Postcards from the UK: St Mellitus College and the London Anglicans

Having completed the Fresh Expressions International Learning Community (which you can read about in my earlier postcards), I’ve moved to London for a few days meeting with interesting church leaders in a variety of settings.  The emphasis has shifted a little away from FX to other areas of interest for the Synod of Queensland.

Checking in at St Mellitus College

I swung by St Mellitus College today, and joined the student body for their regular Monday morning worship before sitting down with Russell Winfield, the International Development Officer for the college.

Now 10 years old, St Mellitus is a theological college launched from the well known Holy Trinity Brompton church. While it now operates largely independently of HTB now, it does still retain close links.  The story of St Mellitus has been one of rapid growth, from its initial year with just a handful of students, to now over 650 students spread across four campuses around England.  I’m led to believe it’s comfortably the largest of the Church of England’s theological colleges, and draws students from 35 (of the 41) dioceses in the country.

Those are the numbers.  Beyond that, the range of courses offered (both post-grad and undergrad, along with non-accredited “lay” training) are typical, including a pioneering stream common to many UK colleges these days.

The mood in the room, at least on the day I visited, was buzzing. Something like 2-300 students gathered (as they do each Monday) to start the college’s teaching day with worship (part of St Mellitus model is that all teaching happens on the same day – leaving students to do private study other days, and to be in field placements for 3 days per week). The worship is student led, so it various in style and format from week to week, and on the day of my visit it had a solidly contemporary/evangelical flavour.  There was a buzz in the room, of anticipation, of chatting and catching up, of preparation for the day in what looked a relatively young student cohort.  It was an altogether lovely and encouraging way to start the week.

One story told during worship stuck with me. The leader was sharing an experience in which she with a group of friends had rented a house to live in an economically depressed area, with the intention of investing in the community there. They came to be known as “the church house”, with neighbours welcome anytime, the community supported, and people knowing it was a place they could always turn for help.  Even “non-church” people in the community appreciated their presence and pitched in to help from time to time. It struck me that perhaps this is the core purpose of church, and that just about every neighbourhood could do with “a church house” like this one. No, it’s not rocket science, but I appreciated the reminder.

St Mellitus College is located in an old cathedral style church called St Judes.  The church building was turned over to the college in a pretty poor state, and with very little use from a pretty small congregation.  The venue itself has been remarkably transformed – with the heritage of the building honoured (to my eyes at least), but an unapologetically contemporary flavour with smart, well planned additions to the building to enable it to serve both its original purpose, and its new place in the world.  It strikes me that this is something of a metaphor for what St Mellitus are attempting to do – to honour their heritage while building a new church entirely.  In a country expecting a huge number of clergy to retire in the next 10 years, and in which the church is in decline, St Mellitus is one way the church of England is addressing that challenge.

The college’s philosophy includes study that is grounded in prayer and worship, and that is intricately entwined with the real world – where students are at the college building only one day a week (plus occasional residential intensives), but out in real-world field placements the rest of the time.

Time will tell, of course, how successful St Mellitus will be. They seem to have their feet firmly grounded, and when I asked about evidence and outcomes, Russell was pretty clear that at only ten years of age, it’s hard to be sure.  His view was that I should ask the question again in 40 years’ time to see if the initial growth, and early anecdotal evidence is supported by long term value for the church.  I was glad to visit St Mellitus, and encouraged by what they’re up to.

 

London Anglicans Planting 100 New Churches?

After St Mellitus I headed over to visit the HQ of London Anglican Diocese church planting team.

Formed as part of the Diocese’ vision for it’s future agreed to in 2013 (under the banner Capital Vision 2020), the team is at the centre of an intent to plant or significantly renew 100 churches within the diocese by 2020.  Even in a Diocese the numeric size of London (500+ churches) this is a seriously ambitious goal, and a fair chunk of the time I had to visit was spent exploring how they’re going about the task.

I would start by observing that they’re well organised, and they’re clear and unashamed about the target.  There are a bunch of other elements to the Vision (to do with leadership development, faith sharing, doubling the number of young people engaged and so on) and all seem equally ambitious.  Have a quick look here at the elements of their vision.

Part of the strategy is to create and recognise what they describe as City Centre Resource Churches – the kind of larger churches that will be actively planting new churches (coincidentally a very similar description to one we’ve been starting to use in conversation at Queensland Synod this year).  Other elements include fresh expressions (as an aside, this wasn’t the first or last time I heard fresh expressions talked of as part of a wider church planting strategy while I’ve been here…sometimes I think we separate the two…), training church planting teams, work on local government estates, revitalising struggling churches, partnering with area Bishops and one fascinating story about a purpose built boat that will be moored on the river adjacent to an urban renewal project that doesn’t have room for a church building, and from which the church will operate.

