I’ve been procrastinating writing a blog post since settling back in England, fearing I didn’t have many ‘concrete’ things on which to update you. But after a catch up with my course tutor yesterday, I realise I have rather a lot upon which to reflect over the last few months! Of particular note is the evolving nature of my thoughts around local mission, church and theology. The course I’m studying is refreshing and challenging (both academically and spiritually), so I will aim to give you a flavour of what I’ve been exploring over the last few months.
“Adventure of the imagination”, “inculturation”, “healing of all creation”, “incarnational mission” and “Missio Dei” are some of the phrases I have come to associate with mission. These capture the idea that our part in God’s mission involves listening and dialoguing, being attentive to where God is at work, crossing cultures (on our doorsteps, not just overseas), being creative in how we define church, and engaging with environmental issues as well as people. I feel challenged to consider how I can be more engaged with people outside of the church, knowing that some people may never wish to come near one but may still be open to receiving God’s love.
As part of a Mission and Evangelism module, we were tasked with visiting a local place of unknown culture. With this in mind, I went to an ‘Energy Share’ meeting in my local community centre, hosted by an Angelic Reiki practitioner. I was definitely nervous before going! The evening consisted of a short meditation, a guest speaker (spiritual healer, medium and clairvoyant, amongst other titles), and refreshments. I chatted with a lovely lady there, who was interested in the fact that I was a Christian (the context lent itself to conversation about spirituality early on). We connected over our shared appreciation for meditation, which I said helped me in my faith. She later came along to a contemplative/reflective event we have at my church and I went to one of her yoga classes, both of which enabled further conversation about our beliefs and experiences. Whatever preconceptions and worries I might have previously had about its incompatibility with my Christian faith, I’m now convinced of the relevance of a Christian presence in that place, where so many people are spiritually open. What an opportunity!
I’m currently writing about ‘community’ as a mission framework for my latest assignment. Community and relationship are such basic principles, and so fundamental to human existence as God created us. I have witnessed first-hand the healing nature of community and a sense of belonging in my work with Novō and Yeldall Manor. And I believe our increasingly individualistic culture is crying out for it. A small exercise I did was to deliver a letter to everyone on my street when I first moved in (about 80 houses). I introduced myself, explained that I’m exploring ways to build community, asked what they liked about the neighbourhood and said I’d like to get to know who was on my doorstep! I was pleased to receive responses from 6 households, and have met for coffee with some of them and also discovered some other Christians on the road. I love the idea of mission being something we do ‘with’ people, rather than ‘to’ people. I look forward to investigating more around the theme of community as a mission starting point.
In an earlier part of the course, I particularly loved learning about Igantius of Loyola and his legacy of the contemplative Ignatian spirituality (which I realised has striking parallels with Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps, sparking my interest in the links between spirituality and recovery from addiction). On a different topic, currently we’re looking at Christian ethics around all sorts of issues – relationships (including sexuality, singleness, affairs, marriage, divorce), gender, sacredness of life… realising there is so much ‘grey’ in the Bible, but trying to come from an ethic of love and grace as a starting point. Listening to and dialoguing with individuals, not judging or excluding. It feels healthy to be wrestling with these issues because not doing so risks becoming increasingly irrelevant to the society around us.
To return to the Mission and Evangelism module, a highlight of the whole course so far was a residential weekend in Winson Green, Birmingham. Here is what I wrote in my feedback comments:
“I think everyone of us who went on the weekend at Newbigin House was touched by the generous hospitality of Ash and Angi and moved by stories of transformation and the powerful witness of Christ’s love through their faithful service to the community in Winson Green. It is hard to think of a highlight, as there were so many things that were inspirational. It was insightful to visit the Gurdwara and mosque and receive the warm hospitality of the Sikhs and Muslims we met there. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Flavours of Winson Green’ evening, where we were taught to cook a couple of dishes from some Pakistani women. It was also great to spend quality time with the group of students, including walking pet alpacas down the road together and sharing the cosy yurt with a few of them! The simple communion service during ‘Church in a Yurt’ was wonderful. I’d love to be part of something like Newbigin House in the future, a missional community/family, and I’ve felt challenged to consider how I could be more generously hospitable in my home, as well as more engaged with those around me.”
I hope this post conveys some of the journey that I am on at the moment. I have a sense of being in a training ground for something exciting and am trusting God’s leading in this. Oh and I’d also love to get a yurt one day!
Perhaps you’ll join me in the words of this prayer I came across. I love the concept of ‘my unfolding story’:
Beloved Source of Security: I wish for total freedom from all forms of destructive fear. In its place, lead me into the freedom of surrender. You hold me while I grow, and in this confidence I release anxieties about my life – its survival and success – and trust you with my unfolding story. Amen.
Thanks for reading and for your support in so many different ways.
Blessings and love,