So long and thanks for all the fish

My time in the Meon Valley comes to an end on the 12th of November and that has left me feeling reflective.

Looking back over the last five years has been interesting. The things that have worked best are the ones that played to my strengths, unsurprisingly, and some things didn’t work so well and some didn’t work at all.

I was fortunate in that it gave me a great opportunity to discover and confirm my strengths. I always felt that for mission and evangelism to work they needed to be relational. The stronger the relationship the more likely that there would be successful fruit. I’ll come back to that later.

The other thing I discovered was how precarious my mental health could be. I was fortunate to have found a couple of people who understood what I was going through and we supported each other.

The Methodist circuit in the Meon Valley has been blessed with some wonderful people with a passion for their community and for contributing to it. Each of the chapels has an identity of its own and strengths that it works to. All are humble enough that when you point it out to them you are met with surprise that what they do is worth mentioning. Looking around the chapels this is what I see;

Hambledon has established itself in a role as an apostolic centre. While it may be the smallest of the chapels on the circuit, it has found a role in equipping and supporting other Christians to share the Gospel. From it’s teaching programmes with Roger French to its uplifting prayer and praise nights Hambledon manages to make a difference in the lives of large numbers of Christians from the surrounding area.

Bishops Waltham is another small chapel, this time with an incredible focus on their local community. For Faith Al Fresco to the Bishops Waltham Christmas shopping night, if there’s something happening in the community they are always there as part of it.

Shirrell Heath is another chapel focused on support for their community. From knit and natter to tea and tech and their always impressive holiday club, they live a life of service. A warm and welcoming community.

Waltham Chase are adventurous as a congregation. They’re always willing to try something new. Waltham Chase have a real focus on youth with an incredible youth worker in Jordan Cousins. They also run Alpha courses with a real heart looking to ensure those who want to have a place to go to continue growing in God after the course is over. The Repair Cafe takes place at Chase with support from across the circuit and is a wonderful example of soft evangelism.

Swanmore has a very warm and inviting community and is always willing to support its members in kingdom work. It’s not afraid to try something new and is always willing to reassess what it is doing to see if it could be better. Swanmore was part of the driving force behind the Repair Cafe that takes place at Chase and has been instrumental in raising its profile.

As I said before each chapel is a warm-hearted community that welcomes newcomers with open arms. They are all focused on their community and when they work together are a force to be recognised.

I am aware that many of the chapels feel that they need new blood and are praying for new families and new people to join their congregations, and this was on my mind as I was praying for a scripture to end this with. I’ve been reading the minor prophets recently and have been particularly drawn to Haggai. As I prayed, I felt God was pointing to Haggai chapter 1 as important for the future of the circuit. I urge you to read it and pray about it as I believe it has a message that is important for the circuit.

So thank you to all for making me so welcome and I hope some of you have seem some benefit from my time among you.

Blessing

Pioneer Pete

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Season of mellow fruitfulness

Autumn is well and truly here. Nights are drawing in, the weather is changing and trees are losing their leaves. It is the perfect time of year for sitting in your favourite chair with a blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and a good book.

As I’ve got older, I’ve recognised that I am getting more set in my ways and my opinions and that is something I was always horrified at the thought of. I want to retain an open mind as much as possible and reading has always helped with that. unlike watching news or documentaries, reading gives you the time to stop and mull over ideas and questions and even a single sentence for its use of language.

Each summer I collect a dozen or so books to be read over the winter, these are lovingly referred to as my TBR pile (To Be Read). They will cover everything from classics to children’s literature to science and nature and culture. I like to read widely. I’ve only got 10 at the moment but I thought I’d share some of them and why I bought them.

Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, illustrated by John Lawrence

This was a book I’d read lots about and is considered to be a classic of humour writing but it was the drawings by John Lawrence that got my attention. The Folio Society produce wonderful illustrated and slip-cased hardbacks at a price that is beyond what I would normally be prepared to spend on a book but at £2.50 in a charity shop it would have been rude to not buy it. Looking forward to seeing how well humour from the Victorian times copes in modern times.

I expect this to be a difficult read. I’m not black or Asian, I’ve never had to deal with racism. I can understand it intellectually but it’s not part of my everyday life. This book made massive waves when it was published, more so because it was about race relations in Britain, not the mythical US of A. reading the stories of people who have encountered racism at its worst will be a window into a world that I don’t live in but I can help change.

