Part of our communal life ever since we started in 2009 has been the practice of beach cleaning. It is now our pattern one Sunday a month to gather on the shore near Poole quay and litter pick the beach. That gathering is our only gathering of the day. It is our service. It is our worship.
When we explain this practice to people, particularly church-going people, it inevitably causes a reaction; a raised eye-brow, a look of confusion, or concern, or worse. So why do we clean the beach? Here are 5 reasons;
- Stewarding creation.
Part of our call as human beings is to steward creation (Gen 1: 18, 2:15). Creation is not a blank canvas for us to play with. Nor is it a mine for us to plunder for our own benefit. It is the vibrant, living system into which we are placed in order to give us life, but with a caveat, that we will participate in its continued health and life-giving sustainability. In a small but significant way we model this stewarding of creation as we clean the beach monthly. The marine environment is a key part of the life of our town, a basis for the lives of a great many people, those who go to sea for a living as well as those whose businesses are connected to seafaring. Tourism also bring huge numbers of people to Poole, the sea being a key attraction. So in cleaning the beach we actively demonstrate our stewarding of the marine environment. We don’t hope or expect this to be the sum total of our action in this regard. We hope that this monthly act together reminds and inspires us to be good stewards of creation in every aspect of our lives.
- Worship as an expression of orthopraxy
The church’s worship is usually associated with certain practices within a church building on a Sunday morning. We take communal worship of this kind seriously too and make it an important part of our rhythm of life as a community. However, we also recognize that the biblical understanding of worship is a holistic one, where practices designed to affirm and develop our personal and communal belief (orthodoxy) are intrinsically connected to practices that live that out in the world (orthopraxy).
Paul tells us to ‘present your bodies as living sacrifices…which is your spiritual act of worship’ (Rom 12:1). Every part of us, mind body and soul, is to be expressed in lives of worship. So for us it seemed important not just to affirm that verbally as a community, but to action it within the rhythm of our communal life.
- Holiness as a positive declaration
We believe that the call of the church is to live lives of holiness amidst the culture of its time (1 Pet 2:11). Too often the church has assumed a position of power from which it has acted as a moral judge and arbiter in society. Having largely lost this position of moral authority its reputation in much our society is one of kill-joy and policeman. We are understood far more for what we are against than what we are for.
Yet, whilst the call to follow Jesus and to live obedient lives in the world does cause us to refrain from certain practices, it also inspires a joyful commitment to lives of positive engagement in the world. We want the church to be know far more for what it is for than what it is against. And in a culture jaded and weary of moral and ethical authorities of whatever kind, the most powerful declaration of this way of life is through demonstration.
- Christian practice as a means of invitation into the Kingdom
The default pathway of invitation into the Kingdom of God has generally been one that focusses on right belief at the threshold of entry into the community. Belief, leads to belonging, which in turn leads to right behaviour: belief – belong – behave.
In an increasingly postmodern and sceptical age, and recognising the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ ministry, many communities have explored hospitality as a means of enabling people to be part of Christian community. This initial belonging leads to deepening relationships and a journey toward faith. Thus: belong – believe – behave.
What we see in the beach cleaning, and in other things we do, is an invitation to Christian practice, one that models something of the Kingdom, and one which people can participate in. The development of belonging takes place here too, but in a way in which the gospel is already on the agenda, already being quietly proclaimed. In that sense we offer a journey that looks more like: behave – belong – believe.
Interesting to note that perhaps this is also the journey of the gospels, where for example in Matthew the Sermon on the Mount comes as the early manifesto for the emergent community of Jesus. This call to a radical expression of Godly behaviour is also a call to belonging in community, which eventually led to belief.
- Church practice that doesn’t wear everyone out
One of our key values as a community is to ensure that the energy and effort required to sustain our communal life is simple enough that we are not worn out by it. Cleaning the beach is simple, and above all free. After an initial input of resource to set it up the practice pretty much runs itself.
Research into the many people who have left church and yet maintained a faith has shown that one of the key reasons for leaving church is that it was simply wearing them out. People did not have time for other relationships, or simply for themselves and their families.
Alan Hirsch speaks of many congregational churches as ‘extractional churches’. In other words, involvement in these often large and busy congregations requires so much time and energy from us that we find ourselves being extracted from networks of relationships outside of church. All our friendships soon turn out to be with people from church.
If we are truly to be missional communities, fulfilling our call in a largely sceptical and agnostic culture, we need to orient the practical demands of our communal lives in order that people still have plenty left for imaginative missional uses of their times and resources.
For many churches the weekend away is a chance for the congregation to get away and be together and perhaps to receive some teaching and encouragement from an outside speaker. These are undoubtedly great opportunities for the church to deepen its relationship with God and one another.
When we decided to go away as a community for such a weekend, our leadership team met to pray and consider how to use the time. We came to conclusion that we wanted to make the weekend as open and accessible as possible to the many non-Christian people we were beginning to connect with. So we ditched the idea of an invited speaker, or a program of seminars and decided instead to make the weekend a relaxed and welcoming space to deepen relationships amongst the whole community, both those committed Christians at the core and those at the fringes uncertain what they believe.
For this, our second year, we took 75 people away with us – people drawn from the community of communities which is now Reconnect, Space for Life (an art and craft community of women) and the Community Dinner (a weekly shared meal for those on the margins of society). The vast majority of the weekend was relaxed, unhurried time in which to have fun, take a walk and have the sort of conversations normal life often prevents. Optional sessions included a chance to hear about an upcoming discipleship course based on our Rule of Life, ‘Open Spaces’, a participatory session for anyone with an idea to help make a difference in the community of Poole, and community worship, open accessible worship for all ages. For the latter we had a huge turnout with many engaging in worship with Reconnect for the first time.
