So what’s it all about?

Outreach is the vehicle through which the church works out it’s missional purpose to share The Good News (Evangelise).

I’m not sure how accurate that is but it seems a good starting point to work out what we are doing.

If outreach is simply reaching out, then mission should be the purpose that drives it. Running a food bank is outreach, mission is bringing God into the mix by evangelising.

So is outreach simply service under another name? I don’t know but looking at what happens as many churches outreach that could well be so.

One of the great things about the churches I work with is they get the difference. They don’t always find it easy but they get that’s what it’s about.

I work in what is called soft evangelism. I wasn’t there for the main era of Billy Graham Crusade inspired evangelism. I came to Christ through soft evangelism, my wife was a Christian and I found myself getting to know her church, getting to like them, wondering what made them the people they were and discovering Christ along that route. At it’s heart Christianity is about relationship and however you come to Christ it is relationship that keeps you there, relationship with God and relationship with fellow believers.

Most things we do as a circuit are based around this idea of building relationship, Elemental Tent, Faith Al Fresco, The Prayer Caravan, Alpha. They’re all things that allow for that slow build, faith by osmosis, but there is space as well for that moment of revelation and clarity. Either way though the people who make up the Meon Valley Circuit are prepared to give their best to those conversations to help people on their journey.

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An Elemental Take Away

 

Reflection is a wonderful habit to develop. It requires time and space which aren’t always easy to come by but it is invaluable.

This year was my first time leading the Elemental Tent. I don’t mind admitting that it was slightly terrifying being the person where the buck stops. For the first week afterwards all I could recognise were the things I’d done wrong, the areas where I’d failed. Other people said complimentary things but I paid them no heed.

Two weeks after I took the time to sit down and reflect. There were things I could have done better looking back, but there were things that went incredibly well, better than I ever hoped. I took a balanced view of the event and had to conclude that, despite areas for improvement, it went extremely well.

This wasn’t down to just me though. This was about the team that had been built and trained and encouraged this year and over the preceding years. There are people on the team who can, have and did make excellent decisions about all sorts of elements of Elemental. My role in leading was to support them, trust them and encourage them. Yes I had to be the final arbiter on some occasions.

This was also about the thought and planning that had gone into the five years the circuit has been at Wickham Festival with the tent. The basics of it are obvious, food, craft and conversation but how it is put together is what makes the difference. It’s built on solid foundations of years of study, training that provides a real engagement for volunteers, and an understanding that one size does not fit all. It’s those qualities that mean it has been able to change leadership and still thrive.

When it works it works well and it works because of the foundations it is built on. We have been invited back yet again by the organisers of the Wickham Festival. They recognise that Elemental Tent brings something of value to the festival and want us a part of the set up. We offer something unique and spiritual and that is valued.

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(My son, Harry, walking the Labyrinth outside the Elemental Tent)

Prayer

Please forgive the disjointed rambling that follows. I will doubtless look for an opportunity to edit this into some more cohesive form later but needed to get my thoughts down.

I was in a long discussion the other day about what motivates church. I was talking about how a particular church was motivated and driven by fear in the things it did and the decisions it made and the friend I was talking with was saying that we need, as churches, to be led more by prayer. My argument was, I will admit, very negative and pessimistic where as my friend was clearly more optimistic. In hindsight I see we were both making the same argument from different sides.

When things don’t work in a business the obvious thing is to look at your working processes. Do you need more management, less management, streamlined procedures, tighter control, downsizing and on and on. These decisions can be made based on factual data and with an eye to the financial bottom line. They are decisions that can often be made based on fear. Fear of competition, fear of job losses, drop in market share and they are decisions you often see churches making. It might be the introduction of Messy Church or all ages worship or breakfast church or a whole variety of other things. These are all things that can happen for two main reasons. one is a fearful, kneejerk reaction to a drop in congregation numbers or an inability to attract families, the other is a prayerful reaction to the same thing. Both can lead to the same decisions but there is a vital difference.

When we act out of fear we act in our own strength and that rarely is sustainable. The things we do disappear under a lack of interest and commitment, that relationship fails, attendance drops, volunteers disappear.

When what we do grows out of prayer however it’s chance of success is so much greater because God is on our side. It’s reacting to that still, small voice, that nudge that follows prayer that is important.

