Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read two recently published books from the SCM stable. Living in the Gaze of God by Helen D. Cameron and Missional Conversations edited by Cathy Ross and Colin Smith.
At first glance these two books are very different and unconnected. Yet, I want to argue that there is a connection between both and they each have a place to play in vocational exploration as well as the development of good practice.
In Living in the Gaze of God Helen D. Cameron begins by talking about growth and how it is nurtured. She suggests the book relates to both ordained and lay ministry. However, there is a clear bias in most of the book towards talking about ordained ministry and using this to underline her view that this is a covenant relationship not an employment status. I have to be clear that I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive and disagree with her (and the Methodist Church) position on this matter.
The core argument of the book, summed up in the final chapter, relates to ministers needing appropriate supervision and why this is important. I agree with her 100% on this key issue and believe strongly that it should be mandatory for all in positions of leadership within the church, lay and ordained, paid and unpaid. The lessons of the past must be learned and whilst we should not put straight jackets on ministers we should ensure that they have wise sounding boards and advice.
For me the book was useful in understanding something of my husband’s call and experience. There is something fundamentally different between the sacramental vocation of my husband and my missional one, yet we both have callings which will be played out in the contexts where the church sends him. Reading this book helped me to understand for the first time that being a minister’s partner is in itself a vocation, not a term to distance myself from. Before anybody starts to worry I am about to embark on a stereotypical role I am clearly not suited to, let me explain. The marriage relationship is a covenantal one, as is his with the church (assuming all goes well and he is ordained into full Connexion in the summer). Whilst I am not in direct covenantal relationship with the church my covenantal relationship with my husband means when God calls him to a new context he also calls me. Whilst I may be called, as a lay person, to a time specific role/ or roles in that local context it is still God, through covenantal relationship who has placed me there. I have the flexibility of being able to explore a range of missional lay ministry opportunities because I am not being stationed directly by church into a direct context. As I look at the church struggle to appropriately station married couples who are both in ordained ministry I realise this freedom is a gift not the problem I have thought it in the past.
Yet, whether lay or ordained and employed or not we are both called to be attentive to the Gaze of God (as talked about in chapter 3 ) and ourselves and to the self and the other (which is the theme of chapter 4). These chapters are useful for those seeking to engage in vocational exploration and explore relationships, boundaries and risk taking. They also bring in the importance of knowing your context(s).
These chapters are ones which resonated most strongly and which I think bridge with Missional Conversations. This second book has the sub title: A Dialogue between Theory and Praxis in World Mission. It pairs up chapters in conversation and then gives questions for further discussion. Thus it could be used by students in seminar situations or small groups looking to discuss these issues.
The format generally works well, apart from a couple of chapters where the academic theory sits awkwardly with the praxis. I don’t know if it works better where the authors are familiar with working together or if it is to do with what the prime academic fields of the writers are.
At the end of the book there is a deviation when you get Jonny Baker and Ric Stott having an actual conversation with each other before Ian Adams concludes. Within this they do talk, in a different language, about some of the things Cameron does. Here the idea is put forward of a supervisor who is also a buffer between the pioneer and the hierarchy of the institution. Again I think the Baker and Stott chapter is a really good read for people exploring vocation. Not for the first time I was struck by Baker talking about Grayson Perry’s Hobbit and Punk characters and the way that we need to embrace both in ministry. I also loved Ric talking about wandering about with the purpose of just exploring and then knowing you’ve found the right thing, place or opportunity when you see it. Again I think, whilst challenging, and sometimes leading down the wrong paths, this is the freedom that most ordained ministers (Ric being an exception) lack as they are placed in more traditional appointments with a diary full of meetings and expectations cast upon them. Again I realise my lay calling into a series of missional and/ or pioneering ministries (which may take different forms) tends to give a freedom that others don’t get in this.
Another particularly strong pair of essays were Kyama Mugambi’s Audacity, Intentionality and Hope in the Churches of the Global South and Harvey Kwiyani’s Mission in the Global South. This pair looking at Southern Mission Movements were striking because they appeared to be coming from a black theological perspective and traced the history of the change of missionary activity over the last century. These chapters would be well paired reading with The Desecularisation of the City, which I have reviewed on here previously.
Whilst I would recommend both books to practitioners and those exploring vocation, I would say missional conversations is the less niche of the two books. I’d recommend this to small groups who had the time to read something meaty in preparation and who wanted to explore either modern apologetics (ethics) or mission because it touches on both.