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sabbatical - Page 4

  • Belonging

    One of the themes that has been ever present as I've moved from festivals, to worship places, to Westminster College has been the sense of being part of a community. Each festival had its own ethos and its own rules (written and unwritten), each of the established festivals had people for whom this was their place/home/identity - artists who belonged, a sense of involvement in their place and time. In each place it was a coming together of people to create a temporary community in that location - yet each has a sense of permanence which has grown through their long term engagement with that place, and with the music and with the each other. In much the same way each church engages with its own community - attenders, fringe and to some extent or another those in whose midst they are set and each has at the same time been open to an occasional stranger.

    At the moment a new community is coming together at Westminster College, it has elements of the community that was here 3 months ago - place, people, traditions - but they are now engaging with new people, new experiences, a slightly changed building, new conversations and this old institution is being reformed. 

    One of the best bits of our Vision4Life conversations at both Hallfold and St. Andrew's was to hear people tell their faith journey's - we heard some wonderful stories there was much to draw from them, but one of the themes that came over time and time again was the importance of belonging to a community - and it was when we found ourselves in a community to which we belonged that our sense of God's presence with us grew and developed. My earliest memories were at St. Mark's, Wythenshawe - as a child I was encouraged to join in - stacking chairs, reading the bible, sorting jumble, following the band, calling a Minister and so much more that is lost in the mist of time. We moved on when I was 10, to a church at which I was always an outsider and it was only when we moved  to Bolton when I was 15 that I again became part of a church community to which I will always belong - I found people who encouraged me, people in conversation with one another and with God and with the place in which we gathered and who brought me into the conversation. It was these formative communities that have allowed me to grow and become part of other specific communities and part of the wider communion of those who stride, tiptoe, race, stagger, leap, limp, crawl, carry, ride along the way of Jesus.

    And as I ponder the nature of community and worship and mission I'm finding two words follow me - Engagement and Conversation - and I have a scribble page with comments and arrows that are saying something like this:-

    Worship = engagement with God

    Worship = engagement with God + context + praxis.

    Mission = conversation involving God's story

    Community and Worship and Mission engage with one another where we are in conversation with God, Scripture, context, community, 

    Engagement involves doing

    Conversation is with and about God

    Mission = conversation

    and I thought it all might sit neatly in a venn diagram or something - but it doesn't!

    as ever - I'm thinking out loud, so if anyone wants to engage in the conversation, please do.

  • Looking at Worship (3) - Sunday

    September's Sunday worship experiences began in August with Back to School Sunday at Trinity Church, Cottam. It was lovely to be in a church where I am older than most people there! This is a church plant onto a new housing estate and has developed amongst the young families that have moved into the area - they actually want some older people to provide experienced Christian witness and to be more available than many of the current members! This was a pleasant act of worship - preparing, dedicating acknowledging people as they began, returned, changed school. It was very child friendly and involved many of the young people who were there. It perhaps lacked depth and I would hope that is to be found over time. However, it also lacked any sense of corporate worship - largely because people either didn't know, or more likely just didn't feel comfortable singing, so they mumbled along and for me, that misses the point of corporate singing. I was surprised that there was nothing creative about the use of space and the approach to worship, which was essentially our standard hymn sandwich made accessible to children set out in straight lines facing the screen. Interestingly, this was there first service back in the school hall after using the Manse for August - I wonder what parts of the intimacy and informality they enjoyed squeezing into the Manse could be transferred to the school hall. This is a church doing some wonderful work, starting from scratch they have come a long way in a short time, I look forward to hearing where the adventure takes them in future whilst hoping for an up to date website!

    The following week I joined Alkrington & Providence for their new experiment. A 9.45am service aimed at children and their parents which then moved into the main church at 10.30am, making space for those at the early service to leave at 10.45. We started with a song, the beginning of the Abram story, some interactive input about journeys and still had time for some creative tables and a discussion group, before another song and 10 minutes break so that  Janet could move the projector into church and get herself into "ordinary church" mode. The main service began with hymn, prayer and introduced the whole congregation to the story of Abram before repeating one of the songs some had sung earlier and blessing those who were now leaving. The worship continued with a standard hymn, sermon, prayer format. It is an interesting experiment and I thought it worked well, the children and adults were well engaged and there was some good input and somehow time for the beginnings of a meaningful adult discussion. The church also seem to be aware of some of the down sides - there is a need for shared responsibility in the leading of worship (there was an assumption that this would be in the early service leaving Janet free to concentrate on the main service - I don't see why that always has to be the way, but perhaps a different person and a second projector is needed to begin the main service giving the main leader of worship space to prepare herself and be released from the technical concerns of setting up a projector as most of the congregation arrive.) The other difficulty is where the parents will get their input from if they leave with their children, what children are to do if a parent does want to stay for the sermon et.al. and what connection there is between those who just come for the early church and the bulk of the congregation. As I say, much of this was within the thoughts of those who have instigated this way of working and with God's blessing they will resolve these issues. 

