a day to contemplate

I enjoyed meeting old friends at the ‘Contemplative spirituality and fresh expressions of church: building contemplative ecclesial communities out of contextual mission‘ day. (Fraser noted the title was too long to tweet – hence my cyber silence yesterday!)

As always a particular highlight was catching up with old friends and listening to their stories of how they struggle with ‘this stuff’ in the places they are called to be. It was also exciting to meet new people and hear new stories. I guess my only complaint for the day would be that it was not long enough to enable as much sharing and catching up as I would have liked – but that is not really a criticism as I thought the day was an excellent day and I returned feeling refreshed, challenged, encouraged and reassured.

There was a lot in the day, but some comments i particular that I recorded as I wish to think about them more:

A need to ‘receive from the space that only God can inhabit‘ – David Cherry

We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but rather we live ourselves into a new way of thinking‘ – Ian Mobsby

Maybe we need to have the courage to let come what is waiting to come‘ – Ian Adams

I can’t say too much in reflection or response at the moment as I need to think on these, and part of the reason for putting them here is so that I don’t lose them and maybe hear what you think. Podcasts of the talks will soon be posted on the Moot website so that you can hear them for yourself. If you are interested in this and never knew about the day then you might want to sign up at the fresh expressions of the sacramental traditions website.

Thanks Ian, Ian and others, particularly Lou, who worked amazingly throughout the day so it ran so well.

which way?

Today I traveled up to London to meet with Ian, my mentor who is now based at St Mary Aldermary. As ever the time was invaluable to me as Ian reflects on what I say and speaks little words of wisdom into the situations I am reflecting on or struggling with.

In particular today we were thinking about what comes next after two and a half years of training. Till this time my strategy has been pretty much wait  ………………….and then go from there. It has not been that simplistic, but the strategy has been one of observation, listening, reflection, questioning and understanding rather than getting involved in the setting up of loads of projects. In a work such as this there is always a temptation to start to do something too quickly before fully understanding the context and the needs of the setting that you are in.

The last two and a half years have not been totally inactive. In addition to the amazingly humbling and privileged links within the community, there is pub theology and the gathering.  It is these two things in particular that I think it is now time to think more about where these are going – and just this past week people have mentioned ‘sacred coffee’ and ‘holy cocktails’ which were ideas similar to pub theology in a different setting. Is the time right to branch out with new ideas, or is it right to develop what we are doing further?

I cannot pretend to fully understand just yet, but it does seem that now is the time to start to think more about how to move forward, how to develop and how to be available to people that wish to find us. There are a core of people involved in various things and so I will be chatting to thee people as well and gaining their amazing insights to what is happening.

So – it’s probably a bit of a watch this space as I chat and reflect more with people on these things.

one small step

On Sunday the gathering got together to look at the subject of ‘giving birth to a church’ using Acts 2 as our bible passage to look at. We asked the question of ourselves wondering how we can live out our faith in a way that is both attractive to others and meaningful for our lives as they are.

Sometimes it is just too easy to look at a church 2000 years ago and say, ‘ok … we need to do exactly what they did then.; Of course … we don’t! That was 2000 years ago and now is now – the faith is the same, maybe hassles are even the same, but the context is totally different. I guess it was this we were grappling with as a community of around 12 people.

As we reflected on where we have come from, it became clear that not all were aware of the gathering story, and that an issue we need to do something about. It seems we have traveled some way, but we are painfully aware that there is a long way to go. As someone pointed out – giving birth to something is only the beginning. The gathering has been born, but now we need to think about how we nurture and feed that so that we grow into a healthy vibrant Christian community.

I’m a fairly impatient person and I want to know where we are going – and I shared yesterday that for the very first time in anything I have done that I do not know where to go next or what to do. That frustrates me, but it does not worry me. I think that is a healthy position to be in. It means we are treading forward together quite carefully, trying to walk with God and allow him to take the initiative.

To be honest – I always knew being involved in starting something completely new was going to be challenge. the gathering is made up of an amazing group of people, and without them it would be a nightmare rather than just a massive challenge. Starting something new is, though, such hard work!

