In year two of the Partnership for Missional Church (PMC) process we are asked to develop a Missional Adapative Challenge. What is this? It is a tool to help us think differently. An adaptive challenge is one where we don't begin with a determined path of how to solve 'the problem' we have identified, but rather we explore and experiment around a need that we would like to address. Our challenge is to respond to the human need of people living with dementia and their carers by loving service as a Christian community in partnership with others. What does this mean? Well, if this is something that resonates with your life you might have some ideas. Can you think about where you notice God active in the lives of people dealing with or living with dementia? It may be your own life, or your friends or realtives. It might be near to or far from our church life. Where do you see God as active, and can you help us to join in? Please pray for, look out for, listen out for and notice God's activity when you see it. Then tell us about it, in whatever way you want. God is active, and we want to join in.

Before the June cluster meeting for PMC Andrew Gear of the diocese sent out the documents that would be core to the 2 days of meetings. On reading them my heart sank. There in black and white were the words “Introducing Phase 2 – The Steering Team will continue to introduce the 6 Missional Spiritual Practices to the congregation.”

3 of them were supposed to be familiar already.

Dwelling in the Word – familiar maybe, but not widely accepted, nor practiced.
Dwelling in the World – mentioned, but I am not too sure understood by many. It involves speaking to People of Peace.
Spiritual Discernment – Really – I don’t remember doing this!

The 3 new ones include Announcing the Kingdom of God, Hospitality and Focus for Missional Action.
The training for these was to take place on the Saturday – the day of Nigel’s priesting when none of the Steering Team would be attending cluster. I went to the Friday cluster on my own, Deiniol being involved in preparations for the priesting on Saturday. I was feeling quite depressed. Not only was I going with no idea what our Missional Adaptive Challenge was to be, but I had no confidence at all in the Steering Team’s ability to introduce and embed the 6 Missional Spiritual Practices – to tell the truth I didn’t understand what most were about, even though I had read the overview of them contained in the notes.

By the end of breakfast, I was feeling a little better. Speaking to the others, no-one had a defined Missional Adaptive Challenge. Phew! We weren’t the only ones then. Then came the start of the day and the inevitable Dwelling in the Word. A new passage. Gone was the familiar and often comforting Luke. In was the passage from 2 Corinthians 4.1-12 Where did my attention linger? Well, I didn’t get past verse 1: “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” A message to me? A kick in the teeth to say “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with it.”? It spoke volumes. OK, I left that day with still no idea what most of the 6 practices entailed, but I did feel happier in myself.

Over the summer things started to fall into place. Deiniol planned to relaunch Dwelling in the Word in the autumn. It was also to be introduced as a spiritual practice in all meetings – PCC, Standing Committee, Ministry Team Leaders’ get-togethers, to name just a few. The more you do it the more you begin to see the value of it – allowing a piece of scripture, God’s word, to talk to you, and having the chance to listen to what it is saying both to you, and to others. Dwelling in the World and meeting people of peace seemed to be happening without any real conscious effort – the Yoga teacher who finds a feeling of warmth, love and acceptance in the church building and would love to help wherever she can in our future ventures to give something back to the community; the chance encounter with a new neighbour who works in a local radio station and has offered an on-air interview to promote our activities; the couple who, although already helping at a food bank in Aylesbury, longed to have one closer to home that they could get involved with and who just happened to come into our church on the Sunday we were asking for volunteers to come for training so that we can set up a food bank distribution centre of our own. The realisation that we had encountered Corporate Spiritual Discernment last year – that was what the interviews, timeline event and the chance to discuss it all at the soup lunch was all about – recognising where we are and making spiritual decisions together to form a Christian community within God’s mission. On a more personal level it also involves looking around us, seeing where God is at work and finding a way to join in. Hospitality – this is something that most of us would say our church is very good at, but hospitality involves not only giving but also receiving it, and that we may not do so well. Deiniol is planning to run the suggested set of meetings as the Lent course next year. Announcing the Kingdom of God is probably less complicated than I originally thought it was. Basically, God is present and active in the world today, now. What have you seen, and who can you tell about it? The three people of peace mentioned earlier are just 3 examples of God at work here, now, working for good and willing to help us be active in God’s plan. We need to acknowledge it, and them. Focus for Missional Action involves not using up all our energies in trying to do lots of good things but focussing energy and attention on a specific missional activity.

