Planting seeds, cultivating community

 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds and cultivation this past couple of weeks with the parable of the growing seed and the mustard seed (Mark 4:26-34) being part of that reflection.  The parable of the growing seed is about the kingdom of God and the mustard seed parable tells how, whilst being the tiniest of seeds, it produces the biggest tree.   There is an agricultural theme running though the history of Lubbesthorpe.   We are building on farming land so that’s no great surprise really but since I’ve been here I’ve wondered how that story will continue and how we will become a part of it.  Early on, with the farming theme influencing my thought process, I started talking of cultivating community rather than building it.  Cultivating feels like it continues the farming story and it also feels more of a ‘growing’ community activity.  To me cultivation is about giving something time to grow, perhaps at times it will need trimming or reshaping, cuttings may be taken and new plants grown.  It may even need to die and be reseeded.  

With all this in mind Jesus’ story of the growing seed really grabbed my imagination, if we are wanting to see God’s kingdom come about in Lubbesthorpe then we must firstly scatter seeds and see what will grow.  A great example of this was a recent Friday night out.  One of the residents had suggested we go out for a meal as a girls night out.  I’d asked about 10 people quite randomly.  We ended up with 6 of us.  It was a great night, most people knew at least one other person beside me but other than that a bit of a blank canvas, there wasn’t an aim to the evening it was just about having fun and getting to know one another.  We ended up having a great conversation around food and faith (it was the Eid festival).  One girl told us about fasting as a Jain and one who had just had a go at Ramadan to support a Muslim colleague at work.  We also talked about fasting through Lent in Christianity too.  Different traditions, different ways of doing a communal activity that expressed our faith within our different faith traditions.

As the evening went on one lady suggested a walking group and a few days later we find that, having advertised it on Facebook, a walking group has started.  From this small seed who knows what will happen, maybe a huge walking group will grow, maybe it will just be a few, maybe lifelong friendships will be forged or people may even discover faith together.  Whatever it will be it was lovely to see people run with an idea and me not needing to be involved at all!   

With all this, I’m left wondering is this what the kingdom of God is like?

“[Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”  Mark 4:26-29 NIV

 

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The Medium is the Message?

Over the last few weeks in our fledgling missional community we have had a few discussions around language and how we communicate the good news of Jesus. We think that finding the right words or a way (that may not always be words) to do that isn’t always easy. ‘Jesus loves you’ doesn’t go down well and actually what does it even mean to someone who is struggling with depression, isolation, debt or just life in general.

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I believe Jesus’ Good News always has to come with actions, offered by us. In recent months we have seen a backlash against the ‘prayers and thoughts’ that are always offered at times of big disaster with people saying ‘we need more that thoughts and prayers’.  I get that, for anyone to whom God is an unknown or distant figure they need more than words, we must show them practical ways of helping, we must stand up against things that are unjust and wrong.   Of course that’s a biblical thing anyway, just read James to know that faith without works is dead!

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There are of course those for whom the sermon is always the best form of communication for the gospel. Now I love a good sermon and there are those brilliant communicators that have preached sermons that have changed countless lives (to be fair I’m pretty sure God had something to do with it too). Most recently there was that Royal Wedding sermon. I listened to it and was wowed by it, it was the best sermon I’d heard in a while. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of Christians who were also wowed by it, marvellous!   The following week I asked a few people in my community (who weren’t Christians) if they watched the wedding. Lots of people did but only one of them mentioned the sermon, most loved the celeb watching and what Meghan wore. The one time the sermon was mentioned the comment was it was too long….. Christian friends reactions to that comment was, ‘well that was short by comparison to normal sermons’. Mmmmmm that response is hardly going to encourage people to go to church is it!

