going where you fit

Last night I was involved in the last teaching session for this years MSM course which we ran in the Bluewater Management Suite.

The group have been great to work with and the last session always has a lot about reflection on what we have learnt and looking forward, and being commissioned, for the future.

msm learnI was encouraged last night with stuff that the students shared. You can read from the image what this years students felt were some of the important things that they learned.

I love reading them all … but I am particularly struck and challenged by the last comment on that flip chart … ‘going where you fit’.

For me … that kind of sums up Christian life and mission. Rather than trying to engineer or manipulate things … mission, and by that I mean ‘serving and loving people Jesus Style’, can only happen out of a context where one feels ‘at home’. By that I mean a place where you feel accepted, where you can see you are growing to love the people that inhabit that space and where you are welcomed by those that already make up that community.

Sometimes that acceptance can take a little while to appear, and I remember it took around 6 – 8 months to start to feel accepted in Wetherspoons at the start of my curacy. Before this acceptance, however, it was clear to me that I resonated with these people in some way. For a time that was enough. The same has been true of the locations and spaces I inhabit now.

So …. I often get asked by others starting or changing their ministry ‘how do I discern my calling?’, or ‘how do I know what God wants me to do in this town?’ …. my answer has now been simplified by these inspired words ….

simply go where you fit

I’m happy with that!

 

amazing intern opportunities in Stepney

stepThis is an excellent opportunity in Stepney. Bishop Adrian is an amazing guy and I’d love to have the opportunity to work with him again. So .. below is a great opportunity to work in a creative and diverse part of London under the leadership of an amazing bishop … I have cut and paste this from an email:

The Stepney Area is looking to appoint up to eight Interns from September 2014. The scheme is a year’s opportunity to serve God in parishes in Islington, Hackney or Tower Hamlets, and has been running as part of the Church of England’s Ministry Experience Scheme (CEMES). If you are aged 18-29 and interested in living out your discipleship in an urban context and exploring a vocation to ministry, lay or ordained, this may be for you.

The scheme will include parish ministry, community living, and time for study and vocational discernment. By serving with others in places of need and opportunity in London, you will be challenged to think about God’s call to work for his kingdom in areas of poverty, unemployment and social inequality.

The Stepney Area The Stepney Area is part of the London Diocese, and is diverse, vibrant and multi-cultural, with rich and poor living side-by-side. It includes some of the most deprived wards in the country, but is also home to some of the most vibrant creative industries in Europe, and to Canary Wharf and the City Fringe. The popular destinations of Hoxton, Brick Lane, Shoreditch, Dalston and Islington are part of the Area, as are the Spitalfields, Columbia Road and Broadway markets. It’s this challenging and changing urban mix which makes Stepney an exciting place to minister, and to explore what it means to be the church for the 21st century.

The Intern Scheme

The Intern Scheme will provide a range of opportunities for you to explore parish ministry. These might include leading worship, preaching and teaching, pastoral work, mission and evangelism, youth work, schools work, social transformation projects, and community engagement with other partners.

The work you will be involved with will depend on the parish you are placed with and your gifts for ministry. You will be encouraged to develop your own particular strengths and interests, and the roles have flexibility to allow them to grow and develop around the individual.

As an Intern you will be allocated a clergy supervisor in your parish. There is also an opportunity for study, and for ongoing vocational discernment, including for those already exploring a vocation to ordained ministry. Accommodation will be provided where Interns will live together in community, though serving in different parishes. There will be a chaplain to serve the pastoral needs of the house community. During the year you will be encouraged to go on retreat, and the costs for this will also be paid for.

As part of the scheme, a subsistence allowance will be provided, and your accommodation, travel, training costs and parish expenses met. As a sign of your commitment to the scheme you will be asked to contribute £500 towards it. We can help you think of ways to raise this money, and a bursary fund is available.

Who we are looking for

We are looking for energetic, enthusiastic individuals who are flexible, able to take initiative and wanting to grow in faith and in the ability to communicate it. We are looking for people wanting to explore a call to urban inner-city ministry, at home with people from diverse backgrounds and other church traditions, seeking to serve God among some of London’s most vulnerable people, and wanting to experience the adventure of community living.

If you are interested, please contact Revd Fiona Green, The Intern Director, for an application form, or to discuss the opportunity further. 07786 541559. fiona.green@london.anglican.org.

Application deadline: Monday 31st March 2014. Interviews: Saturday 12th April 2014.

everyday vulnerabilty

vulnerable spiderLast night my good friend, Terry, preached a blinder at St Mark’s on friendship … and drew out that friendship cannot happen without vulnerability. (I guess you will be able to listen for yourself soon from this link)

Terry used the friendship of Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel 18 as one illustration. Jonathan hands over his robe, belt, sword and bow … in both an act of trust/friendship but also one of great vulnerability. From such vulnerability comes a strong relationship.

