Messy Discipleship

So yes, last week I started sharing about our recent National Conference but went off on a tangent. The weekend was about celebrating the past and preparing for the future. To do either of those things fully, we need to be grounded in the present. When I think back to all the things that God was doing amongst us during the weekend, it is astounding; its sobering to think of all we might have missed had we been too caught up in the past or the future.

We were very grateful to have Ian and Haddon Macdonald with us. Ian took us through three sessions or conversations exploring authentic spirituality, authentic discipleship and authentic living. God is a very present God. Often in my walk with him I can get preoccupied with what he has done and what he is going to do and forget that he is here, right now, with me, wanting to look me in the eyes if I have the guts to stop for a few seconds. I think that is the most challenging and confronting place to be, present with God in this moment; there is nowhere to hide. Even now in this moment, I would rather keep writing than open my heart to him here and now. But how else am I to know him and make my life his own?

In mentoring others and discipleship, if I am constantly living in the past and the future with no courage for the present, I am just a hollow shell of pretence and activity. It’s in being present to God, myself and my brothers and sisters that I can actually make contact, live and give life and progress with intent. I wonder if this is not what God is looking for, in each age and generation, people with the courage to worship him in spirit and in truth.

One of my favourite traditions that Fusion has is that of the evening devotions at conferences. These are brought by members of the team who share from their journey with God over the recent months or years. They are based on the premise that I am strengthened and encouraged in my faith as you share your real experience of the joys, pains, doubts and rigours of discipleship and ministry. This type of sharing requires a high level of being present with God both in the preparation and delivery, but authentic fellowship, encouragement, applied theology and strengthening of purpose are all outcomes. Those who aren’t used to the process might react with pity and not a little bewilderment, but with time they begin to understand that rescuing and feeling sorry for those sharing misses the point entirely. The reality is that authentic spirituality, authentic discipleship and authentic living are very messy and often pretty uncomfortable; but that is what we are called to, together with God. There were one or two bewildered, uncomfortable individuals last weekend!!

For us as a movement there are many exciting things I am sure that God will do amongst us and through us; but the pathway to all of these things is through the gateway of alertness to the present and responsiveness to him in the moment, and that might get a bit messy and uncomfortable at times.


on a tangent…

I spent last weekend at The Mill retreat centre with a pretty special bunch of people. It was Fusion’s National Conference. Right now we are in a period of unprecedented transition as we mark the end of the first 10 years of our journey in the UK, release key members of our leadership team into full time secular work and embark on the next 10 years of our ministry.

In such times of upheaval it’s so easy to get caught up in the tasks that need to be done or worry about what the future holds. Its not easy to remain present and open to what God is doing in each moment.

A few weeks ago I realised that I was carrying a significant amount of stress. I had stopped sleeping and was feeling quite anxious most of the time. One morning at about 3am I decided to journal to see if I could get a handle on what was going on for me. It didn’t take me long to realise that all the things I was stressing about were questions regarding the future. There are some anxieties about the future that a bit of planning and preparation will put to rest. There are other anxieties around questions to do with the future that are simply impossible to answer until we get there. It was this second group that I was fretting over.

But what do you about that? Well, here is what I have been trying and even my botched attempts are working better for me than fretting and stressing! Firstly I wrote the questions and anxieties down on pieces of paper and placed them under the cross in my prayer room; a symbol of my desire and attempt to keep surrendering and entrusting these things to my loving Father and saviour. Secondly as I attempt to live from a place of trusting God with my future, I am trying to be more present in today. I suspect that as I am present today and engaging with what God is doing and saying in this moment, that prepares and positions me to take each step into tomorrow. I realise that the very act of preoccupying over the future prevents me from being ready for the future. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but I think it’s true.

Having said all that I realise that I haven’t told you about last week’s conference. I guess that will have to wait till next week, but for now let’s enjoy the present!

I have a dream

Who am I? My name is Claire and I am part of an organisation called Fusion. Ah yes, you work with university students!! No, not that Fusion, we are Fusion Youth and Community, we’ve been going for about 50 years…..

We are a registered charity working with disadvantaged children and young people to see them increasingly realise their potential for a positive, hope filled life. We are holistic in our approach and to this end we intentionally work with their networks – families, schools, the whole neighbourhood and society at large – facilitating a commitment to and expressions of healthy community based on the values of justice, mercy and compassion. We network with local councils, churches, the police, businesses and other stakeholders who share our goals.  Our Christian faith is our motivation and we believe that the core values of our faith (many of which are shared by a number of other faiths) hold the key to a healthy, purposeful life as individuals, communities and a whole society.

Through our nations chequered history there has often risen a voice for justice for the oppressed, care and provision for the poor and a challenge to ‘do the right thing’. Each time the nation has responded and society has changed, some of those changes have been written deep into our psyche. (consider for a moment that there was a time in our history when a small group of people had to engage in a long and dirty political battle to increase the minimum age at which a child was permitted to work in the coal mines from 4 to 10; today the care and protection of our children is one of our highest values as a nation.) Though at times it sleeps, deep within us is a formidable giant that lives for justice with mercy and is motivated by compassion. When this part awakens, we realise that we were born to change the world and not just to take up space; hope comes to life and the reason for our existence is renewed.

Our dream, my dream, is that the giant will re-awaken and every child, young person and adult we work with, indeed every community, and even our nation discovers their place in changing the world.

