Following the missionary Spirit: Annie Kirke and Gavin Mart

Tuesday, 27 November, 2012

Watch Annie Kirke and Gavin Mart tell their stories and share the three main things they have learnt about pioneering fresh expressions of church, from the Following the missionary Spirit event in London on 22nd November 2012.

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Annie Kirke: Good afternoon. Thanks for letting me come and share today, it's a real privilege and a little bit daunting following the Archbishop but I'll give it a go. I was ordained priest in the Diocese of London four years ago and I've really had an amazing, I guess, experience of church. Being a Christian my whole life but I think particularly in the last ten years I just increasingly felt so uncomfortable with the widening chasm between church and culture and lots of my friends just increasingly just saw the church as irrelevant. People in my communities saw the church as irrelevant and I felt that kind of burning sensation, which I think is the Holy Spirit, gnawing away inside of me and asking that question how are we really going to make disciples of people who just see the church in this way.

And so through my training I just kept on I guess asking God this question, what's it going to look like God, to reach people who don't want to walk into our churches. So when I got ordained I asked the Bishop of London if I could try and find other pioneers in London who wanted to partner and plant missional communities, communities that were committed to reaching people who would not otherwise want to darken the doors of church. People who had spiritual questions, who were seeking, but they didn't see the church as somewhere they could come and bring those questions or explore them.

So four years ago I, sorry three years ago I started that and began in Shepherds Bush actually with a community of Christians over there, about 15 of them, who were building relationships with people in the music industry, locally in that community which is multicultural, very diverse, several of them working in government, working in public services, and also entrepreneurs. And it's been a great journey with those guys and since then I work now with three other missional communities in Waterloo and Battersea - don't tell anyone I've crossed over the river - and also in Acton where one of my colleagues, Mark Bishop, is planting a community in Acton Vale.

So I've been asked to share like what three things I guess have I learned that I will take forward in following the missionary Spirit. The first one I think is that we have to espouse powerlessness if we're really going to truly be incarnational as the body of Christ in his mission. By that what I mean is I've grown up in churches where we talk a lot about belong, believe, behave and as I have sought to engage and converse with people who are outside of the church as it were, what I've really discovered is that by belonging we mean you're very welcome to come into our churches and you would be most welcome here and you would belong here. But inherent in that is that there's a culture that we've already set. That we're in control. It's very safe for us and it's incredibly uncomfortable for the people who are coming in. And of course we don't notice it, it's in our blind spot because we're comfortable. It's not until we're in a place of discomfort that we realise where our blind spots are. With the pioneers that I work with we've looked a lot at passages like Luke 10 and how Jesus sends the disciples out where he intends to go. And he tells them to take nothing but to be hosted by the communities and the people that he's wanting to reach out to. And so there's a level of discomfort and a sense of powerlessness that the disciples espouse by going and being hosted by the people that Jesus wants to reveal the kingdom to. So this is something that we are increasingly journeying in and it's incredibly uncomfortable. We find ourselves in situations, with things happening, which we would have much rather be in our local church and controlling the situation. But we can't and it's where God wants us. But it's in that moment that you have these kairos moments really I guess, these moments where there's opportunities to share faith, where people themselves feel... they feel able to talk more openly, be more vulnerable and they don't feel like that we're the ones who are setting the agenda. That's my first point.

My second would be that we need to espouse orthopraxy over orthodoxy, and by that I mean that as disciples of Jesus, Jesus said if you're my disciple then you obey me and that's how you know... that's a sign of your love for me, that's what worship looks like. So orthopraxy being that right living, right acting, obedience actually leads to right belief, a right understanding of who God is rather than right thinking will lead us into right living. And I see that all the time in... amongst Christians that I know who are really grappling with some of this in pioneering. They'll say you know some of the people that they know, Christians who are up for mission, they may go to one church for worship and one church for teaching and one church for meeting other single people because they're single and they want to get married or whatever, but they're cruising around churches in London trying to find... get different bits from different churches. And so there's a consumer culture. But actually Jesus says to be my disciple then you obey me and you follow me and so we're trying to create communities that look like that. And there's no this pick and choose and so on and so forth but we're inviting people into a community of people who are following Jesus.

One of the guys that I work with he was saying the other day that some of the guys they've been journeying with for the last year and a half would still... wouldn't profess to be a Christian, but one of them said to him recently Phil, I don't follow Jesus but I follow you. And I just thought well that's a good start, because Phil's following Jesus you know and a bit like Paul says imitate me as I imitate Christ, Phil's trying to imitate Jesus so as they guys imitate him they start to imitate Jesus.

