Category: Serendipity

Call The Midwife

He called me a midwife. It was an interesting phrase and one that I have had resonance with, so it was affirming when a friend made that observation themselves.  It was a comment made as I explained a new job that I have just started.

Two weeks ago I started a one year, part-time role as the Launch Leader of St Mark’s in 10418444_392524797582507_8564473434353009348_nMarks Gate, which will complement my continuing work as one of the co-ordinators of Urban Expression. This Anglican church on the outskirts of east London has taken a great risk and bulldozed it’s run-down, high-maintenance building, and entered a partnership with a redevelopment group to build a purpose-built complex which will seek to serve this community. More than 50 flats will be used by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham to provide much needed accommodation in our capital, 1 home will be used specifically to house those who have been homeless and 3 flats will be available for other church use, perhaps by a team of volunteers or a ‘missional community’ maybe. The ground floor will be given to the church and includes a large central community cafe area, large and smaller meeting rooms (one with a sprung floor and one that might become a fitness room), staging for theatre productions, new pre-school/nursery facilities, sanctuary and garden.

The recently retired, hard-working and long-serving vicar has worked diligently to bring this into being to ensure a long-term, effective, generous Jesus-centred presence in this community which finds itself pushed and pulled between boroughs and therefore in the lowest 10% of deprivation. Because the vicarage is also part of the redevelopment they have been unable to appoint a new vicar as yet, so this exciting baby initiative needs a midwife to try and bring it safely into existence while the process of advertising for a new priest gets underway.

10924715_10153015664656145_7062367970030198955_nSo my midwifery bag is packed with a willingness to listen to the church and the community, a growing understanding (through my project management of The Fishermen’s Chapel) of helping a church take risks and grasp opportunities that come their way, and a belief that communities that have frequently felt marginalised have immense strength and heaps to teach wider society. But this is going to be a big baby, so I am also a little nervous!

I increasingly recognise that I enjoy starting things, imagining new possibilities and building teams… and then get itchy feet and a little bit bored! So this opportunity to walk with this church through this year of transition really excites me. Some may know that I am not usually a fan of church buildings – I have had people walk out and others call me the spawn of Satan for suggesting we might become more effective followers of Jesus if we close our church buildings! – but I have said publicly that IF you are going to invest in a new building, for goodness sake make sure it has a cafe, children’s facilities and a gym! So 10945542_393610480807272_6997419458285906933_nmaking this work is something of a personal challenge for me!

It is only a temporary role, so I will not be moving to the neighbourhood. The church will be advertising for a new vicar very soon and she or he will have the incarnational task and privilege of continuing to contribute to, build and serve community. If you are an Anglican priest looking for a multi-cultural congregation who have shown immense courage by embarking on this adventure of pioneering, and are passionate about urban, outer-city estates, keep your eyes open for the ad 🙂




Bnw8VRaIYAEfnm1.jpg-largeLife is a constant journey and process of reorienting ourselves to our context and circumstances.  The moment we cease to be open to this possibility and convince ourselves that stability of life or thought is normal, we become slaves to fear and grief and fail to encounter neither the painful reality of the unknown nor discover the joyous beauty of new creation hewn from discomfort and disorientation.

Those who exhibit courage, tenacity, humility and grace to grapple with the unexpected, the unprepared for, the surprising and the unwanted will plough new depths of their soul and, if patient and vulnerable enough to invite others into their struggle, will inspire and give permission for them to embrace a narrative of rebirth too.

I am grateful for several friends who have modelled this grace, honesty and vulnerability to me in profound ways these past couple of weeks.

IMG_2494 - Version 2Some of you might know that I have serendipitously ended up helping a declining Methodist congregation re-imagine itself.  The faithful but ageing congregation have contemplated closure several times over recent years and as they once again considered their options last summer, I proposed quite a radical change of direction and suggested we relaunch as a hub for creativity, music and the arts. To my astonishment they went for it!

Momentum has been slowly growing over the last few months and this Saturday we take things up a gear with an official launch event which will hopefully showcase the groups that are beginning to find a home in the chapel and give an example of how the space can be used. I have no idea how many people will come and no clue what will materialise as a result, but it’s turning into quite a fun adventure with bands, poets, organists, choirs, story-tellers, artists and yarn bombers all joining in!