    The next week took me to Edgeley Road, Stockport. (No Website) The URC have recently moved in with the Methodists and developed their Big Church Little Church idea into InaSpace. I was told it began at 10am with breakfast and a read of the papers - sounded like a good idea to me, unfortunatley the Guard Steward didn't agree and I was told in no uncertain terms that "we start at 10.45" and left standing like a lemon as she realised that someone very important had just arrived (I presume that mornings preacher) and turned to give a lovely warm welcome - perhaps there was something on my shoe :-( Anyway after a pleasant walk around the park - shared by Dad's with push chairs, I tried again and found the InaSpace people  far more welcoming and encouraging. they do start with a brew and some toast, but not as early as I was told and not really with the papers. As Conventional church begins in I presume a conventional sort of way a group of adults and children settle down to share what has been happening with them over the summer, greet their visitors (there were three of us) and think about the way the fruits of the spirit impact on their lives. We then split up for various options - a creative space, a discussion space, a quiet space, or join conventional space, coming back together again to see and hear from one another before we were joined by folk coming through for coffee. This is another creative way of working, as a one off visitor I missed any bible input, or any corporate worship (there was a brief thought and prayer in the opening session) but the regulars feel that they get that within the regular pattern and will join conventional church on a regular basis (they were working towards harvest and the creative space was beginning to produce some banners that would be used then). As the Guard Steward so pointedly emphasised their are issues between the main congregation who just don't get it and those who want to work in a different way. I also wondered to what extent the Minister can be involved - at the moment this is a two Minister congregation whilst the two churches are brought together, so there may be flexibility - but it won't always be and it would not be the case for most of us exploring this model - where so much emphasis is put on being the leader of worship for the majority - perhaps that is part of what needs to be changed. I think InaSpace is good way to work - again I hope to hear the way in which it develops in the years ahead (and the promised website would be a good way of advertising to your local community and keeping further away friends informed).

    The following week was dump daughter at University day - free at last, singing free at last!

    Last Sunday I decided to go and visit my local church - Hebron Pentecostal Church. Hebron has been transformed over the last 5 years, and the Pastor David keeps telling me he doesn't know what he is doing different know to 10 years ago when it seemed such a struggle. I believe that part of what has happened is that David and his leadership team have been persistent and faithful and truly open to the Spirit and to the possibilities that the Spirit brings - including working closely with the likes of me. So I thought it was time to see what they get up to on a Sunday morning - even though David says the music is too loud and he would rather sing some of the old songs! So along I went - and they were closed! Worshipping with Champness Hall from August to October the notice said. So I headed for Champness Hall - but that voice in the back of my head said "Go to West Street" - so in the end it was West Street Baptist Church. I arrived half an hour or so late - as they were drawing to the end of their worship time. It's a style of worship that I can engage with in small doses, so perhaps it was right for me to just be part of the last ten minutes and to sit at the back allowing it to soak over me - and I wasn't alone, most people were sitting, very few were singing - that is left to the band and people are moving and chatting and caring for children and being part of worship without any outward active involvement. On first reflection it wouldn't do in any of my settings - but on further reflection is it any different to the Organ voluntary? They then moved into a Dedication of a baby - in a warm informal manner, good to be part of. The sermon was a straight forward evangelistic message -  a bit simplistic in parts, especially in his two line disregard for the whole of science and medicine (quackery) - don't worry about any of that just come to Jesus and all your troubles will go away... - somehow we need to be able to evangelise and honour the God-given knowledge that scientists and medics (western and traditional offer) us. We closed with the altar call, a reminder that the offering had been forgotten and a prayer whilst the basket was passed around - but nothing to send the congregation out to do God's work  - just that's it, we've finished, have a coffee!

    My thanks to everyone who has welcomed me and invited me and fielded questions - I hope you find these comments encouraging, because I have been encouraged in different ways at each place in which I have worshipped. Every community is seeking their authentic way of worshipping God and doing so in styles that suit their context and people, I've been blessed - I hope God has been as well!


    And please pass comment on my comments - we need to learn from one another

  • Looking at Worship (2) - Cafe Church

    Two of my visits were to cafe's. Both took place in the evening and advertised themselves as Cafe Church. They were very different from one another - and were different from the way I've heard others talk about cafe church - particularly those who use Sunday morning.

    I'm not sure that Clitheroe’s was really cafe church, in the normally understood way of such things. It was more like a housegroup taking place in a cafe - and whilst amongst the aims of the group was a wish that people could drop in - the sign on the door said closed, and there were just enough seats for those who said they were coming. On the occasion of my visit, they were looking at the story of Jacob and Esau  (Genesis 27) - a new venture for them, they had previously worked on themes but having looked at Vision4Life  they had decided to concentrate on the bible. As we began to discuss themes of family tensions, the nature of blessing, the timeline of these events - the waitress came to take our order - the discussion stuttered to a restart and then everything stopped for tea. Some discussion carried on over food - but in little groups around the table but to my mind the exploration didn't really get anywhere. We finished with a brief act of worship, people paid for their meals and went home. Yet, despite my own reservations, this is a good brave thing these people are doing. It would be too easy to engage in such an activity locked away in the church, or in someone's home - but here they are in the shop window (literally), open to the possibility that God will speak ... At the moment they are encouraging one another, learning something of God's word, creating a space to which an inquisitive friend could be invited. perhaps in time it can grow into something that is missional in character as well as aspiration. However in re-checking the website I see that Cafe Church is no longer mentioned, although the morning prayers in the Cafe that I didn't manage to get along to, are still advertised - I hope that is a failure of communication rather than a ceasing of activity.

    My second visit was far more experiential. Cafe Spirit  is place to explore God's creativity through crafts and image and chat and quiet. the location was the cafe part of a children's indoor play-area, it was a good space, although the organisers know it is in the wrong place (A trading estate tucked in behind the main road). This had a pick n' mix menu - cakes, soup and drink provided (donation if you want) and activity areas with suggested prayer/discussion/reflection. People came in groups and there was a good mix of ages as people took time to socialise and engage in the various activities. It could certainly be a good safe place to take someone on a spiritual journey who isn't comfortable with the inherited church experience. Inevitably, perhaps, most of the chat I heard was social chat - but then isn't that where faith chat so often starts. There was no act of corporate worship and no formal teaching - so whether it really fits into my exploration of worship I'm not sure - but for the people there it is clearly becoming a valuable space and I for one wish them well in the future (although an up to date website would help!)