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.

 

 

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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.

God questions4

God questions2

God questions3

God questions1

God questions5

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.

 

 

Where do you find peace?

Driving late in the evening, to a meeting I didn’t want to go to, I started to complain to God. I listed all the more valuable things I could be doing with my time, I told him how uncomfortable the event I was going to made me, I told him I was tired. I whined lie whining was an Olympic sport and I was up for the gold medal. I was driving down dark, narrow country lanes under cloudy skies, relying on a satnav that kept losing satellite connection. “Turn right” the satnav said and then said the name of a road that wasn’t the one I had just turned into. I was in a narrow, single track lane with high hedges and nowhere to turn around. I had no way to turn around but I did have something else to add to my list of complaints. Lost, I drove between hedgerows for maybe 10 minutes and then God showed me why he’d taken me the wrong way. The cloud broke, silvery moonlight lit the night and I disappeared into an old sunken lane, a Holloway, high curving banks lined with trees which curled in to form a tunnel. Light spilled through the bare tree limbs in twinkling shards and scattering across the road before me. I drove through this in silence, with my mouth open. For what seemed like an hour but was probably only five minutes I found peace to go on and enjoy something I had not been looking forward to.  

A good friend of mine heads for the sea shore when he needs to talk to God. He heads to a quiet, often near deserted beach near his home and on good days he will wander down the sand and pebbles singing at the top of his voice with his dog looking at him like he’s in pain. On bad days he will follow the same path but complain and shout and argue with God. And God is happy to hear from him either way.

When I feel distant from God, and any Christian who tells you they don’t feel distant from God at times is either not being honest with you or not being honest with themselves, I head for woodlands. I find God most readily in his creation, in the discovery of perfect puffball mushrooms nestled at the base of the trunk of a large holly, at an unexpected face to face meeting with a deer, at a pond carpeted with lily pads in flower.

A lady I know finds God in her craft room. She finds God in the act of creation and no matter how imperfect her work may be it brings a closeness that comes with sharing that experience of creating.

People do connect with God in church but sometimes that is hard, surrounded by others who seem to be doing a much better job of being Christ-like it can be near impossible and we do judge ourselves against others. Matthew 6;6 tells us to go and pray in our room with the door shut. This verse emphasises how much God values that one to one private conversation with us. His shoulders are big enough to deal with our complaints, his heart is big enough to humbly accept our praise and his understanding is big enough to know what we want to say when we can’t find the words.

Whatever happened to Community?

 

So, it’s 11am on a Saturday morning in January. According to my phone the temperature is 4c with a real feel of 2c due to wind chill factor. I’ve got four layers of clothes on and I’m still feeling the cold. I’m here as the Chaplain to a local football team, Chase Kings, and I’m watching community in action.

The dictionary offers a variety of definitions of community but they are all variations on this “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”. For most people that builds around the place they live; my mother, who still lives in the village where I was born, often bemoans the lack of community compared to 40 years ago when everyone knew everyone else and their business. Going by this definition that community was built around an interest in common which was their neighbourhood. At that time most people still lived and worked relatively locally, most holidayed in this country if they went on holiday at all. 40 years on and like most of my peers I can’t afford to buy a house in the village, upwards of 50% of the homes belong to people who commute to work in far off places or have bought the houses as holiday homes. Yet community still exists. The world has changed greatly in the last 40 years and people are no longer tied to an area in the way they were so community is based around a different set of common interests and attitudes. Communities are built around slimming groups, mothers and toddlers groups, amateur theatrical groups, church groups and charitable organisations which brings me back to a cold Saturday morning in January.

A common interest doesn’t make you a community, it makes you part of a group. Sharing certain attitudes is what makes you a community. The players on the team would probably be slightly embarrassed to realise they represent the best type of community, one based around mutual encouragement and support. A typical conversation on the day went like this, after a poor pass. The player who made the pass “sorry guys, thought you were further up.” “S’alright mate. Next time!” From the player who raced to intercept the pass but got beaten out. They share a common attitude that everyone on the team makes a valuable contribution, that the team aim is to play the best they can with an eye towards winning and that support and encouragement makes people try harder. The team is built around bringing out the best in each other and not picking out faults and failings, they’re not perfect and occasionally they slip but not often, not often at all. They treat each other with respect.

There are many small communities like this and they are built from a set of shared attitudes on a foundation of a shared interest, chances are you belong to one yourself, whether it’s ladies who lunch, the school gate on the school run or a bunch of mates meeting in the pub.

Jesus tells us the second greatest commandment, after loving God is “to love your neighbour as yourself”. The Bible was written in Greek and there are four different words that translate into English as “love”. The one used in this instance defines love as being selfless and unconditional and that’s what I’m seeing on this cold, muddy playing field. Wherever you find community in your life, wherever I see community, these men are the benchmark to measure it.            

How not to suck at your New Year’s Resolution.

New Year’s resolutions are often a sticky subject, most of us make them and most of us give up on them fairly quickly. This is appearing on 7th January and I’m wondering how many New Year’s Resolutions have already been broken. I think it’s often because we set our targets too high (I will fly solo across the Atlantic on a peddle powered bike) or they are too nebulous and ill defined (I will get healthier this year). We set ourselves up for failure. I eat way too much chocolate (words my wife will never hear me utter) and three or four times I made a resolution to give up chocolate. My best was broken on 3rd February that year and my worst faltered on 2nd January. Lacking will-power, life threatening health issues or any other major incentive I could not go from “lots” to none.

I think two of the best metaphors for life are the journey and the story. Each recognises that everything is part of a sequence of small events. I went to the Isle of Wight for New Year. For this to happen we had to agree as a family we would do it. We had to look at accommodation options, we had to look at what else we were doing on New Year’s Eve before we could make transport arrangements. We had to pack, drive to the ferry and board the ferry. The list goes on and on. The option to just wake up on the Isle of Wight was not available.

I think it’s like that with resolutions but the problem is that we want instant fixes. We look for a miraculous power to make us slimmer, fitter or richer which is why, so often, we fail. For many people diets and diet clubs only work as long as you maintain them, the diet that let you shed 5st will pile it all back on as soon as you stop. The gym works, as long as you keep going to the gym.

So, what do we do? Do we give up and assume change is impossible so why even try? I think no, we don’t give up. As the parking machine in the Swan Centre in Eastleigh says, “change is possible”. We just have to be a little kinder and a little gentler with ourselves. Treat your resolution as a journey and set out steps along the way. If your resolution is to get fitter and, at the moment you are a couch potato like me, set yourself a goal of walking for 15 or 30 minutes a day and once you achieve it and it becomes easier you can increase it. If you’re goal is to spend less time on screens decide what your alternative will be and approach it in small steps. If it’s reading more, set aside 15 minutes for it to start with. If it’s a good book that time will go up very quickly as you get hooked. If it’s to learn something new again start with a length of time you can safely guarantee is achievable on a regular basis. I set my self a target of updating this blog at least every two weeks. That gives me two weeks to think of a topic and an hour to write it. Setting aside that hour to write is occasionally difficult but achievable. Sometimes the gaps between posts have been smaller or bigger but ‘m not beating myself up about that.

Small successes build to bigger successes and it all comes down to changing lifestyle rather than magic wands.