I think last nights sermon hit on the crux of friendship … but maybe even on the whole of Christian life … friendship, relationships, work, ministry. As I have thought over night I have realised this should come as no surprise really if we consider the Christ child.

The incarnation, the God taking on flesh stuff and moving into the neighbourhood, is an image of total and complete vulnerability. The creator of the universe becoming a foetus in the womb of a teenage girl in a pretty rough end of the world, growing as a child in society totally dependant on a successful harvest and at the mercy of pretty primitive medical facilities if things started to go wrong. There were 30 years of that normal everyday vulnerability before Jesus starts his work and moves into that last week leding to that Friday where we see vulnerability at it’s most raw!

As I look at my week ahead, and my weeks gone past, I think vulnerability is key to what I do. I think it is key to what everyone does in reality. We all live a daily life of everyday vulnerability …. whether we walk a high street with a dog collar on, or whether we stand in front of a class of students, or whether we run a bank, or whether we keep a home going …. each role entails us giving something of ourselves, being vulnerable. Interestingly in places I have worked it is those who pretend and give nothing of themselves, those who refuse to accept or give their vulnerability,  who are the bullies or the people that people don’t wish to work with very much.

Terry is totally correct that friendship, real friendship, cannot develop without vulnerability. I would add that Christian mission, or life, also cannot genuinely happen without being vulnerable. It is in our vulnerability that people see that we value, care and love them for who they are. As an aside some Christians in our country complain about Christian rights … that has always jarred with me. I follow a Christ who made himself totally vulnerable …. to be vulnerable means you give up your rights and rely on God. How can we campaign for ‘Christian rights’ when we follow the Christ of Good Friday?

In today’s thought from Richard Rohr we read: When vulnerable exchange happens, there is always a broadening of being on both sides. We are bigger and better people afterward.

Without vulnerability I don’t think we have much. It is something unique about humanity. It was something unique about Christ.

I wonder …. being made in the image of God … maybe there is something there about sharing in the vulnerability of our creator … as he made himself vulnerable … so maybe we are to do so as well …

And then .. by our vulnerability we become more the person we are created to be.

space for questions

consumed by truthI attended a really great training day today run by Su Blanch from 3D Coaching. I have to ad

mit that I do have a tendency to be a bit critical when it comes to adult trainers (maybe that comes with doing some training myself?). Today, however, but right from the start I was focussed due Su’s method of delivery, content and style which were simply amazing.

We covered a lot of ground in quite a light but deep way. At the start of the day we were asked what would we need to have today so that we saw the day as a ‘success’. I don’t think that was Su’s language but it is my interpretation. I responded with something like, ‘at least one task for me to go away and me motivated to carry out as I could see the outcome would be for me to be more effective at what I do.’ I guess I have just been to too many training days where the stuff is inspiring but when I ask ‘so what’ there is nothing there.

Today was not like that, it was inspiring, and I have a ‘so what’ task so I am happy.

I was struck today by lots, but 3 questions in particular that Su threw out there. One was the question of what season is our church in. I considered this as the gathering and was surprised at where I ended up. Another was’ for this moment in time, what role do I need to take on?’ That’s a question that depends on context and is different in each one, but it is a question that until today I had not really focussed in on needing to be asked of myself regularly.

The final question that struck me was the ‘what will be different?’ question. After this conversation, action, experience, what will be different? The ‘so what’ of the day that I was so looking forward to.

What I have really loved about today is that I have come away with lots of questions. Helpful questions that I now need to give space to explore. First task from today … block out space in that diary to consider those questions.

For the time being … thanks Su and 3D coaching for a great day!

deliberately cracked

crackvase_litex3The retreat was an excellent time away.
Bishop James was fantastic in his teaching, which was based around 2 Corinthian chapters 2 – 6., and challenge. A really powerful time for me personally was on the last morning when in the context of a Eucharist, Bishop James prayed for each of us and then anointed us as we re-affirmed our ordination vows. This experience took me back to the roots of why I do what I do which was in itself a real personal challenge to me.

The most encouraging moment for me came when Bishop James reminded us that we hold our treasure, our ministry, within jars of clay (2 Cor 4:7-12). These jars are jars that would be picked up at a local market, poor quality, thin, designed for everyday use … maybe even cracked. These are not the good quality thick earthenware jugs that would be adorned with patterns and motifs. The bishop pointed out that Paul states figuratively that it is in these everyday poor quality clay jars that we carry the message of the gospel in. Paul was saying, and the bishop was reminding us, that Paul likens our lives to those poor quality jars. Jars made so thinly that you could see a candle shining through them.

