Friday, June 08, 2007

Mission: From Mars Bars to Missiles

Here is a theological reflection I did as part of the selection process:

I am here because someone gave me a chocolate bar. Of course, there have been many other factors that have brought me to this point in my journey of faith and calling, but a significant one was when a couple of smiley people approached me on the University of Birmingham campus and asked me if I wanted a free mars bar, no strings attached, as a small token of God’s love for me. This was my introduction both to the Vineyard movement, and to ‘servant evangelism’. Shortly afterwards, I joined South Birmingham Vineyard, the church which had sent out these ‘sweet’ apostles.

Servant evangelism is a method of outreach used in many Vineyard and other churches. It involves getting out in the community and giving away free gifts or offering to do simple acts of kindness for no other reason than to show people that God loves them unconditionally. It may be giving away ice cold bottles of water at a festival on a hot day, litter-picking in your local streets, gardening, car washing… the list goes on. The idea is to practically demonstrate the good news, rather than just proclaiming it. As St. Francis said, “preach the gospel wherever you go, and when necessary, use words”. It is simple, requiring little training, anyone can get involved and it’s great fun. What may at first glance seem like rather a trite publicity stunt actually has, I believe, more to it than that. It is possible to see these public acts of kindness, e.g. litter-picking as a kind of symbolic or prophetic act, an acted parable which causes on-lookers to ask ‘Why on earth are you doing that?’. Jesus often did something which made people ask questions, which then gave him an opportunity to share the gospel or teach.

Through the Vineyard I got involved in church-planting. In Coventry, we experimented with new ways of being church, meeting first in peoples homes then later in pubs, a coffee bar, and schools. One Sunday in every four was given over to ‘church on the streets’ where instead of gathering to worship church members got involved in community projects. Small groups were given a budget for ‘servant outreach’ and encouraged to be imaginative! In many Vineyard churches this is taken further and small groups are mission based, e.g. a group may be structured around working with young mums, homelessness projects, refugee work, etc.

When the ‘Mission shaped church’ report came out I was hugely encouraged to see ‘fresh expressions’ of church being encouraged within Anglican settings. I have since found myself in the fascinating situation of working for Professor John Hull, who is quite critical of the report, and has written a theological response to it. He believes it fails to deal adequately with issues of poverty, consumerism and our multi-faith society. Whilst I don’t agree with everything he says, I believe his critique is important and should be taken on board.

Of course, evangelism, ‘servant’ or otherwise, and church-planting are just one part of the mission of God, which is to reconcile and renew all of creation. In our anticipation of God’s new creation, which was begun and guaranteed in the resurrection of Jesus, we are called to work in hope for justice and peace in the power of the Spirit. Through my theological study, and especially though my work with Professor John Hull, I have come to see the vital importance of global issues such as trade justice, environmental concerns, and peace-work. In June, with John and other staff and students from the Queen’s Foundation I will be taking part in a service of worship and witness at the Faslane naval base in Scotland as part of a protest against the government’s policy to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent system. I see this too as mission work.

I feel called and committed to holistic mission, both disciple-making and working for social-justice. Of course, most Christians would say that they believe God’s mission involves both aspects, but in my experience it would appear many evangelicals are passionate about the former whilst paying lip-service to the latter and vice-versa for those of a more liberal persuasion. I refuse to choose one or the other and in my vocation would seek to encourage people in both. Whether it’s giving out chocolate or protesting against weapons of mass destruction, I believe all disciples are called to co-operate with God, playing their small part, albeit imperfectly, in His mission for the world.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Faslane 365

This weekend I will be joining a number of students and staff from several theological colleges in a pilgrimage to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, home of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. I am going to take part in a service of worship and witness, as part of the protest against our government's policy of renewing the Trident missile system, our weapons of mass destruction, at a cost of between 20-76 billion pounds. You can read about the action on the Ekklesia website here.

Over the past 2 years of working with Professor John Hull, I have come to agree with him that the renewal of Trident is unjustifiable militarily, politically, economically, legally, religiously and ethically. John has written a paper outlining the arguments against renewal of Trident, which can be found here. We sent it to most of the cabinet, the Defence committee, countless MPs, all of the Church of England bishops and many more key figures, with very little response. The government produced a White Paper in December, outlining its intention to renew Trident, which made no reference to the ethical issues involved. John wrote an ethical critique of the White Paper, a summary of which can be found here.

I feel it is important to demonstrate the almost unanimous opposition of the Christian churches in this country to the renewal of Trident (Scottish and English Catholic bishops, many Anglican bishops including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church of Scotland general assembly, senior representatives of the Methodist church, the United Reformed church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Quakers and many others have all opposed Trident renewal), and to worship and pray at the place where these dreadful weapons are held.

We are apparently going to be on the BBC show 'Heaven and Earth' on Sunday morning, how exciting!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Thumbs Up from the CofE

I have been recommended for training for ordination in the Church of England!
Just over 18 months ago I began the process of testing my call to ordained ministry. I met with a vocations advisor about 5 or 6 times and wrote a few pieces for him, about my journey of faith and calling, my understanding of ordination and priesthood and the sacraments. He also came to visit Su to check she could make a decent pot of tea. At the end of my time with vocations advisor no. 1, he recommended that, as I was new to the Church of England, I spend 6 months on placement at Holy Trinity church, as well as a short placement in a parish of a different tradition. I got as involved as I could in the life of Holy Trinity and also spent some time at St Thomas the Apostle, an Anglo-Catholic parish in Longford. At the end of my placements I met with vocations advisor no. 2 a couple of times to review my progress. She asked me to review the cynical and depressing book Last Rites:The End of the Church of England. I will post the review on here sometime.
I then began to meet with the Coventry Diocese Director of Ordinands, Roger Spiller. We began to work through the following process:

We met 5 or 6 times, and Roger came to meet Su to check the quality of her baking. He then decided to put me forward for a 'Bishops' Advisory Panel on Selection for Training for Ordained and Accredited Lay Ministry' (snappy title I know). I filled in lots of forms, had CRB checks, wrote a theological reflection, prepared a presentation, practiced my limp handshakes, popped a plumb in my mouth and off I went on 21st-23rd May. The 3 day 'selection conference' was a rigourous and intense but rewarding and enjoyable experience.
There was a nervous 10 day wait and then I got the phonecall yesterday giving me the nod. All very exciting and very scary! At last I know what I'm going to be doing with the rest of my life.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

OK, so it's been a while...

Meet William John, born on 15th December '06.
He's cool.