Monday, 11 March 2013

Back In The Saddle

It's been quite a time since I've said anything in this random collection of rants about pubs, churches and monasteries, but this is just a very short notice to say a) I'm going to resume writing very soon and b) looooooooooooooooooooads of stuff has happened over the last year! So, a very quick summary:

1. A faith community of the new monastic variety has been established in Cardiff, meeting in the Gate Arts Centre cafe bar
2. I'm currently planning to set up Wales' first micropub in Cardiff. Actually, I should find out this week if it's going to all come together. Exciting times!

So, lots to tell and I shall be saying much more about it all over the coming weeks. Bet you can't contain your excitement!

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Way Of Titchmarsh

It's got to the point on this journey where I've got to think seriously about what a monastic community that meets in the bar of an arts centre looks like. I mean, what are we going to do? Sing hymns? Listen to sermons? have bible studies and prayer meetings? This is all 'normal church' stuff, but what kind of stuff do you do in a decidedly un-normal church? I've been thinking a lot about this and there are two principles that seem of paramount importance. Firstly, don't try and import any other model of church from elsewhere, whatever we do has to be authentic to our context and vision. Secondly, allow stuff to grow!

The second principle is especially important to me. You see, I'm an incy wincy bit of a control freak. I have a tendency to try and control everything I'm involved in, working from the not-too-health assumption that if I don't do it it won't be done properly, or even at all. Of course this assumption comes from the even more worrying and arrogant assumption that I know what is best in the first place! In the past, this tendency to force things to happen 'my way' has been very detrimental to initiatives I've been involved in, so it's definitely time for an alternative approach. 

I'm liking the gardening analogy here. For a plant to grow and thrive, it firstly needs the correct mixture of soil, water and sunlight, but then must be allowed to do its own thing. If the gardener insisted on changing the soil, or adding more water, or putting it in different places to receive more or less sunlight every few minutes because it wasn't growing as quickly as he'd like, I very much doubt that the poor plant would get much growing done at all. Of course, as it became bigger it would need some pruning, some guidance, but it really isn't anything to do with the gardener as to what the thing will look like or what shape it will take as it becomes itself. That's nature's job. That's out of his control.

What mix of soil, water and sunlight shall be used to allow this community to grow? Simplicity is key, no massive events or outreach projects. A space to encounter God is all that's needed, where folk can come (of not) to be still and pray. Rhythm is an important monastic ideal that helps us connect with ourselves, the universe and God. Oh, and eating! I'm a massive fan of parties, and it's worth noting that the Lord himself loved a shindig with good food and drink!

So, perhaps a weekly meal together, with a time for remembering Jesus, being still and praying included? We could put some music on and have a sing if we fancied (not necessarily the cheesy Christian stuff!), but keep the whole thing laid back and chilled. A daily time and space for prayer somewhere in The Gate? In the morning? Folk could begin the day having had some space to centre themselves. And parties! Celebrations at important times and seasons through the year, both religious and 'secular'.

 Lets' see what grows...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Avengers Assemble!!

Being a proud super-geek, I've been tracking the progress of the Marvel super-heroes movie series that led up to the recent Avengers Assemble movie with an avid interest bordering on mild obsession. Ever since that first tantalising post-credits clip of Nick Fury inviting Tony Stark to join the top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. initiative in Iron Man (2008), my spidey sense tingled every time a potential Avenger was given license for the silver screen. I waited excitedly to see who would be in the starting lineup, and as The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor were each introduced to the non-geek public, I have to say I was not disappointed. With Hawk Eye and The Black Widow making the final selection (there were apparently some injury doubts, hence they didn't get their own films) it was a strong team (although personally I would have kept Hawkeye on the bench and put Vision on for some extra attacking power up front - you geeks know what I'm saying).

But what on earth (or Asgard) has this got to do with new monastic bar communities?? Well, at this stage in the journey we have a venue, we have a strong vision that is catching, we have lots of support from people who think it's a great idea, we have examples of other places where similar visions are actually working, but what we DO NOT yet have is....a team. I am feeling decidedly Nick Fury-esque as I search for folk who God is calling to form the core group of this emerging community, who own its values and vision, who will commit to serving Christ in this context. Incidentally this is not a bad place to be, even Jesus went through the stage of calling together his team (although, to be honest, I'm not sure the dozen plonkers he found could be classed as anything approaching superheroes).