I am easily swayed by the physical beauty of a book, and this is is a beautiful edition of a book I wanted to read. The older I’ve got the more I’ve been bothered by the arbitrary delineation between boys books and girls books. Anne of Green Gables is one of those books where I get the impression from reviews that it is simply a well written book and deserves to be read by everyone. Hence, it’s place on the TBR pile.

The Wainright book prize has always been a guarantee of a good read for me. So seeing this in a charity shop made it a no brainer. The story, according to the blurb on the back, of a woman exploring the canals and waterways of Birmingham while coming to terms with coming out as gay sounds interesting but the idea of noticing the wild everywhere and finding beauty where you least expect it appealed to the artist in me.

Finally, a bit of fiction.

I’d recently finished a book about a man and a cat by a Japanese author when I spotted this one on the shelves in a second-hand book shop. The promise of a talking cat and a man mourning his bookshop owning grandfather who go on adventures to rescue books seemed to whimsical to ignore.

And that’s the kind of thing that sits on my bookshelves alongside a variety of Christian authors. Hope you feel inspired to read something new and different this winter.

Blessings

Pioneer Pete

Talking to people about God

My mission as a Missioner was to enable mission. I realised early on that for many people on the circuit mission and evangelism looked like this…

Billy Graham on fire.

and was meant to come with an audience of 10,000 and was, quite frankly, terrifying.

My primary aim for the last 5 years was to help people understand mission and evangelism could just as easily look like this…

Or this…

or this

At their most basic evangelism and mission are just talking to people, building relationships and sharing the love of God through word and deed.

My sincerest prayer is that I have helped some move beyond the performance anxiety of thinking that they have to be like Billy Graham and have found some comfort and a calling in just caring for people and being comfortable talking about the God who inspires them and guides them.

Blessings

Pioneer Pete

Pioneer Ministries

My role as missioner comes to an end on 12th November so there will be a bunch of final posts reflecting on the things I’ve learnt, or at least the conclusions I’ve reached.

First off. The value of being like a shark.

The shark, as I understand it, has to keep moving forward to push water through its gills and if it stops, it dies. (This may be myth but still works wonderfully as an illustration.) If the church stops moving forward, it dies, or at least begins to decay. This isn’t about it’s theology, that’s a different conversation. This is about getting stuck in ruts.

Most churches recognise the need for new people, fresh blood, to keep going, but far two few are willing to take into consideration the changes in the world around it. In my childhood it was usual for only one parent to work and for that parent to be finished work and home by 5.30pm in most cases. With an extended family surrounding them to provide babysitting support it was perfectly possible to set church meetings for 7.30pm on the first Monday of every month. Everyone had a good chance of making it.

The world has changed. Taking my wife, Karen, and I as an example. We both have to work. Karen’s role with the NHS makes her the main breadwinner for our family. Her role also means she often doesn’t finish work at a set time and has to be very flexible in her approach to her job. She can agree to be at an event or church meeting or children’s party or whatever but if she ends up with a tight deadline or overrunning meeting that often has to take priority. Now I agree that’s not great but that’s the way life is and that is something the church needs to consider if it wants to draw people to it.

There are lessons to be learned from this current fascination with FreshExpressions, New Places for New People, Pioneer Ministries and the like. Talk about finding new ways to connect spiritually open people who wouldn’t necessarily walk into a church. In the past 70 years or so church has gone through three stages. Up into the early 60s everyone, pretty much attended church or had at some point. Those who didn’t were usually a minority. The from the mid 60’s onward people started to look for new and alternative answers to their spiritual questions and longings. Many people still went to church but those who didn’t had and understanding of church and reasonable Bible knowledge. The people who don’t go to church are increasing in number and their kids and then their grandkids aren’t going either. We now live in a world where many young people are three generations removed from church and have no idea what it is or is about. Not only that but they live in a world where negative stories populate the news so all they know about the church is stories of Magdalene laundries and paedophile priests and anti-gay protests. Is it any wonder that it is so hard to draw people towards God. And so denominations are looking at new ways to connect with people, Fresh Expressions, meetings in coffee shops, forest church combining church and ecology, Beach Church with worship and litter picking, farm church where people get to spend time among God’s creations and hear about God in a practical way. How can you introduce people to God without them connecting it to a church building which hold so many negative connotations.

The problem with buildings is that sooner or later they take on a mythic importance. When a church first starts to meet, they just want a roof over their heads so they can meet in all weathers. Then they want to do things for their community so a place of their own seems the ideal. Eventually they reach that “church roof fund” stage where everything is about the building they are in. They need more people to “come in” to pay for its upkeep, to do the work that goes on there, the building becomes the church rather than the people and the church must be preserved.

