Well, I have now been in the UK for almost 2 weeks, and it really has been a whirlwind of experiences and adventures. The beginning of this trip has, if nothing else, proved how much of a procrastinator I really am at my core. I purchased my airline tickets a week and a half before my departure and found out that the guy I was planning on staying with when I arrived was marrying off his daughter suddenly and would not be able to house me until a week later. So I quickly booked a hotel. With all this, getting to London was actually pretty easy. I had no problems getting to my hotel and settling in.
I spent the first couple of days confirming meetings and even scheduling more while I got used to all things British. I got lost a few times around the city, which only took me to more and more interesting places. I also found myself spending a lot of time in the parks and in museums around the city, which provided a lot of refreshment.
I also randomly came across the royal army marching band (excuse me if that is not the entirely correct title of the group) and a mounted band. This really excited me because I myself am involved in the Mustang Marching Band and I have played drums for a considerable amount of my life. A nice treat before departing from the heart of London (although I will soon be back).
Then I had my first meeting with a church. My project is structured around visiting and observing these new church communities and interviewing their leaders. Because of this, most of my work is done on weekends and occasionally on days mid-week; although, a lot of these churches are trying out mid-week worship. They generally do not meet regularly either, so scheduling a visit to as many of them as I can is really a nightmare.
My itinerary continues to grow and get moved around as people tell me of other groups I need to go talk to. Nevertheless, I traveled up to Birmingham to observe the first one. It was really exciting, and from the moment I walked through the door I felt the most welcomed I had felt since arriving.
The community calls itself Sanctuary and really see themselves as a family. They meet in the tea lounge of a large, more traditional Anglican Church (although they themselves do not claim to be Anglican) in the heart of Birmingham’s city center, “the Bullring.”
I knew before coming that this church was specifically designed to reach out to British Asians, so I was not surprised to see several Asian people there. I was a little surprised to see so many white and black people, though. There were about 30 people there, including some visitors from Africa who played a large part in the worship. The place was richly decorated with many multicolored cloths and candles.
The leader, Pall, guided us through some prayer and reflection exercises and eventually the man from Nigeria (I think) preached. I talked with Pall the following Wednesday, and he explained that he finds symbols very important, which I readily noticed as we were invited to do a lot of reflection exercises with candles and rocks.
After the service ended (or it might be better to say that this was part of the service) we shared a meal. I think everyone stayed for it even though we went over time a little. People stayed and talked for a while, then we tore everything down and restored the place to its tea/coffee setting.
Blending east and west
Like I said, I returned to the area on Wednesday. Sanctuary also does a lunchtime service the first Wednesday of every month, so I checked that out too. It was really very similar except that it was shorter and held in the main sanctuary of the church building.
There were still lots of symbols and an obvious attempt to reach out to those with an Asian background (even those who come from a different religious background, i.e. Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, and Sikh). They did this by incorporating things that are familiar in those traditions, just in a Christian setting, or in Pall’s words, “offering them the water of life in an Asian bowl.”
They are also explicitly trying to find a good middle ground between east and west, or between practices that are too “eastern” or too “western” for British Asians to really connect with. In a sense, they are trying to find a new expression that is a fusion of cultures in the heart of a city that itself has become the merging point of so many cultures and traditions.
After this, I got to sit down and interview Pall, who is a very interesting person. I learned much more about all the intentionality that goes behind what they do at Sanctuary. I also found that Pall is but one member on the leadership and planning team and a lot of the background that preceded what I witnessed on Sunday and Wednesday.
My first move
Before this Wednesday trip, I did meet up with the man who offered me a place at his house and moved all my stuff (which I found to be much heavier than I remembered – I just packed too much) to a nice house about 40 minutes outside of London by train. This man, Graham, and his wife have been very nice and welcoming, and it has been great to talk with them.
It has also been an amazing opportunity for my research. Graham is a very central player in the fresh expressions scene and in church planting in general, and he gave me many more books and DVDs that have really helped me better understand the subtle differences in emerging and fresh expressions of church. I found out I had a huge learning curve to deal with concerning the church scene over here. I am well versed in emergent church literature, which I thought was the big deal over here, but the thing that is really exploding is what is titled “fresh expressions of church.” I guess I will continue to immerse myself in all of this in the coming weeks.
On the horizon
I am leaving EARLY tomorrow (5 a.m.) to head across the country to a town called Telford to visit a daylong conference called FEAST day, at which several fresh expression/emerging communities and leaders will be gathered. I am really excited about this opportunity (except for the waking up part), and hopefully it will bring me even more contacts and opportunities to visit places.