This has been a difficult thing for me to get a real understanding of. Although I accept I’m saved by Grace I need my faith to work out in a practical way in many respects and I find formal prayer difficult. Every denomination has a format for prayer that is predominant in their church. If you grow up within a church you often take that on unconsciously. Prayer for me has always been something others have done, exhorting God to do what they need of Him. As a Christian who came to God later in life I had viewed prayer as a long conversation with my dad. In conversation we rarely call people by name more than once and most of my prayers started “hey God” and then headed into a rambling mess of questions, pleas, angry rants, apologies and awkward silences. This was nothing like the formal prayers I heard in church and so I rarely prayed publicly with or for someone. I was very much a “Go into a quiet room and shut the door” kind of prayer person which is fine. It is, after all, scriptural.

I spent a long time coming to understand public prayer, praying out loud around others and came to a number of realisations that, while probably obvious and well known to others, were a revelation for me.

First and foremost is that public prayer, prayer groups and prayer meetings aren’t about God as much as they are about building up the children of God, firing them up. Praying privately we know God is listening and God is on our side but we are only human and in some ways we need to know we are not alone in what we are asking of God. When we pray for God to step in, be it because of a terrible disaster, illness affecting a member of the church or an outreach venture the church is considering or anything else, we know two or more of us are standing together and that is massive.

Matthew 18:19-20 19“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Which brings us not so neatly back to the original point. Many churches are motivated by a fearful reaction to the world around them. Many other churches are motivated by a prayerful reaction to the world around them. Fear can lead you to pray. Fear can lead you to attempt things in your own strength. It seems to me that successful churches are the ones who let prayer lead them out of the darkness and into being like Jesus, the unsuccessful ones are the ones who let fear keep them in the darkness and build rules and procedures to try and hold the dark at bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Elemental Tent

Outreach is hard work. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Even as a volunteer just being on your feet and talking to people is physically and emotionally draining. You couple that with the natural fear of talking about faith to strangers and it’s a surprise any church outreach ever happens. Fortunately we’re not doing it for ourselves so enough people rest into God and put aside their fears.

I mention this only to draw attention to how awesome something like Elemental Tent is. Each year for the last 5 years The Meon Valley Methodist Circuit has rolled up to The Wickham Music Festival and set up a spiritual oasis for all manned by 30 to 40 volunteers. 30 to 40 volunteers, giving up their time over a concerted period of time to serve strangers and seek nothing in return. That’s an impressive number of people from a circuit of 5 small to medium churches.

The thing with Elemental Tent is it’s not based on a church programme with hard and fast rules on how it looks and who it’s for and how it should be manned. The Tent is a concept based around a theological understanding of mission, an idea of what things make mission easier and an appreciation and understanding of the environment the mission takes place in. it’s not about surface, about one size fits all. It’s about dressing a deeper understanding in a suitable dressing.

At my home church we had tried Light Parties on Halloween for a number of years. They were, in all honesty, an abysmal failure. This year will be the fourth year we have taken the training behind Elemental Tent and applied it to Halloween with great success. The training, ethos and key elements behind it are transferable almost anywhere once you understand them.

The team who volunteered at the Wickham Festival were phenomenol. Conversations ranged from living off grid to cider making, as openers and launched into talk of Calling, God’s love, why does God allow evil and the place of The Green Man in the history of the church. Conversations were held with new friends and old friends, some had visited our tent from the very first time we were there.

As a circuit we built and continued building relationships with several hundred visitors over the long weekend. These people know us, they know we’re Christians and that we love them. That lightbulb moment when people suddenly decide to give their life to Christ is a wonderful thing but for most people it’s a slow experience, a build up of dozens, hundreds of small and positive encounters. When visitors come looking for you at a festival, when traders ask to be pitched near you at a festival, that’s when you know you’re showing the love of Christ in a way that is really changing people’s lives.

 

 

Diary of The Prayer Caravan

caraThe simplist ideas are often the best and the best ideas are often stolen from somewhere else. One day I got a call from Eric Gamblin of Waltham Chase Methodist Church. He’d been looking at the 24/7 Prayer website and noticed they had a caravan that they used as a pop up prayer space. “We have a church caravan, could we do that?”

The short answer was yes and with a lot of work and juggling we managed to fill eight days out in the community, meeting people and sharing about Jesus and Prayer. We set our expectations realistically. If we could have a conversation with one person that made a difference in their lives, even if we never knew it, then it was worth all the work. As it happened God had so much more in mind than that. The Holy Spirit was all over it.

