Bowthorpe - A New Move Of The Spirit

Last week-end a glorious thirtieth anniversary celebration of the planting of The Christia n Church in Bowthorpe, Norwich too k place, hosted by its current leader Simon Stokes, who returned with me from a retreat on Holy Island. Here are some extracts from my talk, which followed a reading about John the Baptist and Jesus from John?s Gospel Sunday 1:29-42

John the Baptist started something good. Thirty years ago I, and a few others, started something here. And it was good. John came to realise, however, that he had to make way for a fresh move of God. How did he know who to make way for, and when? He knew when he sensed the anointing of God?s Spirit on someone, who up till then, had looked like anyone else. We?ve also had to let go, to let God move things on.

I?d like to share with you a few ways in which I have been led since then, and since I left you, that illustrate what this story of John and Jesus teaches us.

Thirty years ago I was commissioned by representatives of more churches, said the Bishop, than this country had ever known, to ?establish one family of Christians for one neighbourhood.? Today?s Gospel reveals Jesus? first steps in creating a spiritual family ? he invites Andrew and his friend into his home.

I?ve learned a few things about what is, and what is not, true family in the last few years. When I won?t let the other person be their true selves, but am more concerned that they meet my needs, and fit into my way of doing things - I have lost the essence of family. If I try to control, or fear to lovingly confront another ? I have lost the essence of family. If I am unwilling to let my spiritual children multiply, and do different things - I have lost the essence of family. Even thirty years ago and later we envisaged something of that family flexibility here: the church focus was a shop in the first village, a school in the second, a home in the third. The seeds were there ? but now perhaps they can come to flower as the Spirit moves upon you now.

Thirty years ago two of us climbed up to pray on a large haystack where the heritage garden now is and did prayer visualisation over this land of promise named Bowthorpe. Jesus did this sort of thing. He went UP mountains to seek his Divine Father?s agenda as a prelude to MOVING mountains in the valley of needy people below. Jesus built this practice into his life-style. He lived a rhythm of prayer and action. We stumblingly did do when we started twice daily prayer here, but at the time God was moving me on He led some of us in different parts of the lan to build a rhythm of prayer and work into our way of life: publicly pledged and shared with a spiritual companion. We believe God is raising up a world-wide movement of people who journey with God in this way, and those in the Community of Aidan and Hilda, which I now serve, make daily prayer spaces and yearly retreats. Many Evangelical Christians nowadays are looking for churches that live by such a way of life.

Thirty years ago we had to hammer out whether we would be a closed or an open church .Isn?t it amazing that the Son of God began his world-changing three year mission by doing nothing except be around in the right place at the right time. Two of John the Baptist?s followers noticed this, asked him where he lived. Jesus was open to them, and invited them to his home. He had open house. Our Clover Hill Centre became The Open Door. Later, at this place of worship, we decided the doors would be open for some period every day. Even more important, we decided that we would open our hearts to every person in Bowthorpe because each is a loved child of God, and God longs to draw them to Himself.

After leaving Bowthorpe I learned what it is like not to be welcomed ? but also how to reach out to each person in the way Christ would. Our Vicar, Brother Damian onceasked us once ?If you saw a visitor for just half a minute, how could you touch them as Christ would with a word, a touch, a look, a gesture?? He asked each organisation on the island ?How can we support you?? And he found a slot for people like me so that we formed a team. He keeps us informed of why he does things and what is going on so we feel included, and understand, even when we don?t agree. In such ways I have learned to keep reaching out in love rather than nursing my hurts in private. God bless you as you seek to be open, like Christ, to every one of his children in Bowthorpe.

Thirty years ago we were a fairly mono-ethnic community; there was hardly a Muslim to be seen. John the Baptist was mono ethnic: he only worked with his own people. Jesus, however, begins to recruit a team of Twelve. After his resurrection some of these reached out to other races: Peter in Italy, Andrew in Greece, Thomas, so tradition says, in India, and John in what is today?s Muslim Turkey.

It was a Muslim at the old Bell School of Languages, across th road, who challenged me about corporate daily prayer. He said he had seen no Christians in Bowthorpe ? and that was because he had seen or heard no call to public prayer. Since I left Bowthorpe the number of Muslims in England who pray regularly in the mosque has overtaken the number of Christians who pray regularly in the Church of England. Are Muslims a kind of John the Baptist movement to shame the people of this land and shake them from their godless ways? And how does God want us to work with them? Jesus enlisted John?s followers in his mission before they understood who he was.

Since I left a couple who follow the Aidan and Hilda Way of Life turned their house, in a 90% Muslim area of Birmingham, into an Aidan and Hilda House. Their Muslim neighbours called: ?We have heard that Christians are hospitable ? can you give us accommodation??. A German student lodger walked their lawn each morning praying aloud. The devout Muslim neighbours were impressed. The German prayed in the streets and Muslims accepted his invitation to pray for their healing.

After leaving I wrote a book about the future of the church in Britain. It starts with a dream. A visitor from Mars finds worshippers taking off their shoes, and prostrating themselves in prayer on carpets ? but they are Asian Christians, who worship the Triune God in a way that is natural to their culture.

I am told 20% of St. Michael?s school pupils are now Muslim. In many areas Muslims, like most people, prefer faith schools, because they know that if pupils respect the Source of all, they respect people, learning, parents, streets, shops, their own body, planet earth. Let?s rebuff the delusion that Christianity is not central to education ? without it, education can be manipulated and not truly serve the common good.

Thirty years ago Bowthorpe was advertised as a dream village ? or three linked villages which would converge at the Main Centre with its shops, health centre and church. I remember going on Radio Norfolk with Bowthorpe Project Manager Jack Haggar. Jack said: ?This was a dream village ? until people moved in?. Over thirty years you, like people everywhere, have learned that when people are out of harmony with God dreams can become nightmares. Constant struggle is needed to overcome evil with good, to combat violence with love, disintegration with wholeness.

Since I left you we?ve had an archbishop of Canterbury calling on the inherited church to invest in fresh expressions of church, and we in Aidan and Hilda have explored with churches how they can become villages of God. In November I met with the leaders of a 600 strong church in Norway until 1.0 in the morning, who were all passionate to explore how their church could network with the nearby social services, shops, police, scouts and sports groups to become a village of God. They are so excited by this vision that I return in three weeks to lead a week-end on how they can equip fifty people to be soul friends or mentors to their young people.

It is true, as Lawrence Singlehurst, former head of YWAM, which has sought to extend God?s work through cell and other expressions of church has said, that: ?they always swerve to rot? (not to the right, but to rot ) In other words, what starts as a movment ends up as a monument. We are tempted to keep in our comfort zones. Of course, we do all need our nurture base. That?s why in CA&H we ask both how we may receive nurture and how we may reach out.But I believe that your growing and renewing vision is part of a rustling of the trees, a moving of God?s Spirit in different places that helps to carry us along and beyond these comfort zone tendencies.

As I left Bowthorpe to journey to Lindisfarne, a wild goose flew overhead ? which in some parts of Britain is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was going before me to Lindisfarne. Now I bring you this quill. It is a symbol of how you can be one family, but each having your individual calling. The main bone is Christ in Bowthorpe. Each of you is one strand. You are different, but one, as you remain connected to Christ.

Posted at 01:56am on 21st January 2008
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