4 years into the project, and there have been just under 50 new or significantly revitalised churches launched. With 3 years to go, there is a sense of confidence that they’re on track.  Interesting when the conversation turned to ‘failure’ rates, the statement came back that there had been a close to zero failure rates (I think it was actually zero, but my notes and memory have let me down on this…so I’ll say “close to zero” to be safe), and that this was a minor cause for concern…because it might mean that the church hasn’t taken enough risks.  I found that a pretty refreshing attitude for an organisation as structured and generally careful as I assume the Church of England to be.

Development for church planting teams included bespoke training, coaching, financial support (at one of three established ‘levels’) and assistance with matters such as strategy, financials, personal leadership, structures, buildings and so on.

Additionally, the team have been operating what I heard described as a “Church Growth Learning Community” – a community of leaders from congregations who are committed to growing, and who meet together regularly over two years to explore strategies to do so.

It’s not all sweetness and light of course, and when learning from an experience like this we have to take seriously the differences in both context (the UK is still quite different from Australia in terms of the place of the Church…particularly so for the Church of England…in broader society) and the capacity to deploy significant resources (people and otherwise) in support of agreed strategies.

Still, I saw a church willing to set very clear goals, a church quite committed to learning again how to proclaim the gospel in a way suited to their context, and a church willing to make decisions and bring its people and resources to bear on the challenges of our day.

I walked out with a little smile on my face, pleased for the Diocese of London that they’re on the path they’re on.

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the home run

So the end is nigh.  It’s 2 1/2 years since I first strapped on a pair of running shoes. It’s a year since I first ran a half-marathon distance, and  year since I first thought to myself “I wonder what it what would be like to run a marathon?”  It’s 5 months since I decided to actually find out and started training properly.

And it’s just now just five days until that ridiculous question is answered as I trudge power my way through the Gold Coast Marathon.

The training is done. The shoes are worn in. The eating plan for Friday and Saturday’s carb-loading is ready. The taper is well underway. Accommodation is booked. Race pack retrieved.

And now every moment of every day it’s all I think about.  Mostly those thoughts are “why?” and “this cannot end well” and “this is going to hurt”.

But occasionally there’s anticipation mixed in as well, moments I’m really looking forward to:

The energy in the field in the moments before the starter’s gun fires. Crossing the Nerang river for the first time. Running past Cavill Mall. Seeing my family at Nobby Beach and friends along the way. Turning around at Burleigh Heads to head back north again. The half-way point.  The last kilometre through swollen and noisy crowds….and so on.  I’ve played these moments a thousand times in my mind, looking forward to each of them.

I’m pretty much blocking out everything that might happen between 30k and 41k. I think that’s just going to be a world of hurt, so why bother anticipating it? 😉

There are lots of unknowns of course. Have I trained sufficiently? Have I designed my training program effectively? Will my dodgy knee last the distance? Will I get the anti-chafe stuff in all the right spots? Will I get super bored in four hours of running? Will I hit my A, B or C target times? Will I even finish?

So many unknowns.

And it occurs to me that’s pretty much how life is any time we try something new – whether it be running, starting a new job, living in a new city, becoming a parent, proposing marriage (still the most nerve wracked moment of my life….even though I was fairly confident of the answer!).

What’s your new thing? What are you preparing for that you’ve never before tackled?

We can read, we can talk to those who’ve gone before, we can surf the net and watch hours of youtube videos.  We can even train and practice, experimenting and simulating.  We can examine every possible outcome, ponder the good and the bad, mentally rehearse, get the right gear, eat the right food….and so on….ad nauseum.

We can be totally prepared.

But ultimately there comes the moment when we have to get out of bed, eat a banana, strap up the laces and run out the door.

That’s ultimately what I think I’m looking forward too the most. Standing at on the start line at 7am next Sunday morning, knowing that everything is done. Knowing that everything I can control is now controlled to the best of my ability.  Knowing that the outcomes are still unknowable. Knowing that all there is left to do is run.

And knowing that all I can do from that moment onward is deal with whatever comes my way, trusting that the preparation will give me all the tools to respond.

So here I am.

On the home run.

