Discipleship in Households

As I read these Easter days the book of the Acts of the Apostles, my attention is drawn to something which I might have overlooked before: the conversion of “households”. There are a number of them. In fact, read carefully, I discovered that the conversion itself is the final point of a wider experience of faith which is lived within the household. We have the story of Cornelius, the Centurion, on Acts 10, who “feared God with all his household”, and following a vision, sends for Peter who comes to preach to them. The household gathers: “all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” (10:33) After listening together, the Holy Spirit comes upon each one of them and each member of the household is baptized.

This is not the only experience of faith of a household in the Book of Acts. We have Lydia and her household (16:11-15), the Roman Jailer and his household (16:25-34) and Crispus and his household (18:1-11). The case of the Roman Jailer contains an extra detail. Paul seems to highlight the importance of faith in the household when he tells the jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (16:31)

I have the suspicion that there are only a few of many other similar experiences.

At St Matthew’s, the outbreak of Covid-19 gave us the opportunity to delve into this way of experiencing faith and being church. Live streaming of services through the internet, zoom gatherings and zoom prayer groups were welcomed by our members, as a way of keeping connected, together with “traditional” phone calls with those who are not technology savvy or who are not on social media.

What it soon sprang to mind was the question about discipleship. Maintaining similar levels of discipleship was going to be a great challenge. Most of our leaders are not used to using digital platforms for work or ministry, yet alone have the right technology and software to produce it. On the other hand, regularly producing materials for all of our groups was not something we considered to be sustainable.

We began a Bible Study group via whatsapp. This is not your traditional Bible Study group, as it finds some obvious limitations. We post four Bible Studies a week. They aim to provide the adults in the household with some tools to study, reflect and pray together around the particular passage of Scripture. We then provide a very simple guide on how the adults in the household can use that passage with the children of the household. This has had a very powerful effect both on the children and on the adults of the household. It has also led to a greater engagement of prayer within the family.

For the services of Holy Week we used materials for the adults to prepare with the children, and also creating some crafts that were incorporated into the service. For example, on Palm Sunday, we couldn’t make reach the families the Palms we would have used during the service, so the kids made them of paper, engaging the parents in explaining what they meant and then using them in the liturgy.

Through Holy Week, we invited our families to create a prayer space at home, that they would together decorate with symbols. For example, symbols of their choice for the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the Crucifixion on Good Friday and so on. This space was a place to come together several times a day to pray together as a family. This ended being particularly popular among the youngsters, so we have extended it through Easter, as we read the book of Acts.

We have now focused our Bible Study and additional children’s resources into these experiences of faith in households on the Book of Acts. We would like the families to reflect in what has been their experience of faith as a family so far in their lives, but also to beging reflecting and praying on what is this lockdown meaning for their experience of faith as a family.

Faith in the family has been part of the Church experience all along, but it could have been that in recent times it has been overlooked or put more into the background. It is too early to say, but it might have been that this pandemic has brought families closer in their experience of faith.

This is what some of our families have told us so far. Carolina says:  “I’ve been a member of St. Matthews Church since this project started. It’s been difficult for me and my daughter to stop going to church and not sharing face to face with members of the congregation. However, Fr Hugo and Fr Antonio have made things easier for us by sending activities to do with children, Facebook live-streams, videos to watch, daily prayers to share with family and so on. I don’t feel lonely or away from church, just the way on how we proclaim the word of the Lord changed, but our faith, love, worship and connection is still there. I do really appreciate the big effort from priests to keep us engaged and connected in a new and innovative way, thank you!”

