Making missional community…


We have been away for a couple of days in England, visiting our old church, Calvary Christian Fellowship, near Preston. It has been a glorious spring weekend, full of sunshine, hazy blue skies and green shoots everywhere.

All of which felt very appropriate as we were asked to come to talk to CCF about our experience of the process of making small ‘missional’ communities. They are in the process of trying to change the structure and focus of their organisation towards a collection of such groups. It seems to me to be a very interesting and potentially difficult process- akin to turning around a large oil tanker on a lake, but if anyone can do it I think they can.

Michaela and I did a bit of a double act- I spoke a lot about the thinking behind some of the changes that we have been through, and she described the actual practical experiences. In between we showed photographs, did some activities, and we used a large double sided loom to weave together the names of our community- something that Aoradh first developed for Greenbelt Festival. It has since been used at a few different events up and down the country.

What is created is this lovely thing, messy and rough around the edges, interconnected and full of humanity. We think it is rather a good analogy for the making of community…


It is 10 years since we moved away from CCF up to Scotland. For us this trip was a chance to take stock for ourselves as to the journey we have made. There have been challenges and times of real hardship, but also very great blessings.

This morning, Michaela and I have both taken a day off, which is fortunate as we are both exhausted. We came back to Dunoon on the last (midnight) ferry yesterday.

One of the things we tried to speak about with clarity is the question of what community (or church) is FOR.  It is easy for our groups and activities to become all about OUR needs, OUR spirituality, OUR comfort zones. God might then be adopted as some kind of benign mascot. I think the primary way we avoid this is to constantly make community a place of sending, as well as gathering. Hence, we used this poem;

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time for the sent  ones of God

To follow the rough roads

Into the barren broken places

To look for the marks left by Jesus

On the soft tissue and brittle bones

Of the Imago Dei

The stinking, wretched

Image bearers of the Living God


Time for the insurgency of God

To follow the mission

Into the hostile places

To seek out the secret stains left by the love

That was woven  into the very core

Of the Imago Christi

The failing, faithless

Manifest images of the Christ


Time for the dancers of the new Kingdom dance

To look for the music of Jesus

Amid the static and street noise

Tuning to the high fluting fragile sound

Vibrant and resonant;

To the gracenotes made there by Spiritus Sanctus

We, the discordant, cursing and gossiping

Vessels of the Spirit of the Living God


Time for the revolutionaries of God

To follow the long hard march

Unyoked and with easy burdens

Looking for the soft places where people are

Where freedom flickers, where hopes soar

To seek out the Participatio Christi

With weak but willing hands and sore feet

Learning to partake in the labours of love

For now is the time for holy huddles to scatter

On the winds of the Spirit

From ‘Listing’, available from Proost.

The bowl…

My mate Simon and I went for a pint the other day, which is actually something I do fairly infrequently these days as there is usually something that gets in the way.

The simple act of a pint or two and a table to sit and talk around has been about as close as most of we blokes get to a deep spiritual discussion – although this too seems to be a practice that is dying. Pubs here can not make a living unless they convert to restaurants. As we all know, this is not a sign of people drinking less but is more to do with the availability of cheap booze for consumption in our private spaces.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is because Simon and I were talking about our community (Aoradh) during our trip to the pub. We are thinking about offering a session to Greenbelt Festival in the ‘talks’ category under the strapline of something like ‘Don’t do it like us’.

All of these buzz words that have been applied to communities like ours in the wake of what we used to call ’emerging church’- alternative worship community, missional community, new monastic community. They all feel slightly pretentious and self serving to be honest. It feels like these labels belong to others in an urban context – trendy people who have big glasses, sharp haircuts and jeans with a baggy gusset that hangs to the knee.

Yet Aoradh has now been around for almost 6 years. It has developed and changed, stumbled then got up again, and we continue to experiment with a form of faith community fairly rare (as far as we are able to understand) certainly in the Scottish context.

Something that Simon said the other day in the pub has stuck with me. As we tried to map what we were and what we have become, he said something like this;

“We are an unhealed community.”

Simon was thinking about the people in our group who have serious illnesses, and the fact that our life of faith has to contain the awareness of sickness, brokenness and imperfection.

As I have thought about this, it seemed  important. It is not that our group is characterised by sickness – far from it –  but rather that we all have to live with the idea of a God who is real in the ordinary. A God who is not a magic talisman of success, but rather walks with us through the difficult times too.

There is also within this a challenge for faith- because we are  forced to confront the idea of a God-who-does-not-heal. A God who abides within brokenness, and lives within the uneasy question and the honest doubt.

Or even more challenging- a God-who-heals-sometimes, and some people. But not me.

My Michaela had a long term incurable illness (Ulcerative Collitis) that affected her from the age of 14 until 34, when all symptoms abruptly disappeared.  It is an open question and a grateful acceptance all wrapped up together.

All of which leads me to the Bowl.

In the recent winter storms, an old tree at the bottom of our garden was blown down, unfortunately into our neighbours garden;

A friend of ours was borrowing my chainsaw (through our local ‘timebank‘), as he is a wood turner, and I mentioned some pieces of wood from this tree. Some of it was dried already by age and the effect of the ivy that had dried out and hardened the wood. When he heard this he was excited.

Peter took the wood and promised a bowl for us out of it.

Amazingly, later that same day, he turned up, with this-

It is a lovely thing. A tree from our own garden, grown over who knows how many years, then spelted with sickness and disease before finally being broken by a storm.

Transformed by the craftsman.

Not healed or restored, but shaped and made beautiful.

Carved into the shape of service and hospitality.

As good an image for the hopes of community as anything else I can come up with…

Networking with alt. worship folk…


We heard about this meeting of the Tautoko network and Michaela and I are hoping to go. Thanks for the invite Laura!

This is what it is all about;

It’s been too long but finally a weekend gathering has been planned for the tautoko network in July 2009 at the Coalbrookdale Youth Hostel in Shropshire. We really hope you will join us. It will be a relaxed weekend to chill out, catch up, share and cook some choice food and drink, reflect, worship and pray together, with plenty of space for conversation.

The tautoko network was originally formed out of friends connected with alternative worship, emerging church, or missional communities (funny old thing language eh?!). Why? Well mainly because we love hanging out together. The network was made a bit more intentional/formal recognising that there were plenty of others involved in the same kind of stuff who didn’t necessarily have the history of friendships but could gain a ton from being part of it. These were the words we put together to describe why it exists and they still seem a pretty fair reflection…

  • To share the journey with others who face similar mission challenges.
  • For mutual friendship, encouragement, solidarity, support, gift giving, discernment, resource sharing, ideas and learning
  • To see what emerges as creative people connect.

And the ethos/values we try and shape the friendships around are…

Open set | Spin free | Generous | Vulnerable | Questioning

Sounds really good…

Said Michaela- ‘wouldn’t it be lovely to go to something like this that we were not responsible for?’ I think I know what she means.