And yet in churches every week 20 or 30 minute sermons are preached, mostly to the converted.   I could concede that maybe it’s helping those who have already found their faith but I’m not wholly convinced that argument, after all how many people can remember a sermon 1 hour after it is preached, or maybe that is just me?  I’ve felt myself asking the question do sermons still continue to change lives or should we consider preaching less and taking more action by being out there sharing the gospel in different ways on a Sunday morning. If I’m honest I’m not a regular Sunday morning attender and seek to do church differently so I am bias.   I just find by interacting with others and sharing my faith more practically, it teaches me a whole lot more than being sat hearing another sermon, especially the ones that seem stuck on repeat and tell me I’m very sinful and need forgiveness (seriously I know that, please don’t shame me anymore!) Maybe ministers might come up with more great sermons if they could preach less but were able to ‘mull’ longer or even spend more time out in their communities!! Maybe churches should take the church out to the people on a Sunday once or twice a month, not to preach but to share the Good News in other ways, you never know it might bear more fruit, after all Jesus didn’t preach much in synagogues he was out there talking to people and ministering where they were.

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With so many churches in decline and Sunday congregations dwindling, new approaches are needed and judging by the response I found in my community to the amazing Royal Wedding sermon, we really do need to work out other ways to communicate the message of Jesus. After all if even the best of the best sermons aren’t having an impact on Joe Public then something’s broken and we really need to fix it.

 

Wellbeing

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Last week I had the privilege of being part of a group of practitioners who were doing some thinking around wellbeing. Bringing together a group of community practitioners, Livability were exploring the subject of wellbeing specifically in churches.   (I love this charity, they do some fabulous work around dementia, community and mental health, amongst lots of other things!)  Wellbeing is something they are starting to dig into, no wonder really as it is something we hear about a huge amount but the question was, is this something we should be a part of as Churches?

For me definitely, it is a really positive cultural theme and one that should be naturally ingrained within churches as it is part of our Christian heritage and, to be fair, I think it is in lots of cases it is, it’s just we haven’t ever really called it ‘wellbeing’.   We do have something really insightful to offer in the wellbeing stakes however I’m also aware that sometimes churches can get stuck into just one area of ‘wellbeing’, the spiritual element and forget that God is interested in the whole of us.   Why is that, how have we got railroaded down one track?   Maybe because we can get stuck into dualistic thinking that church is just about spiritual stuff and anything that doesn’t seem obviously ‘spiritual’ happens beyond church. The result is we think the two aren’t really linked.   Yet that wasn’t the culture or way of thinking when Jesus was around.  Jewish culture had a much more rounded approach to life, faith was ingrained into every part of it.

If we are to follow Jesus in His approach then shouldn’t we be reacting to the wellbeing agenda and jumping on board, saying hey Christianity has some really great stuff to say on this subject?   If we were I feel I would hear more within sermons and conferences about how we are taking care of ourselves physically and mentally as well as spiritually and the theology behind that.   (Having said that I just attended a Christian Mindfulness Conference which was delving into mindfulness for mental health and giving a great theological background to it.)

I think the sacred / secular divide ultimately has a lot to do with our lack of interest in a holistic gospel and certainly this has led to our dualist thinking.  I’ve wondered when this holistic thinking disappeared in recent times? Was it when the state took over things like health and education services, not that that was a bad thing but the result was we lost a part of the gospel and we disappeared from the table.   Faith became a private matter not one of the public square.   That is changing thankfully, we just need to recognise that and be ready to jump on board.  If we don’t we will struggle to be relevant in our culture if we continue to box our faith into one element of wellbeing.   It seems to me Jesus had a ministry of preaching, healing and ministering and that holistic story had to operate in synergy with one another.  When Jesus healed he didn’t just pray for people he touched them, met them in their homes, ate tea with them, got alongside them.  If that doesn’t happen in our ministries then we simply don’t tell the whole gospel story, do we?

I’ve a lot more thinking to do around this and I’m beginning to wonder how in Lubbesthorpe we can ensure that holistic ethos will woven through whatever it is that grows here!

 

 

 

 

Rhythm

We are beginning to settle into a bit of rhythm in The Hub.  It’s kind of weird when you have a completely blank canvas, you can do anything at any time really but by doing so, everything feels a little chaotic and disconcerting.

In my mind I think it is important that we have specific times The Hub is open, so that’s clear for anyone wanting to visit but I’m also conscious that I could get stuck here!  So I’ve set specific opening times, in reality I’m here more than advertised but this means I have the freedom to visit residents and work more flexibly according to what comes up.