If there is one thing that the last five years has hammered home to me, it is that, at its heart, church is relational. It is about our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. Growing church is about finding that relationship with people outside.

I think there are two steps to growing church. First is to recognise that we are doing Kingdom work not (insert name here) church work. We are not about this to grow our own congregations, if that happens that’s wonderful but it shouldn’t be the aim. And the first step in that is to demystify the building. To recognise the people are the church and the building is a tool.

The second is to figure out where your well is. Where can you meet people to build that relationship with them that will allow them to build a relationship with God?

Find the overlap between what you as a congregation can do and what your community needs, and you have your well

A = community need and B = congregation’s ability

So, what lies in that overlap between what the community needs and what you can provide? There are lots of things it could be but that’s for you to figure out. That overlap area though, that’s your well. That is the place people will come to where you can meet a need and plant a seed in them that, with further watering, will bear fruit.

As parts of the b0dy of Christ we all have a role to play but that role isn’t static. As church we need to embrace change rather than seek to remain static and embracing change doesn’t mean changing who we are but understanding who we are at any given time. I am no longer my 18 year old self or my 30 year old self or my 45 year old self. Change is the one constant in life, and it needs to be in our chapels too if we want them to see the next century, or even the next decade.

We have generations now who don’t distrust Christianity, they don’t even know what it is. We can’t expect them to walk into chapels and church buildings in droves if they have no idea of who we ae or what we have to offer.

As a circuit Meon Valley has made a great start with Faith Al Fresco, Holiday Clubs, coffee mornings, toddler groups, Elemental, Fireworks, Brighthour and a whole lot more but the danger is in sticking with these things when they have passed their season because they become a new comfort zone.

So look to what you do and see if it meeting a need. Is there another need in your community that your resources would be better applied to and are you over reaching to far. Look at what you do as a church while asking these questions and see what God has to say to you.

There is, of course the question of the difference between service and mission but that’s a subject for another time.

blessings

Pete

Playing peek a boo with a wren

So I was sat on a brick seat in a corner of Mottisfont’s walled garden escaping from the showers under a red tiled shelter. The rain stopped and a wren appeared on a branch of a rose bush 4 feet away from me. We looked at each other and then it bounced from branch to branch until it disappeared from view.

I sat, delighted at this encounter, and continued scribbling my thoughts in my notebook.

A few minutes later the wren reappeared with something tiny clutched in its needle-like beak. We watched each other for 30 seconds or so then I looked back at my notebook and was aware of something tiny streaking overhead. The wren had flown into my shelter and vanished.

I looked all around the little wood and tile shelter with its brick seating and eventually noticed a large gap at the top of the wooden support post in the corner. I sat and watched it patiently and eventually a little head popped up. The wren was nesting in there. The head quickly disappeared only to reappear several times over the next few minutes like a game of peek-a-boo with a baby. The bird would look to check i was still there. It was clearly nervous to leave while I was there so, finishing up some scribbled notes, I bade the bird farewell and left it in peace.

I had ended up in Mottisfont in the rain during a time of complete turmoil in my head. I was losing a fight with depression and anxiety. I lacked the capacity to keep up with everything I was trying to do and people around me were catching the fallout. I needed some serious input from God and to get that I needed to take my fingers out of my ears and stop shouting LA LA LA LA at the top of my voice, which wasn’t happening because I was embarrassed buy my behaviour.

I felt like this was a teaching moment with the wren in this rain soaked garden and that I should draw some lesson from this but, at that point, apart from a feeling of intense pleasure, I had nothing.

It wasn’t until some days later, when I sat down to think about what to do for a prayer video I’d been asked to do for the District, that I finally had an understanding of what God was trying to tell me through the wren.

What was He saying? well to find out that you’ll need to watch my video in a couple of weeks.

from a few hours before Mottisfont when God reminded me who I am

Ethical dilemmas

Recently I’ve been re-watching The Good Place on Netflix and I am still totally hooked on it. It manages to touch on so many dilemmas and questions that are universal for people of faith and I can’t recall a show that has made me ask myself so many questions and stayed with me so long afterwards.

Probably my favourite character second time around is Chidi, who was a moral philosophy professor during his life on Earth. Chidi has become the ultimate over-thinker. Due to his over thinking and his enormous knowledge of moral philosophy deciding between tea and coffee can be a challenge that will take him a week to decide. He reviews every side of any issue connected to every decision from the point of every great philosopher and ethical thinker, and none of these guys ever really agreed with each other, and can’t make a choice because he has no firm personal stance on right or wrong. He can only judge his own actions in accordance with other people’s opinions . And in that he reflects so many of us, so often.

