CHRISTIANITY HAS NO CLOTHES

Stuart writes:

Monks wore robes to identify with people. 

Medieval monastic communities identified with, and worked for the benefit of wider society. Bosch writes, “Even secular historians acknowledge that agricultural restoration of the largest part of Europe has to be attributed to them.” They lived simple lives and worked hard with dedication and perseverance.

Today, the same robes communicate the opposite message. 

Over time, the same robes began to communicate a very different message. To me, robes do not say, ‘I am with you’. In fact, they say the opposite. To me, dress from a monastic community communicates, ‘I am separate from you’. I do not associate monastic dress with practical help but rather asceticism and eccentric behavior. I think this would be broadly true today.

Sometimes to communicate the same message, you must change. 

I’m not saying any of these messages are wrong. I happen to think both of them are needed. However I am observing that it is very different from the original intention. Sometimes due to changes in culture you must change to stay the same. For the monastic community to continue to say, ‘I am with you’, through dress at least, required a change.

Of course clothing is just one way we communicate in culture. Each time we communicate we ‘dress’ our message in various ‘cultural clothes’. Emotional expression, language, dialect, body language, physical contact, music genre, use of technology, lifestyle rhythms, approach to time, plausibility structure, teaching style and heroes are all elements of culture we use in community life.

As I consider my role as a Pastor, I want to live and communicate an unchanging message in a changing world. I am seeing a lot of the ‘cultural clothing’ used by previous generations is now communicating the opposite message to the original intent. I believe one must be willing and ready to change our clothes to both keep the message and connect with people today.

A lot of listening and learning ahead.

FIVE WAYS TO LOVE OUR CITY

I have personally enjoyed considering why and how we can enjoy and love Exeter better. I was thrilled by the Express and Echo article and am very excited to see how our Church can learn to express God’s goodness across our city.

Here are five things I anticipate will happen, and am beginning to see at Grace Church:

1) Grass roots initiatives 

Within our ‘Community Groups’ we are seeing people pray and begin to plan how to make a difference in their part of the city. A ‘Neighbourhood Health Watch’ is being considered in one group and we are broadly considering how we can spark more creativity.

2) Relief work and partnerships 

We currently a partner with Exeter Foodbank and have began working with Christians Against Poverty in a small way. As former Chair of Trustees for Foodbank, I am looking forward to hearing news as we continue to partner through people, prayers and pounds. We are looking to invest in and grow these relationships into the future.

3) Vocational support

Many of our Church make fantastic contributions to our city and surrounding areas through their work. We have many in education, health and social care, law, as well as business leaders and others. Our aim is to motivate, support and celebrate these outstanding contributions being made. We are anticipating termly forums developing to take this further.

4) Nurturing creative expression

One of our Community Groups is based around music in our city. I am looking to meet with some musicians to consider how music and faith fuel each other, and how we might increasingly contribute to the music scene in Exeter. We are also considering how to grow in creativity within our Church meetings.

5) Influence for good 

Within our city the University attracts people who are exceptionally gifted, Many Exeter graduates are in positions of significant responsibility and influence within society. We want to help support and envision those with bright futures to be working with endurance and faith for the benefit of all.

All these five areas are important. It is unlikely that the same person will begin a grass roots initiative and apply for a position of influence. However, both matter and both should be celebrated and supported. At Grace Church I am looking for people to give more space to each other and honor the different callings we each have.

As a Church we are motivated for all these things because we believe that God made and loves His world. We believe He is at work within it today, and one day he will restore it. We want our words and deeds to tell this wonderful story.

We are, and will be, minimizing and restructuring ministries, promoting spirituality, gifts and talents for all of life, redefining maturity in a broader way, creating bespoke support and learning from many others who are on a similar journey.

Through our small lives we hope we’ll all increasingly hear the voice of another say, ‘I love my city’. 

Stuart Alred, leader of Grace Church.

VOCATIONAL SUPPORT

Work, of some kind, is where most of us spend a significant proportion of our waking hours and therefore a significant proportion of our lives.

