Olive Fleming Drane on high street spirituality

Tuesday, 16 July, 2013

Olive Fleming Drane discusses high street spirituality. What opportunities do we have to bring spirituality to our high streets? What do 21st Century monasteries look like?

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Olive Fleming Drane: I love shopping and I think it's great fun to do window shopping, but there's not a high street throughout the UK that you can walk along now and not see signs of spiritual search going on. If you look in shop windows, if you look at adverts, you see people are wanting to engage – it's about lifestyle, it's about enhancing their life, it's about the spiritual. And for me, I just would love to see a space that really addresses people's questions pop up in the high street.

One of the great opportunities that we have is that we have the legacy quite often of church buildings, where the congregation has not completely moved out to the suburbs, and many of these places are discovering a new opportunity, because they have the chance to bring the spiritual right into the marketplace where people are – if we have our eyes open and we read what other people are reading and see it with... well really seeing it with God's eyes and saying 'how can we engage here?'.

I would love to see some of these church buildings actually opening their doors and becoming open 24/7, really becoming high street monasteries. Not turning everybody into monks, but actually a space where anybody could walk in and encounter, have a conversation, maybe do some artwork, maybe make something – whatever – that's going to engage their spiritual quest. Maybe meet up with someone who's going to spark their conversation.

Quite a few years ago I had been thinking, why do we put the spiritual stuff into an hour on Sunday morning and the rest of life we're left to struggle, and for me spirituality needs to be as a disciple of Jesus, woven through the whole of my life – there's not bits of my life where Jesus doesn't touch, otherwise I'd have to question why am I bothered with this, it's not really worth committing my whole life to. So for me it's about the spiritual being woven through everything I do, not in an overly religious way, but it's... I suppose it's my centre, it's my plumbline for everything I do.

And so I started to ask people, 'do you have any spiritual practices of rituals?' and people seemed to fall into two camps. One lot said 'no, don't do that kind of stuff', another lot would say 'oh yes' and then they would tell me their story. Quite often what happened with the people that said 'no I don't do that kind of stuff' was they'd phone me up a week later or some time and say 'you know, when I thought about it, I realised I do this, would that be a spiritual search?' and then I began to unpack the whole thing with them about well was it intentional in some way? And invariably there's some kind of intentional element because a person's looking for something.

So for instance, you might wander into The Body Shop for instance. Now The Body Shop as we know is about selling products, but if you lift up a book as I did and saw what was along the side, there were words like refreshment, anointing, cleansing, empowering – and I'm like 'what?!'. These are the words that are littered across the page of the bible, this is the core of blessing that we're promised as new life in Christ. So I think the opportunity for these places becoming high street monasteries are just so exciting. I'd love to see them pop up everywhere.

I think when people gather together around a common purpose and conversation flows then quite simply if we discern that we're coming alongside where God is working in people's life then an expression of that spirituality happens. I mean for instance, we don't need to buy candles to light our houses or anywhere in Britain today and yet there are thousands of millions of pounds spent annually on candles because of the ambience that it creates. Now we could just light a candle or we could light a candle with intentionality and say we're going to light the candle here and as we light it we're asking for illumination in our lives today - what might that look like? Now that might be a very simple question, but already we're starting to have a conversation.

There's something about leadership here and about how do we encourage the conversation and how do we explore things further. And we need God's help in that – how to read what's going on in a person's life. Not to come in with all the answers but perhaps to help them to articulate the question that are really going on underneath the surface. Many of people's questions are around lifestyle today, how can I change things in my life, how could I live life better, where are the resources. Now to move from there to inviting somebody to an average worship service that we might be happy with is probably a leap too far for the vast majority of people that we would meet in the high street. But if we created spaces around prayer stations or things to do, we might then begin to find a difference.

When I was doing this research, asking people if they had spiritual practices, the notion of what would spirituality-to-go look like began to resonate in my thinking, because we go, we order coffee. Well we know we don't just order coffee today, we have a latte or a cappuccino, or we have an Americano or whatever. And people have… we all have different learning styles, we have different entry points. And I think we have a responsibility to create spaces that allow people to encounter God and it's as we begin to encounter God that we start to gather and want to discuss with other people. We want to say well, this happened to me, or I was thinking… what's that about? And there's the opportunity to begin to unpack, and as we begin to talk like that and have these conversations, it's possible that really what's beginning to emerge is a faith community, people who are on a spiritual journey, on  a search. Now I wouldn't want to dictate what that might look like, because it's going to look very different with different sorts of people. And being responsive to that and knowing how to walk alongside people and journey with them is quite key, so listening to people, listening to God – so there's a lot of listening going on rather than rushing in with answers here.


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