Caroline, from Organic Church
asked me the following five questions (Apparently, Rob Waller asked Maggi Dawn
some questions, Maggi asked Caroline Ramsey
and Caroline has now asked me and Jonny
[b]1) You've recently moved out of a conventional pastorate into a new venture.
How is that going and what is your vision/hope for this venture.[/b]
It's going great. We've been taken on board as missionaries (not evangelists) to a fairly deprived urban estate in Northampton. No one (including us) quite knows what that means yet! It may simply involve working like an assistant pastor to the church there and helping them to better engage with the community around them. Or, it might mean starting some kind of house church for post-modern seekers. Or, a discussion group for post-church believers. Or openning a new Pub (the last one closed recently!). Or a Church Action on Poverty project
, or an ecumenical detached youth work. Or...
Answering quetions like this are really difficult for us! :-D People normally end up looking at us like, "You haven't got a clue, have you?" And, in all honesty, no - we haven't! I suspect
that we will end up with something in-between a) starting a new and alternative service and b) planting a church and c) a social action project. And I'm beginning to wonder if it might lean more towards a churchless faith kind of venture. But we are trying damn hard not to impose our
vision and ideas and model and strategies into an environment where they just won't make sense.
We wanna 'incarnate' the grace of God in meaningful ways - and I think it'll take a while longer before we know what that really means. I think that we might have more of an idea in a year or so, but who knows? We are trying
to follow Jesus in seeing what the Father is doing and joining him in it
2) Anabaptism is obviously a significant influence on your life, how did you come across it?
Some Baptist churches in Britain have always looked fondly at the anabaptists (more so than in the States). This has resulted in numerous debates about just how much Baptists are the direct descendants of the Anabaptists. It's a fairly pointless debate (and some level of influence is really the only thing we can conclude for certain), but when I became a Christian in a baptist church at the age of 16 I encountered the debate and was introduced to the anabaptists.
I was fascinated by these people who were persecuted by other Christians for seemingly taking Jesus too seriously. I guess the Church environment I was in was semi-fundamentalist (at the time) and it was all about taking "the word of God" seriously. Yet, the more I learnt about the anabaptists - and the more I read the gospels - it seemed that there were huge chunks of Jesus' life and teaching that we were not just failing to take seriously, we weren't taking them at all! For all our emphasis on "the w
ord of God" we seemed to marginalise the W
ord of God - Christ himself.
My interest steadily grew over the years, but things reached a peak in 1999 when I enrolled at Spurgeon's College where Stuart Murray (now Stuart Murray-Williams) was lecturer in Missions. Stuart was (and still is) the Chair of The Anabaptist Network
, the instigator of Urban Expression
and the editor of Anabaptism Today. A couple of things struck me: Firstly, I learnt that there was a whole bunch of people who saw themselves as modern-day anabaptists in Britian today (and not just Mennonites). Secondly, I saw that this really was more than just interpreting a few verses of scripture differently. Again and again, it would seem that the anabaptists didn't simply disagree with other Christians on particular issues - they just had completely different issues! They were starting from a different position, travelling in a different direction in a different way and ending up in a completely
I soon realised that I gained a sense of strength from the lives and vision of the anabaptists. I had this strange feeling of connectedness, like this was my heritage, my source, my roots. Yet, in all of that, the most anabaptist thing I can say is that it's not - and never was - about anabaptism as an end in itself. For me, this is about learning from the anabaptists and other (mostly marginal) Christian traditions how to be a better disciple of Jesus.
3) What's your idea of an ideal evening?
8 people sitting round for a meal with at least 1 bottle of Wine per person. Bob Dylan is playing in the background. We eat and chat and laugh and cry. And pray. (I love communal prayer in small settings. It's so much more real to me than solitary devotionals. Possibly an imbalance there!)
After dinner we watch a film. And after the film we talk about it.
4) Can you tell us of the origins of Organic Church? Why and how did it get going?
Originally, Steve Gee
and I started Organic Church
as a conversation-place for people exploring questions of how and why we do church in a post-modern environment. (I say, Steve and I started it, but in realty Steve emailed me to tell me that he'd set up a joint-blog for us to share ideas on. I said, "What the hell's a blog?!") We both read Brian McLaren's 'A New Kind of Christian' around the same time and we both had more of a leaning towards less traditional expressions of Christian community. But, at the time
, we didn't personally know of anyone else going through the same stuff. The idea was that if we could possibly help anyone go through the hell (I think the official term is "transition") that we'd been through, that would be great.
The situation now is completely different with more people having similar conversations for all sorts of reasons. However, OC carries on 'cos it still seems to be valuable to a number of people - not least those of us who contribute. For most of those involved, our initial motivations tended to have more to do with post-modernism (and the realisation that the Modern Western Church might have distorted the gospel) than anything else. I think now we are becoming less reactionary, but we are still asking questions about what it means to be gospel communities in the world(s) around us,
5) I've noticed that you are keen to draw on many different traditions within church history, some which have surprised me. Are there any boundaries to the spiritualities from which Christians should go for insight? And do you have any hints for how you handle the diversity involved?
(Which one's have surprised you?)
Someone else recently said to me that I seek to draw on many different traditions - and it's just not true! :-) At least, seeking diversity for diversity's sake has never occured to me. However, I value dialogue across traditions and seek to encourage mutual learning. Two traditions that I find myself turning to again and again are Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In many ways they are polar opposites, but there is also a sense in which something comes full-circle and they meet time and time again. For instance, many in the emerging church talk of the Christian life as a pilgrimage, rather than a prayer that is prayed (or a divine transaction that occurs at conversion) so that one can go to heaven. It's a great insight and I'm glad that it is being embraced so widely, but it's something that Orthodoxy and Anabaptism have held as fairly central for hundreds of years.
Other traditions that I've found myself often learning from include the Quakers and Liberation Theology. But I've also learnt significant lessons from Catholicism, Wesleyanism, Liberalism, Feminism, Calvinism, Mormonism and the Charismatics. Are there any boundaries? I don't think
so. God's got dreadfully greasy hands and he leaves his fingerprints (do I wanna stretch the analogy and talk about the oil of the Spirit?) all over the place! I would really love to be able to say that I have some hints on how to handle the diversity but I don't! I simply look for the Jesus within (which probably comes from a Quaker influence!).
An old ethics lecturer of mine used to say, "My strongest conviction is that I'm probably wrong." That's helped me always be suspicious of my tendency to believe my own beliefs (including the anabaptist ones!).
Okay, that's me! Hopefully, you've now been given an extra window into my life and mind!?
The idea now is that if you have a blog and you'd like me to ask you
5 questions, leave me a comment to that effect and I'll get to it.