Background to Outreach Spirituality

My personal journey

Being very influenced by the first MA module I took in the Cambridge Theological Federation (‘Modernism, Postmodernism and the Gospel’ led by Rev Graham Cray then Principal of Ridley Hall and later Bishop of Maidstone) when training to be a minister, I resolved to try and discover in my ministry ways of both expressing the Christian faith in ways appropriate to a postmodern culture, and of reaching out to people who might be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’.

During my first appointment in Eastbourne, my time and energy were taken up both with being a probationer minister, and dealing with two busy and demanding churches. However, I had always been interested in ecumenism and during a spell as the District Ecumenical Officer, I found myself addressing a national ecumenical conference on ways forward for the ecumenical movement in a postmodern culture. This was received well by a few but not by the majority!

After the break-up of my marriage, I had a two year break from being an active minister and, for 10 months of this time, I worked for the Iona Community on the Island of Iona.  As the Sacristan of Iona Abbey, I learned a lot about the history not only of Iona but also Celtic history as a whole. It seemed to me that Celtic Christianity resonated much more with our current culture than the ‘Roman’ Christianity that we, in the West, have lived with for 1400 years.

My next appointment was in Basingstoke where, apart from researching the life of Jane Austen in photographs (she was born just up the road from one of my churches), my thinking and creativity was more or less on hold.

In 2010, I was stationed in the Norwich Circuit with my main church being in Wymondham. Wymondham MC had superb halls (the ‘Town Green Centre’), it had money from a recent large legacy, and it had a good group of willing and supportive people. The vision of reaching people on a spiritual – but not ‘churchy’ – level returned and I knew that God was calling me to a special (and, possibly, specialised) ministry in this particular part of South Norfolk.

Nine years in Wymondham

Wymondham Methodist Church had/has a history of serving the community. People have worked with parents & toddlers, groups for older women and older men, the local community through a long-standing charity shop on church premises and, most recently, both a bereavement group and a support group for young carers. There has also been a 30 year association with a local Day Care Centre who use the premises 3 days a week. 

As well as continuing these valuable activities, we did two things over the 9 years 2010 - 2019: 1. We worked at creating community in the Town Green Centre (the Church suite of halls) and 2. We experimented with different ways of engaging people (on and off the premises) at a spiritual (but definitely not churchy) level. These two inter-related because the development of both relationships and community gave us a base for the more spiritual outreach.

In 2013, we employed a ‘Networker’ to work in the Town Green Centre, to assist in community building/relationships with everyone who uses the centre as well as people in the community in general. This post was funded for 3 years and gave us a boost in providing community activities as well as giving an overall identity as the Town Green Centre. A separate TGC website, an email promotional process for the Town Green Centre Network, and a TGC logo were created, and three successful Town Green Centre ‘Open Days’ took place, when nearly all the groups that used the building had stalls or did demonstrations.

Over the years 2014 - 19, we tried various activities and events to reach those on the fringe of the church and, in the community, with spiritual opportunity.  These included: Labyrinth workshops, a Health & Well-Being Day, an Enneagram workshop, circle dancing, mindful colouring, a 'spiritual' garden as part of Wymondham Open Gardens, a large Easter Garden in the Church which invited people to become part of the scene. During Advent, we had 5 years of running an Advent Posada (see separate link) and, subsequently 4 years of a 'Display of Nativities' that engaged people with the Christmas story.

The most successful activity (in terms of attracting, and helping, people from the community and being able to make spiritual connections) was a series of Mindfulness courses which were run between 2016 and 2019 (see separate information).