Growing disciples in an age of busyness

I had the great privilege of spending a few days alongside a community of ordinands at Central Theological College in Tokyo during my time here. The college itself felt to be a symbol of the history and potential available to the NSKK (the Anglican Church in Japan) more widely, with its huge space to accommodate the, as yet, unknown.

A number of people I have encountered have said that the NSKK is shrinking, both in terms of membership and clergy, and needs to think more widely about growth strategies. Whilst it feels like this is an issue that may be pertinent to a number of provinces and dioceses in the Anglican Communion, and yet the ways in which growth is often understood – typically by what can be quantified – concerns me a great deal.

I found myself reminding my hosts of Jesus’ ministry: how his twelve disciples became eleven after a huge betrayal and the crucifixion – and yet modern Christians are the legacy of such humble beginnings. Despite the logic, against the odds, followers of ‘The Way’ grew in large numbers…but why? What made such growth possible all those centuries ago, and yet seemingly so difficult to achieve now?

There is something about both modern British and Japanese culture which boasts an element of entitlement to all things material. All things are possible in our societies – from electronic baths to robot servers to control of household appliances from smartphones. In my view, people within our societies have never been so busy and yet we are given (for a price!) so much to help with that.

One question which keeps coming back within all of these musings is ‘What does the Good News have to offer that is liberating within our tired, over-pressurised society?’ Put more simply, what different way does the Good News point to? When membership of a church means taking on the running of an aspect of church life, volunteering to help with children’s groups, planning the annual church festival or bazaar, and being added to the coffee, reading and prayer rota; what aspect of this new life is liberating? It has struck me that possibly churches have ceased to be attractive to working people because they simply do not have time to participate in all that they are expected to.

I remember trying to justify to my priest why I could not be involved in a fourth church activity as a full-time secondary school teacher who regularly needed to work between 50-60 hours a week. He did not understand and thought that I ought to speak to my line manager about my workload if I was not able to find time for this one other thing. Incidentally, there was no conversation about whether I was gifted for this one other thing or called to it!

So, how can the Church be more relevant to the people it serves? How can it offer liberation from the pressure that we are barely able to see much of the time, due to busyness? Equally how do we move away from the cycle we seem trapped within of serving the church (building), rather than the church (followers of God) serving the wider community?

My hosts heard me refer back to prayer so many times whilst I was with them, but it is so important. I was tasked with praying for between two and three hours a day for each day I served within the NSKK, and through that diligence I have grown in the depth of my relationship with God and noticed God changing my outlook….this example from Jesus is surely the first place to begin?

Life and death…death and life

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way death is held and handled in the natural world, how different that may be to our various societal approaches to death, and possible reasons for this.

It seems that life can flow through aspects of the natural world that have died and are decaying.

New light can shine through, giving new perspectives.

Unexpected growth can come, which may or may not prove useful as an end, but can be a process which brings a different kind of beauty.

A form of protection can also be found to enable a nourishing and healing end for the surrounding community.

Sometimes, rather than an end, there is potential and the possibility of a beginning. Before this possibility is realised there is a period of rest and recuperation.

That rest occurs in community; it’s each taking care of one another’s needs…

…until finally there are the first signs of new life, growth, a new season.

With news stories such as this Triple Death Crash or reports of 11 US School shootings this year, it is little wonder that we often struggle to see death as a positive part of life. Equally losing a long loved relative can feel like just as much of a tragedy to those who grieve as the stories which make up our headlines. How often do we stand in solidarity through these times, not only in the weeks following but, in the months and even years that those left behind seek to adjust to a different way of life…a life without. I was astounded to find that for a major bereavement work places generally give three days of compassionate leave, and that is it. There are many front facing professions where this is just not enough for a person to recover to a state of being able to function. Equally after a few short weeks, no more than months, you are expected to be back to normal and yet this season of grieving can last well beyond expected time frames. Do we expect too much of ourselves, of one another? Do we allow safe spaces to voice our pain, our loss and our grief? How can we do this better?

The unpredictability of God

#274 Things grow and flourish in the most unlikely places! I’ve been looking back on the last six months at college. The #unpredictability of what I have done and which areas of ministry I feel drawn to is baffling and brilliant at the same time. #letgoandletgod