Every so often I get asked to review a book, this is the most recent and I am so grateful for the opportunity to read it. I know really clearly that God called me to the job I do now but there is a little bit of my heart which is still with long term urban incarnational youth work. I wrote a doctorate about it so that’s how interested I am in it!
I use post it notes to highlight passages that I want to come back to or take not of – I have far too many in this book to write about here but I will try to give a bit of a flavour. Sally and Dave Mann are part of a five generation family committed to a part of East London, in that respect it reminds me of Mill Grove where I did my placement and which has been a constant presence in their part of London since 1899. This is a book which takes figures from the early church in the New Testament and frames a story round those people and the relevance of that particular gift or calling for today. In that sense it is a very transferable book as you can ask when reading it ‘who is our Lydia’. It is well written and accessible.
Some key phrases and sentences to help give a sense of the message of the book:
This is the story of ‘missional remainers’: people who have discerned that following Jesus, for them, means staying put, showing up and being deeply committed to a small geographic place (p5).
I am fascinated as to how different the church might be if more felt called to to do this.
She uses a wonderful phrase ‘fixing the billboard’ meaning rebranding and fixing structures rather than looking at a bigger vision of what God is doing.
There is a lot in here which is asset based community development focused and definitely is about working alongside and with rather than to and for. However, she argues that ‘missional community life has not diluted the Gospel one bit’ (p48) but it does offer a different sort of Christian identity to one which is exclusive and pure.
I will write a more formal review shortly but wanted to capture some of my excitement over this book in this blog now.
Looking for Lydia Sally Mann, it has been independently published in 2018 and available in paperback or kindle on Amazon.
For most of my life my year has started in September rather than January and this year is no exception. This is Community Week, when all the Midlands Institute of Children, Youth and Mission undergraduates gather together at St John’s to build community, learn, have fun, set goals, dream and so many other things.
I always feel immensely blessed during this week both being a part of a wonderful staff team who are so passionate and committed about supporting students to fulfil who and what God has called them to be and by the students themselves. Looking at the picture fills me with pride, knowing some of the back stories, understanding some of the sacrifices people have made to be here and seeing such a diverse and gifted group of people together who want to make a difference in the world. I am grateful that God called me to play my part in this.
This is my 18th Community Week. I don’t tire of being here.
We sat by this eating crab sandwich and chips last week! I love the idea that a Christian resource centre sponsored such a beautiful piece of community art. They asked school children “What does community mean to you?” they drew pictures and a glass artist recreated them. These beautiful panels now adorn a building in Looe harbour. A good example for others to follow.
Yesterday we went to a half day run by Birmingham Diocese on expressions of monasticism, new monasticism and approaches to a rule of life. Most of the time was given over to hearing about foundations and origins, how people became members, accountability, how members are sustained and protected, distinctiveness of the group and how membership nourishes and strengthens your discipleship. The timings for the day went way out as each different group were given 5 minutes on these themes.
What particularly struck me was the equal levels of commonality and diversity. Some were for women or men only, some open, some closed, some dispersed, there were often
different levels of commitment on offer to people varying from life time commitment to a loose affiliation.
What they all had in common was a commitment to a set of vows, values or principles by which you agreed to live by. Some were classical ones such as poverty, chastity and obedience or around simplicity and contemplation, others were more about being missional and service. Eleven of the twelve founders of one particular group became chaplains in the First World War.
Both Sally and I have been nurtured by communities beyond our involvement in the
Anglican church. We have found a sense of belonging, a focus, a rootedness in our history, companionship on a particular way of being on a Christian journey. We shared about three groups that are significant to us: Northumbria Community, Community of Aidan and Hilda and the newest one represented on the day, the Common Ground Community which is part of Hodge Hill Church where Sally is Associate Minister. See the websites below for more information:
We saw this when out walking on Bank Holiday Monday at the RSPB site at Middleton Lakes. I love the way all sorts of creatures can live together with all their diversity and needs and the way that natural material have been used to create a home, a place of nurture and safety. I think we have something to learn from this…
I write this in the tranquillity of the early morning in my study at Midlands CYM Community Week. As I have reflected on what community means and how I might see community in my work context of theological education I have been particularly drawn to this thought from Henri Nouwen:
The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4). The question, therefore, is not “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?”
I love the way that Eugene Peterson renders this passage (Philippians 2:1-4) in the Message:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
As I start another year with a new group of students – my fifteenth cohort – this is what is on mind – developing and nurturing giving hearts so we offer a quality of community which reflects our loving, giving, accepting God.
How does it feel to think that you will live in your current house for the rest of your life? Reassuring? Scary? Boring? Exciting? One of the vows that Benedictine monks and nuns make is that of stability which means that the Brother who talked to us fully expected to die at the monastery. The vow of stability is a vow to the community that they will be part of that community for life, it means that there is nowhere to go when life gets tough and you have to work through the frustrations and issues that there are always are in community life. It sometimes feels that it is too easy today for us to walk away and find a new church, for example, to be part of, but we take our baggage with us and sometimes the same issues arise. (In no way am I saying that being drawn to stability means that it is right to stay in abusive contexts and obedience to God has sometimes sadly been used as a reason to encourage people to do that).
As I continue to reflect on the retreat stability is something that God talked to me about. It is something I can find hard, we live and work in a very mobile society and sometimes when I meet someone who I have not seen for a while and they ask what I am doing now it almost feels like I am a little dull in that I am doing the work that started when I joined YFC in 1984. Sadly short termism in funding in youth work and other areas means that the long term youth worker is a rarity. I also sometimes worry that I am not listening to God and should move on in my work but God spoke to me again on the retreat about stability and the importance of that dimension of my call.
In a world where portfolio work is the norm and people may have several careers over their lifetime I can feel like I am stuck in the past but I think that there are merits in being part of a community for the long haul. Quite a few youth workers have told me that it was only after ten years that they really felt accepted in the community and able to do some of the deeper work they had been wanting to particularly with families. We perhaps need to find new ways of sustaining ministry so that people can stay for the long term and look at different models of and approaches to funding.
My post on Wednesday was on my placement at Mill Grove and the attraction of stability I think was part of the reason I wanted to go there – that one family have run such a home for over a hundred years is both inspirational and challenging. However, there must be churches where generations of one family have worshipped and where there are at least remnants of people who remember those who used to be there if they should return. My mother and her two sisters still live within walking distance of where they were born and raised. I am the eldest of six cousins, and our generation were the first in our families to experience higher education and only one returned “home” afterwards. If Twitter and Facebook had been around when I was at school I would probably still be connected to many parts of my past but I am not. I miss the rootedness that others seem to feel who have lived in an area for a long time, we are in the fifth house of our marriage, all in different areas. I appreciate that in a more networked mobile world that physicality is not the only way that we can have community but I still inhabit a physical body and sometimes I need an actual person to be with me, there are some things that cannot be accomplished in a tweet (and I am someone that likes Twitter).
The Mill Grove newsletter for 2011 contains this statement which I find challenging: “Perhaps the greatest promise that Jesus made to his disciples was that he would be with them always. And Mill Grove remains, come what may, ready to celebrate the many blessings of our big family, and provide a shelter in the times of the storm.” My vision for church is for that to be the case there too but it is much more likely to happen if there are people there who have committed themselves to that community for the long term and share and inhabit the story.
White, K. J. Links. (South Woodford: Mill Grove, 2011) p.1.