During the course of the October Saturday afternoon cluster we were told a story by one of the delivery team about her son when he was at infant school. (I have made the names fictional) As in many infant schools there was a Friendship Wall – somewhere to go and stand when you don’t have anyone to play with. Her son, Adam, while playing a game with his friends, noticed a boy, X, standing by the Friendship Wall. He went over and invited X to come and play with them. X accepted the invitation and joined in with them. When Adam got home he told his Mum what he had done. “What was his name?” she asked. “No idea!” was the reply “But he was great at playing the game! We asked him if he would join us again and he’s said yes!” Mum then said to him, “So, you did what Jesus asked and showed kindness to a stranger.” Adam apparently looked puzzled for a while, then as realisation hit, smiled back and said, “Yes. Yes, I did, didn’t I?”

The point of this story – Dwelling in the World – finding someone to join in with you and your activities, X was an unexpected asset to the game, a Person of Peace. Hospitality – Adam asking X to join in with them, and X accepting the invitation. Announcing the Kingdom – Mum seeing that Adam had befriended a stranger, brought it to his attention that that was what Jesus would have done and applauded the act. Spiritual Discernment – Mum, seeing God’s love in Adam’s actions and Adam’s realisation that he was instrumental in carrying out God’s work.
Such a simple story, but after all the angst about the Spiritual Practices being difficult to understand and therefore potentially unachievable suddenly, they start to come alive and are achievable. We can all do similar things, relate what we are doing to God’s purpose and plans and tell first ourselves, and then others about it.

The Diocesan PMC Delivery Team have come up with a postcard which we will try to get copies of. It has 6 simple questions which they suggest we ask ourselves every day. They are:

Whose hospitality have I received today?
What’s God saying to me in the Bible today?
Who have I noticed and met today?
What have I noticed God doing today and who can I tell?
What have I said no to, so I can say yes?
What’s God up to here?

These are the 6 Spiritual Practices in a nutshell. I now feel more positive as we move through this second year of PMC. I have not lost heart.

I have been reflecting on the PCC’s discussions over the summer of 2019. I felt they were very fruitful—what they achieved was to get us as a body thinking theologically, bringing our faith to the table and questioning our actions in the light of what it means to be a Christian in the world. This is a real sign of the cultural change that we are hoping to bring about through the PMC process. We were striving to see what God was doing in the world and join in. And if it was a painful process, it is because these are muscles the PCC has not collectively exercised much in the past.
For the purposes of this missional experiment I propose that we focus on dementia—those living with it and carers. This resonates so strongly with our members and our community. It is something that has been on our minds for a while, looking for an outlet. It opens up a new and broad constituency of people who can engage with the PMC process through it, we have resources and connections to take it further. It is a manageable start in addressing the topic of mental health and gives us a platform to get people talking about this in the wider community. Excellent work has been done by Wendover church in this field, which can be a resource for us in our own context.
It does not address the issues of young adults, but, frankly, right now I feel we lack the resources and expertise to get this one right. Many better resourced organisations have fallen on their faces trying to do this sort of thing. It is not easy—I am nervous of making young adults our ‘experiment’ right now. (See the Worship section of this report for where I think we can be an excellent resource for this constituency on their own terms, not ours!)
I propose our Missional Adaptive Challenge be to respond to the human need of people living with dementia and their carers by loving service as a Christian community in partnership with others.
In addition, we struggled to identify the ‘People of Peace’ in our community to listen to. 
I suggest that the people of peace, or at least some of them, are right here already, using our buildings: Health Visitors, Musicians, Teachers, Yoga enthusiasts, Dancers. These are the people God has sent us to listen to.
As we launch into the second year of PMC we have a new passage for Dwelling in the Word: 2 Corinthians 4.1-12. Here it is (from The Message)

Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

We introduced this text and Year 2 of PMC to the congregation on October 13th.