Thanks for reading these last few reflections about this adventure that lies ahead.  If I’m not in hospital I’ll let you know how it all turns out!

the best laid plans

I’m right in the middle of the biggest week of my training for the marathon – with a 35k run scheduled tomorrow morning marking the start of my taper toward the event now just three weeks away.

Or I should be.

Truth is, I haven’t been able to run since a really nice 20k hit out last Saturday. The rest of the weekend was spent preparing for a retaining wall construction, handling the business end of pick, shovel and jackhammer. Somewhere along the line I overdid it, and did some abdominal damage.  The Doc has been good, but recovery slower than I would have hoped. Even as Friday rolls around, I think I’m still a couple of days away from being able to run again.

Ouch.  No tears yet, but it’s been frustrating.

So, 7 days of no running has had two consequences.

First, and on the positive side of the ledger, my legs are feeling great.  All the little niggles, daily aches and pains are gone. I don’t wake up with sore ankles, don’t feel tightness in calves and shins. Everything feels fresh and ready.

But the head is not doing so well. It’s been a hard week to manage the mental side of not running when the event is so close, and the preparation so far has been so consistent.  I’m definitely glad to have had this hiccup this week and not in another week or two, but I wish I hadn’t had it at all.  I’m not sure of the impact on fitness levels. Hopefully the base fitness is there to get through this little hurdle without serious consequences for the race weekend itself.

The training plan from here is a little up in the air now.  If I can get back on the road Sunday or Monday, I’ll probably try and fit in a long run mid-week and then go back onto the plan as it currently stands.  If I can’t run until mid-next week it will be time to reassess and seek some advice on how best to use the time remaining. Maybe next Saturday might be a longer run that originally anticipated.

All of which goes to remind me, that the best laid plans never really survive very long.  There are always situations and circumstances that interfere and force us to consider change – no matter how meticulous the preparation process has been.  Whether that be a corporate strategic plan, and new year’s resolution, a family’s plans for the year ahead, or something as relatively unimportant as a marathon training plan, their is always the likelihood of change forcing its way into our reality.

Which reminds me of a reflection I wrote a little while back about this challenge of interrupted plans.  It might be time to take some of my own advice, to ponder flexibility, resilience and creativity. To enjoy this interruption and the chance to sleep in just a little longer in the mornings…at least while it lasts.

Training Since Last Blog (details at strava)

5 June – 10k @ 5.30 p/km

7 June – 20k @ 5.26 p/km

 

the value of training

This week I finally admitted it out loud:  I’m sick of training to run a marathon.

I woke up Thursday morning, alarm set early to head out for a mid-week run, and just did not want to go.  It wasn’t the consequence of a late night the previous evening, or too many days of running in the week, just the cumulative effect of weeks and months of running to try and get my middle-aged body in decent enough shape to run 42km.

This day, I was over it all.  I just wanted the race weekend to be here, and to be over, so that I can go back to bed. So that I can choose to run if I feel like it, instead of running to a schedule.

But, my schedule said run, and the last thing I’m going to do is let the months of training slide because of slackness in the last few weeks…so I dragged myself out the door and onto the pavement.

And I felt rotten the whole morning. I felt every twinge, every ache, every step. And I ran slow, and not very far.  There’s no question that state-of-mind has an impact on performance!

The next day I ran into a PE teacher/sports-trainer friend and was telling him my sob story. He said “You know Scott, those training miles, the ones that you do even when you most want to be at home in bed, they’re the most valuable training miles you will ever run”.

I didn’t believe him at the time, but with a week to ponder, I think maybe he’s right.  The moments when we somehow manage to talk ourselves into what we know is the right thing, even when we’d rather be elsewhere…those moments are important.  Maybe it’s the minutes I choose to spend reading night-time stories to the six-year old instead of snoozing on the couch. Maybe it’s the yard work, or time invested with the family, or volunteering at my community group….whatever the category, it’s the times we go when we’re just not motivated that really matter.

Anyway, a couple of days later I was scheduled for my longest run yet – 32km.  I think you can guess how much I wasn’t looking forward to that experience!  My previous longest at a little over 28km hadn’t ended well, with a little walking mixed in the last couple of km to nurse home some injured legs. That memory, together with the general funk about the whole project meant I was dreading that alarm bell.

