For the last few weeks I have been at Westminster College participating in the life of this community whilst continuing to read and reflect upon sabbatical. This blog will largely serve as the written report - but in trying to summarise my thoughts I have returned to the poetry that has often been my core way of expressing myself - I find the challenge of writing in a tight tercet's forces me to say only what I want to say - yet the loose metre (governed by the punctuation and line endings) and the internal irregular rhymes give freedom for some creativity.
This may well be my last comment on this adventure, but if there is enough interest when I return to Rochdale next week I will look to host an evening or Sunday afternoon sharing some of this and opening up the conversation.
A reflection upon sabbatical
A gathering of friends, of strangers, performers. Bright coloured bands determine
access and orders. A village created with traders and stages; in vans under tents,
much drink and more rainfall; we listen and sing, some clapping, some dance. Celebrating
music, the beauty of life, melodious text, a life story sung; a bubble paused. Holding
in tension graceful harmony on tongue. Rare political comment is despair fueled
apathy; seeking release, from fields we depart, nourished, fulfilled..... We gather
in schoolroom and chapels, bright cafe’s, old halls. Seeking a glimpse of God’s
story with other hope-filled fools. In tentative hymns, quiet prayer, gentle homily;
over coffee and cakes, fresh expression waits faithfully. In paint and clay
figures and creative conversing. Rumours of warmth, whispers on love, grace-filled
cascading. The church is alive, if unsure of the future. Vulnerable and verbing, God
is still calling.................... listen, listen, listen............. A collegiate reforms from near
and afar. Eager to learn, to teach, and be called. Engaging, conversing; scribbling
laughing; dying and living. Yet modeling a ministry that is one frantic work flow.
Where is the space to be renewed and to grow? Where is the pattern that celebrates
sabbath? And in the midst dwells a poet, a preacher, researcher with time to enjoy
this polymath crowd; a moment, a glimpse of God’s spoken endeavour - in essays
or sermons; lyric with music; deep black sculpture; whisky and beer, quick phrases,
loved symbols; buildings on rivers; digits and numerals; gravy then custard; hard
gestures, touched signals; smiles with soft words; in hallelujah - amen. Amen,
Amen: So be it, my friends, leave the tent fold open; let a new future begin.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
This sabbatical has had three main sections and these are reflected in the structure of the poem with almost two stanzas reflecting upon each stage.
I began in tandem with Chris, camping and campervaning at 5 different festivals taking place around southern England during July/August. We regularly attend Greenbelt at the end of August but we have often wanted to attend elsewhere as well, but had been restricted by their weekend timing! At the same time as having fun the sabbatical purpose was to look at the way in which performance space is used and see what lessons can be learnt for worship. In reality, what was more interesting was the way the audience used space, the way each festival is a community in itself and the way in which that sense of community came across as each festival. So the first two stanzas of “Gathering” look to reflect upon the elements that create belonging within such a community - the shared love of music, the commercial aspect and a shared worldview - in this case at all the festivals with the exception of Greenbelt an apathy towards any political consciousness; the few performers that tried anything were met by bored disinterest. Greenbelt was also a different experience from other years as I volunteered and worked as a Venue Manager - something I will look to do again in future years.
In September, I sent Chris back to work (one of us has to) and used the time to catch up on lots of reading and to visit churches that are using a different pattern for their main Sunday morning service and places where midweek worship is happening. Stanzas three and four reflect upon those experiences. the time was good, I didn’t see anyone attempting anything sparklingly different, but faithful people looking to express themselves and learn about God in their own context. Much that I saw was hopeful - the church plant where most people were younger than me, the new ways of working with young people before or during the main worship time; the midweek times giving space for those free during the day time, tied in with other activities such as coffee mornings. I have sometimes been baffled by my visits to “successful” churches outside our tradition - I don’t really get what they are doing - it seems simplistic and undemanding yet the space is full of young families. I’ve seen enough to see that we need to offer consistent good quality worship, but I’m not sure where to pitch it or how to present it. But I know that God is speaking and we must all listen and act.
Fresh expressions is the term being used by Anglicans and Methodists to talk about news ways of worshipping - I’ve seen things calling themselves fresh expressions, but I’m not sure that they are.
Cascades of grace is an idea borrowed from Ann Morisy, Journeying Out,
Verbing is a term I have used from time to time to express words (conversations) that create action. It is similar to, but different in emphasis from the dictionary definition of turning nouns into verbs.
Conversation and Engagement have become key words as I have reflected upon worship and community and the way the Church interacts with itself and its neighbours and most of all with God. Hence these words and their synonyms bounce around the poem.
October was spent at Westminster College, Cambridge - with three purposes in mind, reflect and write up the previous two months; get along to some lectures around the Federation; and as a Governor of the College get to know the staff and students a bit better than has been possible so far. I have managed all three and it has been a good time. But most of all I’ve been struck by the workload of staff and students - with everything crammed into 8 week terms - academic, ministerial formation and social, the pace is frightening and I have expressed some of my concerns in the poem and in some conversations. I have dwelt in the midst of all this and greatly value the opportunities it has given me - which the final stanza seeks to portray.
Finally, during this time I have been seeking God’s call on the next stage of ministry and have been called to be Minister to a pastorate in Coventry for whom the future is vulnerable and uncertain. Hence, “let a new future begin.”