The idea of this is that it is team specific.
As an Urban Expression team in Eccles, we have always felt it important to include our children, now teenagers, in discussions about our faith and decisions related to how we live out our faith. Community meals are anything but quiet as this is the place, gathered around bread and wine, where many lively discussions have taken place. So we were delighted when last summer, Imogen McBeath, now 13, asked to be baptised.
But it did cause us to ask some questions. Our teenagers and young people have not grown up in a traditional church with Sunday school and youth groups. They have not grown up with a systematic understanding of Christian doctrine or using the usual church jargon. What they have grown up with is an ability to question and to challenge. And, we’ve realized, they have grown up with a strong sense of living out the values of Urban Expression particularly of relationship and creativity.
And so we quickly decided that we would need a different approach to baptismal classes; it needed to make few assumptions about someone’s experience of faith and church but rather to allow these to be explored in an open ended and creative way. It needed not to focus so much on doctrinal beliefs wrapped up in traditional church jargon but rather to be based primarily on relationship with God and one another and with living out the values of following Jesus.
What we offer here is a reflective journey aimed predominantly at teenagers and young adults who come from a church planting, missional church or new expressions context and is also suitable for adults who have a non churched background or those who are wanting to step outside of a traditional church context.
Angie Tunstall, UE Eccles
We’ve embarked on a really interesting journey at this week at UE Welsh House Farm. I think it’s really easy, when you’re living and working in the place you feel called to kingdom-build, to lose sight of where God is in it all.
So we let it slide. We’re doing God’s work after all… isn’t that enough? Working on our spiritual wellbeing can wait. We’re too busy pioneering.
I can’t be the only one guilty of it can I? I wonder how many of us really devote our time and attention to feeding ourselves, nourishing our spirit as we do our body? On Welsh House Farm, we’ve been letting ourselves go hungry while we try to meet the needs we are surrounded by.
So this week a small group of us met together, and we listened. We listened for the still small voice of calm amidst the thumping demands of our everyday lives. We listened to scripture and its nuances, and grey areas, and tough bits that we would prefer to ignore. We listened to one another, our fears and insecurities, our world views, our dreams for the future. And we listened to ourselves. We gave ourselves permission to be messy, and confused, and hungry. We gave ourselves permission to be searching for something greater. We gave ourselves permission to question our beliefs, to question the very foundations of why we felt called in the first place.
And it was okay. It was better than okay, it was good. It felt like the start of healing journey for a group of tired, battered missionaries, trying to serve God in the wonderful wilderness in which they have been placed.
Rowena Wilding, Welsh House Farm
This summer, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman who shared a beautiful story with me of an encounter she’d had, that totally transformed her life. She’d been traveling and, after a few months of sight seeing and youth hosteling, had decided to accept the hospitality of a monastery in India, in order to rest before the next leg of her journey. While she was staying there, she took on the community’s way of life, embracing their rhythm of work, mediation, prayer and silence and before long she became aware of a new peace in her life. As she recounted the story to me, it was obvious that the memory melted her heart again and she smiled radiantly. She described how she had decided not to continue traveling but, captivated by her experience, opted to stay in the monastery to learn more about how to lay down her life for the sake of others and continue to walk this path of peace. It was beautiful. There was no hype, no thunder bolt from heaven and, perhaps most surprisingly, there was no mention of Jesus either. The monastery was an ‘Ashram’, the spiritual home of her Guru, Amma who describes her religion as love. She has founded an international humanitarian aid project and travels the world to share her wisdom and give out hugs. My new friend now joins her on her tours and serves on some of the projects that have been set up through their aid organisation.
As we continued to talk, the Hindi word ‘Namaste’ which I had come across in Shane Claiborne’s book ‘The Irresistible Revolution’ came to mind. (It means ‘I honour the Holy One who lives in you’.) I realised that I was captivated because I recognised Jesus in her and her story. For me, He was the unnamed source of beauty, joy, peace and transformation. I left feeling really challenged and incredibly humbled. She had owned her story and shared it with ease. She was not afraid of what I might think or how I might react. She had not tried to persuade me to think the same but had let the story speak and gave me opportunity to do the same. I came away with fresh eyes and a new desire to pursue, what Brian McLaren describes as “a Christian identity that moves me towards people of other faiths, in wholehearted love, not in spite of their non-Christian identity and not in spite of my own Christian identity, but because of my identity of a follower of God in the way of Jesus.”
Carmel Murphy, Cobridge, Stoke on Trent
One of the things I’ll admit to is that I really don’t like being told what to do without a conversation about it and even more than that I really don’t like being told how I feel! Where we live, in the last year or so, this is exactly what’s happened. We, along with our neighbours have been asked to engage in an exercise of what it would mean to regenerate our area, we’ve been told that it’s not a desirable area, that our homes aren’t made of the right material, and that the layout means anti-social behaviour is common, the list goes on. We’ve been told what it’s like to live in our neighbourhood by people who have visited once or twice and even been told what our neighbours think as if we don’t talk.
We’ve only lived here for 3 years, some of our neighbours have been here over 40, since they were built. It’s been really hard to listen to some of the things that have been said, I’ll admit mainly because I don’t like people doing it, but also because this is not our experience. I’m not the only one either, the community have united to say that this isn’t our experience, yet they’re persevering and we’ve been given a 16 page form that we needed to download from an internet page, fill in with a pen and then send back.
There is so much we could say about this whole process but that would take a lot more posts! However we’ve also wanted to learn from it.
One of the most amazing things we’ve learnt is the importance of listening, really listening and understanding the community we are a part of. Jesus understood the context of the people he was talking to, he knew what they’d understand and told stories accordingly. Unless we truly understand the lives in which we are a part of then how can we possibly hope to be and show God’s love and joy and peace and all those other amazing names we give Him. I still have so much to learn about where we live but I’m excited that people want to help me and that we can begin to tell a different story of the people who live here.
Emma Scott, Mitcham