Church Army - Inspire April 09 - Reaching spiritual seekers
Church Army researcher Steve Hollinghurst explains the thinking behind the first Reaching Out in Mind, Body and Spirit conference this April
What is the conference all about?
Christians across all denominations and styles have been developing ways to relate their faith to new spiritualities through methods like stands at New Age events, card reading, creation liturgy and even venues at rock festivals.
This conference is a place for [Christians] to come together and share insights on how to improve this ministry.
I am very excited. It will allow us to come up with ideas on how to contribute to the growth of the kind of Christian communities that can sustain spiritual travellers in their faith journeys, most of whom have at present little or no connection with the Church.
Who are spiritual travellers?
In our culture there has been a great increase of interest in spirituality and many people consciously or unconsciously are on a spiritual journey.
Few however look to the Christian tradition as the place to pursue this spiritual journey; rather they are exploring all sorts of areas of faith and spiritual practice from outside the Christian faith.
The challenge for Christians is to seek to understand these spiritual travellers, and relate our own Christian faith journeys to theirs and ways that Christ can become real for them.
Do you think this new form of spiritual seeking will overtake traditional forms of spirituality?
Non-religious spirituality already has overtaken traditional religion in our country, and how Christians respond to this is very important for the future of our faith.
I think this has happened because these new spiritualities make sense to people living in a post-modern consumer society in a way that makes Christianity seem increasingly something only relevant to a past age.
In this sense they challenge Christians to ask: "How does our faith relate to such a culture? If we believe God's work in the world holds Jesus at its centre what does it mean to follow Christ in today's world?
"What can we learn about that world from those pursuing spirituality outside the Christian faith?"
How does one reach out in mind, body and spirit?
It can be done in many ways. Some Christians have taken stalls at Mind, Body, Spirit fairs where they have enabled people to encounter Christianity, talk through their spiritual journeys with Christians and receive prayer and also have their views and stories heard.
While others have taken such an approach to local community festivals, rock festivals and the like, others have set up spirituality fairs in churches where visitors can encounter Christian spirituality offered in creative ways.
On a couple of occasions this has led me personally to appear on a 'psychic show' on radio. In all these ways we are enabling Christianity to be present in the spiritual market place and not hidden away in church events.
For me, it is about connecting with people who are seeking some form of spirituality and meaning in their lives and showing them that a relationship with Christ and insights from Christian spirituality can offer this to them.
Some traditional Christians may criticise this kind of ministry. What would you say to them? And what would you say to churches who are not catering for the needs of spiritual seekers?
I think it is important for people to raise concerns. What we are doing is cross-cultural mission, seeking to incarnate faith in the culture of contemporary spirituality.
This always has two dangers: one is that we can adopt elements of the culture we are working in that mean we lose connection with Christianity. This is I am sure what some Christians fear is happening in things like card reading.
As a Christian I don't believe in fortune-telling as a method of guidance, but seek to be guided by God through prayer, other Christians, the Bible and Christian tradition. So I wouldn't want to give a false impression through what I do, and clearly there is a danger here of looking like Christian fortune-tellers.
In practice we make it clear that we are not doing this, rather we are using cards as images to explore spirituality and people understand this distinction.
I use something called the Jesus Deck. It has four suits – one for each Gospel. Each card is a story from that Gospel told in words and pictures, so in fact I am doing a form of pictorial Bible study applied to people’s lives.
By using cards these Bible stories become something people used to card- reading can relate to. It makes the Bible relevant to them as a spiritual guide for life.
If there is a danger of compromising the faith there is also a danger that we offer a faith that has no relevance or meaning to them. We become like the tourists who don't learn the language and just shout louder in their own tongue.
How can Inspire readers engage with today's spiritual age?
There is training for groups wanting to begin this ministry. Much wisdom can also be found in Equipping your Church in a Spiritual Age published by Churches Together and available from www.churchinaspiritualage.org.uk/books.php – this is a workbook to help churches explore today's spirituality and offer ways they might engage with it.
What do you think Jesus would say if he were at the conference?
I think Jesus would remind us that he spent time with those the religious were nervous of being with and encourage us in doing the same.
If St Paul were present he might offer a new version of 1 Corinthians 9: “To the spiritual seekers I became like a spiritual seeker, I have become all things to all people that by any means I may win some”. This is the kind of vision we are pursuing, inspired by the incarnational mission of Jesus and Paul.
What one thing do you hope people will take away from the conference?
I want people to be encouraged in what they are already doing, and gain a vision for where God is calling us to go next to enable more seekers to find Christ on their journey.
Reaching Out In Mind Body and Spirit will take place from Friday 24 April to Sunday 26 April 2009 at the The Wilson Carlile Campus, 50 Cavendish Street, Sheffield S3 7RZ
You can also get more information on (UK) 0114 272 7451.
You can also watch a film about Steve Hollinghurst HERE.
And you can vote on a Church Army poll on reaching people involved in new spiritualities at http://www.churcharmy.org.uk/pub/nc/Polls/0903newspirituality.asp