Our first day, after praying at the Church over the caravan, we were at Waltham Chase Village Hall. We had lots of little conversations with visitors to Ria’s, people at the bus stop and parents coming to the pre-school. Rosie Banks was amazing chatting with people at the bus stop. When we were getting ready to pack up George turned up. George had driven past us a couple of times and stopped to see what we were doing. George was a solidly built man in his 70s. He had developed a terrible bone cancer that had almost collapsed his body in on itself. He was in the process of moving down from Shepherds Bush to live with his daughter and hadn’t really got to know anyone in the neighbourhood. He’d been a Christian much of his life and when he was diagnosed with bone cancer and told it would kill him he laughed and said “God is good”. When they realised he wasn’t going to die they told him he’d never walk again. George laughed and trusted in God. When the doctors saw he was walking they said he’d never drive and would need constant care. George pointed to his car and told us how he drove it back to Shepherds Bush, where his son was living in his old house, several times a week. “You can see how not driving worked out” He said. Meeting George who had been through so much pain and had not ever doubted God and smiled on through it all was an inspiration to us when we had gone out looking to inspire others. Praying with and for George was an honour.

On Day 2 we visited Barnaby’s Coffee Shop in Swanmore at the invitation of the Rev Claire and Jill Phipps. We had Martin Letts with us who gave a great lesson in community.  We spoke with many people, prayed for a few and shared about prayer and the church with a lot of people who needed to hear it. Martin is deeply embedded in his community, he knows everyone and everyone knows him. He shows how much work it is to live in community. On top of that I made some great connections and had an amazing time in the sun. We prayed for a lady and for her father who had needed to move out of his home and into care and was finding it very difficult. We talked with a lot of people who were in church and spoke into the struggles they were encountering.

On day 4, Sunday, we took the caravan to Waltham Chase for the morning service celebrating Chase King’s football team to let the church see it and ask questions.  The general opinion was “it’s great but I couldn’t do that”. We started to appreciate the recognition factor of a bright yellow caravan as more people started saying they had seen it around the local area, being towed or parked up somewhere.

Day 5, Monday, we were back at the Waltham Chase Village Hall for the afternoon. We had a lot of encounters as parents parked up for the school run and the curiosity of the children as they returned to the car park lead to many more conversations. The first part had been quiet but things really picked up at home time.

Tuesday morning, day 6, St Peter’s Toddler Group with people from St Peter’s and Bishops Waltham UFC. We had been invited to set up outside St Peters Church Hall. We were a little tucked away and although we saw a number of dog walkers and parents we had to work harder for conversations. We did get to meet people from St Peter’s who were pursuing similar aims and were able to encourage others in stepping outside the church building and meeting with communities.

Wednesday, day 7, at St John’s School in the afternoon. There is nothing like explaining prayer to 4 year olds or talking with a provocative year six who announces he doesn’t believe in God to make you think more deeply about your own faith. Thanks to Niki Freemantle who got us the invite we were able to spend the afternoon, with great support from Tizz and Jordan, sharing about prayer and bringing God to some deep and heart-breaking questions. It must have gone well because we’ve been invited back again.

Day 8, Thursday, we were at Barnaby’s Café in the morning. Although it was quiet we got to meet the Reverend Claire who invited us to bring the caravan to an event they are having in June. We also got to chat with a young Czech woman who was working as a nanny. She was clearly missing the support of her church back home and it was great to be able to pray for her and tell her about some of the things going on in churches in the area. In the Afternoon we were at Swanmore school with the good folk from St Barnabas as part of a prayer space. Martin Letts joined us which was great because he is well known at the school through Open The Book. Jordan’s bouncy enthusiasm was also a great hit with the school children. The prayer bunting and the questions for God wall opened up some lovely conversations as the children were able to let out their honest concerns that ranged from bullying and loneliness to annoying siblings and playing Fortnite. It was humbling to have so many of them trust us with deeply important matters.

There were some sad, heart breaking and profound questions from the children, a sampling of which are in the pictures below.

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It is worth remembering that even with small children there is a lot going on under the surface and they too can carry a lot of pain and emotional upset.

Day 10 we were at The Royal Wedding event at Waltham Chase promoting recognition as we begin to talk about other places to go with the caravan. If you have any ideas for events you are involved in where the caravan could be a welcome presence then now is the time to start investigating and talking.

