One of the key themes for me in this year is discipleship – what it looks like and how other churches do it. This has come about in a couple of ways.
In the last year or so Tim Grew at Trinity (Cheltenham) has been developing a discipleship course called Element, intended primarily as a follow-on to Alpha but also as a resource for exisiting churchgoers. I was very keen to be involved with this as its something that I’d want to use in future ministry, so I’ve ended up as one of the small group leaders this time round.
One of the key attributes of the course is the balance of teaching and life application. Last week we looked at “How do I trust God more?”, by focusing on the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 6. One of the interesting aspects to the story is that the disciples obeyed Jesus’ suggestion to get into a boat and go with him to the other side of the lake. Yet this did not prevent them getting into a situation of total panic, as the storm blew up, water came into the boat, and they feared that they were about to drawn. Their reaction is entirely understandable – would you or I have reacted any better? – except that they hadn’t fully recognised that, since it was the Son of God who was onboard, they were entirely safe. Thus he rebukes them for their lack of faith. Ease and comfort does not seem to be part of what Jesus offers his followers!
A few weeks ago I was chatting with John Witcombe, the training officer in the diocese, when he mentioned about wanting to find out about what discipleship takes place across the county. While working for Naturewatch some years ago I produced a survey of police wildlife crime officers, so jumped at the chance to apply what I’d learned to this new question.
One of the key issues is to design a survey that is effective across the wide variety of Anglican contexts. Thus, what does discipleship look like either in an AngloCatholic church, for which sacraments and pilgrimages may be an important part of the spiritual diet, or in a rural multi-parish benefice, which has to cater for diverse needs across many villages? I’ve been developing it with Brian Parfitt, a clergyman who works for the cathedral, and we’ve gained from trialling the survey with several who come from these different background. The survey will be released in the next couple of weeks, and after it’s completed I’ll write a report on it.
One of the advantages of being in Cheltenham is the nearness of the Cotswolds. Within about half an hour of leaving the house I can be on top of Leckhampton Hill. Yesterday when I was walking up, the low winter Sun caught the contours of a field along the way (see picture below), shaped by the strip farming of the Middle Ages – illustrating how the landscape can reveal local history.
The views from the top can be stunning as well. A few days ago the atmosphere was particularly clear so that one could see across to the Malverns and beyond. The interplay of sunlight and clouds also helped to highlight St. Peter’s church, Leckhampton, in the foreground.