Tonight could be interesting. I have been asked to lead our small group (which is called Bernard!!) and we are following through the book The Purpose Drive Life by RIck Warren. The topic I am leading on is “You Were Formed for God’s Family” and it is basically about the church. Kind of an interesting topic for me to attempt to address.
Now, let me be clear. I really dislike this book. I hate how shallow it is, how trite and twee and how it is a bit like ‘your-life-will-be-fine-if-you-follow-all-these-steps-to-happiness’. However I realised that it did have a few good points to make, and as I am leading the discussion tonight I can steer it a little in the direction I wish it to go.
So, I read through the chapters of the book, then I read a little of Henri Nouwen’s book Compassion and some of Alan Jamieson’s book A Churchless Faith. Finally I decided to do a word search on my blog for “church” and “community”. I knew I had blogged a lot on these subjects but I hadn’t realised quite how much.
Reading back through some of my posts I started to realise just how fundamental both church and community are to my life, and they are not necessarily part of the same thing. My craving for authentic community seems to overpower the need for church, and yet church can be part of this authenticity. I guess that my journey form a charismatic evangelical church through to not going anywhere, and finally finding my way back into formal church has been exceptionally important. My desire to be in fellowship with God’s family is vast, and yet the understanding that this needs to be meaningful and honest now takes precedence over turning up for the sake of it.
These days I feel as though I have been able to separate myself emotionally from parts of my previous journey. I am able to talk more objectively about what happened and recognise my own failings in the story. Now, I hope to be able to be more honest, authentic and generous with my feelings, with other people as well as with myself. I hope that tonight we have a productive session. One in which I can share parts of my story without it overwhelming the whole evening. I hope I am able to bring a different slant to the ideas of church and community and what that could mean for all of us.
On 7 October 2007 I went for the first time to a little Anglican church just down the road from me. That means I have been there a whole year now and I still can’t believe that I have found somewhere to call home. My months of wandering around meant that I was becoming disallusioned and desperately needing somewhere that I could feel at home. The church has given me the space to be me, I have hooked up with a cell group that is good fun and that has made a huge difference to my sense of belonging.
The church is at the centre of a village community and it’s focus on community has been one of the most important things to me. It has events for the community, prays for the people of the parish and expects to be central to the life of the village. It is a vibrant place, filled with hope and they have just started a big redevelopment of the building to make it more user friendly. For the first time in years I want to be at church and I miss it when I am not there.
I needed somewhere that I could be authentic, and whilst I am quite sure that many of the people at the church don’t approve of everything I do or say, I am still convinced that they approve of who I am. Last night I went to cell group and the new curate came to join us. We were talking about various things and she gave me a real affirmation of who I am called to be and she encouraged me to be authentic about my faith. A sense of belonging has given me back the confidence to be who I am, without shame and without excuse. You can’t buy that with a Mastercard!
I have just realised that it was three years ago yesterday that I left the Newfrontiers achurch I had been part of for over five years. Back then I felt very damaged and broken, still hurt and tender from the things that had (and had not in some cases) been said. I wondered then how I could move on and whether I would regain any sense of joy that I had previously.
But things change over time. The process has been a learning experience both for me and my family and I am quite sure that if I hadn’t gone through that valley experience then I would be a different person today. I am more tolerant, more cynical (or realistic depending on how you look at it!) and I am much less conservative than I was. The questioning had started a long time before I left, but it hasn’t really stopped. I am still full of questions, but these days I am far more content to live with not having any answers, and just to experience the process, however uncomfortable it might be. Things are good.
I still marvel at the fact that my life looks different now, but I wouldn’t change it. Thank you to all who have shared in this journey… your support, love and friendship certainly makes it all worthwhile 🙂
Several bloggers have picked up on the fact that Todd Bentley, he of the alleged Lakeland Revival has separated from his wife.
I have to admit to being a huge sceptic of this revival, and I have been pretty horrified to hear some of the stories that have been reported of the way Todd Bentley has treated people and prayed for people. If this story is true it is unbelievably sad. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a very public figure who is being held up as being a Godly man when your personal life is crumbling around you. I am so sad for his wife and his two daughters who must be devastated by the whole thing. And yet, I am not terribly surprised by the story.
TV-evangelists scare me. I generally feel disturbed by their preaching and I hate the fact that so many of them seem to be involved in money-making prosperity-gospel scams. I loathe the name-it-and-claim-it and-it-will-be-yours style of faith. In my experience that rarely happens and then where are we left when all we have is disappointment? I feel that fear, hopelessness, lack of faith and questions (oh! so many questions) are all part of the journey of faith. What these ‘evangelists’ seem to do is invalidate this individual journey, it becomes a one-size-fits-all faith, instead of this gentle unravelling of hope and faith.
Also, it seems to me that when people become the leading figures of ‘revivals’ then there is often tragedy just around the corner. This is a sad story, whatever you think of Todd Bentley. Sad for him, his family, his church and sad for the genuine, gentle work of God.
