At the start of the month I got a job. That pretty much defined the rest of March, announcing news, looking at the vicarage, planning, painting getting ready.
Its Good Friday today, the last few Holy Weeks and Easters have been full of great, exciting, church work. The next few probably will be too. But this week has been different. I’m between roles and only just beginning to reconnect with Kairos. Much of this Holy Week has been spent painting our new house and dreaming about our life there.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve found myself drawn more to the round-the-table intimacy of the Last Supper this year, where Jesus washes feet, calls his followers friends, breaks bread with his betrayer, all just hours before he will be arrested, tried and crucified. The choral song in the middle of this playlist contains words used in a Catholic service remembering that night. It starts: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where charity and love are, there God is. I love this version, recorded by Ola Gjeilo.
Other music this month: I got to see Rivers and Robots, one of my favourite bands, last week and they did a brilliant version of the song I’ve included. I’ve been listening to a lot of Etherwood’s piano led drum and bass. I’ve discovered and loved Hammock and Ambient Jazz Ensemble. I’ve had their albums and the Bright City ‘Still’ record on a lot. Three of the other tracks are first singles off albums that I’m looking forward to. At the end I’ve thrown in a couple of older classics – which I’ve used in alternative holy week services and events in the past.
I hope you enjoy the music, have a brilliant Easter!
One of the things I’ve rediscovered putting the miles in visiting different churches and conferences this term has been podcasts. I’ve had the time to listen and found four that I really love. I want to share them with you.
This is the podcast that made me realise I could love podcasts. Helen and I have been listening to Jo Saxton and Steph Williams O’Brien for a while (disclosure – Jo used to be our student leader and was one of the first people to give us a go at leading., so we have been big fans of hers for a long while.) These are discussions about leadership that explore culture, barriers to growth and all sorts of other things. If you are interested in growing as a leader or helping others do the same then this is well worth a listen.
This Cultural Moment
John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers are church leaders in Portland and Melbourne. They have started a series looking at the the world they inhabit and the challenges and opportunities that it presents. This short series of podcasts is full of insights that I found challenging and helpful. The things they talk about have been buzzing in my brain for days afterwards/
The Bible Project
The Bible Project make videos and art to help people engage with the bible. If you have not seen their animations yet go check them out! The videos are short, punchy and playful. In the podcast Jon Collins and Tim Mackie take a more meandering approach, playing with the ideas and theology that goes into the films. Their latest series has been on Exile, and has been superb.
Mid Faith Crisis
A podcast by Joe Davies and Nick Page which they say is for every Christian who has ever asked ‘Is that it?’ I have found myself asking that again and again, since my mid teens!
I sometimes listen to podcasts in bed, especially if I wake up to early to get up – this one is dangerous because almost every episode has a moment that makes me laugh out loud. If you want to find a faith that can cope with doubt and questions, and is happy to take the mickey out of itself, this could be the podcast for you.
What about you? Anything you would recommend?
One of my other trips this year was to visit Hope Whitby. Hope is a new church planted by Leigh and Bec Coates based on a network church model. It has grown from a planting team of 7 people to a network of 20 missional communities spread across the Yorkshire Coast connecting with at least 140 people.
The Hope journey sounds like it has been quite a whirlwind and much of it is driven by the Coates’ passion and commitment to mission. They are the kind of people who just want to love people and help them discover Jesus! That passion is infectious and it was exciting to see meet some of their key people and see how they were catching the disciple-making bug.
Hope Whitby is messy and fast moving, but very exciting. This growth seems to be sustained by three things.
Worship, prayer, discipleship. The way Leigh and Bec tell the Hope story they did nothing but pray for the first 2 years. They are convinced that the mission is Gods and that their ability to participate relies on their friendship with him. Their communities prioritise time in prayer, bible study and life-changing discipleship. This gives a joy and strength to their planting and pioneering work – even in the tough times!
Community Engagement. There a regular points in the month where Missional Communities engage with the wider community. They run gig nights, youth clubs, old-folk’s drop-ins etc. and are deliberately looking for ways to connect with as many people as possible at these events. Much of their energy and time as a church seems to go into creating and maintaining these community events, where relationships are established and built.
Missional Impulse. I’ve been with few people who have such a drive to take risks, try new things and plant different MSCs. Leigh seems to have taken it as a challenge start as many gospel shaped communities as he can! This is a deliberate strategy, Leigh told me that he believed one of the key secrets to the church’s growth was that he was trying to get each MSC to multiply or plant a community beyond itself.
These three commitments, to real connection with God, to serving the Whitby Area and to going into new places with God’s gospel help explain some of the joy, dynamism and growth Hope is experiencing!
Before Christmas (I know! Where has the year gone!?) I spent 3 weeks with Sorted in Bradford. Sorted is a Youth Church led by Andy and Tracey Milne. I got to visit and join in with their work in local schools, youth drop-ins, small groups and Youth Worship.
