We had dinner at a pub set beneath the railway line - sounded like thunder every time a train went over. Was gorgeous, another quintessential British pub, which is so stereotypical but it was.
Then we were off to drinks at Laura & Marks - Laura is one of the leaders of Sanctus 1. Some of the other leaders and members of the Sanctus community were gathering to share stories with us. Mark came and met us at our hotel, to be our guide over to their place. As the rain had eased - it was really only drizzle, but all day - we went the scenic route, along the canals. Interesting to see how old Victorian Industrial Revolution buildings, once warehouses, have been transformed for cafes and inner city appartments. We walked along the areas where industry had been - ships coming into the warehouses for loading and unloading goods. Now, there are appartments and chic restaurants where those goods were once traded and stored. The canal water is still filthy, so we were cynical of advertising for canal-side appartments as particularly desirable ... ??
Then we reached a church, all lit up from outside. And I remembered someone had mentioned that Mark and Laura live in a church. They have one of 25 appartments inside a 17th century church - it is stunning. Theirs is over three levels, entry and kitchen on the ground level, bedrooms and bathroom down stairs and a courtyard, and a
lounge upstairs, which is like a balcony overlooking the kitchen/meals area. The kitchen has the big church windows preserved ... needless to say, I want one. It's small, but comfortable.
[pics: Craig Mitchell]
The hospitality extended by Laura and Mark in particular, but by the whole group, taking time to meet with us and share their story, speaks as much about the nature of their community as anything the people themselves articulated in conversation. So much like Jesus, if he had a home, to open it up and welcome us in ...
Drinking another local English ale (wish I had taken better note of the names and characteristics of each one ...) I chatted for a while with Racheal, one of the leaders, who is a post-evangelical alt.church person. There seem to be a lot of people discovering alt.church as a place to move to from the dissatisfying evangelical forms of church. Were a few in Belfast - including Pete.
I heard from Racheal the reasons for the recent change back to one gathered community - the were three gathered communities for some time. People seemed to have moved on, and it became more appropriate to gather as one. Racheal's experience suggested to me that the change had been managed well, and Ben explained the next day that one strategy is to always introduce change as provisional, with plenty of opportunity for feedback, review and return if the new way of doing things feels less right than the old. If people don't have a fait accompli imposed on them, perhaps they feel as though they are being invited to try something new as part of the process. Openness and honesty seem key too.
A few of us later had a great chat about women and leadership in the emerging church, which we followed up on with more conversation in London on Tuesday. We seem to need to find ways for women's voices and experiences to be heard in this new thing that isn't really so very new after all. Think there's lots of thinking still to do, but my feeling is that a lot of men within alt.church are actually modelling ways of working together in partnership - effective, life-giving, creative, respectful partnership. It is unfortunate that there is still such a long way to go. Whereas I feel liberated, that nothing is unattainable because of my gender, in some ways I am beginning to feel like a pioneer, when I thought pioneering was done.