Whether barista or barrister, retailer or refuse collector, in a profession or the private sector, at home or office, parent or police officer, indoors or outdoors, student or retired, in training or mid-career, in countless different ways, with joys and frustrations, human beings work.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

We’re persuaded that everything in life matters and that includes our work as a contribution to God’s vision for his created world, so we’re keen to offer help.

Church is not opposed to work, rather as Gabe Lyons puts it:

“Church gathers leaders from all other channels of cultural influence on a consistent basis.”

Church gathers for the good of our city, a place to catch a bigger picture, to spark ideas and gather energy for the week ahead.

Here are four resources that would be ideal to explore informally alongside a few friends in a similar or different line of work, in or across Community Groups, meeting from time to time to discuss and reflect and apply the lessons learned. Each is available from our NEXT STEPS LIBRARY on Sundays.

1. EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOUR (TIM KELLER)
This is a great place to start. Keller gives a clear framework for the way our work matters in this world.

Far from work being a burden or inconvenience Keller shows how we’re made to work and how this contributes to God’s purpose for his world.

2. VISIONS OF VOCATION (STEVEN GARBER)
Garber explores the meaning of work by interacting with leaders in education, politics and business and more.

“Vocation is when we come to know the world in all its joy and pain and still love it. Vocation is following our calling to seek the welfare of the world we live in. And in helping the world to flourish, strangely, mysteriously, we find that we flourish too. Garber offers a book for everyone everywhere―for students, for parents, for those in the arts, in the academy, in public service, in the trades and in commerce―for all who want to discover the virtue of vocation.”

3. FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD [FLOW] (EVAN KOONS)
A quirky seven part series of video’s that ask:

“What is Christian salvation for?”

Or to put it another way: What difference does it make to life if you follow Jesus?

Koons explores this theme with episodes considering the value of our relationships, justice and hospitality in society, our work as creative service, education and learning, our approach to creation, and the place of church in this story.

Each 17 minute video would be a good group discussion starter. Study guide available.

4. WISDOM & WONDER (ABRAHAM KUYPER)
The former Dutch Prime Minister lays out a vision for the value of scientific and artistic endeavour in our world. Kuyper is famous for saying:

There is not one square inch of all creation over which Christ does not say: “mine!”

Wisdom & Wonder ia a refreshing read from a previous century. This would be particularly helpful if you’re pursuing academic disciplines and would be a good follow on from episodes 5 & 6 of FLOW which address Wisdom and Wonder.

Further resources – written, audio and visual can be found at Qideas.org

Our work matters and there’s help here.

(Image: Creative Commons – Jon Cordery)

PORTERBROOK LEARNING

The Christian faith is simple enough for a child and deep enough for a life time of enquiry.

Porterbrook Learning from Acts 29 Network is a high quality approach to theological learning that is accessible to all. This is an ideal next step to add depth and breadth to your faith.

We offer two main approaches to using Porterbrook.

ONGOING.
You can sign up to do Porterbrook modules on rolling study basis, at around one module per term, following the same modules as others in the South West. This enables you to connect with local discussion groups and regional training days. You can start at any time.

INTENSIVE.
Offered as an ‘on-demand’ opportunity to take a next step in deepening your faith you can join with others in studying any of the 24 Porterbrook Modules along with our Theological Training Coordinator, Dave Bish.

A module can be worked through in as little as four weeks, with a weekly study group session and some reading and video study in between meetings. This might typically be requested by those in a Community Group who decide to step aside from ‘normal’ Community Group life for four weeks to study with Dave Bish, before returning to their group.

Find out more here at the Bible Mesh website: Porterbrook courses.

Contact Dave Bish to register with Porterbrook – you’ll need our local codes which discount the price to around £17 per module. Please don’t let finance be any obstacle to taking this next step as we have bursaries available.

I LOVE HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

In our I LOVE MY CITY series we’ve been exploring different workplaces.

“I feel that I was made to do my job” GP Phil Annetts says.  We consider this to be the case broadly – Jesus has much for us to do as we join him in loving our city.