One thing we have agreed on, which I guess is pretty much the next step (and so, I guess, all we need to know at the moment) is that we need to spend more time together around a meal table simply getting to know each other better. I am quite excited by the thought of doing this – it feels the right thing to do and I think that is all we have to go on at the moment as to what we should be doing next. I think someones suggestion that this should happen in various places, both private and public, and at various times is a good suggestion.

As we meet to eat we will be able to share our stories, our dreams, our visions and our passions … and I wonder, just wonder, what may come from that.

(if you want to check out the gathering you can find us here or on facebook

temples alone but church together

I really enjoyed the gathering today. Lots of people were involved in the creation of what happened and I really love this as it means that i am always made to think differently about something. Unusually for us we took just one verse, 1 Corinthians 6:19, to look at today and particularly asked ourselves what does the text really mean when he says our bodies are temples.

We chatted and shared a lot, but two ideas came out of our discussing that I have been thinking about for the rest of the day. The first came from the idea that tempes were built by people as places for their gods to show off. The building was dedicated to a particular god and everything about the building was an expression of worship to that God. This was a place to show off for the god.

If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit how do I show that off?

During our time together we set the task of getting ourselves into a living sculture of a temple. This was a creative and funny time but also challenging. It became very clear very quickly that we needed each other to help illustrate everything we thought a temple should display … things such as love, worship of a king, a saviour, a creator, trinity …. and the list could go on.

We are temples alone, but we are the church together and need each other to be able to more fully express the love of God.

I think today marked a change in outlook for the gathering in how we work with each other and express together the love of Christ …. I look forward to where we may be going next!

what do i think of ‘parish’?

A few people have been interested in this book and asked for my comments as I am a pioneer and ‘into  the Fresh Expression thing’ (their quote not mine!)

I have not read it and not likely to in the very near future but there have been some interesting reviews, one from Giles Fraser who I normally agree with (but not on this occasion) and Ben Edson and Ian Mobsby who both respond well.

As I said … I have not read the book and can’t really comment. Like others, I do believe we need to look at ecclesiology and practice, but starting from a premis of stating that Mission Shaped Church is a ‘flawed document’ is not a good premis to thoroughly investigate from.

Anyway … people have asked what I think … clearly not a lot …. but that’s because I don’t really know a lot because I am still spending brain time trying to work out what we are doing and how we are doing it.

our celebration gathering

the gathering gathered again yesterday afternoon in the Crypt. It was an encouraging time as three new people were there and seem to be interested and wanting to become involved in creating something.

Yesterday we considered the theme of celebration and Howard got us thinking on celebration of our diversity while thinking about the world cup and the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis. We had a great discussion trying to pull out what this meant … and for the first real time I think we could not all agree which I take as a big positive. A lot of faith, surely, is bigger than our own personal beliefs.
Before and after our worship together there were good conversations happening and it w clear that we are slowly making that transition from group to community … I think the distinguishing element is a genuine interest in other people and what they are about, rather than an attempt to get people to change to fit.
A particular highlight for me was our celebration of communion. We stood around the altar and shared the communion prayer. Our youngest person stood on a chair so she could see over the altar. As we shared bread and wine, I played Paolo Nutini’s track ‘Pencil full of lead’ which I think talks a lot about the celebration of life. I think too often we have a sombre mood in church when sharing communion …. but communion should also be a celebration of what we believe God has done through Christ. 
Nutini is probably a first in the Crypt, and most certainly a first for a Eucharist in the cathedral.  It certainly intrigued tourists walking around. The image though, of people united around God’s altar enjoying the experience, sharing a meal in and of celebration will stay with me for quite a while! I think it was one of those ‘special’moments which comes along when you least expect them.
Sometime’s it is pretty cool to see what God can do with a bunch of people.

A flash of light!

Yesterday I took a trip to London to meet upo with Ian Mobsby who is kind enough to take time regularly to chat with me in a pioneering mentoring role. I really value this relationship and I found yesterday very helpful. In fact, I felt myself a lot lighter after our conversation as I was able to see things in perspective again.

I guess one of the things that is difficult with all ministry and, I think, pioneer ministry in particular is the whole isolation thing. I work with in this daily which means familiarity breed itself quite quickly. The daily working alone brings feelings of isolation to the forefront. This produces tiredness, and when we are tired it is difficult to be rational or see things for what they are.