In The Independent on 4 July 2008 there was an article about a friend of mine called Maris. He is an amazing individual who has been forced to flee his home country of Latvia due to homophobia Here is an extract from the article,
I am from Latvia. And two weeks ago I quit my country to move to London. My reasons for leaving were not economic – I was operating a thriving psychotherapy business. Nor were they for family reasons… It was homophobia. I am gay and over the last few years, I have been physically and verbally assaulted many times. …
Before I came out in 2002, the rumours about my sexuality had already had huge ramifications on my life. I was a pastor in the Latvian church and I had a column in the church newspaper and that was stopped. My weekly radio sermon was taken off the air, and I was kicked out of the cathedral I served in.
On 22 May 2002, I was ex-communicated from the church. Back then there were only three openly gay people in Latvia. My story was on the front pages of all the Latvian newspapers and I have suffered dozens of personal attacks since then. I have been verbally abused, spat at and physically attacked. Last year, two guys ambushed me as I went to baptise a child. Since then my sight started to deteriorate, which my doctor blamed squarely on the stress caused by the attacks.
The full article can be found here. It mentions quite a lot about the support that Amnesty International have given to Maris and their ongoing work with gay people around the world who are oppressed in their own countries.
Please continue to pray for Maris and other people who are in similar situations for him. The fact that he has chosen to be true to himself, but also to his faith has meant that he has suffered immensely, and yet he is one of the most amazing people I know.
This week Newfrontiers is hosting their Leadership Conference in Brighton entitled Together on a Mission. They have a variety of different speakers including a load of Newfrontiers leaders, but also they have Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
Adrian Warnock is blogging live from the event and summarising some of the main speakers and their messages. Yesterday he blogged about Mark Driscoll’s talk entitled Missional Movements. Whilst I have no problem with quite a lot of what was said (or what was reported by Adrian at least) there is one things that really stood out for me in this blog entry. It is this statement…
“Young men, you need to step up…One prayer is for a bunch of 20 year old guys with hope who will plant churches and preach the gospel with hope. Be looking at all times for men in their 20’s. They will be arrogant, foolish, impetuous, critical, disorganized, and they will be perfect for the task God has for them!”
Now, in many ways I have no problem with this sentiment. I agree that the church needs younger leaders and fresh eyes to interpret and move movements and organisations forward. What I really object to however is this focus on men all the time. In my experience of being in several Newfrontiers churches this is one of the things that is focused on all the time. Men, men, men! Women barely got a look in and certainly for me being a part of one of these churches I always felt that the only way to be validated in any sort of ministry was through marriage . Then you would be freed up and supported in ministry.
This is all very well and good if you happen to be married, but there were plenty of young women who were passionate about God and really desired to serve him and the local church, and yet they were unable to be innovative, forward looking and creative in the ways they chose to serve God because of the barrier of their gender.
As a young(ish) single woman with no potential love interest on the horizon where does that leave me? Does it mean that I have to sit around waiting and searching for Mr. Right, or do I get on with living the life that I currently have and serving God in the places he has called me to? For me, this focus on men and Newfrontiers’ denegration of women was one of the reasons I chose to leave. Whilst Newfrontiers may be critical of the Anglican movement, I have found this to be a more freeing environment as a single woman, something which has come as a complete surprise for me. It seems to me that whereas Newfrontiers churches view the ‘established church’ as being stuck in their ways, it seems to me that often they can be more forward-thinking than they are given credit for.
Reasons I love my church cell group…
Sherbert Dib Dabs
Fizzy Cola Bottles
Not to mention…
Last night was a youth club games night at cell group. We joined together with another group and you have never seen such a bunch of hooligans in your life!! I have bruises all up my legs this morning from playing Unihoc and I ate and drank so many e-numbers I was positively buzzing when I got home.
It was such fun, and makes me realise that the church I am going to these days is full of people who like the serious, but love the ludicrous!!!
Sometimes you just get a day when you feel gratful for all the things you have. Today has been one of those days. Things are so different to this time last year, and having both a blog and a personal diary has meant I have been able to recognise how much things have changed for me. This time last year I was practically going into meltdown over the fact that my sister was getting married again. This year, whilst I still don’t like being alone, I am feeling way more content than I thought was possible.
This morning I was sitting in church just watching what was going on around me. The fact that I have found a church in which I feel both comfortable and welcome still surprises me. I was thinking a bit about what this really means and it seems to me that because it is an Anglican parish church their focus on community is really strong and that is a major draw for me. They have several events coming up in the next few months such as a kids club, being part of the local community fete-type thing, an afternoon tea in aid of the hospice as well as a major building project to make the building more suitable for the needs of the church community. It also struck me that the monthly prayer diary which was given out today for July included praying for the other churches in the area, as well as local schools, the organisers of worship, kids club, and anyone getting married. They also had on the list local shopkeepers and the people who run the local post office. A church truly at the centre of the local community.
