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?

Adventure and exploration

I have been on annual leave this week and spending a very relaxing week in Sorrento, seeing the sights and sampling the delights of the surrounding areas – I never believed it would be possible to be sustained on a diet of pizza and gelato, but it seemed important to try it out!

I don’t speak Italian at all, and have never been to Italy before. As soon as we arrived I felt out of my comfort zone with languages being spoken around me that I did not understand, people ushering me through before I really knew what was expected of me. I learned grazie very quickly, but that was as far as it went. I noticed that I became incredibly shy, not really feeling confident to ask for things and tentative to step out from pavements. I was more aware of things going on around me, and soon realised that I was no longer on auto pilot – I was displaced, or dislocated, and acting accordingly.

CSC_0073

This can be a positive experience, but it can also be negative depending on the circumstances. For me on holiday it was of course positive, and I enjoyed being more aware of all that was happening around me, but this heightened attentiveness can be extremely tiring. I was drawn to thinking about those who may need to live in this state for some time due to circumstances beyond their control such as refugees and asylum seekers. Current UN figures suggest that 28,300 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution – a fact which I find completely mind-blowing and which has been a huge focus of prayer for me this week.

I wanted to understand more about these new surroundings and find out what situations have helped to shape this society – perhaps that is a normal tourist thing to do, and the tourism industry makes it very easy for you to find out about popular or well known places and events.

CSC_0321

Pompeii was an obvious place to begin, and was a stark reminder of unforeseen circumstances which can lead to unthinkable loss.

CSC_0264

This was a cast of someone found during excavation centuries after Vesuvius erupted and yet the fear within seems to have somehow been preserved…

CSC_0316

It can also be fascinating to look round and see who you are exploring the past with – and what findings might mean for each of us. I became more aware of individual uniqueness, shaped by society and culture, but also standing separate from it at times.

Herculaneum was the next trip. Whilst a much smaller excavation site, this was evidence of a richer people also devastated without warning.

IMG_4152

Following this, we went to Naples for the day – that was a completely different experience and not entirely positive. Without the protection and comfort of guides and other tourists making up the masses, Naples felt slightly scary – especially when we happened upon a whole street seemingly dedicated to selling rubbish and illegal items. After a two hour search for somewhere for lunch, and countless moments of feeling vulnerable and seeing people stare at us, we headed back to eat near the station. There was something incredibly insightful about that negative experience of being in an unfamiliar place though, and feeling so incredibly lost whichever direction we took.

IMG_4161

Not understanding what something meant was a common occurrence. We saw this “J’existe” statement a lot in graffitied areas, and I wondered who was seeking affirmation of their existence in this society? Who gets lost in the crowds in our societies?

IMG_4192

Following the Naples excursion we returned to Sorrento by ferry, and what a beautiful experience that was. The sea was such a comfort from the streets of Naples, as was the beautiful sunset, drawing us back into its light.

CSC_0493

There was so much beauty surrounding Sorrento, especially in areas which managed to escape the crowds, and so much to explore. Whilst there will always be much more to see, I found it interesting that deep in my knowing I was drawn to places of peace and calm, and away from the crowds.

IMG_4234

My natural leanings are towards solitude; that gives me a greater responsibility to find the balance between being in the world and seeking to understand it and being slightly separate from it, following the ways of God instead – it is such a difficult balance but one which is well illustrated in the experience of the tourist. How do you manage to stay true to your identity and experience which has shaped you, whilst also embracing the other that now surrounds you? As my poem Torn on Tea begins to explore, this new and different surrounding can be intoxicating and mesmerising, and even where our formative experiences seem less interesting, they will continue to be the ones that we most understand and draw us back to who we are….

 

 

Impatience is a Virtue…

I’ve been reminded of an advert from about ten years ago which claimed that patience was for yesteryear, now impatience is a virtue. This advert has come back to me a number of times as I have thought about how telling it is of our society in some ways. The immediacy of communication has made us impatient for news and information, as well as for material items – why wait when we could have it now? I am beginning to realise how ingrained this perspective has been in my own attitudes, despite understanding myself as a fairly patient person…well, with some things!

As I walked around part of the parish earlier in the week, I felt the impatience of others so keenly, and it began to surface in me as well.

IMG_3935

Impatience of parents, trying to get through the tasks of the day with children who are also impatient as they would much rather be doing something else; older children playing out, struggling when things do not go their way; the impatience of many with a welfare system which affords them very little, despite hard work or ill-health and; even the impatience of those providing services because it is the twentieth time someone has complained to them about x, y or z this morning. These are just some examples…

IMG_3937

My own impatience manifested itself through a deep desire to act now, to do something –  anything – for those who were struggling. Why wait on God when I could just roll up my sleeves and get cracking? I could do some practical things to make a real difference in some people’s lives here and now…. But what about tomorrow, when I couldn’t do those things, when I wasn’t around?

IMG_3947

This building site as a symbol of the early stages of building and the need for strong foundations reminded me that those things that are worthwhile cannot happen overnight, as well as giving an echo of the impatience that those waiting for their houses to be built may feel!

IMG_3946

Ministry is not like a game of pool, when whoever pots all of their balls followed by the black wins. I was thinking about how much easier that would be, as I played pool with our 13+ group (not that I was so skilled, sadly!).

IMG_3985

There are times when the phone rings, and it is appropriate to drop everything to be where you are needed. It is a real privilege when that happens and people let you into their lives in all of their grief and sadness, and I am so grateful for the times that that has happened this week.

IMG_3984

More often though, I wonder whether ministry is like ironing shirts – it takes time and patience to do it properly, and even when it is done another shirt will not be far behind!

IMG_3971

I perhaps had not realised how impatient I can be sometimes, and there has been much to reflect on around my approach to ministry this week. No longer am I an ordinand, in one place for a very short time. I am not chasing ideas for portfolios, essays and presentations. This is the long haul, and it is essential to wait on God and capture God’s vision and God’s ministry in this place. Afternoon tea on my day off stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of this…God did promise the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey!

IMG_3986

So what does God’s place, or the Kingdom of Heaven, look like? People running to catch buses, frustrated when they miss them, children screaming at one another, people shouting at one another? Or people showing love, care, joy, peace, patience and kindness? How can we encourage this, rather than reacting to the impatience in our communities and wider society?

Impatience is a Virtue

Impatience is a virtue
Did no-one tell you
Patience is so yesteryear
Just for those who fear
All that is exciting or taboo

What good can come
From a patient hum
A steady stroll through life
Avoiding fun and strife
You might as well be numb

Get out there and live
You have to give
All of yourself to the cause
Sing until you are hoarse
Let go of all that is negative

Then you are caught
In a cycle fraught
With danger and dis-ease
Ceasing to please
All around who thought

Impatience is a virtue…
Patience is a virtue
Possess it if you can!

Ordinary people…?

#476 How do you take your #tea? How are you #different from others? What #similarities to others do you have? How about society more widely? What unites #ordinarypeople? What divides us? Does it matter?