excited … daunted …

It’s been an incredibly busy and interesting weekend. We celebrated the 25 years of marriage of my brother in law Andrew and fave sis in law Sarah. That was a great party and a wonderful time of reflection over the past few decades. It was exciting to look back and see how we’ve changed … but then it was daunting as well as we realised how quickly 25 years has passed!

That rolled into Sunday which was a day of endings and beginnings.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREWe held our stall at the last boot fair of the season. To be honest I was a little disappointed as it was very quiet. A combination of fewer people and a pitch which was a bit out on a limb meant that we chatted amongst ourselves for a lot of time. We did have some conversations, and we did pray with some people after Psalm or Jesus Deck readings. It was a good time of team story sharing and I was able to watch and see how members of the team had grown massively in confidence. The pilot has definitely shown that this is a worthy ministry and we will be looking at recruiting a bigger team for next year …. so watch this space … or why not just get in touch if these stories have grabbed you! I’m excited by what can develop next year while I acknowledge bigger and better needs more planning, resources and people.


image from here

On Sunday afternoon the gathering got together for a BBQ and Eucharist as our first get together since our aspirations day at West Malling. There was a great atmosphere as we caught up, we missed those that could not be there, and we shared bread and wine together as we contemplated the task of writing our rhythm of life that now lies ahead of us. Others have found out about us and 5 new people wanted to come yesterday but could not make the date, but hope to be with us in October.

I’m excited by where we are as the gathering. I am also scared and daunted because, I guess, it is actually starting to work. People are taking the reigns and that means I have to let go of stuff that I have held dearly for so long. Leadership in the gathering is collaborative and inclusive and i think now, possibly for the first time, we as a community are collaboratively leading this thing. None of us know where it is going and none of us can influence that direction. It really feels like we are at the mercy of this great wave or wind called God …. which is both exciting …. and daunting all at the same time.

So … two words that pretty much sum up the weekend …. feelings of excitement and being daunted!

worth the risk

mouse trapI stumbled upon this quote the other day (thanks Graham):

‘Welcoming the stranger puts oneself and one’s community at risk. At best, the stranger is disruptive, bringing strange ideas and new, even wrong, ways of doing things. At worst, the stranger is dangerous, bringing disease, dishonor or violence. Welcoming the stranger is risky: everyone will be changed, host and guest alike…. And we cannot know ahead of time what the changes will be’(Amy Oden ‘God’s Welcome: Hospitality for a Gospel- Hungry world’)

One of our values / aspirations that came clearly and strongly from our away day as the gathering was something to do with relationship, family, hospitality, welcoming … and other such terms. As a community we believe that this risky welcoming, although difficult and maybe even messy or, as Oden says ‘dangerous’, is vitally central to all that we do and all that we are.  The fact that a strong message received when talking about what we valued in the gathering was the openness and welcome to all to be participative on any level, along with the freedom to just be, leads me to believe that this is a pretty important value to us. I look forward to the discussions as we try to sum that up in one word!

It has always struck me as ‘interesting’ that to join many Christian groups today, whether that be church or whatever,  their seems to be an unwritten rule to conform to what the group is already doing, saying or believing. In some that even goes as far as wearing the same clothes, reading the same books, and going to the same events with the added inference that some Christian events are good while others are not. To suggest that the group might change to accommodate or welcome what a new person brings can often bring a look of terrified shock to those in ‘authority’, or others who are established, within the group.

But surely … if we are searching for truth together, and working out how to live as Christians in this world, we need to listen to how God is working in each of us, and listen to how God is talking to us through each other …. unless of course the group we are in has already sussed it out totally and has 100% certainty that their group and ideas is the one God given right true and correct way. But then, maybe some really do believe that they have discerned everything and have ‘arrived’. The gathering has not ‘arrived’ and we don’t believe we ever will as there will always somewhere further to go.

Welcoming the stranger is also very counter cultural, and possibly seen as a sign of madness, in a society that tells us from an early age to ‘beware of the stranger’ and realise that the stranger might be dangerous as a person who wishes to take something from you. In reality there is a safety issue that we need to consider as a community. But …. I believe we must avoid being directed too much by our fear, and be open to what the stranger may bring. If we ask God to direct our day … then we need to listen to the people God brings across our paths.