That encourages me because a lot of the time I feel broken but don’t feel the need to be fixed, even though people sometimes want to fix me.
It encourages me because I know I am full of cracks and imperfections, but don’t feel a need to fill or glue them with something else, even though some may feel thats the right thing to do.
It encourages because I know I ain’t one of those pretty jars …. but God created me in the image of God all the same.

I’m encouraged because I have believed for some time that that my being broken and cracked and transparent is right. I believe this because I think that it may be through the cracks, the thin-ness and the transparency that the light of Christ shines through.

If I was perfect and my life was solid and sealed nothing would escape or leak of seep out from the imperfections. So …. I remain deliberately cracked because I believe I was deliberately created that way.

 

packed with disconnection

detail edenIt’s been a pretty packed week.
I could say there has been just a little too much trad stuff for my liking, but I have seen God work in the situations and am aware of the missional opportunities of all situations.

Regular readers will have probably worked that out … as when I’m packed and stressed this blog doesn’t happen. I hate that because, as a missioner I seriously need time to reflect if I am able to engage in a relevant way. This week has had little reflection, little opportunity to think about what I am doing, and there is no one to blame other than myself! I hate that even more than not having time to reflect.

Life is so much easier when you have someone to blame! Normally I am organised and plan in advance, but this past week with two training events to deliver, baptisms, pastoral visits, school and prison chaplaincy I have found myself meeting and desk bound as I simply took my eye of the ball! I was not organised, or prepared and so feel pretty much that I have lost a week.

Not only have i lost a week, but I have felt disconnected  packed with no space, but disconnected in my busy-ness. As the week progressed I have merely sat before God, with no words, but presenting myself. Today I have found words of Ghandi that have brought a smile:

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

It’s an amazingly hard hitting quote. In weeks like this, I hope, I am relieved that God can see what is in my heart … a desperate desire to see this place transformed … and that desire does not need words …. it simply needs space.

 

one step forward …

… and three steps back … is what I expected .. following yesterdays post

In my limited experience (I have only tried this stuff in one other place) after an experience like Monday, when things seem to be going well and you think you are making progress, this is quickly followed by a reality check whereby everything seems to come crashing in and you wonder again where things have got to. This is a normal stage of mission as people express, venture out, retract before trying again.

At this stage in Rochester 4 years ago people were still, in the main, not engaging with me and I often felt I was invisible. In many places in Gillingham that pattern has repeated itself. I think this is partly out of people being unsure of how to deal with the ‘dog collar’ thing as well as the fact that, in the main, many people like to be pretty private when out and about. It does remind me, however, that I soon learned four years ago that I have to be the instigator of any conversation … out of some old respect for the role i publicly do many are uncomfortable for a variety of reasons about talking to ‘a person of the cloth’. By instigating the conversation it is as if I am saying it is ok to talk …. not that I feel I need to, but it does seem that people assume a ‘professional’ person is simply too busy for them. This is pretty similar to what I experienced when I started in Rochester.

This is why I ventured out on Tuesday and today excepting the 1 step forward 3 steps back thing – but it never came. I went out expecting to have very quiet days with little engagement with people … but the opposite seems to have happened. If I’m honest I am kind of confused by that. Yesterday, for example, I was stopped in the High Street with a humourous friendly shout of ‘Oh, don’t speak then!’ This was the call of someone I spoke to a few days ago that wanted to talk more in the middle of the High Street.

For some reason people I have met once seem to be very open and very chatty. There are still hundreds in the High Street to whom I am invisible, which is not a surprise, but there are a handfull of people who are already starting to share their stories with me. That has come as a real surprise. I don’t know what it indicates or what this means for how I exercise my ministry … but it seemed worth making note of.

A possible cause could be due to the portfolio type ministry I have in the Gillingham area. In Rochester I was attached to the cathedral and the High Street… and that was it. In Gillingham I have this collection of stuff at St Marks, St Mary Magdalene, St Mary Island Church, St Mary Island School, governor at Brompton Academy, and the High Street. That means I have six or seven different places or opportunities to come into contact with people. I am visible in different types of spaces … professional spaces such as school, pastoral places of churches and social places of cafes. Some people come across me in 2 or 3 different spaces and I wonder if that is helping a relationship of trust to develop. I wonder …

I have, however, left those rose tinted specs locked in a  drawer somewhere. I still believe the 3 steps back stage will come … it just didn’t come yesterday and hasn’t come today.