A final post from Nigel and it reminded me of a conversation I had with my good friend Mark Berry recently who I hope might write more fully on ecclesiastical hypothermia at some point! When above the death zone on a mountain, we know that to survive we need to be mobile and get off the mountain but our body wants to pool resources to protect what it believes are the vital organs… so it shuts down the very things that could make survival possible… it tells us to sit down and sleep, to pull energy back from the limbs into the centre… in an attempt to keep the core alive as long as possible it shuts down and sleeps itself to death!!!
The call of the pioneer: hoisting sails in the storm of crisis, chaos and uncertainty
This is the last of my reflections about what we can learn from fresh expressions of church in the current season. It invites us to draw on the sense of adventure that pioneers and those curating fresh expressions embody; hoisting sails in the current trinitarian storms of crisis, chaos and uncertainty.
As I begin, I want to acknowledge that it’s rough out there. The storms of illness, bereavement, unemployment, fear and anxiety are raging. The waves are big ones and the winds fierce. Whilst this is a sobering and challenging assessment, we would be foolish to pretend that conditions are anything other than turbulent and threatening.
It would be understandable if we looked to the gods of safety and certainty as antidotes to the crisis and chaos threatening to engulf us. Indeed, I argued in a recent session on ‘crisis leadership’ that our very first response needs to be to protect people and try and get an element of stability in the situation. That is the priority. However, once we have done some of that, I believe we need to look to the future, rekindling our purpose, vision and mission. We need to develop where we are going, revitalising where necessary – hoisting sails so we get to where God needs us to get to. To fully catch the winds, we may need to start doing this while the storm is still raging.
There is an Irish proverb that I resonate with – ‘the seas may be rough, but the rocks have no mercy’. Perhaps it is my Irish ancestry that engenders the appeal, or maybe the pioneer in me that wants to recognise the value in seizing the day, taking the risk and venturing into the unknown. Whatever the reason, I like the thinking. I know that if I don’t hoist the sails, I risk perishing on the rocks.
Institutions usually play it safe; especially church institutions. Conformity, regularity, longevity, consistency and certainty are the cultural narratives of many. Thankfully, for those of us committed to hoisting the sails, many fresh expressions of church have broken free from the shackles of inertia typified by these constraining cultural values. Many fresh expressions and pioneer folks are risk takers; they are prepared to take a chance and hoist the sails even in the most stormy of seas.
I’ve been thinking about taking chances quite a bit of late. I’ve been asking myself if our best chance, is to take a chance. Might we be better served taking some risks and exposing ourselves – deliberately – to chance, especially when we don’t know what to do or where to go? Might this be the best chance we have of allowing God to meet us in the sea that is the ambiguity of our uncertainty? I say this in the firm belief that when we have no idea where it is we are supposed to be going or how we are going to get there that it is better to set off on the adventure and allow the voyage to determine what outcome subsequently results.
Perhaps we can learn afresh from those who have pioneered new forms of church and once again create an ecclesiological culture that celebrates, mandates and honours those who hoist the sales for God. Once out on the waves, tasting the salt, and being guided by the sun, moon and stars, we may need those who might be considered more a safe pair of hands and who can steady the ship. However, if we align ourselves with these good folks and allow them to influence our initial thinking too much, we risk never setting sail in the first place.
For the pioneer, the hoisting of the sails is something that may come more easily than for others. For my wife, Sue, and I this is something we are actively doing right now. We have left the church we have been part of for 7 years, Sue has given up her job as a senior school leader, and we are in the process of applying to be foster parents. We don’t know where this journey will take us or what the outcome will be, but we’re hoisting the sails and setting sail.
In doing this, we are not being reckless. Preparations for our journey are meticulous. We are preparing according to our well-defined values, being true to our core purposes and seeking to do the right things in terms of what we believe in. We’re undertaking training, engaging in learning and development and committing everything to God in prayer. We may stumble upon crisis, encounter chaos, and be confronted with uncertainty. To borrow a thought from Richard and Lori Passmore, we may find dragons as we sail into uncharted waters, but I hope we continue to have the courage to hoist those sails.
I also hope those who are thinking about what church might look like beyond the pandemic, might stop looking to the rocks. I hope they look beyond asking questions about when they might re-open buildings, how they can do communion, and when they can sing together again. Such questions betray a lack of adventure and display inertia and malaise. Instead, I hope they look to pioneer, to go where they have not gone before and venture to the vast and wide-open oceans. Hoist the sails and explore uncharted waters. Bon voyage …