At the moment, in different areas of my life, in my local parish and Changing Attitude networks, I’m encountering people who are longing in their hearts for something different from the church. Their longing transcends frustration and anger with the church which doesn’t ‘get’ LGBT people and ties itself in knots as it struggles to make space for women in the House of Bishops. Why are we expending so much time and energy on these issues, they ask, to the almost total neglect of people’s spiritual experiences and their yearning for spiritual vision and nurture?
Total neglect is an unfair assessment. There is, in many places in the Church of England, a flourishing depth of prayer and spirituality, but it is often peripheral to the habitual life of the church as manifested on Sunday mornings or in PCC meetings. Teaching and preaching rarely embrace the vision of what it could mean to be fully human and fully alive, as I’m sure the majority of you reading this know only too well.
There is a yearning among Changing Attitude supporters and trustees for a transformation of the church, for the courage to take risks and explore and experiment with language and music, stillness and silence, visual imagery, creative use of space, thinking outside the box – and freedom from those who trap us in a church bent on self-preservation and the maintenance of tradition, addicted to what I would see as peripherals.
St John’s Devizes held it’s AGM yesterday. Most of those who spoke voiced complaints and moaned about this and that. No, said one person, to a reordering of our church if it means making it warm, user-friendly and carpeted like a recently reordered local church. Consider the (poor, hard-done-by choir) said another, forced to robe in the challenging circumstances of finite space. ‘Twas ever thus, and, it seems, ever shall be.
Thank God, therefore, for Clive Larsen and Jenny Clark, one recently appointed, one recently retired as a trustee. Both of them engage me with new paradigms for Christianity and a new unfolding of the Christian vision. They have introduced me to CANA, Christians Awakening to a New Awareness and to the Wrekin Trust.
CANA is a loose-knit community of explorers who have Christian roots and share different experiences and insights for living out the teachings of Jesus in holistic and integrated ways. They are open to the moving of the Spirit to seek and explore God and the spiritual dimensions of life in a way that is open-ended and free from the boundaries that most religious frameworks and structures have imposed.
CANA recognises that we are all one through that of God within us from whatever background we come. It is a group where risk becomes safe through trust and where exploration is key. Everyone’s contribution is a valued part of the whole and none is dispensable. We are challenged to find new expressions of the emerging vision: global, ecological and mystical.
The Wrekin Trust is not specifically Christian. It is part of a world-wide movement towards personal and planetary transformation at a time of major social change. It seeks to awaken and revitalise a spiritual dimension in society and to encourage the emergence of a culture of love, healing and forgiveness, wisdom and harmony with nature.
The Wrekin Forum’s purpose is to empower and support a deeper connection between visionary organizations and individuals whose approach is based on holistic, spiritual and ecological principles. By exchanging ideas and perceptions and by combining resources and skills, a greater synergy can be created.
The Wrekin Forum’s guiding principles are:
The interconnectedness of life and the unity of consciousness
The intrinsic value and potential of each individual
A deep respect for the wellbeing of all interdependent life forms
A planetary ethic of interdependence
The recognition that diverse faith traditions and secular knowledge contribute to our collective wisdom
Mutual learning through open inquiry
The work of Changing Attitude is inspired by many diverse sources, scriptural, traditional, radical and liminal. Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, who descended to earth “… is none other than he who ascended far above all heavens, so that he might fill the universe.” (Ephesians 4.10) He has given us gifts in ministry “… to equip God’s people for … the building up of the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity inherent in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God – to mature personhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4.12,13)
Both CANA and the Wrekin Trust help me catch St Paul’s extraordinary vision of what it can mean to be growing towards maturity as a person and of the presence of God in all creation, filling the universe transcending all dualism and human divisions. I pray that those pursuing their particular agenda in the Global South may also catch something of St Paul’s sublime, expansive and all-embracing vision of God, woven into creation.