Reader day at Taunton Racecourse

Readers from across the diocese recently gathered at Taunton Racecourse to hear Revd Dr Howard Worsley speak. Amongst other things, Howard is the Vice Principal Tutor in Missiology at Trinity College, Bristol. 

Christ Stock, Deanery Warden of Readers in the Ivelchester Deanery, reviews the day:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21)

When the Readers from across the Diocese met at Taunton Racecourse recently, Howard Worsley (Vice Principal & Tutor in Missiology at Trinity College Bristol, teacher, vicar, former Director of Education, sports enthusiast, sailor, motorcyclist, husband of a well-known Bishop and generally good egg) proceeded to entertain, provoke, challenge and enlighten those present. How long it will take us to recover from the introductory remark that “the DNA of God is mission” remains to be seen.

The talk was broken into 2 parts, the first addressing how the mission of God can be seen in the Diocesan Five Marks of Mission – should this be written up and circulated to every parish in the Diocese, I ask myself? – before progressing to the equally black art of the Mission of God in School’s Work.

The challenges came thick and fast – if every book in the Bible is missional, as Howard argues, then please write a paper on ‘Mission in Job’! Actually, this was tasked to his PhD students not us, big sigh of relief, but the immediate fear in the room was electric. Meanwhile the carefully chosen biblical references continued – Micah being described as a definition of Integral Mission – but then came the shocker, the word ‘God’ is heretical! What have we all been taught over many years? What do we believe? What do we preach from the pulpit? No need to worry, it’s just that it’s impossible to restrict God to a single word! Another sigh of relief!

The thought senses continued to be teased . . . . “It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission that has a church in the world”. Or “Mission is everything the church is sent into the world to do”. (OK, these were quotes from Tim Dearborn and John Stott, but none-the-less valid.) Nobody was feeling too comfortable, the passion was too intense for that and pearls would be missed, but many were feeling provoked to rethink what they were or were not doing in terms of Mission – and excited at the prospect.

Howard quoted Vincent Donovan and his wonderful book ‘Christianity Rediscovered’, not quite comparing Somerset’s largely rural population to the east african Masai people, but challenging us, not just those present but all of us, to do what Donovan did – to go and meet the people where they are; we shouln’t just expect them to come to us, uninvited, and on arrival often made to feel unwelcome, because they won’t. We need to get out to where the people are.

And he challenged our knowledge of church and school history as well, reminding us that when we were next warned to keep the church’s nose out of education, it was Joshua Watson who had co-founded the National Society for the Education of the Poor in 1811 – a church based organisation dedicated to educating the poor and disadvantaged. So yes, the church does have a role to play, not just in CofE schools but across all education. We were warned not to get Howard on the subject of the 2010 Academy Act or the trusts that followed!

Pre-empting the fear that too many churches don’t have children, and acknowledging that many children today were the progeny of the unchurched, he told the beautiful allegorical tale of Elzéard Bouffier, an imaginary yet wholly believable shepherd, whose focus and dedication on doing the right thing had such an impact which far outweighed his initial effort. The tale, ‘the Man Who Planted Trees’ by Jean Giono, should be an example to all of us; it may seem a daunting task, but our efforts to bring children into church, and place the gospel within the children, will have their rewards, it’s just that they might just take time and persistence to achieve. If we really are intent on mission and growing the church, then it’s always worth reminding ourselves that churches that relate to children are more likely to grow than those that don’t.

Howard was challenged on many of the points he made, but the thought processes which the audience used in doing so had stimulated so much interest and energy, that this was undoubtedly a deliberate ploy. Perhaps, though, the biggest cheer was for his reminder to us all that “Readers know stuff and have skills that clergy neither have nor know; it is important that those skills should be brought into the church.” Yes, this was always going to be a popular comment to the committed Readers who were there, but the encouragement and support was palpable. He was also speaking to the clergy and Diocese as  whole.

It’s also a pertinent reminder that “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, ‘you’ being all of us, whether lay, licensed or ordained, to work together, to value each other’s knowledge, skills and abilities, using and sharing them because “Mission is everything the church is sent into the world to do”.

Whenever you get so many Readers together, two things will always happen, and this occasion was no exception:

  • the fellowship, friendliness and banter will be overwhelming as people catch up with others from across the Diocese that they haven’t seen for a while, especially when food is provided, and
  • they will buy yet more books! Thank you Aslan Christian Books for your continued support.

Thank you Howard,

Chris Stock
Deanery warden of Readers, Ivelchester Deanery

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