In February, a group of us traveled to England to explore fresh expressions of church and learn from some of the innovative leaders and pioneers of the fresh expressions movement. We set out as pilgrims. We were not simply travelers. We were not wandering, although the path sometimes led us to unexpected places. We were pilgrims with an intention to draw closer to God, to learn about ourselves, to be changed through the journey.
This journey was in many ways sacramental – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. And thus, we expected to return transformed or changed or converted even from the people we were when we began our journey. Pilgrims often return from their journey with a “boon”something good that will enrich their lives in the everyday world back at home. We hoped to see something of how God was moving in a new place. And thus to learn to see the world and our communities anew upon our return. T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets put it this way:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and to know the place for the first time.”
I think in some ways that’s why St. Brendan the Navigator has been such a powerful story in our work with Praxis Communities. For when we set off into the unknown with a clear intention, it is in the navigating of unknown places that we discover God guiding us through the outward journey ever deeper in our spiritual journey.
Part of our real life navigation was learning the language of roundabouts, and a GPS that seemingly pointed one way but was actually pointing to the next turn up ahead. We found ourselves missing turns and heading the wrong way down a road more than once. We had to orient ourselves and begin to see not just where we were but where we were heading. And as we learned the driving cues, I realized that it is in this process of finding our way that we discover our own voice, our own true North as our friend Jonny Baker calls it. By discovering a clear intention for our lives, our work, our call, we notice that all of life begins to orient around this guiding point.
As we find ourselves back where we started, we now know more about the direction we are headed and have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our response to God’s call to mission in the place we call home. Here are some of the things, we learned while we were in England. In the coming weeks we will be sharing more reflections and musings on our pilgrimage. We invite you to follow along here.
Our pilgrim group included members of a variety of Praxis Communities. I, (Jane), serve as Missioner for Fresh Expressions and Praxis Communities. I have been dreaming of taking such a journey for the last 4 years. I was honored to have with me core team members Aaron Wright who serves as program director for Brendan’s Crossing and Jed Dearing, program director for Confluence and member of the Franklinton community. We also had with us Brianna Coey, who is the Missioner for Northside Abbey and Melanie Williams who is one of the founding members of the Near East House in Columbus. Each of our pilgrims brought their own questions and experience to this pilgrimage. One of the gifts of our time was the bonding of our team and deepening of our call to this work.
We started in Oxford where we met with Jonny Baker and pioneer students at the Church Mission Society. While in Oxford, we also met with Michael Moynagh, Tutor for Pioneer Ministry at Wycliff Hall and the Director of Network Development for Fresh Expressions. We also enjoyed an evensong at Magdalene College in Oxford and visited Christ Church College for a tour.
We then traveled down to London. In London, we met Andy Matheson to learn about Oasis. We had the good fortune to connect with Mark Berry of Safe Space in Telford who happened to be in London for the day. We met with the Community of St. George in the East including members of their intentional community and their vicar, Canon Dr. Angus Ritchie. We also visited two fresh expressions coffee shop communities – Host Café at Moot (St. Mary Alderbury) and Kahaila Café.
On Sunday, we made our way north to Nottingam where we met with the Rev. Mark Rodel and Lady Bay Mission Community. We joined them for their family worship gathering (called Don’t Forget the Cornflakes) and enjoyed sharing breakfast and meeting members of the community. Later, we had lunch at the vicarage with pioneer students and their families who were part of the Lady Bay team.
From there we made our way to Hull – we stopped by Holy Trinity Hull, where the Rev. Ben Norton is helping curate a new worship service and fellowship. The next morning, we made a quick visit to York to meet the Rev. Christian Silveratnam, who planted G2, a growing fresh expression of church and is part of mentoring young leaders. We also got to see Yorkminster while we were there. We returned to Hull and visited Archbishop Sentamu Academy – a secondary school started by the Church of England in an inner city area of Hull. We met the Rev. Anne Richards the chaplain and some of the staff. Our final stop, was to meet with Chris Hembury who has lived in community in Hull for 20 years. He now works with CMS and is heading up an intentional community in an old vicarage. We shared lunch and a beautiful and inspiring conversation with Ben, Chris and some of their community before heading back to London to fly home.
 Brendan was sent by God on a mission to discover the Land of Promise