However, this does raise for me a number of questions. For example, where should the team come from? Should it comprise of people who are already following Jesus, in other words the wider church? There are problems inherent in that, especially the issue of 'all being on the same page'. Folk who have been in the church for a long time have preconceptions about what a faith-community should be, which in the long run could become agendas that derail the community's identity. What about church leavers, those folk who are fed up with traditional church so are looking for something different? Problem here is the community could become a 'home for the terminally disaffected with church', which again sets a tone that could pervert the vision. Should I even be looking for a team at all, or simply waiting for God to send the right people my way through the cheesily termed 'God-appointment' philosophy (shudder)?

Or maybe I'm worrying too much. After all, going back to JC's approach, he began with a bunch of folk who each were messed up in their own special way, but were transformed as they journeyed together with The Master. It's always a good principle to do things as Jesus did them.

I'm off to the nearest lake to find some fishermen.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Circles of Trust

I recently went for another short-yet-refreshing sojourn back to the Northumbria Community and once again left thoroughly convinced that the new-monastic model is the way forward for church communities in Britain. It's the kind of place where you go with a load of books to read and 'important stuff' you want to think about, but end up reading and thinking about a load of stuff completely different to the stuff you thought was so important in the first place. Weirdly this stuff often sheds light on the former stuff and on reflection the stuffs were both part of a much bigger stuff that you have only just begun to scratch the surface of. At least, that's my experience.

Parker J. Palmer
Anywho, while there I began reading 'A Hidden Wholeness' by Parker J. Palmer (I read another of his books, 'Let Your Life Speak', last time) and was intrigued by a concept for community that he has coined the 'Cricle of Trust'. The concept was born from Palmer's own journey through and out of clinical depression. During this 'dark night of the soul', Palmer reflects on how it were those rare friends who stood by and yet didn't try to fix him who were the greatest comfort and help. In a local Quaker community he found a space of safety where no one offered the benefit of their well-meaning yet misplaced advice, but instead asked probing questions that enabled him to gradually find the answers he sought for himself. Palmer describes this process as learning to listen to his 'inner teacher' or 'true self', the only way of achieving wholeness when ones outer life (interaction with the world) is out of sink with ones inner truth (values, beliefs etc.).

Circles of Trust are spaces for people to find themselves again. In a society where there are so many pressures to conform to different ways of thinking, it is no surprise that people often get lost in the maelstrom. Palmer describes the soul (or true self) as a wild animal that is easily spooked and only emerges if the environment is completely safe, therefore Circles of Trust permit NO judgement, NO intrusive or rash attempts to 'fix' and affirm absolutely that no one will be rejected or abandoned. In this environment, over time and with the patient support of the other members, a person's soul will emerge to teach them how they can become whole and integrated.

Is it just me or is there something profoundly right in this? Non-judgement, acceptance, faithfulness, patience, compassion, a desire for people to become who they were created to be - you'd be hard pressed to describe Jesus' character more accurately. If churches could embody these principles and become spaces of safety, sanctuary, refuge and healing, then we would have less disillusioned folk who fail to see the the correlation between the Jesus of the New Testament and their own experience on a Sunday morning.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

If heaven did bars...

I promised in the last blog that I'd say something about progress made with the bar buying side of things. Well, by progress I don't exactly mean it's anywhere nearer happening in Cardiff, but I have discovered and been thoroughly inspired by a situation that is EXACTLY what I'm talking about!

Kahaila is a trust set up by Rev. Paul 'Undies' Unsworth, a Baptist minister currently residing in London who has a very VERY familiar sounding vision. A few years back on one fine Sunday morning he happened to be on Brick Lane in the Shoreditch area of the city, along with the other 20,000 people who are there every Sunday morning to sample the delights of the  MAHOOOOOSIVE open air market. As if the Angel Gabriel had just planted eyes him squarely between the eyes with a very well aimed rock from heaven, he suddenly had a revelation. This is where all the 20s and 30s folk are on a Sunday morning, not in church, so why don't we bring God to them!! From that moment on the vision began to take shape - a cafe on Brick Lane - quirky, alternative, high quality - that will act as a place of blessing for the punters on Brick Lane but also the home of a faith community that will worship and minister there. Since the initial revelation Undies and his team have raised over £150,000, bought a clothes shop in the heart of Brick Lane to convert and are currently a few months away from opening.

Wowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowow!!!!! IT CAN WORK!!!!

