A letter to existing and future (?) safespace members....
As you are probably aware Safespace is five years old this Autumn, we have seen many things happen over the years both in terms of growing community and our mission/calling to the town of Telford. There have been many things to be proud of and many lessons learned. We have stepped out into parts of the community where no-one has gone before and I can personally testify to meeting God in new ways through each of you and through the people we have spent time with in the Mind*Body*Spirit fairs, the Football Club, the Young Families and the Nightclub community.
Over the last few months I have had a sense of a new moment arriving for Safespace. This has taken several forms and voices, some positive some from struggles. I’d like to begin though by going back to the beginning. No long after coming to Telford, Jem and I undertook a pilgrimage to Ireland, first to the site of St. Brendan’s vision and departure on the Dingle peninsula and secondly to Nendrum Abbey near Belfast. On that trip we began to hear a number of words from God about the future.
- That we were to embark on a journey to an unknown destination trusting in God
- That we were to take big risks with God
- That we were to struggle to be a community that is exposed and visible
- That we were to reflect the Monastic call to 24/7 Spiritual and Missional living
- That we should be open in hospitality to all
- That we were to find ourselves having a global impact in ways we could not yet see
I believe we have been true to these and that God has been true to them too.
For about a year I have felt a growing sense that a change is coming and others have said similar. Partly because the community has begun to feel pulled apart - with some feeling a deepening need for community and others feeling/being disconnected, both have been for good reasons and natural. Partly because our mission focus has been perhaps overly on Sank•tuary (again for good reasons) to the detriment of other things especially the 24/7 everyday missional living we emphasize. But most of all because we have lost a sense of our community rhythm and relationship, we have in some ways lost our spark. As the “Guardian” I have felt a need to call us to consider this. For my part I felt I had two options; 1, to draw a line under Safespace and bring it to a healthy end or 2, to return to the values and move into a new phase.
Over the summer I had several conversations/situations which have begun to force me to think hard about who we are and what I feel is the challenge ahead. I participated in a gathering in the early summer at CMS, the intention was to draw people from various traditions together to explore the future of Monasticism in the UK. I found myself in conversation with the Bishop of Repton (head of the group in the Anglican Church which looks after Monastic communities), Abbot Samuel (Fransiscan - Hillfield) and Abbot Stuart (Benedictine - Mucknell), feeling somewhat out of place! However it became clear that those of us exploring New-Monasticism were not only respected but needed by the more traditional communities and structures. It was felt that we needed to work at developing relationships where the “new “can lead the “old” in the post-church/modern world and the “old” can lead the “new” in living the spirit and values of community. On several occasions I have been told that Safespace has and continues to be very important for this conversation.
Sitting in the Abbey at Nendrum Keith from Belfast prophesied that we would have a Global impact. At the time I had no idea what that would mean but conversations over the last 3 months have shown that despite our lack of size we do already have a Global impact - both in print and in person. We are included in several books pending release and as Ryan discovered considered “leading lights” in the monastic movement! Bishop Michael Perham, one of the Authors of the above books and who visited us at The Table, told me that Safespace was (pretty much) unique in a British context as a Fresh Expression/Emerging community in our distinct and clear calling to a location, to our town and that we were significant for the future of the Church here in the UK. You can imagine how strange this all felt! And as you know we have had conversations with and visits from folk from all over the world who perhaps see us in ways that we cannot!
This all leads me to the question of what next? I do not feel it is right to bring Safespace to an end at this time because I still have a sense that God has a purpose for us, however I believe that the time is right for some major changes and refocussing. I am proposing that we take the remaining two months of 2010 to reflect individually about the future. To refocus ourselves on the values we set out at the beginning :-
- to actively take great risks with God (setting sail with God in our own faith, letting go of our comfort theologies and structures
- to nurture a missional dna (the 'missio dei' not the mission of church – joining with God on Gods mission in Gods world
- to model ourselves as a monastic core
- living out in the community (reflecting on the narrative of scripture, living by a spiritual rhythm and rule, living sharing life with others)
- to be visible and exposed (incarnate with Christ in culture, in heartfelt love for people and community)
- to be creative and dynamic (creating with Christ, in worship, theology, missiology and community)
- to think and act global & local (recognising both our insignificance and our significance - the majesty and the intimacy of God)
- to be servants of shalom (kingdom of God – recreating with Christ, being a community of peace and hospitality : challenging oppression and injustice)
And our DNA of community, pilgrimage and mission.
I believe that there is a strong calling to more fully pursue a form of new-monasticism - to be Friars for Telford, Friars don’t live a cloistered life but live simplicity (poverty), faithfulness (chastity), community (obedience) and commitment (stability) in service to a community. This will a new sense of commitment and community which moves beyond The Table, it will mean taking shared responsibility for developing a rhythm of life and of soul-friendship, being accountable to each other beyond meeting once a week. In fact it may mean we put less emphasis on attendance at The Table as we work together to build structures for support and spirituality. But it will mean a far stronger sense of commitment and a deeper need for honest struggle, openness and tolerance and to prayer and mission for Telford. I am aware that not everyone who is currently part of Safespace will feel able to take up this challenge and indeed some who cannot at this time come to The Table may feel they need to be part of this move forward. Both are ok as I see it. I am convinced this is not about re-organisation but about stepping into the clothes that God has laid out for us, which it seems others can see but perhaps we have not been able to!
NB. The Table will continue being open over the next two months. I am happy that we talk about this in as many ways as people need/want but that everyone takes the whole time to reflect and pray about the future. In the New Year I propose that those who feel called to commit come together to begin to formulate the rhythms etc. for the way ahead. I envisage that part of that will be an act of commitment. I also sense God has begun to forge relationships to help us which I believe we need to honour, specifically with certain traditional and new Monastic communities.