And Luisa Fernanda has told us: “Despite the chaos that the Covid-19 outbreak has caused, we are getting to think in new ways of being church and experiencing our faith. There is four of us at home, my husband, my two children and myself. We have created a prayer space at home and each day or few days we change the symbols we place on it. We use the readings of the daily Eucharist to create our symbols, which gives us the opportunity to continue to talk together of what we have heard and learn, but most of all, gives us the opportunity to pray together. We know that other members of the community are doing the same, and we swap pictures of what we create. This gives us a sense of community and belonging with each other, even from our own homes. As a family, we also wanted to reach beyond our doors, which is difficult because of the lockdown. So we are decorating our front door with hangings that show our faith and what we celebrate, just as you would do at Christmas, but right now. We are very thankful to our priests for the time they spend ministering for us in these circumstances, and also, for the materials that they produce and help us live our faith as a family, especially passing on our faith to the little ones. Our family is becoming closer and closer as we discover to be church within the household.

Fr Antonio García Fuerte, Associate Rector, Holy Trinity with St Matthew, Southwark

Lay Pioneers

On Saturday 14 September, at the Croydon Lay Conference, Bishop Christopher will be commissioning our first three Lay Pioneers for the Diocese of Southwark. Lay Pioneers are an exiting new ministry that will sit alongside other lay ministries in the Diocese and will help us in encouraging new ways to reach new people with the good news of Jesus Christ. As the Church of England helpfully says:

Pioneers are people called by God who are the first to see and creatively respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives with those outside the church; gathering others around them as they seek to establish new contextual Christian community.

As the work of the new Pioneering Ministry and Fresh Expressions department develops within the Diocese of Southwark we have started looking at this whole exciting area of Lay Pioneers and these first three are, we hope and pray, the first of many more.

Lay Pioneers will play a significant role in helping the Church to experiment and to take risks in reaching others with the love of Christ. Their primary focus will be to reach those outside of the Church. Their pioneering spirit often leads them to work with those most in need and in deprived communities. Of the three being commissioned this time round one is working with an estate community in Redhill; one is working with Japanese people who have had little or no contact with Christians and one is working with those who see themselves as being spiritual but not religious.

With the setting up of the Diocesan Lay Council this autumn we hope to create a range of options for lay people to explore in regards to Pioneer selection and training. As a first step we now have available the opportunity to explore the calling to a Commissioned Lay Pioneer. This is suitable for those who wish to explore a calling to Pioneering but may not yet have much experience or they may be part of a fresh expression of Church in their local context and would like some more training, support and recognition. Over time we hope that we will also be able to recognise those who may have been leading a fresh expression of Church for a period of time (or who lead more than one) and would like to go deeper with their exploration into fresh expressions and pioneering. We hope that to these people we will be able to offer the role of Licensed Lay Pioneer.

We already have a wide range of fresh expressions of Church in the Diocese from new monastic communities to cafe church and messy church through to communities who regard themselves as Spiritual and not Religious. We hope and pray that with an increase in lay pioneers we can see this range grow and deepen and the mission and evangelistic impact of the Church grow within the Diocese.

If you, or someone you know, believes that they may have a calling to pioneering within the Diocese then we would love to hear from you. You can either have an informal chat with Will Cookson, Dean of Fresh Expressions and Director of Pioneering Ministry or book into a Vocations Fair – Southwarkvocations.eventbrite.com.

Fresh Expressions Update

It has been an exciting time for Fresh Expressions over the past year in Southwark Diocese. We have seen a significant change in tempo in regard to them and we now have a good feel for how many fresh expressions of Church we have across the Diocese and some great initiatives to encourage more.

When we had the Church Army do a survey in 2015 as to the number of fresh expressions of Church we found that we had 39 across the Diocese. As more churches have been exploring new ways of reaching more people with the Good news of Christ we have seen more initiatives across the Diocese.

Fig 1: Growth in fresh expressions in Southwark Diocese

What is encouraging about the above diagramme is not only that the number of fresh expressions of Church has grown to 99 from 39 but that there are many other initiatives which are incredibly valuable (a “Bridge” is a ministry that aims to feed into existing services, an “Internal ministry” is a ministry of care for existing members and the “Not yet fxc” has the possibility of becoming a fresh expression but it may not meet regularly enough or is still exploring how it might become missional).

