Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A visit to inspire...

Old Street roundabout from the air
My stepson, Ben, was baptised on Sunday. His church meets in a hotel in the Old Street area of London. The style is contemporary, with two young  church leaders, a band with a lot of kit (the church owns no property, but an impressive trailer!) and a cosmopolitan, professional and mainly early-twenties congregation. This is as you might expect in that neighbourhood - students and Silicon Roundabout Techies are dominant. It is happy, though not especially clappy, but hands are raised, the vibe is laid-back, the coffee is good, and the expectation is that time spent lingering over it and cup cakes later will last at least as long as the service itself. 

Westminster Abbey
The surprise for some may be that the church is Anglican. Its ministers are both ordained in the CofE. Some leadership team members are even called "wardens". One of the pastors splits his time, with part time work with Christians in Sport.  The other is a house husband every Monday while his wife fulfils a role as Director of Counselling at a big parish church up the road. This job-splitting explains the strength in depth - two ordained ministers, and there are other part-time workers too. A small church seems amazingly well-served through the use of part-timers - which I'm sure means sacrificial living, actually. 

Can the church speak
to the modern city?
And the service is CoE. It is contemporary, but the overall shape of it, the liturgy surrounding baptism and the Lord's Supper - all of it is actually faithful to a great river of tradition going back through the centuries. It is in the stream of Anglicanism's perpetually persistent Puritan wing - shorn of the outward symbols like vestments or candles, true to the classic theology of a Stott, a Moule, a Ryle or even a Cranmer for that matter - this is actually reformation faith re-formed for post-modern twenty-somethings. 

If all of that sounds potentially bumptious and cloying, or pressuring and naggy, or triumphalist and ecclesiastically snobbish, please think again. Evangelicalism has a specific subculture which can be cringeworthy. Remember the ghastly evangelical with his smile and his sofa and his gaggle of lovelies who wanted to take over and "bless" the church in the BBC's excellent Rev? There is none of that here. Everything comes across as sane, non-manipulative, not artificial, not fake, straightforward, honest, real. The preaching doesn't shy away from big issues - we were in Ephesians 1, of all places! - but deals with them in a way which is winsome and kind. What is impressive is the quiet respect for people and their complicated stories in the whole service, and in the manner the sermon comes over especially. 

And the stories are complicated and diverse. Here was the surprise for me. I knew the place was Anglican - but I confess to slightly dreading a sense of cloned testimonies, and everyone being bright young things from the tech industry. 

Three men are baptised. My stepson is an art student from a Christian home, who had a patch a while ago of saying he definitely wasn't a Christian, and then more recently that he very definitely is. One baptisee is a little older than me, converted recently from a background in Chinese Buddhism. The third man is in his twenties, with, by his own account, a deeply troubled past which had involved beating people up and a fair number of police stations. I am not sure I have ever seen three more different men, all confessing Christ as Lord and Saviour at the same time. 

The Word that Lasts:
Door at St Helen's, Bishopsgate
A short while ago I wrote a piece about the need for Conmen in the Salvation Army.  What we saw on Sunday is precisely the kind of thing I had in mind. Our crying need is not to move from the theology of our founders. The constant cry that the doctrines are a hindrance to people in this day and age is simply wrong. Our contemporaries need the old doctrines put in a contemporary way - just that. That may mean, in some contexts, planting churches which are not about bands and uniforms, still less about cartridges and specialing and other bits of awful in-house jargon. It means going back to our roots in gospel-driven cultural relevance. 

The great pragmatists, William and Catherine, would, I think, have been pretty impressed by what we saw on Sunday. Here was gospel work being done. One of those baptised comes from exactly what they would have seen as the prime harvest field for their Christian Mission. In an area like Old Street, and given the general demographic of the church, he was perhaps exception rather than rule. So that leaves me with the challenge - how are we to do that "conservative but contemporary" thing among those who the Army has traditionally seen as "our people"?

Inspire London is by no means unique. As it happens, my youngest stepson Sam also attends a new Anglican church - planted this month, in fact, the second plant of a church which is itself less than a decade old. The young Anglican evangelicals have the ball at their feet. I knew these guys, or their spiritual predecessors, back in the nineties. They were talking about large-scale church planting then. And they have done it and are doing it.  It can be done - by God's help it will be done. The Salvation Army in the UK is doing some planting, for which we should be thankful and prayerful - but we are closing corps faster than we are opening. How can that tide be turned? 

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For more information about Inspire Church see here.


For my previous blog about Conmen in TSA see here.


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