Working in isolation (which is not really a choice but more of a necessity) can mean that all of the above cam result is a loss of perspective. Steps are gradual and unnoticeable on a daily basis; but taking time out to look back over a length of time results in things becoming clearer and change being more obvious. As I looked back over the last 22 months I could see how relationships have developed, how locations have changed and how there was no gathering and now there is – even if it is struggling at the moment.

Following my time with Ian I popped into The White Cube to visit Anthony Gormley’s latest installation, Test Sites. In particular I was struck by Breathing Room III and how it related to, and reinforced, my conversation with Ian.

Breathing Room III  ‘is made from 15 interconnecting photo-luminescent ‘space frames’, the total volume of which is equal to that of the internal gallery space. 
Time and light are the principal materials of the work. Breathing Room III encourages the viewer to enter into and interact with a defined sculptural space, where intense bursts of light interrupt complete darkness, unexpectedly jolting the experience from one of quiet meditation to acute interrogation.’

I took time to wander around and in and out of the sculpture. At first my feelings were of fear and of being uncomfortable. Fear because my worry was of doing something wrong, of breaking something, of walking into something I should not walk into. My confidence quickly increased as I got used to the space and stepping in the gaps along with ducking when I needed to duck. It did not take long for me to start feeling very comfortable in this environment and even enjoy being there. I quickly became acclimatised and my initial thoughts and experiences evaporated as my experience of this new environment grew.

Then came a sudden shock of light and heat. The sudden light from darkness was blinding and quite painful. The heat from the lights was amazing (actually you should pop in for a little while if you can just to experience that intense change alone). The whole experience was quite painful from the initial shock and contrast, but it was an ‘awakening’ experience.

The flash of light exposed Gormley’s work. It showed all that were able to open their eyes where this installation started from and what it was like before the process of time. As the lights dimmed again and the darkness grew it became apparent that a journey had occurred. WE had not remained static even though first impressions may have left us thinking that. 

My time with Ian was essentially for me another flash of light. At times it was painful and sometimes I wanted to close my eyes. The flash, however, served a massively useful role in revealing where everything from started from and by that showing that some things have been achieved over 22 months that I have now been here. I am on a journey, it is not complete and never will be … but I am not static, I am on a journey and moving, even id slowly, in a direction.

hitting the epiphanal wall

The last few weeks have been somewhere between a challenge and a struggle. ‘Challenge’ is too soft a word, life itself is a challenge, and ‘struggle’ seems quite melodramatic; people in war torn countries face a struggle. My experience of the last few weeks, as a pioneer minister, trying to work with others to create something new is somewhere in between.

A combination of things last week got me thinking about this in a different way. Last week I watched Run Fat Boy Run. I always keep an eye on the 9pm film on Film 4 to see if it was worth watching, and I had not seen this film before. I quite like Simon Pegg and so I thought I’d take time out to watch.

In the film, Dennis Doyle (played by Pegg) decides to run a marathon. Dennis ‘runs’ most of the race injured and then ‘hits the wall’. In the film we see an actual wall that only Dennis can see. He is exhausted and everything within him tells him to stop. He cannot see any way around the wall. He could climb it but does not have the energy. He could knock it down but does not have the energy. he starts to believe that the wall will defeat him. He remembers his training, listens to the encouraging voices around him and finds the energy within himself to start to believe again and the wall starts to crumble.

As someone who used to run a lot in the past I remember the wall. It was that time when everything started to hurt, breathing became difficult, you wanted to give up and yet you knew that you just needed to carry on for a while and you would receive your second wind and be able to carry on as if the wall was never there. In fact the worst thing to do would be to stop as starting again would be incredibly difficult. In running, hitting the wall is a time when many drop out.

Each week I send my diary to an amazing group of people who pray for me throughout the week. As I was writing that last night I shared with my friends how I was feeling disheartened by events being slow (for example yesterday there were only 6 people at the gathering) and how I was struggling with being in the same places every day on my own. I have now been going out alone for 22 months. I guess I thought that by now I would have developed a bit of a team or found some allies. But I have not. I also shared I don’t know where to go, or what to do next, because I don’t.

