Southampton_from_Aurora_01[1]Ministry in an Urban Context.

The photograph above is one of the many aerial views of the city of Southampton available via Google images. A large group of our ministry students have just left the College after a weekend exploring the context and challenge of urban ministry. We gathered on Friday and looked at city from a biblical perspective and then spent much of Saturday in Southampton with some trusted and enlightening guides.

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We first made our way to Southampton Central Baptist Church where we were hosted by David Masters, the Minister there. He offered us a warm welcome, put some of our work into the context of prayer and worship before handing over to the Southampton city Missioner Chris Davis who told us some of the story of Southampton and the work of the Churches there. I think that we were all struck by the commitment to this city made by the city Mission and their readiness and openness to meet people in a range of places and situations. The struggle with a secular and a post Christian world , as David and Chris described, poses particular challenges for presence and engagement in the city.

Andy Edmeads , stepping in at the last minute shared his own costly and vulnerable making experience of work on estates. Presently a hospice chaplain he was full of profound wisdom about the importance to individuals of managing appropriate boundaries, ensuring self-care and dealing with some of our internal life as a basis for authentic human encounter.

There is one particular phrase that I picked up as a theme for ministry which I managed to capture in this photograph later in the day:

Christian vocation is always to keep open the door of love

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Lunch followed and  we were then taken on a fascinating tour of the city centre parish of St Mary and St Michael’s by the vicar, Julian Davies. Over the next hour and a half or so we were able to have a sense of some of the physical geography of that city centre parish and learn first-hand some of the challenges and opportunities that face the work of the church. What emerged was a diverse multicultural city with a strong business and retail sector. Julian showed us what it was like to be present in a place under know its strengths and weaknesses; which highways and byways; its areas of need and the places where strength, joy and hope might be discovered. I think we were all struck by how much development is going on in the city centre and how the hospitals, universities and the port dominate the horizon. This is a city constantly on the move and reflects in every way modern Britain: young, vibrant, multicultural and multifaith and seemingly always on the move. Here are some images from the afternoon

we glimpsed the importance of sacred space for peoples of all faith and the sheer diversity of housing across the city which reflected the perhaps inevitable inequality which shapes much of modern Britain.

We returned for plenary and then back to college for worship, supper and some much needed time to relax and recover. After an 8 o’clock communion in the cathedral we gathered for a morning of theological reflection and what impressed me (as always) the parent must of the student body to dig deeply and to interrogate with a wide range of questions and personal experiences.

There are many questions that are buzzing around as I write at the moment which probably deserve a more consistent and deeper theological reflection but here are a few of them which provide an opportunity for work in progress:

  1. What is a proper Christian worldview? Are we to love the world around us? Put another way in the light of a so-called secularism and a post-Christian society are we resident aliens in a strange land? Friend or foe? Love or hate? I talked a little this morning of the work of  gravity in our discipleship – are we prepared to move out of the natural movement inwards and downwards preoccupied as we are by church – to wards a commitment to move upwards and outwards towards the world?
  2. Linked with these questions lies a key question which the theologian Margaret Kane asked many years ago and is it is this:what kind of God? If we are to readdress some of the balance and attempt simply to get out a bit more and to seriously discover what the world is like might we find signs of the presence of God there beyond the narrowly religious? Do we believe in a God that is ever before us? What kind of limitations we put upon our hope and trust in the unpredictability of the movement of God’s love?
  3. What makes us angry and what is righteous anger? How might we work with others in changing what needs to be turned upside down and put right? How might we help the cause of justice and peace? Where is our restlessness and our desire to change and make a difference?

These are, as they say, interesting times. We can and should hold some measure of hope as we continue to explore faithful presence in our cities and in all places where we are called to serve. Work in progress.

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