Paul and the team in the yet-to-be-furnished cafe

Paul has sent me their business plan and vision statement and it's a great blueprint to follow, so with renewed vigour and fresh inspiration I am determined to get a business plan done of my own. I've been looking around at bars all over the UK for quirky angles that will attract the young adults we want to serve, and I have also been researching areas of Cardiff that have a kind of Bohemian atmosphere in which to look for propertes (Pontcanna or Roath, Pontcanna or Roath, Pontcanna or Roath?). It's a long way from the property buying stage yet, but you have to start somewhere!

Just imagine! A bar that reeks of hospitality, generosity and joy instead of stale beer and vomit (well, maybe a bit of beer). A place where people can come and feel at home, safe and enjoy themselves. Where alcohol is there in moderation to add to the experience, not detract from it. Where songs are sung and spirits are lifted. Where a place by the fire (yes, there WILL be a fire place!) is reserved for those who are frozen by the cold night outside. Where works of creativity, passion and beauty are displayed on the walls to touch souls.

If heaven did bars, they'd probably be the best bars in the world...

Running with a Blindfold

It's been aaaaaaages since I've shared any monastic bar-church type musings, so for the three people out there who read this blog I do sincerely apologise. I am now, however, back with avengence so please do continue to share your musings on my musings, because combined our total musings allow more musing about the things we want to muse over...(pause to allow musing).

The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff

Okay, so things have progressed and the decision has been taken that I WILL be pioneering a new-monastic style faith community (got to find a better name than that!) from July...that meets in a bar! The bar in question is situated in an arts centre in Cardiff called The Gate. It's an amazing place with lots going on and this wider community will be our primary focus for ministry. It'll be a case of serve, serve, serve and then do a bit more serving! Blessing The Gate in any way we can, being present at their public events, helping the staff, cleaning the toilets, doing lots of Kingdom stuff and seeing God work. At least that's the plan.

This is one of the reasons why I haven't been keeping the blog up to date. While negotiations and discussions were going on it was difficult to talk about specifics, but now it's all settled I can! At the same time as building the faith community I'll also be making plans for the second part of the vision (hasn't been forgotten), buying a bar. Progress has been made in this area too (kind of) but that's a story for another blog. :)

Very exciting! Only issue is that, well, at the current moment there's no funding and no people (at least no people to be part of the community, I am working these plans out with some very good people at The Gate itself). Here's the advertisement...IF YOU'RE IN THE CARDIFF AREA AND THIS WHOLE MONASTIC BAR-COMMUNITY BUSINESS GETS YOU EXITED, GET IN TOUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, there's a plan. Of sorts. There's no money, as of yet no people, but there is a lot of hope and excitement.

...Ever had that feeling you've bitten off more than you can chew?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Burning Down The, Church

People often ask me what ministers do through the rest of the week as the only work one day. This question, while quite understandable, does get rather frustrating. After all, Santa only works one day a YEAR but nobody asks him what he's doing the rest of the time! One of the very very very important things we do is have meetings. Lots of very important meetings. I was at one such very very very important meeting yesterday.

Now, I freely confess that when I got to the venue I didn't exactly know what the meeting was for, but that in NO WAY detracts from how very important it was (I feel I've stretched this as far as it will go. I'll stop). Likewise I couldn't tell you in all honesty what the very important outcomes were (I've stopped. Promise), but it was very insightful. The meeting was full of folk who, like me, have a sneaking suspicion that the church in Britain isn't really all that pointful anymore, so stuff needs to be done differently. Pioneers and radicals to a man (or woman), these brave adventurers had between them come up with a whole kaleidoscope of different approaches to church that were serving, helping and changing peoples' lives. There were groups that met in cafes, groups that focused on making bread (literally, no metaphor), groups that were mainly young people, groups that were mainly one ethnicity, and groups that predominately consisted of folk with one ear bigger than the other. I jest. But there were lots.

Even though this array of church styles was wonderfully diverse, as the stories were being told it dawned on me that they had something in common. Each of these new 'faith communities' (or churches) lived, worked, ate, played and breathed in amongst the people whom they were trying to bless. There were no walls separating them from the people, they did everything amongst everyone. One lady told about the church she started on a brand new housing project. She (with her family) was the first person to move onto the estate just so that she could meet and welcome every other new family who subsequently moved in. Now her church - made up of people who she has met from the community - is known for its good work in the locality and unsurprisingly, people want to be part of it.

The theological term for this is 'incarnation': the idea that, just like Jesus became a human being and lived among us, so churches are supposed to live among the people they serve. It strikes me that this will be the way for faith communities in the 21st century. It's time to sally forth from our ecclesiastical fortresses, preferably burning them behind us, and start doing some good where the people actually are.