Lessons were learnt about what works and where works best with the caravan and changes will be made next year. However, every day brought something of value to the Kingdom whether it was praying with someone, building community or building connexion with other churches for future working. Eric is to be commended for recognising God’s prompting and stepping out and I hope that his doing this will prompt others to listen to God and take a risk in turn.

 

Blessings

 

Pete

Owning mistakes, being vulnerable

Every so often you read a book that blows your world apart.  I could count the books that have done this on two hands. Now I need to include a foot as well.

I’m not writing about the book but about how it has affected me. As most people know this blog is about sharing things that connect or grow out of my role as Missioner. Taking up the role has been a major learning curve for me. The first few months were easy, they were in my comfort zone. They were simply about talking to people, finding out what they felt called to and what they felt held them back, listening to ideas they had.

Most roles I’ve had over years of working have been fairly autonomous and on fairly short lead times. I would have an idea or be given a task and then left to make it happen within two weeks or a month at most. Much of my working life has been spent flying by the seat of my pants.

As Missioner to the Meon Valley Circuit I’m not doing that anymore. I’m learning to navigate a church that has organisational parameters, people who need to be involved and aren’t immediately available on a daily basis. This is a massive learning curve and I’m not doing to well at it. That’s okay though. I am learning from my mistakes, learning about the lead times needed for projects  and that I am dealing with 5 churches that have very different communities who need to be worked with and supported in different ways. I am learning.

If, in the mean time, things go wrong or I upset anyone because I have failed to involve them, I apologise. It is not my intention to exclude or upset anyone and if you feel that has happened to you, please talk to me. Everything about my role as Missioner is about other people, it’s about the circuit. I am here to help you all find ways you can share your faith with others. If I have missed you from a meeting or a conversation or an email I am sorry. Talk to me and help me make sure it happens right next time.

Blessings

Six Degrees

There was a game that was popular for a while called 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, named for the star of Footloose. The idea was that you could connect any film star to Kevin Bacon through a maximum of six steps, which in turn was based on the concept of Six Degrees of Separation which claims that we no more than six steps from being connected to anyone on the planet. Mathematically this has always struck me as dubious considering there are somewhere in the region of seven billion people on the planet until you start considering the amount of travel people do and our freedom to move between other countries. So I thought I’d give it a go.

In three steps I was able to connect to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in four steps I was able to connect myself to music hall stars  Wilson, Keppel and Betty, in six steps I can connect myself to Winston Churchill, although that one is hard to confirm. It seems to be true that the distance between ourselves and everyone else on the planet is very small. which brings me to my point.

Jesus said “love your neighbour as yourself”. Most definitions of the word define a neighbour as someone who is near you. It doesn’t include anything about relationships. it is simply based on nearness. In a changing world where the relative ease of travel combined with social media means that closeness is no longer tied to geography, where I can video chat on Skype with my sister in Australia, debate ethics on Twitter with a group of people scattered across two continents as easily as if we were in the same room, if I can connect to even a large part of the planet through no more than six people then who is my neighbour?

It  seems to me that my neighbour is the Syrian left homeless and countryless by bombing and war, my neighbour is the Londoner being threatened with deportation after living in this country for 50 years as part of the Windrush Generation. My neighbour is the Glaswegian homeless man reading Tolstoy surrounded by all his worldly goods on the street in my home town and bothering no one. My neighbour is the American teen who lost friends in a school shooting. That’s not where it ends though. That if you like is the easy part.

My Neighbours are the men on both sides who ordered the bombings in Syria. My neighbour is the man who drove a car into the crowd of Muslims leaving a mosque. My neighbour is the politician who thought it was okay to deport British citizens to the Caribbean. My neighbours are the people who stand for everything that offends my beliefs and moral standards. Treating, or even imagining, these people as my neighbours. Eva Kor survived experimentation at the hands of Dr Joseph Mengele in Auschwitz, where her parents and her twin sister died. She publicly forgave one of her captors in a very moving moment in a German Court in 2016. She recognised him as a fellow human being and took that difficult step of looking past his actions and chose to try and love him as a neighbour.

I struggle greatly with loving people while they are just a label to me. The Alt-right supporter, the racist, the fascist, the xenophobe.  Once you go that step further and begin to view them as people with stories you can learn to love them while still disagreeing with them.