There is also a rhythm of activity that has started to emerge, some naturally, some more intentionally.  First off has been a baby and toddler group, a bit of a no brainer on a new housing estate and although it doesn’t feel very pioneering and out there, helping new mums get to know each other is really important and it is something they have asked for.  So far we seem to be connecting with about 10 families, who comes is different each week and we average about 5 families per week.   We’re partnering with Sure Start who are coming along once a month too.   We also had an Easter Egg hunt on Easter Saturday.  That was great fun with about 8 families who came along.   A hunt for eggs around the pond and then back to The Hub for warm drinks and hot cross buns.   I loved the way everyone mucked in and you could see how people really began to connect.

Two residents have started ‘Brewed Awakening’ which is a coffee and cake morning twice a month on a Saturday.  These have been great with new and old residents dropping by.  Mandy and Helen just get on with it and are very good cake bakers.   I’ve worked out that less is more (although not on the cake front!)   When you have lots of people come along it’s difficult to really have a meaningful conversations, when there are fewer people the conversations are longer – simple really and good to know that big numbers don’t always end up with the better outcomes!

We have also started a rhythm of prayer.  Using the Northumbria Community Daily Prayers at the moment but I hope in time we will write our own that have grown out of our experiences here.   There are only 3 of us at the moment but we’ll see what happens.  We start off with food and then pray together.  Simple stuff, food and prayer.

Finally a mention for our ideas tree, residents write their ideas on a leaf and pin it on the tree – cultivating community, growing ideas from our residents.  Some ideas I facilitate, other I just leave the residents to get on with.   Lots of ideas coming, wondering which will grow and bear fruit…..

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A Hub – A Home

Well the Community Hub is now pretty much up and running!  Whilst it arrived at the back end of November and, as I said in my last blog, we sang Carols and enjoyed mulled wine in it in December, last week it was finally commissioned and now I can pretty much guarantee the heat and light will be on when I arrive!   It’s took much longer than I thought however it’s beginning to feel like home.   Phew.

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Really loving the fact people are popping in already.  Our signage has yet to go up so it all looks a bit non descript but someone always pops in to see what is going on.   It’s good to feel comfortable here but being out welcoming new residents is still high on the agenda.  I’m not wanting to hang around here all day waiting for people to come to me, that feels a little old school.   Besides I really need to get my steps in, or so the Fit Bit tells me 🙂

Talking of Fit Bits an area I’m interested in is Wellbeing and how well we take care of ourselves.  In churches there is a tendency to concentrate on the ‘spiritual’ however I reckon God is interested in the whole of us.   There is certainly a lot of interest from new residents for exercise and running groups and I’m beginning to wonder how we might connect people together through exercise.    I’ve chatted to a few residents and am going to put a punt out on facebook to see what interest it generates.   Another potential growth area is young families.   There are plenty around with babies on the way!  We have a first get together today so we will see what happens!

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A couple of residents are wanting to do coffee and cakes on a Saturday morning so we are sourcing a decent coffee machine and in the early days of seeing if that might happen.  Currently it feels like there is plenty to be going at,  who knows what will work out but it feels a little like we are sowing seeds at the moment.   Some will take root and grow but others will either die early or get overtaken by other things.   At the Lubbesthorpe Prayer Group (which has met for years and been the bedrock of the work here) we prayed for all these potential groups and then threw some poppy seeds in the garden space we have at the back.   It was a kind of symbolic ritual of where we were at.  Looking forward to seeing what flowers!

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The Word Became Flesh and moved into the Neighbourhood

On Monday of this week the Community Hub was finally up and running for the first time.  At last!  It has been a long time coming.  After requests from the residents for Carol Singing we joined in Radio Leicester’s Sing Christmas for our first event in The Hub.   It felt really apt that the first event was a Christmas one and the words from the Message Bible in John 1:14 ‘The Word Became Flesh and moved into the Neighbourhood’ were ringing in my ears.   We had around 30 residents join us and it was a lovely atmosphere with new residents getting to know existing ones, ideas abounded and people loved the space and spent time imagining what we could do together, bbqs’, drop ins, coffee and cakes, kids parties…….   God was with us and we have moved in.

