On Friday 28th March 2014 I attended the Religious Life and Renewal Conference in Lambeth Palace. There were about 100 attendees from well established communities (hundreds of years old) and also new monastic communities such as mayBe (now 10 years old!). We met in the quite daunting halls of Lambeth Palace on the banks of the Thames. Thick red carpets, big portraits on oak panelled walls and even a door disguised as a bookcase. Fortunately the decor did not upstage the day. The content of the conference was good. The mix of people and conversations was inspiring and i've tried to capture some of that in this write up. Wacky people The day opened with a speach by Justin Welsby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. My note taking and interpretation is not excellent but there were certain messages that got through to me. The overall message was the importance of those living the religious life and what it added to the church. It is important that there were people doing things "that made no sense without religion". I'm still digesting this idea but I think I like it. I read an article recently by Rev Richard Coles about how strange the church appeared to the secular world but how it would always be strange and should always be different. Thus, the world of religious communities, living together, sharing together, praying, creating, performing rituals. These "odd" people are essential to our society and a central part of the body of the church. Headline Act Keeping our fix on the Gospel was another theme in the talk. The message of Jesus is the main event, not a means to an end. Bishop Welsby desribed how he was asked to give an impromptu speech in a worn torn section of Africa. Having seen the desparate state everyone was in he was aiming his talk towards how practical help could be given, but started by quoting Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow." This brought cheers and applause from the crowd. The Gospel is what it is all about. It is important to keep our focus here and not let it be a side line of our communities. i.e. "Here's some tea and hospitality....by the way we also do Jesus" Anarchy in the Parish Lastly, the Arch Bishop reflected how Bishops could not hope to control their Diocese, and from some of the wayward practices communities might adopt interesting new life might come. I found this reflection interesting. I think I sometimes worry that we're not doing things right, or perhaps we'll attract some dissaproving comments from on high. In reality the Diocese is not so tightly controlled and barely have the resources to keep track of all groups and parishes. So on the one hand we could feel abandoned, on the other we can enjoy the anarchy. Call the midwife We had a couple of small group workshops during the day. I was in a group of eight people each time. The first group was comprised of members of similar groups to mayBe or had connections to New Monastic Communities. I met someone who described themselves as a "midwife" to New Monastic Communities throughout London. She was ordained and had contact with many new groups. It sounded just like the sort of support mayBe would appreciate. Andy Freeman was in our group, he led our retreat in November and also gives this kind of support to new groups via CMS. However he pointed out that he only has one day a week for all the groups in an enormous patch of the country. Called to be wild - please How the Church of England places staff was a bit of a recurring theme througout the day. One attendee stated how many of their community members went on to become ordained. This was not something he was overly impressed by. The perception is that if you want to contribute further to the church then ordination is the only way. Joining a religious community or contributing to their work is not seen as a comparable path. Indeed, it apparently used to say on the C of E website, "If you are unsuccessful in your application to become ordained, you might want to consider joining a religious community". This comment had upset a number of people in my group who felt that the religous life was being undervalued and many people going to ordination were not suitable. They were more suited to supporting religious communities. They were joyfully square pegs that would need to be squeezed to fit the round hole of ordination. Cassocks and wheelies Listening to the variety of stories about religious communties it was inspiring to consider that many communities were formed because they were trying to go back to roots. To recapture Christian practice that had been lost over centuries, some essense of 'being' that they are trying to regain. So it is with mayBe. We were formed with a mission to build a Christian community from the ground up, able to leave behind a lot of clutter that established churches often struggle with. Many of the communities had centuries of history, we too have history spanning a whole decade. Setting fire to stuff In the afternoon there was a talk by Father Etienne Veto, a French Catholic Preist and member of the Chemin Neuf Community. The central theme to his talk was a verse from 2 Timothy 1:6, "Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you". A community should try to find its Charism, or God given gift. Then they should use it and celebrate this gift. He identified four types of Charism, prayer and action, community, spritiuality, and mission. What is the Charism of mayBe? For example, I would propose that community of the family friendy type is strong with us and should be 'fanned'. We often are negative about demographics, being concerned that we are just young families and people without young children may feel excluded. However, turning that around we can celebrate that we have many young families and are highly inclusive with children. What are our other Charism's and how can we grow them? Scary young people Finally he spoke about "young people", that "other continent". Father Etienne advised us to be intentional with young people, don't just hope they will turn up by chance, call them up and invite them directly. The word "intentional" cropped up a couple of times during the day. I think it might be the new buzz word. He also advised that communities need to be ready to change and be influenced by the younger generation. I thought about our kids, growing, becoming more aware, we won't be able to just bribe them with George and Delilah's ice cream for ever! mayBe will have to be ready to change and let them lead us. I think mayBe was born out of "let the cool kids do it their way", the cool kids being us ten years ago. We just have to remember that the cool kids can quickly become the defenders of the establishment and need to stay fluid. I'll wrap up my reflection there. I encountered quite a few interesting people and ideas throughout the day. I hope such a day happens again and that other members of our community get the chance to attend.
Friday, April 4, 2014 - 12:54pm