Looking back to Look forward

Last year i was part of the team who helped coordinate the Annual British Pilgrimage of Hope. It was an incredible 18 days. if you are ready for a little more than the usual diet of Christian summer festivals and bible weeks, this could be for you. Did you enjoy Manchester 2000 or the soul in the city events of past years? there was something about being together in mission that was so much more purposeful! The Annual British Pilgrimage of Hope goes a bit further than even those events.

We really just wanted to create something that was worthy of a generation of Brits who wanted to learn how to change the world. So we put together some training in mission – practical skills but also looking at biblical frameworks of values that express God’s glory and inform every day of our lives. We added an inspirational look at those in our past who put their lives and reputations on the line because they knew that Christ was asking no less of them; they changed the world and life as we know it now would not exist had it not been for their choices. They show us a courageous face of mission that doesnt shrink back but brings justice, mercy and compassion to the streets and homes of our land. But what is the use of inspiration, new skills and understanding if you dont have a chance to try it out? So we added a mission placement, in teams heading off to support local churches in their on going local mission. And still it wasnt time to go home, we journeyed way back in time and headed up to Iona where we drew further inspiration as we saw how God used Patrick, Columba and Aiden to bring the first light of the gospel to our land. And so as we said good bye to oneanother we each embarked on the pilgrimage of the rest of our lives, with no excuses but a desire to live for God.

this year we beging our journey on the 15th of July at 9am and complete on the 26th. Come and join us if you are game!


Rail, road, steam boat, river or canal?

Team UK had our first team day of the year yesterday. It was a very special time. Most of the day we were eight plus the puppy; a small group of highly diverse personalities with an eclectic array of gifts and strengths –  really quite special. We did some work on our purpose, objectives and strategy, when it’s a bit more refined I might share it with you. For some of us this sort of big picture work is natural and exciting whilst for others it is a little bewildering and hard work; but even so we got to some really good outcomes.IMG_0835

I have been mulling over how best to help others differentiate between strategy, tactics and goals…

If your goal is to get to Edinburgh, there are many strategies to choose from – you could go by plane, train, car, foot or even teleportation! Which you choose will depend on who you are, the things that matter to you, who else is or should be involved, what resources you have, what other outcomes you are after. A business person on a tight schedule might choose to fly, however if he has a son he hasn’t spent time with recently, he might choose to head up by train or car. He will have a range of tactics to choose from in implementing his strategy, who makes the booking and how? What rout does he take? Does he go business class or economy? Which service providers does he use?

In our line of work where we partner with others to reach their communities and young people, we have a strategy that has been developed in our movement over the last 50 years. Its a process of mission with 8 components. Our particular approach to authority, leadership and membership gives us a values and practice framework that guides us in the implementation of the strategy, so the culture should be pretty similar from place to place. In each community however, the particular tactics and programs we use to role out the strategy can vary widely from place to place.

Some years ago a well meaning church leader asked me if I had any plans to settle down and marry. I was a little surprised at his question and with what I am certain was a quizzical expression I replied ‘well I am open to the possibility but, no, I haven’t worked out a strategy and 5 year plan as such!’. My friends and I had a good laugh afterwards!

A Global Classroom, for real

I want to share my journey through a 21 week training experiment. For 21 Wednesdays between now and the end of May next year, I will be facilitating a School of Mission with about 15 people taking part from 4 or 5 countries. I am writing at the end of day one – the 14th of November 2012.

The dream was to set up the game for a life changing, educational experience for anyone leading a process of community transformation in their neighbourhood and society… across the UK, Europe and Africa. Traditionally in the movement I am part of, people have had to take six to eighteen months out, to head to Australia for intensive residential training in youth and community work. As we approached 2012 in the UK and saw the potential of groups right across the country inspired and wanting to be equipped for effective, long term community mission, we saw that sending them all off to Aus wasn’t an option. We needed something more accessible, more flexible and dare I say more readily applicable in a range of different cultural and socio-economic settings.

So drawing on my own experience over the last few years, some research into the needs of our target group and calling on some of the senior trainers in our movement, we put together some content, re-constructed the training processes and called it School of Mission (day a week training).

As it happens we don’t have any of those new groups from across the UK participating, but today we had teams from South Africa, Preston as well as a couple of the team from Wheatley! The Albanians will be with us from next week and the Ghanaians are hoping to join us as well if they can make internet arrangements.

The day had its fair share of hurdles, the ineptitude of some Webex staff meant that we had to opt for another web conferencing solution at the last minute – that was a bit risky, but worked OK! (Except I wish you could minimise the program ‘boxes’ more easily!). Then about 10 minutes into the first session we were informed that the room we were in had been booked by another group! (In an effort to save money, we had decided not to book the room for a fee on the basis that if its free anyway we get to use it at no cost – nice idea if it’s not in use!!). SO after a bumpy start we were on our way for the day.

A concern for me is how we build a sense of community within and between the groups when we are connecting via internet rather than being in the same space together. The design of the training relies heavily on people learning through sharing with each other, so building enough safety for people to not only share but even interrogate the material or assert a difference in opinion to others is crucial. I think having people in groups helps – no one participating today was in a room on their own. Video links mean we can get some visual cues from each other, sadly the South Africans were only able to use audio which meant the connection between us and them was greatly reduced – they couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them.

The responses from today’s training were very positive with people taking away substantial challenges from the subjects covered. Next week the complexity will almost double with the Albanians joining us and possibly the Ghanaians. It’s a tricky thing as a trainer, engaging with people on the screen as well as in the room you are in. Its a tricky thing as a participant engaging with a process with others when you can’t look many of them straight in the eye as you share.

Well the train has definitely left the station, but i wonder what next week will hold!