I landed in Earls Court on Sunday being heralded as an inspiring preacher with prophetic insight and wisdom. It would have been dangerous if people believed it but something much more destructive happened… I believed it! In the cold light of day, of course I know that I am none of those things and the man who said these things was just being kind but how easily the seductive voice of temptation digs deep within my soul. My ears stayed too long upon this melody and it’s paralysed me at times during my first days of my visit.
Subsequently my prayers have been for humility in my approach to discipleship; again and again I have been reminded that approaching our walk with Christ must start with humility. The words of the first Beatitude (see ‘Theatre Church (part VI a and b‘ post) is still bouncing around my head.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:2)
Interestingly, however, in my more sober moments, I have felt a real sense of the same prayer being for the community I have entered. A brief history of the congregation (as I have heard it) may be useful:
Prior to the arrival of their current vicar, Adrian Beavis, the congregation was made up of a large cohort of Koreans and an equally large community of Russians with a small part of ‘other’ nationalities. The Koreans had brought with them a rhythm of prayer that was typical for their culture, twelve prayer meetings a week; every morning before work, every evening and the weekends! Fervent prayer, underpinning their whole lives… who wouldn’t want this of their community? What it meant, however, was there was little time for outreach and mission and so, on the arrival of Adrian (an evangelist by nature), the balancing act of mission and prayer began. As I have begun to scratch the surface of this community I have felt the tension between whether they want to be a Benedictine styled community or a Franciscan. A Benedictine community will pray for those around them in silent, contemplative, ritualistic prayer. A Franciscan community will go out and serve those around them prayerfully. These are large generalisation but I hope they are helpful in seeing the difference.
I was immediately aware of the place of prayer in this community and finding myself reflecting on it. Prayer meetings have gone down from twelve to five; three mornings, a weekday evening and Sunday. When I asked why this decision was made I was quite rightly informed that, there comes a time when prayer needs to move into action and the sheer amount of prayer meetings was taking the energy away to do mission. What was being built up, previously, was a group of people who loved being together and praying but they did it so much no one new was being welcomed in or even found. The model of church being built now has been described as one that prays first then turns to mission, like two feet; one-step then the second then the first then the second. They felt now was the time to use the large and passionate prayers of the last generation to step out into mission.
I would agree that prayer should not be a hindrance to mission and outreach. Jesus called his followers to ‘Come’ and to ‘Go’ something that I have been wrestling with in a talk for 12th September… more on that later. This community, obviously, has not cut all prayer in favour of mission, they merely cut back in order to refocus some of the resources into outreach but what has been left?
From my first impressions of this community the gatherings have lost some vitality from what was being painted by older members of the congregations. There seems to be a feeling of laying down the passion and drive to pray in favour of mission. I don’t think the ‘refocusing’ was meant to have this effect but I think it may have done so. How has this happened?
I suspect (and I want to stress that word!) that in the communication of the movement towards prayer and mission that some may not have heard the ‘and’ that they felt the prayer life was no longer needed or wanted. They may have heard “This prayer has served its purpose let’s go out to mission.” I don’t think this is what the leaders in the church said because I know that’s not what they believe but, from what I’ve witnessed, there’s a subtle communication happening and it returns us to ‘humility’.
In the times of worship and prayer that I have been a part of I felt a desire to communally recognise that even to pray and praise we need God. God draws from us praise and the Spirit leads us in intercession (Rom 8:26) and we desperately need God to do mission. The prayers are focussed on God’s blessing on what we will do rather than on having an attitude of humility. We do not do mission, we engage with God doing mission. We come, therefore, before the Lord in humility, acknowledging our weakness and incapacity to achieve anything without Him. We work with Him but we are the secondary party.
As I prepare my offerings towards the church’s mission to Earls Court I am returning again and again to the knowledge that it is those who know their weaknesses and failings that will enter the kingdom of heaven. I have little to give but, by Him, all things are possible.
And I pray again;
Take what I offer, paltry as it is and make it last. Take these loaves and fishes that would just stretch to a snack and make it a feast for thousands. I want to join in your creative action for You are making a Kingdom that will last.