Church and Community 5: The Cross

Andy Kingston-Smith:

The latest post (part 5) by Ruth Valerio in her series of reflective writings, following on from the church and Sustainable communities conference at Redcliffe College, Gloucester last month.

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

world-cross-shadow So DOES the church have anything to offer when it comes to building local sustainable communities or should we just hang up our coats and recognise that others simply do it better?

I hope over the course of this little series I’ve been able to show that, whilst we do need a heavy dose of humility and recognition of where we haven’t got it right, there is so much within our theological underpinnings that we can bring to the table, including the Incarnation, eschatology, and anthropology. Christians have a unique faith and, therefore, unique emphases that we carry with us.

Perhaps one of the things that makes us most unique is the Christian emphasis on the cross: on the fact that the God we follow became a human being and allowed himself to be killed in order to put back to rights all that had gone wrong…

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Church and Community 4: Anthropology

Andy Kingston-Smith:

The tricky business of being human!…In part 4 here Ruth Valerio continues her series of reflections from the recent conference at Redcliffe College, which looked at sustainable communities and the engagement of the church. Andy

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

weca canal ‘The Human Propensity to F**k Things Up’ (otherwise known as THPTFTU) is Francis Spufford’s memorable definition of what sin is. I think it’s a great description. I know it applies to me.

Another way of looking at it is the platitude beloved of preaching about church: ‘if you think you’ve found the perfect church, don’t join it.’

One of the foundations of the Christian faith is a pretty robust assessment of human beings, both positively and negatively.

We can be the most amazing of creatures, able to reach beyond ourselves and carry out wonderful acts of bravery, generosity and sacrifice. We all know ‘big’ stories of that. One of my favourite ‘little’ stories though happened in one of the roads on our estate – actually the road historically considered to be one of the worst in Chichester and a dumping ground for people who are evicted from elsewhere.

One of…

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Giving up or letting go? Lent reflection on provision, security and power

When I was a small girl I had the privilege of living with my family among a semi-nomadic people group in Brazil. This people group had at one stage decided to ‘give something up’. The rapidly changing and insecure context they found themselves in had led them to choose to give up having children. The tribe was shrinking. They had let go of hope.

Sometimes our contexts seem so dark and lacking in hope; sometimes the pall of injustice which has enshrouded and implicated us all feels so great that we feel like giving up…

For better or for worse, this tribe changed its mind. The children of this tribe are my friends. Together we face the uncertainties of a globally challenging context and it seems to me that we are faced with two choices; either to give up on hope or to let go of fear.

The Christian season of lent, the 40 days which culminate with the celebration of Easter, is marked by many as a time to ‘give something up’. The season invites self-reflection and spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, can play an important role in helping us re-focus on the central message of Jesus-his good news for the poor. Amongst Jesus’ parting words to his followers were these:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

Letting go of fear and taking hold of hope…

During Lent this year a number of people in the UK who are concerned about the impact of welfare changes on the lives of vulnerable people in our communities are giving up food for 40 days. Rev. Dr. Keith Hebden shares his own reasons for fasting for 40 days here as his contribution to the UK End hunger Fast campaign.

Letting go of our individual freedom and taking up solidarity with the oppressed…

The Christian discipline of fasting is rooted in the biblical accounts which are themselves rooted in the wider context of ancient cultures, many of which practised fasting. Fasting in the Old Testament often linked the experience of disruption and oppression with the desire for restoration. As a sign of protest and mourning, fasting accompanied by deep reflection, repentance and prayer can be an intentional act of letting go of self-power which engenders humility and trust in God as the Sustainer- Provider.

It is this intentional letting go of self-empowerment which can mark the prophetic fast-for food gives power at its most basic level in the form of energy and strength. Jesus’ own season of preparation in the desert lasted for 40 days and is recorded as a period of total fasting. During these 40 days of fasting Jesus underwent a profound testing of his identity; he was tempted to take up a false (imperial) identity which would secure him on-tap resources, high level security to cover for risk and assure him of power and privilege in the form of a sovereign Lordship like the imperial rulers of his time!  Jesus knew that, if he was going to be effective in bringing ‘good news to the poor’, he needed to let go of the selfish, imaginary identity which relied on self-promoting pride and power. In letting go of these fallen notions of establishing provision,security and power, Jesus emerges from the desert of testing humble and by all accounts, weak; yet there was a new-found strength in his weakness; in letting go of one identity he became free to take up what was genuinely his and in doing so, he became strong.