Dave Walker, the chapel’s resident cartoonist, has created a fabulous website which tells more of the story so far, so do check it out if you would like to know more. And if you are in reach of Essex, do feel free to come along on Saturday and  join the fun of the launch event, details of which are below.

Fishermen's Chapel Launch Programme

20131130-001828Last week we experimented with hosting a charity curry night in our home. It was as idea hatched with our friend Jack Monroe on a road trip to Birmingham one week-end in October.  With a cookery book packed with budget-busting, austerity-appropriate recipes due out imminently, she was in an ideal position to cook a nice load of food cheaply.  And with a new home with some large flexible space, we were in a perfect position to host.

Jack has documented the evening and the recipes on her blog here.  We had a really fun evening, made new friends and raised £200 for one of our local food banks and homeless charities.  It is already looking likely to become a regular event, with the next one planned in January.  Just think, if we manage one a month we will be on route to raising £2000 in 2014.  That’s got to be good news!

And with the embarrassingly fast speed with which new food banks are opening it is imperative that we raise the profile of food poverty in the UK and ask why they are increasing so rapidly in the seventh richest country in the world.  If you haven’t added your name already, please sign #Jackspetition and show your desire for UK hunger and the rise in foodbanks to be debated in parliament later this month.

KilpinCover_SmallI was delighted today when I read my copy of The Urban Bulletin that Terry Drummond, the Bishop of Southwark’s adviser on Urban and Public Policy, had kindly written a review of the book I recently wrote about the work of Urban Expression.  I was also happy to hear from the publishers that the ebook version is now available.  You can find it on Amazon and other main outlets or at Troubador.

Terry Drummond writes:

The importance of the Church in urban communities can never been under-estimated and is even more important when half of the world’s population live in cities.  The presence of Christian disciples offering worship, service and outreach can frequently offer the saving grace that ensures that individuals and families are given a space for personal development.

In reading this book I was introduced to a group that I had heard spoken of for many years, but without ever having any contact. Urban Expression, which one of the founders Juliet Kilpin describes in this book, is an example of the Church at work through the ministry of believers who have made a commitment to living out the incarnation in urban communities.

The chapters are a combination of the descriptions of the history of the development of Urban Expression, followed by the testimony of different members who have been a part of the various outworking over 15 years. The chapters all end with a prayer and in every case these are reflections that can be used by the reader to open themselves to a deeper relationship with God.

The importance of Urban Expression is, in part, found in its ability to work outside the structures of the institutional Church. The members commit themselves to living out the Christian message by sharing a life in community that is rooted in worship, that leads to outreach in the local community.  The message of St. Francis ‘preach the Gospel, use words only if you must’ are reflected in these pages. The sharing of meals and parties that bring people of different cultures together is an example of how, through knowing their neighbours, the members of Urban Expression build a sense of community.

The Christian underpinning and commitment may not always be known or recognised by the community who come to take part in meals and parties; it is more important that fellowship is shared and life together is celebrated. The importance of the celebration is that in most cases the ministry is with people for whom poverty and exclusion are a part of their daily existence.

In the Gospels, Jesus eats and parties with tax collectors and sinners, much to the annoyance of the religious leaders. In this way he ensured that His message was shared with those who were excluded and criticised by those with power. In the same way Urban Expression brings the message of salvation and grace in to communities where the institutional Church is not always strong.

It is important that the message of Urban Expression, with its commitment to living out the incarnation, is celebrated and shared with the wider Church. It is of equal importance that we recognise that it is in a wide mix of expressions of faith, both formal and informal, that Christians continue to serve in urban communities. There is no one right way of ministering, just a glorious mix of people working together in seeking to bring the message of the kingdom to urban communities.

In Urban To The Core Juliet Kilpin, with others, tells a story of how the Christian message can be lived out by those who are called to a life of community that serve in a neighbourhood and brings the message of hope to many who are all too often caught up in hopelessness. The reader is invited on a journey of exploration and at every stage they will be challenged to a deeper understanding of what living out the incarnation can mean for those who are called to live in urban communities.