Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Pioneer Spirituality edited by Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross reviewed

Put this up on my review blog earlier. Realised that it may be interesting to readers of this blog too. Pioneering Spirituality: Resources for reflection and practice edited by Cathy Ross and Jonny Baker, published by Canterbury Press, is the latest work from the CMS stable.

Whilst distinctly different from its predecessor , which I reviewed last year -The Pioneer Gift ,it still has the familiar format of having a range of chapters from practitioners in a range of contexts. The work that Baker and Ross do involves seeking to facilitate the hearing of voices which might not otherwise be heard. This has primarily involved seeking to ensure that it is those who would describe themselves as pioneers whose stories and theological reflections are heard.

The scope of contributors to this book seems wider than in previous texts of this kind. It seems that going beyond the traditionally recognised type of fresh expressions and pioneering projects they are engaging more widely with different types of pioneering. This includes hearing the voices of Harvey Kwiyani who is one of a group of Malawian pastors living and working in Nottingham and Berdine Van Den Toren-Lekkerkerker and Benno Van Den Toren who are originally from the Netherlands but have worked in various parts of the world. The former discusses African Spirituality in Western Contexts and the latter From Missionary Incarnate to Incarnational Guest: A Critical Reflection on Incarnation as a Model for Missionary Presence. There is also a chapter by anti-FGM activist Ann-Marie Wilson, who started 28 Too Many, on An Active Spirituality for Mission.

That said there are the familiar type of Pioneers in here too such as Gavin Mart of Engedi Arts who is a Methodist Venture FX Pioneer. Whilst Ross and Baker are careful not to speak with the voices of academics, rather presenting their introductory chapter in a more conversational form the academic voice is here too. Not only via Ross (and to a lesser extent Baker) but also through Stephen Bevans of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Bevans chapter Dancing with the Missionary God: Towards a Mission Spirituality seeks to identify six constant features of spirituality which provide a template for those engaged in pioneer mission.

The Bevans chapter is one which seeks to invite the practitioner to reflect on their own spirituality and seek to identify what both unpins it but also what sustains it. This concept of ensuring the pioneers own spirituality is sustained and the sharing of ideas and practices to help with this is the focus of the first part of the book. The most powerful chapters on this topic I believe are Kate Pearson’s on Angela of Foligno as a Model for Pioneer Minstry and Beth Honey’s Pioneers as Pilgrims. Both of these chapters were particularly useful to me personally as I seek to identify how to develop my own spirituality having moved into a lay university chaplaincy role – a role that in her chapter Pearson who is a chaplain at a different university describes as having “been a space for pioneers for a long time.” (p80)

Other chapters particularly in the second half of the book talk more about practice and how to help others develop their spirituality. Johnny Sertin’s chapter on Getting Dirty talked about doing this within a Church of England Parish Context whilst Tina Hodgett talked about it in relation to a group for young mums in her chapter on Doors in the Air: Baby Spirituality. These were interesting chapters telling the stories of what they were doing in a way which readers of the Ancient Faith, Future Mission series will be familiar.

Overall though this is more of a book to help pioneers themselves reflect rather than a book for those outside the system. It is a text to help understanding between different groups and to facilitate a conversation as illustrated by Kim Hartshorne’s We Are One Body Because We all Share in One Bread: Pioneering and the Eucharist. This chapter was focused on explaining to those from lower church backgrounds particularly why the Eucharist is so important to many practitioners from an Anglican tradition. This chapter articulated clearly why the rules matter to some people and why in finding new ways of doing things respect needs to be given to existing etiquettes. Again as somebody who doesn’t at times understand the need for the rules and restraints this was something I found particularly useful.

Overall this is a book which I would highly recommend to those who are seriously following developments in this area of pioneer ministry and mission because it highlights how maturing is now occurring. There is also more space being given to voices of those who have come from elsewhere to the UK which is good. I would also recommend it to practitioners who wish to reflect on their own practice and rootedness. Would I recommend it beyond that readership? I am not sure. Whilst it is a very good book and very readable and far less of a text book than some recent books I have read in this area it is still I believe quite specialist reading. It is clearly seeking to support the growing band of practitioners whilst developing some important conversations. It is a book of sharing ideas and also asking important questions of pioneers themselves.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Advent Reading by Richard Coles and Fiona Joseph

Fathomless Riches by Richard Coles and Beatrice: The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune by Fiona Joseph may not sound like the most obvious Advent reading. Yet, they’ve been what I’ve been delving into in recent days.

Why? Well part of it relates to the comments I picked up from one of the Queen’s lecturers whilst I was sitting in college communion (something I tend to do on Tuesday evening). He was talking about Advent being a time to examine our history and look for evidence of God breaking through. It is a time for looking back and looking forward whilst focusing on the difference Christ’s coming makes.

Both books enable you to reflect on the ways in which God’s kingdom breaks through and how this occurs in ways in which you might not expect. They also both, in their own ways, provide challenges for the reader because they show that ethics and actions are not simple.

Beatrice was a book I first heard about when the author gave a talk at Greenbelt a few years ago which I found absolutely fascinating. Somehow, though I never got round to reading the book until this week. It is a biography of Beatrice Boekes (nee Cadbury) whose Quaker roots and understanding of Marxist theory saw her adopt an increasingly radical lifestyle during much of her life. This included outdoors preaching which saw here frequently arrested and at one point giving up the use of money amongst other things. She was also responsible with her husband Kees for setting up a school and helping Jewish children escaping persecution in the Second World War.

This sounds admirable and it might be easy for one to get overly romantic about the world of Beatrice and her family. However, the book veers away from uncritical praise of her actions. Rather it details the difficulties this caused to her family and others who were seeking to ensure the welfare of the family.

Thus it shows that we need to think about our actions. God uses those who are willing to take risks and work beyond the status quo to help build his kingdom but those people have a duty of care towards those around them too.

Before I’d turned my attention to Beatrice and a Brum based book I had read Richard Coles Fathomless Riches or How I Went from Pop to Pulpit. This was a book I had pretty much avoided for a year. I suspect part of it was that I didn’t quite trust what I was going to get from it. I’m not entirely sure why but I didn’t. Then there was the fact the only comments I had heard about it seemed to focus on dogging, (suggesting people had not really gotten past the first few pages).

My view on the book changed in when I went to an event at the Birmingham Literature Festival where Coles was interviewed by Catherine Ogle, a Dean at Birmingham Cathedral. This previous post from my review blog explains something about why that evening changed things.

So it was I read the book, a memoir which does what it says on the cover and tells how a former pop star ended up training for ministry.

The book talks of his family and youth and then moves on to his life within the early 80’s gay scene in London before looking at his life post-fame and his involvement with the rave culture. It then moves on to exploring his interest in religion and the tensions he encountered between an Anglican and Catholic identity. Within this sex and drug use are a part but there is far more within this text.

First is one of the most moving accounts of the impact of the Aids crisis on the ‘80’s gay community I have read. This is something in the Literature Festival talk Coles had said he had not found cathartic to write. The pain within what he writes is clear and it is movingly described.

Scattered throughout the book are accounts of how he messed up and the regrets he has. It’s a book which seems scattered with references to repentance and gives some examples of what this might look like in practice.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading both books. They were both highly readable whilst subtly challenging. They also in their own way did show a real picture of God’s Kingdom breaking in on the margins as well as within the establishment.