What a surprise then, and a blessed relief, to find myself thoroughly enjoying the whole run.  Pace was good (still probably a little too fast for training…but such is life), the few aches and pains that popped up along the way disappeared as I plodded along, and to top it all off, the river was shrouded in fog to lend an ethereal quality to the early miles, before the sun came out to cheer me home. It was perhaps the best “long” run I’ve had, and definitely the best in weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I was spent by the time I got home, and nursing a couple of pretty painful knees – but way better than my previous long run, and way better than I expected as I headed out the door that morning.

And with my 32.7k including quite a few hills (where the Gold Coast race is almost totally flat), the whole experience gave me a much needed shot of confidence that 42km is going to be achievable.

Not easy. And not pain-free. But achievable.

I guess that’s the value of the hours and hours of training. Even when it doesn’t feel like it to me, it’s been building and conditioning the muscles to do what they could not have done before. To churn out km after km on one Sunday in July, hopefully going the distance and enjoying the journey.

On this second-last long training run, I think my brain finally caught up with my body.  Everything feels like it’s nearly ready. The training is working.  There are a couple of weeks of solid running left, one more long run (35km) and then it’s into the blessed relief of the taper and pre-race rest.

I got to wondering (as I do) about parallels.  About other areas in life in which long hours of preparation, weeks and months and years of training quietly sneak up on you, preparing you for some new experience.

Maybe it’s education and formal training. Maybe it’s on-the-job learning. Maybe it’s hours of training sessions at a sport or hobby.  Maybe it’s years of practice as a first-time parent helping to prepare you for each new stage of a child’s life.

I don’t know what the answer is for you, or even necessarily for me.

I only know that training matters.  It prepares us, equips us, enables us.

Even when it’s not fun.

Training Since Last Blog

24/5  –  20km @ 5.35 p/km

27/5 – 10.4km @ 5.36 p/km

29/5 – 10.2km @ 5.33 p/km

1/6   –  32.7km @ 5.41 p/km

4/6  – Ride 40km

Details at strava

the family affair

On Mother’s Day we headed into Southbank, where Sheri, Riley and my mum joined some friends in a team entered in the Mother’s Day Classic Fun Run/Walk. It was kind of cool to see the three generations together walking/running in the 4.5k event, and all three enjoyed it a lot.

As did the other two kids and I, watching from the sidelines.  So we went home all inspired to all enter the event in 2015 and run/walk together…but that wasn’t quite soon enough so satisfy our craving for instant gratification.

So we scoured the internet for events, Mitch signed up for a kids try-athlon hosted by Weetbix this coming weekend at Southbank, and then we started looking further afield.

The Gold Coast Marathon came to mind…for the obvious reason that we’ll be there for the event anyway. When we dug a little deeper, the whole event includes a heap of different distances and categories…so we’ve signed up the whole gang. Mitch and MK will run the 2k kids dash, Sheri and Riley the 5.7k run, all on Saturday morning, and I’ll be there Sunday for the full distance event.

It’s given our whole family quite a buzz to all be entered. Training plans are developing and we’ve already had one whole-family training session on the street out the front – with Mitch practicing triathlon transitions on the footpath, and everybody else running laps of the block (including the dog…who thought it was awesome!).

It’s been nice to talk together about it this week, to be sharing a goal and as a family looking forward to an event that had up until now been mostly about my Sunday race.

Training for the marathon has continued, with a little bit of both up and down over the last couple of weeks.  I’ve managed two quite long runs at 25 and 28.7k respectively) but also run into a couple of little niggly injury worries – both problems I’ve had in the past.

With some time on the massage table, a few days rest and a session with a running-specialist physio at intraining, all seems under control for the moment, so I’ll just (cautiously) press on with the program. A quieter weekend this week (with long run at 18-20k) precedes what is planned as a 32k long run next weekend, so it’s definitely a week to look after the legs a little.

The other down moment this week was waking up one morning for my regular mid-distance run and almost pulling the pin. Mostly I’ve not struggled for motivation, and once I’m awake have been happy to get up and go.

This day however, I really struggled to get going. I had that thought “why am I doing this?” and for the first time, had no answer.  It was only that (a) I knew I would feel guilty if I didn’t go; and (b) I have some friends who have been great encouragers on the whole marathon project that got me out of bed and onto the streets.

I guess that’s life sometimes isn’t it.  No matter how much we like the idea of something (moving house, new job, parenthood, whatever your mountain might be) there are moments when the reality of the challenge overwhelms the theoretical motivation. There are moments when we say “why am I doing this?”.

