Shoes and Sails
We want to learn from the stories of those who are walking new paths, letting the Spirit fill their sails and exploring the future of the church.
Peter walking to Joppa with his brothers, Paul sailing to Crete with Barnabas and Mark, Brendan afloat in his coracle born by the prayers of his brothers, and Brigitte travelling to offer to offer hospitality to the least. Bearing the tradition humbly and communally to new people and places, being changed by the process and seeing to gospel germinate in amazing new ways. All powered first by organic and only secondarily technical energy: contemplative prayer, prophetic vision, the gifts of the Spirit, and responsive obedience are the fuel.
The horizon of missionary vision in Europe has changed. From the West to the Rest we now have the Rest returning to the West. From pioneering virgin territory and complex interactions with the colonial enterprise the focus has now shifted to connecting with marginal people-group gaps. One of the largest are indigenous post-modern Europeans, and the growing gulf of disconnection between them and the gospel. Today pioneers sport canvas sneakers and connect with skate-boarding youth at the margins, or sleep under makeshift canvases amidst the homeless.
From mission as expansion to mission as encounter the landscape has radically shifted in Scotland. Faced with the collapse of Christendom and a radical revision of our economic context, more than ever before ‘home mission’ has become an activity at the margins by people less and less supported (and perhaps more and more freed) by the structural securities and inertias of the Christendom-industrial complex. The image of Shoes and Sails points to the need for a renewed reliance on simplicity and the Spirit, to imagine a streamlined system of resourcing the mission of God that is fit for a new day and a new dawn.
“Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Acts 10, 13-14
Bishop Graham Cray talks of how most of us don’t experience Acts by starting at the beginning. We read from the beginning while knowing the ending. Because we (properly) know the scriptures so well, we don’t spot the stages by which it unfurls. We don’t see it through the eyes of folk who don’t know how it ends. To rediscover this perspective is to step into the shoes of a missionary people. It is to experience the precarity of the missionary experience, while trusting in the Spirit (whose track record is no less than to sustain the entire cosmos) to constitute a church community in its fragile early stages. It is to realise that without radical contextualisation and the bravery of Peter to confront the status quo, the church would have remained a circumcised clique of Jewish sectarians (Acts 10 and 11). It is to realise that frail missionaries who pray that most common of all prayers (“Surely not, Lord!”) can still be used for powerful missionary endeavour. As the Spirit unfurls his purpose and fills our sails, he overcomes our internal resistances and brokenness, gives traction by getting our shoes on the tarmac and our hands in the soil, and beautifully confirms his presence in the most surprising of places.
“All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Acts 10:43:46
At White Canvas, following Peter in Acts 10 and 11, we want to break open a space for tentative questioning, prophetic vision, heart-felt honesty and constructive feedback to the powers that be. We do this in honour of the missionary Spirit who compels and fulfils us, both sending us and picking us up as we walk and navigate roads less travelled. “When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story. When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:2-4, 18)