We gathered for a workplace forum to consider what the Christian faith has to say about health and social care. In the room were many actively involved in medical practice or training as GPs, surgeons, nurses working in hospitals and in hospises, along with those working with the YMCA, St. Petrocks, Foodback and other agencies. We all receive in some way from these.

Phil Annetts, a member of our senior leadership team and a local GP shared to open the evening, before we moved into 45 minutes of discussion around what people love about health and social care, the wrestles and struggles they face, the opportunities presented and support that would be appreciated.

Download the mp3 here: I love health and social care.

The Bible introduces us to a God who cares not just about ‘the spiritual’ but about bodies. The Christian faith is into physicality – presenting a God who cares about what goes in and out of our bodies, and what happens to them.

Humanity is made in God’s image, with all the dignity and value that implies:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet.  (Psalm 8)

We are made to live in shalom, meaning peace, flourishing, wholeness, soundness, including our bodies.

The Bible’s story tells us of God’s concern for wholeness for people.

Behold, I will bring to it [the city] health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security (Jeremiah 33:6)

And in Jesus we see God’s healing hands:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. ” (Matthew 4:23)

The Christian expectation is that one day all pain and suffering and illness and death will be over. There will still be opportunity for increasing flourishing, but the needs for health and social care will be healed.

In the meantime we find a world populated by God’s broken masterpieces.

Professor John Wyatt puts it this way:

“The original masterpiece, created with such love and embodying such artistry has become flawed, defaced, contaminated… the reflection of God’s character is distorted and partially obscured. But through the imperfections, we can still see the outlines of the original masterpiece. It still inspires a sense of wonder at the underlying design. The task of health professionals is to protect and restore the masterpieces entrusted to our care, in line with the original creator’s intentions.”

What an opportunity to love our city.

A termly Health and Social Care Forum will be starting after Easter 2015. More details to follow.

I LOVE EDUCATION AND LEARNING

If Christian faith is worth consideration it must speak to every part of our lives. As we explore this together we’re considering different aspects of life in our city – our homes, communities, vocations, education, engagement with this world. Here you’ll find some reflections on education and learning.

Coming soon: I LOVE MY CITY: Education Forum gathering professionals for a conversation among peers to see how faith can interact with education.

PDF – I love education and learning.

See also this trailer from For the life of the world: Episode 5 – Wisdom:

I LOVE ART AND CULTURE

As part of our I LOVE MY CITY series we hosted an evening on I LOVE ART AND CULTURE. We were joined by artist Jon Doran who spoke to us about his work and how his Christian faith interacts with art.

Download mp3: Jon Doran: I love art and culture.

We experience the value of art and design in our culture. Apple reported record breaking profits in January 2015, a company built on the conviction that their products should be ‘beautifully designed’.

The Bible tells a story in which art is a key theme.

Canvas. The world is set as a canvas on which God paints the broadest of brushstrokes and then invites humanity to fill in the detail. The canvas is set to be painted with the most vivid colours and imagination. All we make and do is culture.

Artisans. As the Holy Spirit first fills people, in Exodus 35, it isn’t to give an experience of divine adoption, or to give spiritual gifts, or to change character – though the Spirit delights to do such things, but rather to equip skilled artisans to build a grand art installation at the centre of the community, the Tabernacle.

Distorted images. As the story unfolds, abusive craftsmen carve idols. People write laments and celebrations as timeless poetry capturing the ‘bright sadness’ of this life.

Carpenter’s art. Then an artisan comes from Nazareth, a carpenter who comes to complete the work of art, through his crucifixion on another carpenter’s cross. His death a display of the horrors of this world and the magnificience of his love.

Now we are artists. His death leads us forward to a final day when the painting will have been completed. In between we each have a contribution to make. And whilst we cannot do all things, he is with us to spark creativity and create culture.

Pursue this further:

Hans Rookmaker: The artist needs no justification

Daniel Siedel: How to get over yourself and go to an art museum 

JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE

In our Christmas nativity service we played ‘He’s Here’ from the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, a five minute video telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

You can find this video on Youtube. The complete Jesus Storybook Bible is available via Amazon and other retailers.