A I wrote the words to my prayerful friends the image of Dennis at the wall hit me full on in an epiphany moment sort of way.  I believe God speaks through film and I wonder whether I was receiving some Divine insight to what has been going on within me over the last few weeks.

If there is a wall in mission terms then I think I might have hit it.
I can tell you it hurts.
I have a strong desire to sit down and just call it a day.
I think I have stopped expecting to see God do things.
That’s not so difficult to do when you do pretty unspectacular things all day. I’m tempted to go away and do something easier.
But I won’t.
It’s not because I am great or good at what I do.
It’s not even because I am stubborn!
It’s because I can’t stop.
I can’t stop because deep down, I know this is what God wants me to be doing.
I know this is what I am here for. 
I hope my waiting will pay off.
I hope the gathering will grow.
But I guess it doesn’t actually matter if it doesn’t.
Because (to repeat myself) I know this is where God wants me as this time.
I don’t know how I know that.
I can’t really explain it in words I can understand myself.
But it is my reality.
This is my calling.

Somehow, and someway, I need to keep going. I guess I need to keep praying, keep waiting, keep looking and see who God brings along my path.  I need to hold on to what I know and keep that prophetic looking and re-imagining of how things could be rather than simply accepting how things are.

If I accept how they are the wall just grows and grows and becomes the object of concern. If I continue to re-imagine and dream then the creativity and vision of opportunity from God, rather than the obstacle of the wall, focuses the attention.

I do hope, though, that there is someone to walk on this journey with on the other side of the wall – it’s getting quite lonely!

identity gathering

This afternoon the gathering looked at Identity. I thought the session went fairly well but we do not seem to have become noticed by many people yet.

I think the creativity of the community came thought this afternoon.  After our welcoming liturgy we thought about Psalm 139. We watched a short film that some friends had made a few years back based on Psalm 139 and then looked at the language and asked ourselves what ‘resonated with us’. A good discussion on identity then followed and I had a proud dad moment as Tom shared some pretty good stuff.

We then moved into Open Space, a time for people to reflect on the theme, bible input and discussion with the help of various stations. Howard wrote the stations which were excellent – one called ‘mirrors’ asking us to look at ourselves in mirrors while looking at a list of truths and lies about ourselves. Another was called ‘exteriors’ where we felt different objects hat were different on the outside and inside and related that to how we wear masks. The third that Howard wrote was called ‘sweets’, which the children particularly liked, and asked us to taste a variety of sweets as we considered what type of sweet we might be. In addition to this there was opportunity to sit quietly in front of an icon and reflect.

After sharing from this time we had a time of prayer with incense and people added incense as they prayed for stuff that concerned them. This was followed by cakes and drinks.

The feel and direction of today seemed ‘right’ in many ways and I am really glad to be part of this … whatever this may be!

where and how?

The week has been a pretty good week as far as new links go and chatting and listening with a variety of wonderful people. It has also been a ‘landmark’ week in that our domain name (http://www.gathering.me.uk) has gone properly live. I’m pleased ans surprised that we were able to register that name … and the ‘me’ part both personalises us and locates us within Medway as ME is the postcode area. There are still things to add to the website when the time is right but the basic essentials are there for people who may be searching for like minded people to be able to find us.

In addition this week we have received our advertising postcards. Although it was a good idea to have these published (I got a great special offer deal!) I now have a problem. Where do I leave these postcards? That is also a general question about how and where we let people know about the gathering.

Our dilemma, as such, is that we do not wish to advertise in the ‘normal places’ that a church would advertise. If we do this, our fear is that we will either attract dissatisfied people who are already in churches or attract those looking for something different to attend to add to what they are already involved in. While there is nothing wrong in that if that need exists, we don’t feel this is what the gathering is primarily for. 

the gathering is for those searching, those who have never been to church or those that have tried church and want to create something new that engages with them and their questions. We don’t wish to build a new service or event, we are looking for people that wish to join us on this journey of birthing a new way of being church where people can journey together, question but accept each others views and discover God for themselves.

Currently our postcards can be found in a pub, the library and a couple of coffee shops in Rochester. I sense this is where spiritually questioning people tend to hang out. I may be wrong but I guess it is a start. I’m not sure where else to place them – any suggestions from practitioners out there – either on the whole awareness thing or the specific postcard thing?