The feedback from everyone was incredibly positive. There was a wonderful sense of community that for many was transformative and inspiring. We laid very little on, simply drawing from the gifts and talents within the community, and yet people left feeling they’d had the most amazing weekend. What I believe we have discovered is another expression of hospitality as a powerful way of demonstrating the gospel of Christ. We have created a loving, welcoming, inclusive space in which a community, centred on Christ, offer themselves and what they stand for without excuse but without any pressure or coercion. God, by his Spirit, did the rest.
We have now moved our monthly community meal and community worship gatherings back to The Spire Centre on Poole High St. However we now meet at the slightly later time of 12pm. We now share the building on Sundays with the Poole Methodist congregation who are now meeting in the new community hall at the rear of the building. Its great to have 2 very different expressions of church sharing the same building and we hope to continue to build a collaborative relationship with Poole Methodists as The Spire Centre project develops. Our updated programme can be viewed and downloaded here.
We have just published a new set of information with all the details of the life of Reconnect. This includes details of our Sunday gatherings and mid-week groups. You are welcome to download a copy here.
Here is our current pattern of community gatherings. We’ve been meeting like this since the New Year and now seems pretty established. Our pattern is based on a principle of seeking to provide space for one another, for others and for God. Hence some of our gatherings are purely social, others build community, others enable worship together. If you’d like to journey with us in whatever way you’d be most welcome!
If you’d like more information on Reconnect, including our mid-week discipleship groups, and the theme for our community worship gathering from now until the autumn, you can find it here
One of the phrases from our Rule of Life speaks says that ‘we will seek justice for all creation…promoting justice for others…’ This has been a theme we have focussed on in recent months in our community worship. So when one member of Reconnect felt called to attend an anti-racism march organised by the UN it seemed like it was an experience that we needed to share. So here are Colin’s reflections on the day.
And what does the Lord require of you,
But to do justly, to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.
It seems to me that for some Christians, the topic of social action is perhaps a bridge too far. Some connect it all with politics and as such put it outside the remit of Gods’ agenda for His people. I even knew someone, about fifteen years ago, who belonged to a Christian group, who regarded human rights as ‘totally demonic’!
For my part, I feel at this time that I have spent so many years sitting in churches and by my efforts of worship and prayer and good attendance somehow felt that I would one day ‘attain’ a level of spirituality, holiness or purity that God would recognise and revival would come. After all this is the message which many churches seem to indirectly teach.
Maybe it’s a similar thought to that of the 1960’s hippies at Woodstock festival who said ‘Maybe if we think really hard we can stop this rain’, or, in a church context, ‘Maybe if we pray really hard, God will send the rain’. Whilst that still remains to be seen, in the meantime, there is still a world outside our churches, a world of oppression, intolerance, injustice and a world which can only be changed as people couple their prayers with action, and stand up for others.
As Gods’ people, God has put us in society, as salt to preserve and as lights, to shine. We need to be getting out there, getting involved with those who maybe don’t share our belief system but nevertheless are loved by the same God as we are and who sees their sufferings as well as those of Christians. We need to learn to see things from their side and understand their pain. It seems that these were always some of the things which Jesus was most interested in doing, in the gospel narratives.
Of course it was Jesus himself who said, ‘What good is it, if you only love those who love you,’ in His teaching about love for enemies (Luke 6 31-37) and maybe the church in our time has become less effective than Jesus intended as it has sought to withdraw, protect and exclude, when it should engage, render itself vulnerable and include all.
The church must learn to give itself away, to resign its power instead of gaining it and so begin to fulfil the beatitude that the meek shall inherit the earth.
It was early this year that someone I knew, made a very racist comment which I feel was motivated in part by our growing UK climate of intolerance for immigrants, lately whipped up by some parties in the name of national values. I began to realise that racism was alive and well in our time, and on our streets. Coupled with the backlash from the Charlie Ebdo shootings in Paris and the rise of far right groups such as PEGIDA in Germany, anti-semitism and Islamophobia seem to be growing in Europe. I feel that in the face of all this it is important that people in the UK speak up for the values of Human Rights and Equality, values which have become recognised as necessary through the human rights abuses suffered during WWII.
When I read in my UNISON magazine that the UN was planning a protest in London called ‘Stand up to Racism’, I was determined to be there. When the day came, it somehow felt a very small thing to hold up a placard on a march, but then again maybe it is when people remain silent that Human Rights abuses and injustices grow as there is no voice to bring challenge to oppression and evil.
Here are the details of our gatherings for the week of Easter.
We are joining with others in the local church on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, meeting round a meal on Maundy Thursday and celebrating the resurrection on Baiter Beach on Easter Sunday morning. Do join us if you would like.
For more details do contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Lent is a season which interrupts the rest of life, and helps us to refocus on Christ’s resurrection and return. Traditionally Lent is a season of fasting (giving up food or luxuries) and repentance (which means “to re-think” things.) Advent offers us space to reflect on our own participation in the healing of what’s broken in the world, and to re-orientate our lives around Jesus and his mission in the world.
This Lent, I have provided some reflections and challenges. Typically people give up something for lent, which is to be admired, but there is also a place in lent for Isaiah 52 and the challenge that the kind of fast which God desires being one which frees the oppressed, and declares the kingdom of God is at hand. So hopefully, in a small way these challenges and reflections will help us on that journey. See here the second challenge. lent 2
Click here for the First Lent Challenge. ‘Jesus was a rabbi, and he invited his disciples to make dramatic changes in their lives – to risk new ways of being and doing and if we listen carefully we can hear his voice calling for us also to follow in his footsteps and pleading with us to be his hands and feet to a hurting world.’
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