Things can truly change in a year and the last 12 months have been pretty momentous for me in so many ways. Not least, my friends have stuck by me through my wailing and ranting and the majority have waited patiently for me to pull myself together. This blog has also been really important to me and has enabled me to express my feelings honestly and openly and get feedback. So, a big thank you to everyone who has helped me through… I am sure it will take a down-turn sometime but, for now, life is good.
On his blog Braving the Storm my friend Eric posted an interesting blog entry about suffering and pain and how as Christians we have to deal with these things. He recently went to Bill Johnson’s church in Redding, California and during one of the meetings someone had a word of knowledge to which a woman responded and received prayer for painful osteo-arthritis. After the prayer she was encouraged to try and do movements she couldn’t do before, but she hadn’t been healed and was still in pain. This story reminded me so much of some of the healings that we are hearing have happened at Todd Bentley’s church in Florida.
On his blog Eric commented on this woman and her situation and said,
As a pastor and a fellow sufferer of chronic pain I felt very keenly for her. I praise God for the many healings taking place right now, but I want to urge people not to neglect the need of the disappointed. We need a theology of suffering alongside our theology of healing.
* It will bring balance to our prayers and our comments
* It will assure the disappointed that they still matter to God and to us
* It will hold them in God’s love while they wait for God’s power
So, what was happening that night? Was God calling this lady out? What for if not for healing? Well, I suppose that in such a big crowd there may have been others who fitted the description given. It may not have been her time for healing, but it may well have been a test of her responsiveness and obedience to God. It may just have been a well-intentioned mistake. What it did do was make me determined not to neglect the disappointed in my ministry. I want to find ways of reaching out to them and to continue standing with them while they wait for God. After all, in this as in other aspects of the Christian life, whilst we may be disappointed in a ministry or a meeting or a man, Jesus should not be a disappointment. I have found that He is not, and even in the heat of the battle with pain, I have proved Him to be faithful and true.”
Eric himself is an inspirational man. He has acute haemorrhagic pancreatitis which has left him in chronic pain for many years and eventually this illness has forced him into early retirement. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of spending some time with him and his wife Diane, just talking about life and how things often don’t work out the way we expect. I was challenged by their quiet response to God and their faithfulness in pursuing Him, despite all that has happened to them both. Whilst I was on holiday with my parents last year I read Eric’s book Braving the Storm which was about his journey and response to pain. I found it incredibly challenging and honest and in my own situation where I was feeling a great deal of emotional pain I found it very helpful.
The conversation that I had with Eric and Diane reflected on the way that the church has so often got its response to people who are suffering so wrong. We expect to have this triumphant attitude over illness, and yet for those who do not get healed we don’t know how to respond. The church desperately needs to learn to react, support and love those people who are suffering, whether that be physical, emotional or spiritual. It seems to me that so often our ability to do so is limited by our expectations on what think God should be doing, rather than standing with those people who are going through the process. As Eric said on his blog, whilst we may be disappointed in a ministry or a meeting or a man, Jesus should not be a disappointment. I have found that He is not, and even in the heat of the battle with pain, I have proved Him to be faithful and true. Amen!
I have just finished reading A Churchless Faith by Alan Jamieson . The book was basically his doctoral thesis and is about church leavers, their journies and how they have responded over time, both to the church, but also with pursuing (or not as the case may be) a relationship with God.
I first read this not long after I had left the church, about three years or so ago. It was a really tough book for me to read as so much of the content expressed my own sorrow and pain of leaving a church that I felt closely tied to. At the time the book also saddened me deeply as it it was expressing a degree of hope that I did not feel that I had.
So, a few years down the line I decided to re-read it and see if my feelings about it had changed. Jamieson believes that there are four different types of church-leavers; The Disillusioned Followers, Reflective Exiles, Transitional Explorers and Integrated Wayfinders. Whereas before I definitely fitted into the first category, it seems to me that I have progressed along my journey and I seem to fit more comfortably in the Integrated Wayfinders category. Of this group he says “Where Transitional Explorers are in the process of reconstructing their faith and developing an emerging self-ownership, the integrated faith people have to all intents and purposes completed this faith reconstruction work. While there is a sense in which the integrated faith is also still open and being constantly redefined and adapted, the major faith examination is now complete.
Another reading of this book has been a bit of a revelation. For a start it completely reaffirmed for me that my decision to leave Newfrontiers was a good and a valid choice. It also reminded me of all the things I was most disillusioned with and it that some of those things were not about fixing the church, but more about fixing me. Jamieson says This [a new relationship with God] is the goal of faith for those who find their previous faith dislocating and shattering within them. It is not the journey away from pain, doubt and confession but the journey through struggle to a new appreciation of God at work.
Maybe this is what it has been about for me. I need to start reframing all those experiences I had back then. Instead of it remembering how negative it was, I need to consider it as a fundamentally a positive experience. It showed me all the things that I didn’t want to be a part of. It deepened my faith and my relationship with God and it brought me into a new and quiet intimacy with a God who delights in me.