I also run a winter night shelter in Westminster with seven churches and last winter we had fifteen guests over four months. One guy called Roman he came and when he came he would put out his sleeping bag and get a cup of coffee then get in his sleeping bag straight away and he would just go to sleep. He wouldn't speak to anybody. He'd get up in the morning, he'd get a cup of coffee, he'd roll up his sleeping bag and he'd leave. And as volunteers in this shelter, lots of different Christians who come together to do this, we asked the question what's it going to really take to in a sense love Roman into relationship and into the kingdom. And so I just watched over four months this transformation occur in Roman as Christians loved him, served him, shared with him, ate with him and it was such a picture of what happens in missional communities for me. And by I guess about two and a half months in, Roman would come a little bit early to help set up, he would help serve food, he would chat, in the morning by the end of the shelter he was the last one out because he'd be helping me put everything way. And I watched Roman imitate the volunteers and begin to imitate Jesus and become a disciple. And for me what happened in the shelter is exactly what seems to be happening in missional communities. As people model and serve and share, as they espouse orthopraxy, people start to imitate them and it begins a journey of discipleship for them.

Lastly, I think that the new wine that's emerging requires a new wineskin. And so I meet some wonderful pioneers with amazing prophetic imagination and they are being brave and courageous and pursuing the Spirit. I think we need the church, the established church to be as courageous and I think that if the edges... as the edges are, as Archbishop Rowan said, the edges are renewing the church, I think the church at the centre needs to be renewed as well. So relationships with the institution are vital and for someone like me that's part of my role, that I can communicate back to the centre what's really happening at the edges and challenge the centre to be as prophetic and imaginative as pioneers on the edges are. And that those of us on the edges have a responsibility to be communicating back to the guys at the centre. I have to say that I've been really blessed with the Diocese of London with some guys who are in the administrative department as it were who are real people of peace, they're really asking God what are you doing and how can we resource it. We're always going to need more resource, but I know that with those people there God... if I  and others at the edges can keep speaking to them, together we can see the funds and resources start to shift to places where the Spirit's really moving.

Thank you.

Gavin Mart: Hi there. I seem to have reached this strange place in my life where I've been on the same bill as Motorhead and now the Archbishop of Canterbury. I'm trying to work that out. Anyway, here I am. My name's Gavin and I am a Methodist VentureFX pioneer so I work for the Methodist Church in Colwyn Bay in North Wales. I'm employed by the local circuit who want me to go and see what can be done in Colwyn Bay to work outside of the church and to work in non-church communities. So we're trying to explore what that looks like. What I've done is I've gone and managed to acquire a giant hotel on the high street in Colwyn Bay. So the hotel was a bit run down and the owner who's got it doesn't really know what to do with it, it's not making any money, so we've set up a little social enterprise which means that we can get interest free, well sorry free commercial rates on the space, and it saves the owner having to pay about a thousand pounds a month of his business rates. So we're glorified squatters really. We're in there and what we're doing is saving this guy some money but we're promoting community through the arts and the visual arts. What we're doing is putting art exhibitions on and inviting working artists from North Wales and the UK and local artists to contribute to our exhibitions. The one we're running at the moment is called Adventurous, we did something at Easter as well. And what we're trying to do is give those stories back to the community. And we're asking the artists to unpack these biblical narratives. And then we put together a decent show and we're using the hotel to do that and then folk have been coming in and there's a dialogue going on with the artists, the art on the walls and the folk who are coming in and discussing that.

We're in the process of setting up a café and the other sort of innovative thing we've done is look to the Arts Council for funding as well. So it's taken about a year but the Arts Council have just about started to trust us and they've given us a grant as well. So we're looking at ways of being sustainable in the community and what we're finding is that the folk that are getting involved in the work, whether it's the artists or the folk that are visiting, are beginning to form a community for themselves. And we're at the stage now where we're just exploring what that might look like.

So just to say the three things that I've kind of learned along the way, so far is that we've done a lot of listening in the community. Yeah we've worked out where the potential resources are in the community, what's available to us and the hotel's become apparent, but we didn't just want to go with this great idea and just slap it in the middle of Colwyn Bay and see what would happen, it's really grown out of a conversation with a lot of town councillors, a lot of members of the community who are already doing things and a lot of churches who have already got stuff going on. So it's a big dialogue and we're just trying to work with everybody at the same time rather than say hey look, this is the new thing. So one of the things we're learning is working with other people and listening to communities.

The other thing that we're exploring is this idea of who owns these stories. You know for so many years it feels like the church has had sole ownership of biblical narratives. And by throwing that back into the community and giving permission to artists to explore the themes we're finding that there's a real kind of hermeneutic of suspicion if you like these sort of words, but an unpacking of the gospel that we're a finding completely new way, which is really interesting. So we're giving back the stories to the community and seeing what that looks like.

And finally we are also in this process of journeying, what we're learning is that you know sometimes we have this grand idea that if we can just get to the end, if we can just get to where we're trying to go and then everything will be OK. But what we're finding is that it's in the day to day journeying that we do mission. The small conversations. So we invite folk to come into the hotel, straight off the street, give them the paintbrush, say you know do some work and in that process we find that the little conversations happen, the little sparks happen and that's where the mission goes on. And in a way when the projects that we're leading towards are over, you suddenly realise ah it was then, it was back when we were working towards the project that Jesus was with us and the conversations were unfolding. So that's it.


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