The thing with a moral and ethical framework is that it gives you a surety to your decisions, although so does a massive ego, and means that, right or wrong, decisions get made.

Many years back there was a Spaight of items with WWJD on it which stood for “what would Jesus do?” It was a great prompt for getting people to think about their actions before they acted. I think what was needed in addition was a WWJS, “what would Jesus say?” to help us consider the consequences of our thoughts and actions. To my mind the centre of the Gospel is about showing love, particularly to the unloved and unlovable, and that should be at the centre of m y thoughts, deeds and actions. Often, I must admit, it isn’t. Going to a meeting today I had several choice words for the driver of the car in front who was travelling at 25 mph in a 40 mph limit. But then I took a moment to think, and having one guiding ethical philosophy, I knew I’d be on the receiving end of a telling off from Jesus if he’d been in the passenger seat.

Quite often our nature is to judge others, to take things as personal slights, overly slow drivers have been waiting to slow me down and inconvenience me. Recentring our thinking, recognising that essence of the divine in everyone as a creation of God, and acting accordingly can make an incredible difference to our day and to others, and that is what our calling demands of us. Love one another. No caveats or exemptions. Love one another. Jesus doesn’t call us to do something easy like “tolerate each other as I have tolerated you”. Love one another. We have a creative God who gave us imagination. Imagine what that person could be going through that causes them to act in a way you find annoying. and when anger gets the better of you ask yourself, “What would Jesus say to you”?

Blessings

Pioneer Pete

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the day we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. It is a moving and important moment when Jesus demonstrates the importance of humility and service. It has many traditions attached, all of which link to the meaning of Maundy. The word is a shortened form of the Latin ^mandatum^ which means command. It takes its name from Jesus’s command to his disciples,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

What I take away from Maundy Thursday, its meaning and its traditions and the period of the Gospel that it reflects on is a point about the nature of true leadership.

True leadership is about service. Jesus takes the role of a servant by washing the disciples feet, demonstrating that leadership is not about power but about serving the people you lead.

Spy Wednesday.

The Wednesday before Easter is called Spy Wednesday. Its not as commonly known as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday but it is a day that focuses on a key moment in the Easter Story.

Spy Wednesday is the day, traditionally, when Judas Iscariot met with the religious leaders and agreed to betray Jesus. It is the pivotal point in the story. Without the betrayal the story could have been completely different.

What i find myself wondering about is The fate of Judas. According to Matthew he died filled with remorse having hung himself. Acts says he fell and spilled his intestines. That’s not the aim point of my interest though. I wonder, was he forgiven? Jesus’s words for the one who betrayed The Son Of Man would suggest he was destined to go to Hell, but Judas was, perhaps, repentant, definitely remorseful, although that might just be guilt. Judas had a part to play in the sacrifice of the lamb, without the events that unfolded because of Judas’s actions, Jesus would have just been another claimant to be the desperately hoped for Jewish Messiah. Was Judas predestined to be the betrayer and could he be forgiven?

As I say, it’s something I find myself wondering about. I have no answers. I do hope, in all honesty, that if Judas’s attempt to return the money was a sign of repentance, if his taking his own life was an act of repentance, then it would open him up to God’s grace.

This does, however, lead me on to another thought. Each of us has, at some point, felt betrayed. Each of us has faced that feeling of someone we trusted letting us down. It doesn’t matter if it was something big or small, the sense of betrayal is the same. Betrayal is different to other hurts, people, and I include myself in that, are more inclined to hold on to the pain of betrayal and find it harder to let it go.

As we are called to extend grace towards others as God extended his grace towards us, I have a specific prayer for today. My prayer is that each of us will hold those we feel betrayed us in our hearts today and extend grace and forgivenes towards them. I hope too that each of us will ask God for forgiveness for the people we have betrayed in our lives.

Blessings.

Pioneer Pete

Stream of consciousness or rambling as I like to call it.

For those of you who like to listen rather than read I have taken to the world of podcasting.

Click to hear my latest rambling

Each episode is 5 to 10 minutes of me and some stream of consciousness ramblings on something I feel compelled to talk about and ranges from how we use the Bible to watching red kites near Upham on a Sunday morning.

If you like what you hear you can follow me on Spotify by clicking here.

Anyway, enough for now.

Blessings

Pioneer Pete