LiFT Learning CelebrationGo now and make Disciples ...
On Saturday around 100 people gathered in Te Kuiti from across the Diocese to celebrate their experience of LiFT. We gathered to give thanks to God for the challenges of discipleship, the joy of relationship, and the transformation that has taken place in our lives and communities. We have been overwhelmed by people’s engagement with LiFT and their feedback, but for me two stories stand out.
In one of our learning communities a mother occasionally brought her 8-year-old. Although he was unable to stay to the end of each session he was nevertheless very keen to listen and contribute. One evening, when the group was asked how they experienced God, this little boy was the first to share. He talked about having his feet washed and the sense of peace, calm and joy that God’s presence provided.
In our last session of LiFT we asked people what the highs and lows were as well as what had changed for them. One lady reflected that the experience had enabled her to love others better. Indeed, she felt more lovable herself.
LiFT is ambitious. It sets out to create a culture in which prayer, hospitality and learning create communities of disciples. It invites people from neighbouring parishes to gather together and share their faith. It reminds people that they are part of God’s story and that they have an important role to play in sharing it. 18 months ago it was just an idea – perhaps a mustard seed. We hoped 20 people might register. At 50 we were excited. At 100 we were daunted. At graduation we were elated.
Thank you to St John’s College Trust Board for their support of this project. Thank you to all the participants, and particularly all those local tutors and coordinators . Finally, thank you to Bishop Helen-Ann without whom this would not have happened. The Bishop’s intelligence, humour, love of the arts, and faith in Jesus Christ have been central to the success of this formation. She will be greatly missed.
Bishop Helen-Ann's LiFT Reflection on Luke 24.13-35
Over the past few weeks I have spent quite a lot of time in transport of one variety or another, most notably a total of about 52 hours in planes and probably about 20 hours in trains, not to mention on foot walking here there and everywhere in between! But it was an elevated form of foot transport (perhaps in anticipation of this LiFT celebration) that was the most unexpected and tricky. I first got wind of the possibility during a media briefing session that I had in Church House Westminster in London which is a kind of central command for the Church of England (it’s like the TARDIS inside, and very easy to get lost!). I was taken through the running order for the day of the announcement of my appointment as the bishop of Ripon. Visit farm, feed calf, herd sheep (ok); visit primary school, meet children and staff and listen to the school choir perform (ok); formal civic welcome at Ripon Cathedral with a list of local civic and military dignitaries (ok), climb to top of Cathedral roof and bless new gargoyles.
It was that last bit that got me slightly nervous. More an okaaaaaay than an ok!
So anyway after a long day, there I was at the foot of some scaffolding with the prospect of climbing 80ft up to bless 3 gargoyles that had been hoisted into place the day before (why couldn’t they have waited I thought, then the gargoyles could have been blessed on the ground before being lifted up?!). Two of the gargoyles had been designed by winners of a school competition that had attracted over 1000 entries, and so I was joined in my lofty trek by various children and their families. About a quarter of the way up I looked down (mistake) through the grill-like steps and at that point determined that (a) from this point on I would look up, not down, and that (b) even though one or two people had started to head back down again, it wouldn’t be a good look for the new bishop to join them. The bishop of Leeds had opted to stay on the ground on the basis that he was carrying his iPad and that he had important pastoral work to do with the few people that had opted not to undertake this crazy climb. (quite sensible upon reflection). I suppose that’s the advantage of being the Diocesan bishop - you can ask one of your Area bishops to do the hard yards!
When we reached the top, I realised what I thought was the top wasn’t in fact the top and that the gargoyles could only be reached by climbing a ladder propped up (very securely I must say) against the edge (note to self: do not look down or over the edge). So with one final push I did it, and with considerable relief came face to face with the gargoyles. The Dean, invited me to take one and he would take the over. As I had never blessed a gargoyle before (and somewhat mindful that the morning prayer reading that day from Isaiah had warned against idols lifted up - but in gold or silver - so I figured we’d be ok with stone, and in any case we weren’t intending on worshipping them!), I made something up about them being guardians over the city and sentinels of God’s glory, and after a few photos it was time to descend. By this point the light was fading fast, so we all made the reverse journey with some considerable care!
I suspect that for some of you, maybe many of you, LiFT has felt a bit like climbing up scaffolding at times? Just keep going, don’t look down, look upwards and onwards. Part of the difficulty of our disciples on the road to Emmaus is that they were rather stuck with the past story and couldn’t quite grasp the reality of the completely changed and transformed reality that they were now living in - Jesus was not dead, he had been raised from the dead, and there he was butting into their conversation of anxiety and gloom. It was only in the breaking of the bread that they recognised him, and note that this moment of recognition was so intense that they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened! Jesus had unfolded to them the teaching in the prophets and the writings of Scripture so that the written word suddenly became intertwined with the living word of himself. It is that living word that transformed anxiety into hope and fear into joy. That is the plain message of our Christian faith - Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and because of that, we have confidence and hope in God’s power and purposes in our lives and in the lives of all whom we come into contact with.
My hope and prayer is that LiFT has in some way enabled you to have renewed confidence in your discipleship journeys. Maybe some seeds have been planted that will grow and blossom in new and perhaps unexpected ways. My experience has been more often than not that God can do amazing things with either not much or something that you think has gone all wrong. Lives can be messy and complex at times, but God is in the midst of all of that, and through his Holy Spirit encouraging, enabling and transforming, calling us deeper into that perfect love that knows no end. I give thanks to God for each of you, and rejoice in the journey that we have shared together. We have all learned a lot, not least in the area of technology! But it is to God that we give all thanks and praise, for the gift of life, the gift of learning, and the gift of one another. May we have the courage to continue our journey of discipleship in faith, joy and hope.
Story Published: 28th of November - 2017