On the whole I’m not advocating for guilt as a motivator, so that leaves me with the critical importance of friends and family that encourage and support us.  So, I’m thinking, next time you’re struggling for motivation, who can you turn to that will help you feel great about what you’re attempting?  And conversely, look around to see who in your life is trying something new….and fire some words of encouragement there way.

A little of that action goes a very long way.

Training since I last blogged:

10/5  –  25.3km @ 5.37 pace

12/5  –  47.5km road bike

13/5  –  10.0km @ 5.33 pace

15/5  –  10.2km @ 5.34 pace

19/5  –  28.7km @ 5.51 pace

22/5  –  8.2@km 5.53 pace

Full details at strava

some days are hard

strava screenshotSome days take you by surprise.

As training for the marathon ramps up, and the impact on my legs bites hard with the higher workload, I’m discovering that not every day is a “feel good” kind of day.

On Friday morning I hit the road with my brother for an early morning bike ride.  A bit of cross training is helpful and bike riding is my cross-training weapon of choice.

We went for a not-too-hilly route of around 30km with time limiting our options (and that time was limited even further when it took us 15 minutes for us to decide that yes, we could indeed ride in the rain!).

It was our first ride together for a while and I was excited to get out and about…but that quickly turned to frustration as I discovered a pair of legs that just wouldn’t do what they normally can.  An average speed nearly 15% lower than normal on a fairly short ride told the story.

It seems to me, that can be just as true in other aspects of our lives as well.  Some days things just don’t go according to plan.

We head out the door feeling fine only to run into a day that just doesn’t work. Words don’t flow, jobs don’t turn out right, the kids are even more off-the-wall than normal.

Some days are hard.

The next morning I had a longish run scheduled, but definitely didn’t feel like going running. It was early, cold and dark and that memory of dead-leg day was fresh in my mind.  I lay in bed for quite a while in the pre-dawn, arguing with myself.

I knew I’d beat myself up all day if I didn’t go, so dragged myself off the pillow and staggered off down the street.

It didn’t start much better than the day before, but over the first km or two, things loosened up and I started to find my rhythm again.

By the end of the run I was cruising, enjoying the crisp early morning air, saying g’day to the other early morning runners and cyclists, and thoroughly enjoying myself.  I can’t put a finger on what had changed, but the difference was stark. I even had enough energy for a little hard push at the 15k mark to see what speed I had in the legs.

Some days are great.

It got me to thinking that sometimes, even as we get moving in the morning and head out the door, we can’t know what the day holds.  The key for me, I think, is to breath deeply, lean into God, and stagger forth into the day, determined to deal with whatever comes my way.

Training this week:

Riding: 28km @ 23.2km/h, 362m climbed

Running: 18.1km @ 5.34 p/km, 105m climbed (a shorter “long run” after 4 weeks of 20k+)

Running: 8.0km @ 5.16 p/km, 77m climbed

Riding: 39.5km @ 27.5km/h, 257m climbed

Running: 10.1km @ 5.22 p/km, 88m climbed

The Week Ahead:

Aiming for 22-24k long run this Saturday, normal mid-week 8-10k runs, and hopefully a 40-50k ride Monday.  End of next week I’m in Cairns for work for a couple of days so might pack the shoes for some tropical warmth!

Looking forward to cheering from the sidelines as Sheri, Riley and a whole bunch of friends and family members run and walk the Mother’s Day Classic this Sunday.

The Preparation:

This week I’ve been thinking about food. What to eat before I run, what to carry with me (in the form of energy gels) to avoid going into shutdown due to lack of energy.  I’m going to start using the same brand that the Gold Coast Marathon provide…just to make sure they taste ok (well, as ok as energy gels can taste).

Body is in good shape. No trouble with feet, shins, or the eternally dodgy left knee.  So, so tired…but otherwise good.  The only real training questions are whether (a) my training plan has enough mileage in it; and (b) I can keep the feet and legs in good shape.

T-8 weeks!

workshop description: re-imagining worship in a traditional space

The Uniting Church in Tasmania is blessed with many fine old church buildings.  They’re traditionally shaped, and often furnished accordingly. Long fixed pews, pipe organs, even old-school box pews are common. Heritage listing prohibits re-shaping many of the buildings to a form more appropriate for a modern faith community.

Those buildings are both a blessing, and a profound challenge to the church – in ways that we’ll continue to explore.

Last week we had the opportunity to run the latest in our regular “Hobart 2020 Forums” for those interested in exploring the themes of “How then shall we live?”, the interim report of the Uniting Alive: Hobart 2020 process.

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