I think what Sorted do is brilliant! They have been going for 14 years and have over that time multiplied into two youth drop-ins, a Sorted+ for young adults and a young families group.
I learned tonnes from my time with the Milnes and the team. There were two things everyone kept saying to me:
“Sorted is like a family” This was said again and again by youth and adult helpers alike. The community builds deep connection between everyone involved.
“I just sort of started helping” Everyone gets the opportunity to serve, help or lead if they want to. So the barriers that are often in place between youth and leaders, team and helpers or us and them were broken down. Everyone was welcome, not only to belong but also to contribute.
There is a connection between these two statements. By inviting everyone to find their own way to contribute as leaders to the mission of sorted, the community has a fast track route to belonging and ownership. In a family you feel cared for and you get to contribute.
There was a cost to living this way, some of the leaders expressed frustration that things had to go at a pace determined by the whole of the group, particularly by the young people. If the teenagers didn’t want to do something it didn’t happen. This is risky, but the payoff is huge, kids who start as trouble makers or isolated individuals get to experience love, gain skills and confidence, find themselves in community as they discover Jesus.
I love this approach, and the simple way Sorted lives out its values of being BY young people FOR young people.
If you would like to find out a bit more about the Sorted story then have a look at Andy’s book: The DNA of Pioneer Ministry.
Second mixtape of the year. February has my birthday in it so is a month I always enjoy. In Harrogate there have been signs spring might come soon. Its also seen beginning of Lent, the Christian season of “bright sadness” that focussed on making space for the eternal and beginning to anticipate Easter. As the month ends this year my part of the world is gripped by freezing temperatures and snow. Exciting and fun but also a sign that winter’s bite is not over yet!
Here’s a mix of upbeat and reflective music, ending with a prayer. I hope you enjoy listening to it.
What have you been listening to this month?
Marking Lent has become an important practice for Helen and me in our attempts to follow Jesus.
This year we’re in the interesting position of entering Lent without roots in a local church. I’ve been doing some placements visiting a number of churches and communities over the last few weeks but as there had been a lot of coming and going, and it was half term, we decided not to visit another church’s Ash Wednesday service but do something as a family instead.
We went out for a walk together and collected a few small twigs and sticks, which I then burned in our fire pit (in the drizzle) and turned to ash. Then over tea the four of us talked about what we might take up or put down over the next 40 days. After tea I got my bowl of home made ash and we chatted about what ash and Lent might have to do with each other – we discussed star-dust, the Genesis story, being burned out and Jesus. Then we read about how Jesus started his ministry with 40 days out in the desert. Finally we marked each other’s foreheads with the ash and prayed: “Remember you are just like everyone else, remember you are incredibly special and God loves you.” I found it quite moving to be ashed by my 11 year old.
We’re continuing this DIY, outdoor theme by using Rachel Summer’s ‘Wild Lent’ book for inspiration throughout Lent. On Sunday we went out on a family mini-safari at a local nature reserve. Spirits were pretty high despite the drizzle (again) and we found slugs eggs and woodlice. I’m grateful I have kids who put up with these kind of ideas and I love doing round-the-table and out-in the-woods prayer and worship.
I’m also looking forward to marking the start of Lent with a church community again next year.
Even though I don’t blog here super frequently I’ve written about this season quite a few times before. If you are interested my previous Lent posts can all be found here.
Last week the Askews went on a little adventure! We got to spend some time in Aarhus, Denmark. We were visiting friends from The Order of Mission and their church. There were many things that were wonderful about the time; we stayed in a lovely, cosy, cabin about 40 mins out of the city which provided some warmth and space for us all. We visited some of the fantastic sites of Aarhus including a rainbow walkway, a giant boy and a robotic elevator car-park. Some of us even got to ice skate for the first time.
We worshiped together at Aarhus Valgmenighed. I always find I enjoy time worshiping with Christians in different languages and noticing the similarities and differences in how we talk about and approach God. I loved the mix of spirit, word and symbol in the service, and the hope and hunger for God to move that was tangible in the church.
The highlight for me was meals and conversations with other families who are part of The Order of Mission at their homes. We didn’t really know any of them well before our visit, but found that our shared commitments to TOM gave us a language and understanding of one another that went deep. There was lots of common understanding as we shared stories of adventure, transition, breakthrough, pain and God’s faithfulness with one another. Each evening ended quite naturally with prayer, for one another and for our global TOM family.
Perhaps this is one of the best bits of being part of a global, dispersed network – getting to visit, learn from and encourage one another in our contexts! Thank you to the Dahlmanns, the Thomsens and the Mortensens for your welcome! We’re looking forward to getting together with more TOM family at the Global Gathering in Cambridge.