Spirituality for pioneers

Monday, 26 March, 2012

Pioneers including Ric Stott, Sally Thornton, Ian Adams, Lorraine Dixon, Adrian Chatfield and Jonny Baker discuss what sustains them spiritually.

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Ric Stott: If the role of the pioneer is to grow new communities and to try and impact the world for Christ and to have the same kind of life-giving impact that Christ had for people, you need that relationship, you need that grounding in your own spiritual walk, your own spiritual discipline. Without that it's... you're just kind of something of a social club bore doing a hobby really. Everything, every aspect of pioneering has got to flow from that relationship, has got to flow from that place of prayer, from that place of meditation, from that place of prompting by the Spirit of God.

Sally Thornton: It's absolutely crucial that we are connected and have a robust spirituality that can cope with the isolation of pioneers working on the edge. Working on the edge of community, working on the edge of society, working with people who are perhaps have got many multifaceted problems - and complex problems - so it's how to keep rooted.

Ian Adams: I think it's vital to maintain and nurture a balanced spiritual life for a pioneer, partly because it's a very isolating experience, you can easily find yourself out on your own and it's easy to sense that you're misunderstood or not supported. So it's really important to nurture a strong base.

Lorraine Dixon: For me engaging in a spiritual life and continuing that is fundamental. I could not survive doing what I do without a living spiritual life, a spiritual journey, an ongoing journey with God in Christ, enlivened by the Spirit - I just couldn't do what I do.

Adrian Chatfield: I think that what pioneers who are working on their own need is someone who's label doesn't matter, but is going to serve a mentoring, coaching and friend - soul friend - function. Someone who is capable of roaming wherever the person's life is roaming and doesn't have natural boundaries between the spiritual and the natural.

Jonny Baker: One of the things I think that's different now about the culture and the world we're in to perhaps when missionaries were going off a couple of hundred years ago is that connectivity is much easier. So actually, even though you're isolated I think it's possible to be related and connected with other people that can support what you're doing in a number of ways.

Ric Stott: For me I think it's important to be intentional about building those relationships to sustain your spirituality. And I mean I was a minister in the Methodist Church before I started doing the pioneer work and throughout that ministry and now as a pioneer still I've had a spiritual director. And I can say that out of any other kind of spiritual discipline or thing that I've done as a Christian, finding a spiritual director has been the most powerful and profound... has the most powerful and profound impact on my faith.

Ian Adams: It's important to work with the grain of who you are, so find a time, find a space each day where you commit yourself to stillness, openness to God. And make that your base point.

Adrian Chatfield: Another thing to do with resourcing is the ability to listen to the stories of others because in hearing the stories of others - pioneers, people that we're working with - we suddenly recognise that God is at work and in this dark or bleak or difficult situation, there's something really quite exciting going on. So it's the ability to go on being excited and to look for contexts in which excitement is given.

Sally Thornton: I think it's really crucial that you meet and listen to other people's stories, to hear some of the difficulties that others are having, because when you hear some of those challenges that others are having, you actually find out that you're not as isolated as you might think you once were. Also it's good to listen to talks, CDs, again other people who are going through tough patches.

Jonny Baker: There are lots of disciplines and practices that I've employed at different times and different seasons that can be really helpful and there's great treasure and wisdom in the traditions. I mean for me, and I suspect this might be true of other pioneers, what works for a season - if I keep it going for a long time, I get bored! So I need to introduce freshness into what sustains me. I mean the thing I'm doing at the moment is reading the Old Testament prophets. I mean that's probably not going to be everyone's thing but I'm finding that's really fuelling my imagination and energy and bizarrely the other thing I'm doing is using an iPhone app called MyCofE which has a morning prayer and the reading the readings of the lectionary and so on. Now I haven't done that for quite a long time but those are a couple of the things that I'm doing.

Ian Adams: It's really important to do this in the context of community. So what we do matters, we nurture our own spiritual practice, but we also need to find communities to be part of. They might be face to face on the ground, they might be online, part of a wider network. It's absolutely vital we find communities that we're part of.

Lorraine Dixon: I have retreats, time out, I enjoy my days off, I have space, for me that's also part of a living spirituality - resting in the Lord. As well as someone to accompany me along the way. And people call that so many different things: mentor, spiritual guide, confessor, that sort of thing.

Jonny Baker: Some friendships - I mean I think even where people feel alone, actually even if they're outside of the context and so on, sitting down, having meals, friendship, being able to talk and be real - whatever that means - honest about struggles and so on, you need a space where that can take place I think, as well as those times of isolation in ministry.

Ric Stott: I'm just at the moment starting the Ignatian exercises - spiritual exercises - which is... I did it seven years ago and it was a life-changing experience so I'm starting it again with some trepidation because I know it really gets to the heart of things. But yeah, so that helps me hold the framework. But also other things like, you know, seeing a film or doing a painting - these things, if you do them intentionally, then they refresh us spiritually - it's not... yeah, if we reflect on those experiences - going for a walk, whatever it is - reading a book, we can find the sustenance there as well I think.


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