Wednesday, 28 January 2009

To those that say that God (probably) doesn't exist: put this lot on a bus and you would soon see otherwise

gim 2009

GIM Retreat 2009

I got back yesterday from our annual Growing In Ministry (GIM) retreat at St Oswald's Pastoral Centre at Sleights, near Whitby.  Our GIM group is for all those in their first five years of ministry, which usually means that someone joins as a newly arrived Probationer Minister and stays in the group for three years post-ordination. They meet monthly, or thereabouts, and support and encourage each other under the care of Duncan, our GIM Coordinator, who is a former member of the group. Each January our custom is for me to join them for a weekend retreat (Friday evening - Monday morning) which I co-lead. This year we took John Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct? as our starting point and over four sessions sought to deconstruct / reconstruct ourselves and our ministries. In addition Duncan offered two meditations based on Henri Nowen's The Wounded Healer, which encouraged us to reflect upon how we live with our scars and wounds in such a way that they are non-destructive for ourselves and those around us. Our well-established pattern is that during the morning there is time for group discussion, small group conversation and individual reflection. Afternoon's are kept free. After our evening meal we share in a time of prayer in the Chapel. Each year we always include a gentle time of healing and anointing with oil, and on Sunday at noon we join together for a Eucharist to which we are always pleased to welcome the Sisters. 

The photo shows the group settling down on Saturday evening in one of the lounge's we use as an impromptu cinema. The lights are turned out, drinks and snacks are offered in abundance and we enjoy a film together; with the die-hard's staying up for a second one.  This year's food for thought was Amazing Grace, In Bruges, Once,  The Bucket List, Mama Mia! and Atonement. Having fun and enjoying each others' company is an essential ingredient of what is on offer as we seek to provide a gift of time and safe space to reflect upon our vocations and contexts. Stepping aside from the hurly-burly unsustainable blur of demanding ministries we move into a different rhythm and a communal lifestyle which together offers a precious mirror in which we hope to see clearly fresh insights and glimpse eternal truths.

The key to this working well is the hospitality offered by the four Sisters of the Anglican Order of the Holy Paraclete who live at St. Oswald's. We share lunch and dinner together and just delight in being with such amazing women. This week Sister Barbara Maud celebrates 60 years since she took her vows. The love and holy wisdom which enfolds us as we eat and chat together is wrapped up in a keen sense of great fun and much laughter. It is as though one steps through the Looking Glass into an alternative, counter-cultural world where the essence of being human is disclosed gently and offered as gift.

The money-grabbing individuals who have wrecked the global economy and wrought misery on millions look small, mean-spirited, stupid and pathetic in this company. Their yachts, pension-pots, gated-residences and lust for bonus mentality is as attractive as a dose of the plague bacillus when one spends time in this very different spiritual universe. The twelve men who between them made £1billion as bosses of banks such as Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Merril Lynch would do well to visit St. Oswald's to appreciate the true meaning of the word 'bankrupt' as it applies to them, their attitudes, practices, decisions and choices. The most valuable currency is loving kindness and empathy; the best investment is spiritual wisdom and contemplative insight and the most precious bonus is grace itself.  

Look again at the amazing people in the photograph. They are talented, bright, fabulous individuals. They earn around about £20,000 per year as Methodist Ministers. They often work ludicrously long and damagingly hard working weeks. They have given themselves to God and have been prepared to go where God needs them. They are highly trained and  skilled. They believe passionately that the gospel is good news, especially for the poor. Their faith and enthusiasm is stunning. The fact that God is calling such as these into ministry is a profoundly hopeful sign in a desperately hurting world.

To those who are glad that buses now proclaim that "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." I would simply say look at the evidence in this photograph. Our GIM retreat at St. Oswalds has much joie de vivre. We have got this one life and we know that to make the most of it, it is entirely sensible for us to put our trust in God. Faith works. God is. Let's party.


  1. Looks great, and it is interesting to notice at least one face I reconise from Wesley House last year.

  2. I quite agree.

    By the way how nice to see my old friends Ian and Lindsay Kemp - they may not like the "old" however.