Well, quite a lot actually.
During the soup lunch in January you all produced a list of things you thought important about our congregational life and worship. Armed with that the PCC and PMC steering group attended a joint away day with the Church of the Good Shepherd from Widmer End. (Well, they had an away day, we had a stay at home day!) After a joint worship session, the 2 churches worked individually, firstly refining the 2½ pages of your thoughts into 17 points of concern / possible development. The rest of the day was spent discussing and further refining these ideas until we came up with just one. Our final adaptive challenge statement is “Being the Parish Church by creating a place of engagement for a group of people having difficulties facing life’s challenges”. It seems quite woolly, but then again at this stage it is meant to be.
The day itself was full of drive and energy, meaningful discussion and enthusiasm, but ended with us all feeling tired and flat. On reflection, in the days following, we all came to realise our interpretation of where the challenge was leading us was all wrong. We were not engaged and had the feeling it was not where God was calling us to be. So, back to the drawing board.
Discussions are still on-going and we seem seem to be getting closer to deciding what our challenge is that we want to run with next year. We are thinking along the lines of inclusivity, dementia, mental health, poverty, food deprivation, drugs. Over the summer we plan to talk to “people of peace”, and this is where we could do with your help and involvement.
People of peace are those people we come across in the community who are on our side, or even just not against us. They might just offer a smile or join in conversation. They might help us to discern where we should be helping in the community. They might show us how to bridge the gap between church and community and they might even join with us in our venture. Whoever they are we need you to talk to them – neighbour, shop keeper, work colleague, the person sitting next to you on the bus, volunteers in numerous activities. Where do their interests and priorities lie? What do they think the issues are? Can we work with them, they with us? Do they have a point of view we had not considered? If you meet and talk to someone you think could be just such a person of peace, please tell someone on PCC or PMC about your conversation and we could maybe follow it up. Thanks.
So, for the coming year – We will continue with Dwelling in the Word. We are leaving the Luke text behind us as we enter this, our second year of PMC. I will miss it. It is said that the more you dwell in the Word, the more it dwells in you and there is so much that seems to happen in life that I can relate back to Luke 10. The passage for the coming year will be Corinthians 4:1-12. The conversations we would like you to have with the people of peace is known as Dwelling in the World – we need everyone to try to get involved in that. Over a 6-month period we will learn more about the practice of hospitality – but more about that later. Finally, when we agree the nature of our adaptive challenge we will be looking for a team to lead it, and for others to engage with it. Watch this space!

We surprised ourselves by how much we enjoyed the Partnership for Missional Church (PMC) timeline listening event in the Autumn. Well the result of all that is that our responses have been analysed and a report created. That report has been combined with other important data about our parish and community. It's all available on the website and makes for fascinating reading. Please do download and read! A short distillation of the report is also downloadable, but we've printed copies off and are sharing them in church. The next stage of the PMC process is another congregational event, but one that takes a different format. Having listened deeply to the history and wisdom in our church community, as part of that sharing process we're going to reflect on the report, listen and notice where our attention lingers. We will share our feedback. The purpose of this is to enable us all to seek God's way together—getting a sense of what God is doing in Prestwood so that we can join in.

How do you live out your faith? Well, this Advent we are encouraging everyone to try out "Practices for Everyday Faith". These are simple things we're encouraged to notice about the world we live in and God's action within it. They relate closely to the Spiritual Disciplines that sit at the heart of the PMC process. There are postcards in the Order of Services on Advent Sunday and at the back of the church for us to pick up to help us do this. See if you can follow them everyday in Advent, and notice what God is doing in the world. The Practices are:

  • Whose hospitality have I received today?
  • What's God saying to me in the Bible today?
  • Who have I noticed and met today?
  • What have I noticed God doing today and who can I tell?
  • What have I said no to, so I can say yes?
  • What's God up to here?

Simple questions, with no right answer—see what you notice!

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