In addition we have seen a wide range of types of fresh expressions – everything from church grafts and church plants through to Messy Church, New Monastic Communities etc

Lastly, it has been wonderful to see fresh expressions adopted across the wide range of traditions in the Diocese of Southwark. Of course, this means (as it should) that each tradition brings its own insights into their fresh expressions. This is important as fresh expressions are meant to be imaginative and to draw on the roots of each of our traditions and not to create clones.

One of the key areas that we have been focussed on is building a platform from which churches across the Diocese and the different traditions can grow fresh expressions in their context. This has taken a variety of approaches to enable us to do this.

The first is through using the Pioneer Spectrum to help us in looking at what God is calling us to in this particular time and place and with these conditions and people and resources available. This has given us a top level view of what it is that is being attempted. It is a useful tool to enable churches to have a shared vision of what they wish to achieve.

The second area is through the increasing use of Pioneers in the Diocese. This is a multi-pronged approach. In the first phase we have focussed on ordained Pioneers with the appointment of our first Pioneer Curate (and a further two per year) and the use of Strategic Fund money from the Church Commissioners. We are also looking how this can be expanded further. The second phase, which we very much hope will be coming shortly, will be looking at Lay Pioneers who we expect in the long term to be vital for Pioneering within the Diocese.

The third area is through the increasing use of Action Learning Groups. These are groups of practitioners focussed on a particular area (e.g. Estates or Missional Communities) who commit to try new things, to be open and accountable to one another. Over time we hope that more and more will be formed and that they will share their learning with others around the Diocese. We already have two that are about to happen – one about ministry on estates – Sowing in Concrete on the 21st March and one looking at disabilities – Dementia Friendly Church on the 28th March. Both are free and click the links to see and book to come.

Lastly, we continue to offer our baseline Mission Shaped Ministry course to help churches to begin to grapple with how they can make a difference in their community.

Mission to and with the ‘Spiritual Not Religious’ a dialogical approach

Whether we like it or not national social surveys appear to indicate that many of the ‘non-and-de-churched’ people now call themselves “spiritual” but not religious (SNR). About a fifth of people in the UK fit into this category, according to Prof Michael King from University College London.[1]

The challenge then is how to respond to these missional needs in culturally appropriate ways, a matter I am researching as part of a PhD research study.  As part of this, and also to develop mission to the ‘Spiritual Not Religious’ we have been piloting a dialogical approach which we have called ‘SearchingSoul’ and used the popular MeetUp App to promote 4 groups in various parts of London.[2]

These groups are designed as generous spaces to allow people to explore spirituality on a monthly theme, where everyone has space to talk about their insights and experience, as many spiritual seekers like the opportunity to explore and engage with the issue of spirituality.  We are careful to ensure that there are no Christians present other than the facilitators, to ensure that the event gives space for the SNR to really open up and build trust.  Typically SNR people begin with a negative stereotype that religion and in particular Christianity is a form of fundamentalism and thought control.   We have been running the groups now for over a year, and in time people break down these negative stereotypes, and as we know from the Fresh Expressions initiative, all mission must be deeply relational and begins with building up relationships of integrity.  We now have groups in Peckham, Borough, Kingston and the City that meet in pubs and bars and we are looking to set up new groups in the Diocese.  So far a few have gone on to explore Christianity – taking a particularly contemplative spiritual practices approach to exploring the faith.

This whole approach is about mission being Gods, and for us getting out of the way of God and seeking to catch up with what God is doing, in the belief that the Holy Spirit is constantly unsettling every person to the reality of God the Trinity in the face of Jesus Christ. f you are interested in getting a SearchingSoul group going in your locality get in contact mailto:ian.mobsby@southwark.anglican.org or facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/579336342436523/

Ian Mobsby , Woolwich Area Mission Enabler


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20888141

[2] For example https://www.meetup.com/SearchingSoul-Vauxhall-Borough/