Overwhelmed does not even begin to explain the George Fox London advance. While I have had the privilege to travel all over the world, surprisingly I had never set foot on European soil. Never could I imagine to have such a remarkable experience. Due to the fact that I have a love for all things history, the United Kingdom offered a wide variety of historical experiences that I will cherish for a lifetime. Whether it is standing in Lewis Carroll’s office overlooking the garden, being within an inch of a 400 year old minor prophet text used to translate the Authorized Version of the Bible, or soaking in the intellect that once roamed Eagle and Child or Lamb and Flag, I carried a deep appreciation for every cobbled path I walked.
Out of the historical sites I saw, one day stands out specifically. Our first Sunday in London, a few of my colleagues and I decided to wake up early and make our way to Westminster Abbey. Our goal was to have communion in this grand cathedral. When we got there, we discovered that no photography was allowed, so I was only able to capture a few inconspicuous shots. The service started promptly, and it was the traditional Anglican Communion service with various readings, religious calisthenics, and prayer. What struck me was an elderly man. He was dressed properly and praying earnestly behind us. This man had obviously not gotten the news that the Anglican Church was in decline. With tears in his eyes, I watched him take Holy Communion. He was sincere, devout, and not doubt a follower of Christ.
From the hallowed halls of Westminster, we made our way to the theater district and caught a service at Hillsong Church. If Westminster had a formal and sacred feel, Hillsong was quite the opposite. The two service could not have been further a part in style, but the passion displayed by the old man in Westminster and the young Millennials at Hillsong Church were the same. Seeing both contexts deeply moved me and gave me a sense of hope in what God is doing throughout the Western world.
New Learning synthesis:
Life has changed quite radically for me over the last year. A cross country move, a new position, and the pressure of leading a church that was down for the count has posed some monumental challenges. The London advance was quite cathartic for me. Really, this entire semester has been, but honestly I am not sure why. Maybe it has been because some of my traditional thinking has been challenged. Whether it was an intriguing lecture on contextualization by Dr. Cathy Ross which I debated some of her claims (and think I won the debate at least in the eyes of some peers),
Drs. Martyn and Emma Percy describing pastoral ministry in such a sensitive and personal way, or soaking in Mary Pandiani’s pecha kucha presentation on the aging. I gained a new found respect for this program, my fellow DMINLGP cohort, and those who work tirelessly to put it all together. Furthermore, the transparency of our professor of record, Jason Clark, when he shared his deeply personal story was simply a breath of fresh air in a career where so few people open their lives up publically.
Not only was the advance a phenomenally challenging experience, the reading presented by Dr. Clark has been stunning. He has presented some readings this semester that challenged traditional thinking such as Silk Roads which opened my eyes to a world that was globally connected far earlier than I though was possible. Another classic, Sapiens, is another book that was challenging to say the least. While I vehemently disagreed with the author on so many levels, this book has helped me begin to form an apologetic and a strategy which I am appreciative. While all our readings have difficult in various ways, they have shaped my thinking profoundly.
During one of Dr. Martyn Percy’s lectures, he talked about the gentle touch on a person’s shoulder and how the minister knows the right amount of pressure to apply in every situation. Relating this to the uniqueness of pastoral ministry, Dr. Percy challenged me not to just be a better leader, but a better pastor which sometimes I forget to be in the busyness of ministry. Quite often since the advance, I move slowly through the hallways, shaking hands and embracing warmly, and paying better attention to the needs of the flock in which God has entrusted to my care.
As this semester has focused largely on leadership principles, I have been convicted that I must wear my leadership hat with confidence. This whole year has been a practice in cultural intelligence as I have had to learn a new church culture, but moving from a secondary role into a senior leadership position has required a gift set that I have not employed a great deal. As the church as ebbed through peaks and valleys, I have been forced to apply a non-anxious presence so that others can follow me with confidence.
Not only has that, coming away from the hallowed halls of Christ Church has brought a greater focus. I walked away wanting to make an impact in the world like so many greats have at Christ Church. It will take deep work though and dedication. There is a definite seriousness in what we do as ministers. When I saw the pictures and names that have been forerunners in the faith, it sobered me and made me realize that what we do is the most important work.
London and Oxford was an experience of a lifetime and very few ever get to step foot where we did. Often times, I am so rushed that it is hard to relish the experience. This advance was not the case, and I cherished every moment.