The puffin as a metaphor for the church.

I love puffins. They are without a doubt one of my favourite birds. On land they are comical and graceless, they seem to stagger as they walk carried forward by the weight of their oversized beaks and heads. In flight they are reminiscent of those birdman competitions that take place around the coast each year as men try to emulate flight through enormous effort but only seem to manage a minutely delayed fall. Watch a  puffin taking off and you see a whole lot of effort put into something the bird is not built for. See a puffin swim though and you see a bird doing what it was made for. A puffin in water is a creature of effortless grace, moving like a swallow in the air. Darting around with a speed and natural skill that belays its stumpy figure. It’s like suddenly discovering that Shetland Ponies are great showjumpers. It seems incongruous to say the least.

So a puffin has three modes; resting, sat on a rock or a cliff enjoying what it can see around it, in flight, not a comfortable place to be and needs a lot of effort to achieve and maintain  and swimming, it’s natural environment where it looks perfectly at one with the world.

Church congregations sometimes seem to be made up of puffins. Ideally, like a puffin, we transition back and forth through those three phases but for us those three phases are a sedentary, prayerful, worshipping, learning by listening mode, that’s an average Sunday morning or house group evening for most of us. Then there’s the equivalent of flight mode, the thing that needs doing but you don’t feel called to, comfortable with or don’t feel is your gifting. For me that’s kids work. I love kids but I don’t want to be a responsible adult with them, I want to play and be silly. It’s hard enough being a responsible adult for my own two. But it needs doing, so I have to work myself up to it. There’s a lot of huffing and puffing, a lot of flapping, but eventually I’m in the air and doing a decent job. (at least I like to think so). Then there’s phase three, the swimming phase. That’s when it’s all good. That’s when God calls on you to do what you’re good at and turn it to his work. That doesn’t have to be big and showy, you don’t have to be a street evangelist. The Meon Angels and Living-Stones are a perfect example of this. Many people can knit, particularly older people, and they sat and knitted little woollen angels. These were matched up with a scripture or encouraging word and distributed all around the area for people to find and keep. Peoples lives were touched by finding these angels and the words they carried. a seed was planted in the lives of over 700 people by knitting. God can put all skills, all gifts, all abilities, to his work.

Many of us spend way to much time in phase one, often because phases two and three seem hard or scary. The effort needed to fly can be overwhelming and the thought that God has given you a gift you can use in his service can be equally terrifying. However, a solid group will move into phase two because they will recognise that in any church a certain number of things have to happen for church to happen. Some will choose to live there, flapping and working hard to serve others, serving tea and coffee with a smile even when they want to scream. Some of them will never know the peace of phase one or the joy of phase three. A small number will recognise their natural gifts, be it leading worship or writing letters of encouragement or praying for others or speaking kindly to the woman in Tesco after the customer before them has been foul. It is tempting to remain in that gifting once you have recognised and accepted it and never try to fly. “I can’t do kids church, God has called me to …”

The trouble is, for a church to operate you need everyone to be a whole puffin, to sit on rocks, to fly and to swim. Sitting on the rocks is when you are receiving from God, filling your tank so you can do things. Flying, that’s where you support the nuts and bolts of church, where you help with the things that make church possible. Swimming? Swimming is that beautiful moment where you and God are in perfect sync. He’s smiling, you’re smiling and there is a real joy to be had in doing, whether that’s singing, painting, praying, knitting or making good coffee. Which brings me to the question I want to leave you with. Are you a whole puffin? Do you swim, fly and stand?

Secret Origin Part the Third

Wickham Music Festival brought things to a whole new level. Led by David Moss the circuit had decided to have a presence at the festival by doing what they do inside church outside church. They took the hospitality, crafts, fine quality cakes and the belief in the importance of service that are part of their DNA, infused it with a large helping of open, Celtic spirituality, put it all in a tent and waited to see what the Holy Spirit would do with it. This was the toy box I was invited to come play in.

I got to run around, making pictures for people, having conversations and sharing God with a fascinating assortment of people and more importantly, people came to the tent. People came to the tent and stayed.  It was lovely to see. The Elemental Tent became a welcoming community to a disparate group of parents and their kids, morris dancers, storytellers and other assorted festival goers who came for came for corn dolly making or to sit on a sofa and take a rest and stayed to talk about their lives, talk about God and spirituality and join Celtic Night Prayers at the end of each day.  And these people came back, year on year, seeking us out.

Time moved on as it inexorably does, each year an invitation to join again arrived and each year I went. In the mean time other intriguing opportunities presented themselves as I started each day with the question “What shall we do today God?” A churches together event in Eastleigh, a prophetic café at a conference in Southampton, Faith Al Fresco in Bishops Waltham. All moving me in a direction I could not see.

2017 came around and early summer I took a dramatic fall off my bicycle, broke my elbow and found myself unable to drive, unable to draw and unable to attend the Wickham Festival. I was desperately disappointed. It had felt like it was to be a watershed year but each month seemed to make life more difficult, work hours cut, travel costs and time increasing, everything was a struggle. As tough as it was sometimes I  clung desperately to Jesus and my hope in his plan for me.

Then he showed his plan and of course it was beyond my wildest hopes. He put me here in the Meon Valley.

Secret origin part deux

Things get a little more out there.

After meeting Nigel Bailey I continued on in the work a day world, unaware that this man at the crossroads was at work in the background. Out in the Meon Valley David and Ali Moss had encountered the Wickham festival and were thinking how great it would be to have a presence there. Plans were formulated, discussions were held, committees met and the Meon Valley Methodist Circuit became the proud parents of the Elemental Tent. Somewhere along the line it was decided to be a good idea to invite me to join the tent as a Prophetic Artist to add to the slightly wacky festival vibe.

My first encounter with the Elemental crew was at the first training session at Waltham Chase. I’d been taking the approach of saying yes to everything I felt God was throwing my way and trusting him not to let me go where I couldn’t do his work. The people I met were warm, friendly, welcoming and willing to head out to the fringes and let God work through them. I felt at home. David’s training session and his explanation of how he wanted Elemental to work as mission sent me away at the end of the evening with a smile on my face. Here was a man who thought like I did. Build everything around relationship. The 3 B’s that became 4 B’s and are now 5 B’s were a concrete explanation of what I felt on a gut level.

As the time of the Festival approached my lovely wife, Karen, took some time off to look after our children while I climbed into our car and headed off into the wilds of the Hampshire countryside.

Next time in part 3, Wickham and beyond.




The secret origin of Missioner Pete

My name is Pete. I’m a Missioner. I have been for two weeks. The water is deeper than I imagined.

Some background. Back in 2012 I was one of the first people to do a course called Ignite. It was the brainchild of two men, Mark Simpson and Allan Cox and it’s primary aim was to raise leaders in the church. (Did i mention this was a story about God and Church? I didn’t? Sorry. Thete will be some laughs along tbe way though so stick with me). On that course I found a talent for seeing in people what God sees in people and sharing it with them through art. (it’s cooler and more fun than it sounds, trust me). 

On Ignite I met a very nice man named Nigel Bailey, a man with a deep conviction that the Methodist Church could change and grow and impact the world as it did in Wesley’s day.  Nigel is a man of vision and that inevitably connects you with people who share that vision. 

Which will take us to part two of our story next time.