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It really did feel like I had a ‘home’ there at last.   A place of welcome for new residents and a space to create groups and activities for them.  A place that is for everyone, not just a few.   Everyone belongs.

As the year closes so does the first chapter on this great adventure I guess.  The last 16 months have been big learning curve and I’m grateful for the time when I have had to be the guest.    So often in churches we are the host, the owner of the building or the leader of the group.    This first chapter has been very different, always relying on others hospitality.  I’m looking forward to being the host but hope the memories of being the guest will remain strong.

Although we have the Community Hub as our home currently we are tasked with holding it lightly.   It won’t be our home forever and will be moved in a couple of years to the next stage of the development .   That’s an interesting dynamic and means that I need to hold everything lightly.  The development is so organic we aren’t quite sure what is round the corner.   At the moment it feel like I need to be growing leaders to continue the work as I move onto the next phase of developing.   That still feels kind of strange and maybe at some point there will be a ‘settling’ but at the moment that feels a while off.

At a recent ‘Strategy’ Day (I use that word lightly as it’s never a good idea to think you can strategize pioneering) the Action Group read Mark 6:  6-11 and felt God was telling us to hold things lightly.   For me and the other members of the group, the size of what we are doing really kind of dawned on us.   4,250 houses and the whole community infrastructure surrounding it, that’s big!   Yet whilst we know we must keep the macro in mind, the micro is important too.   We need the small things in place to support the huge place this will become!   More food for thought for another day …….

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Forming and Transforming

The last few weeks I have pondering the difference of Forming and Transforming.   In my previous pioneering context the role was very much about transformation in communities.    Being in an established community with groups, services and activities already  in place meant that we looked at ways we could help transforming places and situations.   When you are pioneering in a new housing development with (at the start) very few people and no community activities you spend more time thinking about forming completely new things.

This kind of seems a perfect match for pioneering, after all isn’t that what its all about – pioneering new ways of doing things?    Starting with a blank canvas means there is no set way of doing things because in reality there is nothing at all!  There is an initial openness from many people because they want to see something new and exciting happen!

I think that means in theory that starting from scratch should be easier and in reality there are many things that are easier when you have a blank canvas.   You don’t have to put up with inherited ways of doing things and people who don’t want to change what they are doing because they have always done it that way.   The reality is we quickly pick up a certain way of doing things and so it’s not long before you do run into that issue!

But….. there has to be a but ….. when you have the blank canvas it’s very tempting to start things that you think are a really good idea (and being a bit of a ‘firestarter’ its very tempting for me), however if you haven’t got the people from the community with you then it won’t work but on the other hand if you don’t try something then how will you get anything going?   You have to start somewhere so I guess this is where to some extent you need not to be afraid of failure, especially in the early days when the first people are moving in.   Some things will work, some won’t and that’s ok.   As long as you learn from the failures and don’t repeat them then they aren’t failures, they are learning curves and we all need them.

At the moment I’m looking into what to buy for the Community Cabin that will arrive next month, I don’t quite know what it will look like yet and it’s hard to get my head round the space from the plans but this is a point where the blank canvas pops up again.  I need to do something, create something but still have only a small idea of what this community is going to look like or be.   So how do we kit the cabin out – what is its purpose?    We haven’t mapped out a specific set of values as a community yet (because I want to do that with the residents not by myself or the Action Group who don’t live there).  However the Action Group, who set this whole thing up,  along with myself have come up with an impact statement of what we hope will happen over the next few years, so that’s a good as place as anywhere to start I think!

We are inspired to join in a story with our stories, creating a flourishing community that is cultivated by participation, hospitality, active learning and engagement.

Designing a Community Cabin that embodies this will, I hope, leave enough room for a Spirit filled creativity to emerge through the community whilst ensuring we can embody  values we feel are important at the start.  Ultimately I think this is about being sure of who you are but being open to fuse with other peoples ideas and create something new that speaks of who you all are.

So first things first, coffee ……..