Today I had a long conversation with an older guy from India who has lived in Gillingham  since the early 1950’s. We talked about the changes he has experienced and in individual beliefs. I think we both left the conversation enriched in some way, learning something new from each other, discovering more about our creator and ourselves together. That would not have happened if we viewed each other with stranger suspicion.

I love that final thought from Oden, that ‘everyone will be changed …. ‘host and guest alike’. The alternative is a kind of static nothingness where nothing changes. I don’t want to look at myself in 5 years, or even a year, or even a month … heck I don’t really want to look at myself next week and think ‘nothings changed’. We are called to follow Christ and be transformed to be more like Christ … and it seems to be that allowing the the stranger in can be on way of allowing that Christ-likeness to happen.

After all … it is in entertaining strangers that we may actually encounter angels!
I can’t help but think, it’s worth the risk!

we aspire to …

Yesterday the gathering had an amazing day.

DSC_0243This was a day many of us have been waiting to embark upon for a year or two. I think for myself it concludes the first part a journey that started long before ordination when I clearly heard God’s challenge to join him and find others create something new which was open and inclusive for any wishing to explore more of God but who felt, for one reason or another, that they could not do this within the then existing church structures.

Well .. that journey started with the gathering’s first get together back in April 2009. I’ve linked to my post which I wrote the afternoon after our first gathering, and I smile at the language of journey. That sense of journey was still very strong yesterday … and I think I can safely say a prayer for the community would be ‘Lord, deliver us from ever thinking we have arrived!’

It has taken 4 years from those humble beginnings in a room in our house to get to the stage we were ready for yesterday. In that time people have joined and found it not for them. Others have travelled with us for a while as they re-asses and have then been attracted back to established/inherited church. Others have joined and stayed. I think this is probably the 3rd ‘incarnation’ of the gathering  and to me it seems the most stable we have had. That word, stable, worries me as it suggests a static-ness … but that is definitely not a word to describe us.

Yesterday we met for our aspirations day. This came out of our day together in April and is the start of us developing our Rhythm of Life.

We gathered at West Malling Abbey with Lynne Norman, our excellent facilitator, who kicked the day off by getting us to think about what we valued about the gathering. I was close to tears on a few points as we heard from each other how important the gathering had become … and not just to us. Some of the deepest stuff yesterday came from our children as they articulated how they put great value on what we did together.

DSC_0252After looking at what we valued, we were then asked what we were passionate about, then different activities to talk about our dreams and hopes as well as our fears. All the time this was going on Lynne was writing our words and statements on post it notes and sticking them to the wall. You can see the result in the picture which is high res enough to be able to read the post its if you click on it.

The fnext stage was to look at this mass pof words and draw out common themes and put the words into groups. The words grouped natural into 6 areas and then after some discussion we realised that they really came under four main themes.

The last part of this day was to look at each of the four lists and come up with a word or statement that summed them and our thinking up. This became an aspiring statement … as in this is something that we as individuals and the gathering aspire to do.

So today we have reached a milestone. The next stage for us as a community is over the next four months to take each statement in turn and explore this as a gathering in our monthly worship get together. two weeks after that some of the gathering will get together and will write a paragraph or chapter or something that will help us put our aspirations into practice. At the end of this particular process we hope that we will have been developing a Rhythm of Life out of the identified key areas to answer the question about what God is calling your community to be, and to answer the question, How should we live in but not of the contemporary world?

As a gathering I think we were pretty excited by the end of the day. I felt completely privileged to be part of such an amazing group of people … so thank you.

gathered in inhabited space

An exploration inwards, upwards, inwards and downwards was the title of yesterday’s gathering planned by a group from the community. We focussed on our senses and watched the video which we then discussed in a way that allowed all to take part. the video is called to the power of ten for obvious reasons when you watch the video.

I was intrigued to see the echo of emptiness at both extremes of moving away to the power of ten in the universe and moving inward to the power of ten within the human body.

It seemed to me that there was a God echo at 10 to the power of 24 and 10 to the power of …… the commentator says this emptiness is normal, the richness of our world is the exception.

Fascinating … although as a Christian I don’t quite believe that! At the extreme of the universe, and at the ‘intreme’ of the human body, there may be space, it may look empty, but I believe it is inhabited space …. God indwelled space … and in that space we find our creator.

a new volume

easter gathering 6 bubbly celebrationSo … the gathering had our ‘away day’ with Ian. We started by asking the question ‘What do we mean by mission in a culture of spirituality?’ Ian them led us through ‘what is new monasticism’ using Moot as a working example. We then started to look at forming a rhythm of life and how did would help us in our mission and our lives as Christians in our settings.

