I doing the right thing?’ or even ‘when my curacy is up should I be looking to take on a church in this frame of mind?’ All questions to reflect upon.

The day is not yet over – its pub theology at 9lb hammer with Jon Myers tonight.

Day 9: discernment, bishops committee, rosie thomas and sunshine!

Today we looked at COTA’s offer of mutual discernment which is available to all who are connected with COTA. Jordan, the community architect, ran us through what this is and how it works. It’s not therapy, but instead an opportunity for people to join a small group of purpose and listen to God and to others when they are considering a key decision in their lives, or looking for some meaning. The group is not about giving advice, but more about presenting an opportunity to delve into questions at a deeper level, and to have the benefit of others listening in and helping in that digging and listening process.

I was intrigued and impressed by this because it seems to be something that COTA has seen is needed and so is offering as a service to other people. There is no comeback to COTA; there is no monetary benefit; this is all about helping people to develop and help themselves. This is about building relationships and encouraging people to take time over decisions. It takes a big commitment as the group meets monthly and one person shares their question each month while others comment upon it. So … if there are as few as 6 in the group the commitment would be for 8 months as there are introductory sessions as well.

It’s very tempting to think about using something like this at home when the gathering or community has got bigger; but I htink it is  ore important to take the principle and ask ‘what service can we as a community provide for others we come into contact with?’ It could be somehting like mutual discernment, or it could be something else.

Following this discussion, I led Vespers before joining the COTA Bishops committee. This is the group that is responsible and answerable to the bishop for how COTA runs. It was a good lively meeting as the group discussed their responsibilities and how they work. This is a good group that works together well and has fun as they do it. In the two meetings I have been to I have also been struck by their honesty to each other. This is really necessary for successful leadership, but honesty of this level within decision making bodies I have known within the UK can be rare. Maybe this is a UK – USA thing!?

The evening was a surprise. We thought we were doign Pub Theology but we got our dates wrong. Pub theology will be tomorrow night. Tonight was ‘From Michigan not Mars’ with Rosie Thomas in the Abbey. This was quite a cool night. I loved seeing the abbey used in this way, and it was packed. Rosie was interesting and spoke and sang well. The film was quite an intimate following of her outlook. There was an emotional silence when she was speaking about what she cared for and what brought her fulfilmet – bringing joy to others. Some celebs talk crap, but I think Rosie was being genuine.

The big thing for today though was tht the sun came out again. Today I have taken photos of Fremont in the sun. I like Fremont anyway, but in the sun it looks so much brighter. Most of the pics are repeats, but repeats in sunshine!

still learning

Today is the start of Thursday in Seattle, although I have just spoken to Sarah and the children as they are coming home from a day at school and work and now looking forward to Friday! I dont think I will ever get used to the 8 hour thing, and it is frustrating as I’d like to talk to Sarah alone, but it’s just not possible.

Yesterday I joined Karen at the Olympia Diocese clergy day, which was a pretty long day. Bishop Greg Rickel calls these meetings 4/6 times a year and each meeting is repeated, one in the north and the other in the south of the diocese as the area is quite large. It was interesting to see how the diocese is working and what is on its agenda. The morning was taken up by looking at Clause IV, the clergy discipline measure which the CofE has had on its agenda recently. I can’t pretendit was exhilarating stuff, but it was interesting to be part of the day. There was also a great passion to get involved in Haiti and helping there when the time is right. The diocese has been sending teams to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, which the press have allowed us to forget about! Sadly the same will happen wit Haiti, but it looks like this diocese will continue to support there long after the TV cameras and press photographers have gone.

After the 45 min drive back to Seattle I wandered around Fremont again looking for Far east Handicrafts in search of a singing bowl. I have been looking for one of these for a while with my thinking being to sue these as an aid to worship in a similar way to bells being used in high churches. I was intrigued to see that singing bowls are used in a similar way withing COTA and they have bought them from the same shop.

I got to the shop and met Kirk. After chatting a little about the bowls I found one with the note I liked, but Kirk did not think the bowl sang for long enough so we went to the back of the shop to find a bowl that had the note I was looking for and sang longer. I ended up paying a few dollars less. The amazing thing about this place, though, is how it supports people in the areas of Nepal in which they work. First they only import what the people naturally make (e.g. they don’t get Buddhist making nativity scenes) and they fund 2 schools and a mobile cataract surgery that ‘brings sight to the blind’ in remote ares of the country. This is paid fro from profits and donations. So … as well as finding my singing bowl (or, ;-), did it find me) I have become connected to these brilliant projects.

At the end of the day we ate at Ivar’s Salmon House which I was told was a must while in Seattle. We had the most amazing salmon meal and I wasn’t disappointed.

Today I will spend more time with the Lutheran seminarians learning about the COTA rule of life and tonight we are catching up with Jon Myers again in pub theology, which sounds great to me.I hope we can get some good conversations going.

I’m continuing to reflect on my time here and experiencing more and more what Christianity COTA tyle looks like. A 24/7 Christianity means that these people like to spend time together. It is not just a church meeting or Sunday mentality. Lines between spirituality and normal everyday life are hazy, which means it is hard to work out what is happening, but I believe that is how it should be. I am really looking forward today to hearing more about the rule of life that COTA endeavors to follow, as I think this will go a long way in helping me to understand how things look and why they look as they do.

As I look down the long tunnel of COTA the mist is starting to rise a little for me … but only a little. I discover more things and learn more things, which in its own way brings more questions as well.