Letting go of fear of weakness makes us stronger

Letting go of insecure pride makes us stronger.

Letting go of manipulative power to have it our way makes us stronger.

May lent become a time of strengthening of resolve to become hopeful seekers of this humble and bold community of peacemakers.

Church and Community 3: Eschatology

Andy Kingston-Smith:

Here is part 3 of Ruth’s reflections from the church and sustainability conference on 1st March at Redcliffe College, Gloucester.

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

orchard Do you have ‘stickability’? I reckon that most people have a commitment-cycle of about eighteen months to two years. I can’t prove that, but it is something I’ve observed through watching people come and go with the different things with which I’ve been involved (and sometimes that has been me too). People tend to jump into something with excitement, but once it becomes more of an every-day commitment, they begin to lose interest and eventually go onto something else.

This is Part 3 of some thinking I’ve been doing around whether the Church has anything to offer when it comes to building a sustainable local community. We might like to think we do, but too often the reality is that others are doing it better than we are, and we need to join in with them in humility and learn.

But I do think our implicit faith foundations (what…

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Church and Community 2: Incarnation

Andy Kingston-Smith:

Part 2 of Ruth Valerio’s reflections on her plenary session at the recent conference on church and sustainable comunities, held at Redcliffe College on 1st March. Andy

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

whyke ‘The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us’. I love that translation of John 1:1 from the Message Bible – it gets it in a nutshell. The incarnation is not about God working into an area, it’s about him jumping right in and living there.

When we moved onto the Whyke Estate nineteen years ago, we didn’t do so out of a sophisticated theology of the incarnation, we simply wanted to live somewhere where we hoped we might be able to do something positive, but now I see that the incarnation provides us with a model that sums up what we have (unwittingly for sure) been doing.

Too many churches and organisations try to work into particular areas. But there is no substitute for actually being in an area: living there, being present, not just turning up for a few hours and then going home again (and yes…

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Does the Church have ANYTHING to offer local community?

Andy Kingston-Smith:

One of our keynote speakers at the conference on church and sustainable communities last saturday at Redcliffe College, Ruth Valerio, was asked a challenging question…this is her reply!

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

JRI conference I was asked a question I couldn’t answer at this Sustainable Communities conference I spoke at recently: ‘So what does the church have to offer? Is there any way in which it can lead, or can it only follow and learn and join in with what’s already happening?’

It’s an uncomfortable thing, but the reality is that I often do my biggest learning when I don’t have an answer to a question from the floor, and this was one of those times!

I had based my presentation on telling the story of living on the Whyke Estate and of our Community Association and the transformation that we have been a part of seeing happen. A part of that story is my church’s involvement there because we originally moved on as part of a wider church ‘strategy’ to plant a church and invest into the estate.

The reality though is that…

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Churches and Sustainable Communities conference (part 3)

Andy Kingston-Smith:

Part 3 of Richard’s blog…looking st science and theology in the light of Sir John Houghton’s short talk updating us on climate change and the church. Incidentally, climate change and its impact will be the main theme of next year’s conference…more details to follow in due course. Andy

Originally posted on Bread ovens and bicycles:

This week I am reflecting on a conference I attended at the weekend, see part 1 and part 2 for more information.

Sir John Houghton

After lunch we had a short, informal session with Sir John Houghton who is a highly respected climate scientist, former head of the Met Office, founding member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and president of the John Ray Initiative.  He has recently published his autobiography, In the Eye of the Storm, which is a great book.  It gives a fascinating insight into the development of meteorology, a discipline which exploded through the second half of the twentieth century with the development of computers and satellite technology.  Sir John was at the forefront of the field all the way through those changes and the book charts his journey as he faces storms of public opinion, bureaucratic obstinance and powerful vested interests.

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