As the day progressed I sensed a real intrigue which turned to excitement and then to a permission giving feeling of real willingness and possibility for what might be, and what the gathering could become.

The gathering made a collective decision to start the journey of looking at whether we are a new monastic community by seeing if we can craft our Rhythm of Life. This will involve us in a 6-8 month process but there was a real sense of wanting to do this.  So we will be planning another day away with a facilitator in the next few months.

I am excited, I am worried about the level of work and commitment this will take, I am intrigued as to where this will take us. Amongst all this fear, excitement and intrigue, however, I am convinced that this is the right thing for us to be doing. I will be interested to see what we as a community value about what we do, and what our dreams are for what our community could become.

Whatever happens, yesterday was the start of a whole new chapter for us ….  actually, maybe even more than a whole new chapter, but more like a whole new volume. Nothing will eb the same afte this. Please … continue to pray for us.

wasteful extravagance

480247_10151510243705211_861319788_nThe day got off to a great start. We had a special morning at St Mark’s with three baptisms. There was a lot of excitement and noise and expectancy along with a real sense of joy, particularly at the celebration in a local club after the service.

After that the gathering got together with a theme of ‘wasteful extravagance’ based on today’s Gospel reading of Mary washing the feet of Jesus with some incredibly expensive perfume (John 12:1-8). After considering this story we went on to think about words to describe Mary as well as things that were precious to us, and whether we would be able to simply pour, or give, them away.

One station that I particularly enjoyed and was challenged by which Andy and Liz put together was a room with pictures of Mary. As soon as you entered the room you were hit with a rich smell of perfume, coming from two oil burners. The hit on the senses really challenged me over what Mary had done, seemingly without any concern for what others thought, or about the very costly nature of her actions.

I’ve been asking throughout the day … ‘what kind of faith allows you to pour a whole years wages away in such an extravagant act?’ A whole years! Not only is that a massive act of extravagance, but it’s an incredible act of of self denial and trust. Mary was not only worshipping her Lord, she was literally pouring away her security. This may well of been her pension plan … which she pours on Christ’s feet.

Wow … what a faith … a wasteful faith … a courageous faith …

holding what gives us life

gathering logoOn Sunday the gathering gathered once more.

I deliberately planned a simpler time together as I was aware of new people joining over the last few weeks and wanted to allow more time to be able to chat more and get to know each other better as we ate cake and drank coffee.

As well as sharing communion in the gathering style we did the examen together as a group and then shared as much as we wanted to in different size groups, mainly family units. People seemed to be engaging and sharing quite well.  I find the examen useful and think its appropriate for all ages.

I like the use the examen regularly, s it helps me to identify God throughout my day, and yesterday I introduced this using Sleeping with Bread. The introduction to our gathering examen may be found here. This also explains the title of today’s post.

On reflection … the gathering yesterday was one of the most life giving moments of my week. Tonight, I shall sleep holding that thought.

continuing the journey …

BAgAPwiCQAA-dzEthe gathering got together today for what has become a bit of a tradition for our first service in the new year. A tradition that sees us consider the Christian Journey and wonder where we are with God and ourselves at this particular time.

If you have not seen or experienced ‘the journey’ I have blogged about it before here and in other blogs. Essentially the journey is an exercise where we get to think about where we currently are in our Christian life. The Christian life, we believe, is full of different experiences that happen over and over again. In our particular journey we have:

the mountain top : experiences where the air is clear and where you feel close to God with renewed vision, lots of energy and stuff. Mountain top experiences are great, you can see the rest of the journey before you and have a great sense of where everything is heading, but you can’t live here for long, nothing grows and the air is then so soon you have to come down.
the valley: this path often follows a mountain top experience. The sides of the valley are high, the valley is narrow and dark and sometimes you need to trust what you sw from the mountain and keep walking.
rivers cross the path unexpectedly. These can be times of refeshment or simply playing the water. You can choose to take a bridge over them or play or drink from them awhile.
the desert … a place where often you can feek disconnected from God, or disorientated. This is not really an enjoyable place and sometimes we can feel we may even be losing faith. The deset is a harsh place, but from scripture we also know it can be a place of preparation.
lakes are places where we can wallow, rest, and simply chill with God. AS we chill sometimes we find our vision develops.
the sea …. a place where you can walk out, beyond your depth, and simply let the sea of God take you where it will. This can often involve  a step of faith of varying magnitude.

