don’t stop … you might find yourself!

DSC_0042On Sunday evening some of the gathering got together in a local pub to have a go at writing our first aspirational statement with practices or ‘the how’ we will attempt to live our lives.

It would be wrong to put ‘out there’ the statement and points we came up with at this time as they are draft and for the whole gathering community, rather than just a part of us, to agree, but I think it is ok to say that our first statement, or value, is one of ‘sanctuary’ as outlined here

Interestingly we chatted round the language we used and I think we were able to come up with something that is quite inclusive and welcoming of others. An issue we had was of producing something that demanded some form of commitment from us while avoiding some bar set so high that it became a chore and probably unachievable. This is a very exciting, if challenging, time for us as the gathering as we continue with this process of developing our rhythm of life. 

The more I have thought about this topic of sanctuary, the more I am coming to see that sanctuary could be quite a key element to both a personal and communal faith and lifestyle. Every rhythm needs space, and rest, and reflection, and contemplation …. As many know I have an allotment. The seasonal work of an allotment means that there are varied workloads and, quite importantly, a period of rest while stuff dies or hibernates or retreats to within until it gets warmer. Without the rest in the seasons the crops would not be able to grow while without the rest and variety of activity, the allotment keeper would die!!!

I find the more I look at the 21st century world the less I see of sanctuary. People, generally, seem to want to pack more and more stuff into their lives. I read the words of someone recently (I can’t remember who) that said thy cannot cope with space and silence and need to fill it. Rather than be silent this person would rather count the stars I think they said. 

The question I ask of such a person is, ‘what are you running from?’ To shy away from space and silence seems to indicate to me a reluctance to rest with oneself. I think the person who avoids sanctuary or rest or silence or space is running from themself out of a fear of what they might find if they stop. 

As a rule in a post modern consumerist society … do we run from ourselves out of a fear of what we may find? As created beings, made in the image of God,I wonder if maybe if we spend time with ourselves we might be amazingly surprised … as we take space and listen we may well hear something of great value …

…. maybe …

 

we aspire sanctuary

sanctuary pilsdon copyThe gathering got together today as we started to unpack the first of our four aspirations which we came up with on our day at West Malling before the summer.

The aspiration we were looking at today was ‘creating a space and a sanctuary to engage with others and ourselves’. The group that planned the afternoon took us on a journey through questions:

What makes a space a sanctuary?
How can we find rest and peace?
Why are we wanting to connect with others?
What are we building upon?
What next?

Great questions, and questions that got lots of us talking and thinking. The second question came after some of us (mainly adults) chose to do a Lectio Divina reading of Matthew 11:28-30 while the rest of us (mainly children) chose to do a meditation. (Yep – you heard that bit right … our children chose to meditate!)

We were struck this afternoon by Matthew’s words: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I’m not entirely sure I have grasped a good meaning of that phrase yet … but I’m mulling it over and glad that I am on retreat the next few days and hope that maybe I will have space to dwell on that more.

Some one else in the group used a term that I loved as son as I heard it: ‘matching or tuning in to the heartbeat of God’. Again it’s a deep statement, but words that I wonder whether they describe what it is that we are about. I wonder whether our whole rhythm of life is something that helps us to match or echo the heartbeat of God in our everyday normal hum drum lives.

The gathering today was exciting. As I looked around the 21 people who had gathered I realised 11 (52%) were children. 11 children that were actively involved in the discussion, in the contemplation, and in the sharing of their experiences. One child shared how they heard the voice of God when they were scared one night. Hearing God speak through our children today was an incredibly amazing privilege. Hearing from everyone today was a privilege.

... space ...As far as our ROL goes our next step with this aspiration is to attempt to write a paragraph in 2 weeks time that will help us live our lives. The task is a big one and the journey is long … but we are slowly moving forward in quite an amazing way.

a journey of discipleship

DSC_0092Its been a busy few days and I’ve not really had the headspace to reflect on things I have been involved in.

I am feeling pretty caged up at the moment as I’m conscious I am holding so much ‘stuff’ in my head … and that’s not a good place for a reflective practitioner to find themselves in. I need to pause and reflect which is pretty much what I use this blog for, and of course I love the comments from others who have great insights that both challenge and bless.

So; to start emptying the head …. Last week I was at Breakout. This was a highlight as it was space with other pioneers, some I know and trust who have become good friends, and others that I got to know over the three days and hope will become good friends. The conference was good for many reasons.

Having others from the gathering there was a first for me, and its hard to put into the words the mix of joy and excitement I felt being there with others from our community. It sounds soppy, but it made the time way even more valuable than I could have envisaged. Seeing members of the gathering naturally linking with others was such a cool experience. It feels as though something has changed for the better, but more on that will come from another post.

Some of the stuff delivered in the sessions at Breakout was really good as well. The topic was ‘discipleship’ which I believe is very key to pioneers  … although I do find myself personally questioning whether the set sessions were AS valuable as the natural conversations that were had outside set session times. (Is it just me that thinks we should have a conference of like minded people with a ‘topic’ who then just chat and join various conversations happening in different rooms, or preferably bars!?)

I was particularly challenged by an observation from Stuart Murray Williams. I can’t remember his exact words but he said something like; ‘Jesus said go and make disciples and I will build my church …. but I wonder whether we have reversed that, so that we try to build church and kind of hope disciples grow through some form of osmosis.’ I was challenged by that and the statement has been buzzing around my mind for a good few days now.

As an OPM I am tasked with creating new ways of being church with others. That task can sometimes become clouded with a focus shifting away from disciples to models and styles of church. I think it is going to be an ongoing query and question that I chat with others in the gathering about. If we make disciples, whatever that means, does church, whatever that may be,  just simply follow?

I was also challenged to think about the ‘how’ of discipleship. I have always sat uncomfortably with published materials in this area, but I guess I am not sure why. I think it is the language of power that has put me off. It’s the language that kind of says a variety of things like: ‘I know what I’m doing so you listen to me.’, ‘We are the experts and so we will impart knowledge of how to be a good disciple to you.’ ‘You just do as we say and you will be fine.’ That has never seemed quite right to me. I wonder from what Stuart was saying if this needs to be more of a joint journey type thing, where the language is more of learning and travelling together, where there is a vulnerability as we also share the stuff we struggle with. I am thinking aloud, but this seem to make more sense to me.

Another great thing about Breakout for me is that it reminds me I am not alone in my situation. When you work in a diocese where most people you work with are on a stipend you can easily start to think you are alone in the reality of your calling. AtBreakout there were plenty of pioneers who have opted out of paid ministry to developing their fresh expressions or communities. I found that to be both exciting and eveningencouraging, and also useful as we shared the make up of out various income streams!

But … most of all the overwhelming best thing of Breakout was catchin

g up with friends …. thanks all of you …. till we meet again (which for those in the gathering will be pretty soon!)

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.

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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.