This week started out with a bang as I traveled down to Coventry to visit the youth program at Coventry Cathedral. I had met the leader several weeks ago at the Fresh Expressions Feast Day, and after maintaining contact with him, finally found a day to visit.
So I travelled down and got there early enough to have a look around the cathedral. It is interesting because they have the ruins of the original cathedral where people can walk around in them, and then the new, functional cathedral right next door. Apparently, Coventry was hit pretty hard in the war, and I guess the cathedral was too far gone to rebuild. But, the tower was still intact and I did get to go up in it. (Photo right: the old part of Coventry Cathedral.)
But before that, I met one of the youth workers, and after grabbing a bite to eat and getting a quick tour of the somewhat run-down youth center, we both headed up to the offices and met with the entire leadership team for the group. What proceeded in the next hour was what vaguely resembled a meeting, and it was clear from the beginning that jest and tease were the languages that this team communicates through. But it was very interesting to sit through the planning meeting, and I basically got a crash course of all that they do.
Their work is built upon a strong detached ministry, where they go find where kids are hanging out during the day and just talk with them and be with them. They also have cell groups that meet during the week and a weekly large group meeting that I would experience later that day.
Soon, the team dispersed, only to meet back a couple of hours later to start the evening activities. During this time I stayed with the first guy I met, Ash, and got a better grasp of what goes on. Before too long, the doors opened up, and kids streamed in. Pool, Mario Kart, loud music, sitting around and talking made up the chaos of some free time for the kids. Keith, the main paid staff person, opens his office for a sort of counseling time for anyone who is really having trouble, and amid the chaos lots of intentional conversations were being had by the leaders with the kids. Kids continued to come in and out of this haven, where they could have some fun and be themselves in a safe environment.
Eventually, everyone gathered around, and Keith led a very interactive and participatory discussion about what it means to be a Christian. I got to talk with Keith some, and it was interesting to see the difference he sees in what they do compared to other people (such as people at Fresh Expressions). We ended with some prayer and got back to the chaos of free time in the facility.
By 7:30, we all met up again (the half that had not left yet) for a more serious and focused time of prayer, and then before I knew it the energy and excitement and craziness of the night dissipated, being taken over by the sound of trains and buses taking me back to my bed.
More friends and more time at Cliff
I headed back to Cliff College the next day and got a schedule of the many activities going on this final week for the students. I was quickly introduced to many of them. The days I was on the campus I got to basically be a student with them and participated in many of the activities, including morning prayer every day, a couple of games of roundes (kind of like baseball with a short bat), some swimming in the river, a big worship Celebration, a barbecue, several games of boules, a movie night, and a final morning prayer up the hill on top of some cliffs. This whole week was fast-paced and exciting, and I feel blessed to have been so readily accepted as a friend by all the students at Cliff College. (Photo above left: Barbecue on the terrace of Cliff College; above right: That’s me jumping into a river; below right: morning prayer in the cliffs of the Peak District.)
But it wasn’t all fun and games at Cliff (although the serious stuff I did was still pretty fun). I also got to interview another one of the tutors, who actually really helped me focus on and in a way rethink my research question. He helped me to really think about what fundamentalism means and what a reaction to global culture entails. I have a feeling that that may have been one of the most important interviews I will have here.
One day this week, I made my way up to Manchester. I would say there are at least three popular (even notorious) emerging churches that have to this point stood the test of time and are well known as the kind of iconic emerging churches worldwide. Sanctus1 is one of these, and that was where I was off to visit. I arrived in Manchester pretty early and had a chance to walk around the city some (which in my naive understanding of Britain seemed like a condensed, crazy version of London). (Photo below: Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester.)
It was eventually time for Sanctus to start, so I made my way to the Nexus cafe, which is an art cafe where the group meets. It was a really cool venue and very clearly an outreach to more creative-minded people. I met a couple of the members and eventually the guy who would be leading the service. Soon, we all sat down and began.
It was different from anything that I have experienced up to this point, with a lot of emphasis on music (but not singing), visual arts, and kind of a contemplation feel. I don’t think anyone besides Chris, the leader, said anything the whole time. But, I spoke with some of the members later, and it seems that there is never a standard format for the service. Sometimes there is a lot of discussion, sometimes none. After hanging out with some of the group for the rest of the night, I went back to my hotel to crash.
I woke up the next morning and spent the day looking around Manchester. I had to be back at Cliff later that day, so I did not have a ton of time. But I did manage to stop by the Nexus cafe again for lunch and to see what it is like in normal operating hours (I know they do a lot of their own stuff somewhat separate from Sanctus). (Photo right: Wall painting at Nexus cafe.)
I also stopped by the John Rylands Library and had a look around at some of the exhibits (like one of the oldest fragments of part of the Gospels).
On my way back to Cliff, I got off at a really small train station and headed to catch a bus and overheard two guys talking. I heard one guy say that he was the general secretary of the Methodist church, Martyn. Now, this was one of my first (albeit brief) contacts in the UK who put me in touch with many of the people I am meeting with now. He is also basically one of the guys at the head of Methodism here and very much involved in the Fresh Expressions stuff. So, I decided to at least introduce myself and thank him for his help many months ago. He, of course, did not remember, but was very kind and offered me a ride back to Cliff. On the way I had a very interesting discussion with him about what I had experienced so far and some new and exciting things going on in American Methodism that he had recently been over to be a part of.
I was truly amazed after he dropped me off that I randomly had this opportunity. It was a huge surprise but a very welcome one.
Today, Saturday, I will be attending in part the graduation ceremony for Cliff and then heading back out to stay with Matt again. Next week I look to literally be traveling all across the country as I have to be in London, Telford, and back again in London, with a possibility of taking a trip up north to Scotland or maybe out to the coast somewhere.