The image shows what our journey looked like today. After a brief introduction people of the gathering took glass beads and placed them where they thought they were on the journey today. Many of us felt that elements of our lives were in different places on the journey and so we placed a number of bead around different locations. Personally I felt I was in the rocky desert and in the shallows of the sea. Others were on mountain tops, in valleys, in lakes, deserts ….. members of the gathering were scattered around the whole journey. The exiting thing I find about the journey each time I do it with a group of people is that we are all at different places at different times, but we are all on a journey. Each of these places is valid and correct, there is no wrong place to be … all is sacred because all is with God! Often we fall into the trap at looking at where others are and wishing we could be with them or be like them, when, actually, we are where we are with God and that is the right place.

I quoted Vesey in Developing Consciousness last year, and his writing is apt following our gathering today:

You are always in exactly the right place to be able to take the next step.
It is an amazing realisation, that you are, right now, in exactly the right place to begin this journey.
Your whole life has brought you to this point. Everything you have ever done has brought you to the point of reading these words now. And everything has conspired for you to be in exactly the right place. You could not be in a better place.
And that is true for every single moment of your life.
You are never in the wrong place. All you can do is to not recognise you are in the right place, and then automatically you miss the point and opportunity of that moment.
To be in the right place at the right time you simply have to acknowledge  the rightness of the moment, and thus the moment become yours.
Do it now, without qualification.
Whatever our circumstances, wherever you are. Trust this moment as being one that is right. One that has meaning. One that is setting you on a journey outside the box, and it will be so. And what is the next step? Well … ask yourself that …. what is the next step? What do you do right now as the next step?

The gathering then concluded our time together by sharing communion and saying the Methodist Covenant Prayer together …. if you don’t know it go and have a read, it’s a pretty amazing thing to pray.

Thank you people of the gathering fro making today a pretty special experience …. her’s to continuing the journey …

the gathering mess

IMG_0612Yesterday the gathering had its Advent get together. We remembered Advent as a time of waiting, and asked each other what we were waiting for.  We then remembered that we were part of a big story, stretching back to Adam and Eve, to the dawn of creation even, when we passed the light, our story from generation to generation and adapted Wellsprings Passing on the Light.

As Adam and Eve passed it to their children, and their children and their children … we asked ourselves who would carry the light now, if we do not. After singing our gathering carol, which we wrote as a grop last year, we then enjoyed a meal in which we incorporated a celebration of Eucharist. Gathered around a meal table people of all ages passed bread and wine … but this was no sombre celebration, this was a feast of joy and laughter as we allowed ourselves to hope in our waiting.

At the end I smiled as I looked across the table. The table was a mess. A holy mess, with discarded glasses and crumbs and the remnants of a party. It was exciting because, once again, we met with God in the mess.

hospitality of Mary

retreat 021Hospitality is a ‘value’ that the gathering takes quite seriously. It is, though, one of those words that can be easily allowed to roll of the tongue but we are finding that it is a value that is so much harder to put into practice then we ever thought it would be.

Many people think they are being hospitable by having open house policy at certain times of the year, or by regularly meeting with friends, sharing meals and that kind of stuff. I’m not sure that is hospitality but more of being friendly and having  good time with friends.

Hospitality is courteous. Hospitality listens. Hospitality is generous with time. Hospitality welcomes … and that applies to the ‘stranger’ or ‘alien’ in a time when we have allowed our media to give us cause to be suspicious and wary of the stranger. Hospitality is something I see missing from everyday life, and something that the gathering is trying to develop, although I do not think we are particularly great at it yet.

So why am I thinking about hospitality at this time of Advent?

It’s because I am starting to wonder whether Mary is an image of hospitality to aspire to? Mary shares everything she has with the creator forming inside her. She gives all, reputation, social standing, her very body. Not only does she share her whole being to enable Christ to grow, but she receives fully without grandiose views of who she is. She remains grounded in her acceptance. The words of the magnificat show her humble acceptance and receiving.

Is hospitality one sided if we learn only how to give? Hospitality requires both a giver and a receiver. Its seems from my limited experience that many of us, particularly in caring or ministry ‘professions’, are far happier to help and give than we are to be humbled and receive. I wonder if true hospitality requires both of us?

Mary … an image of all round hospitality in her giving and receiving is quite a challenge to me today.