Making Space: Leading Quiet Days & Retreats

This Learning Community is an opportunity to gather together with others to share ideas, inspiration and encouragement that will help develop your skills in making space for others to encounter God through quiet days/evenings and retreats. 

We will meet together five times over the year, with each session focusing on a different element of planning a quiet day, and having a different theme following the pattern of the liturgical year (advent, lent etc.). Sessions will be interactive with opportunities to share and discuss ideas and challenges along with input from the group facilitators and time for reflection and prayer. 

No experience of running quiet days is required! The events you’d like to run might be anything from a simple prayer station in your church for visitors to access, to a full day retreat. You are welcome whether this is an area you already dabble in, you’re an old hand at planning retreats and are looking for fresh ideas or you would like to put something like this on at your church but have no clue where to start! Bring your enthusiasm and we’ll all share our knowledge and creativity and go away encouraged and inspired. 

Dates: 

Wednesday 6 November 2019
Wednesday 29 January 2020
Wednesday 25 March 2020
Wednesday 6 May 2020
Wednesday 15 July 2020

Time: Meeting from 7:00 – 9:00pm (beginning with refreshments)

Location: Stoke St Michael’s Church, Coventry, CV2 4BG

To find out more or reserve your place: Contact Lisa Holt or Jen Thornton via servingchrist@covcofe.org

— Spaces are limited to enable the most effective learning environment. Due to high demand this group is now full and we are exploring options for second group. Please do still get in touch to register your interest so we can keep you informed! —

There is no charge to be part of a Learning Community. The EQuip Learning Communities are predominantly intended for lay people, but if you’re ordained and interested, do get in touch! 

Whole Life Worship

‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.’ – Romans 12:1 (The Message)

It’s Sunday morning.  Maybe we’ve struggled to drag ourselves out of bed after a late shift, arrived at church in a hurry and the minister is saying the words of welcome as we wonder whether we remembered to shut the bathroom window.  Maybe we’ve been up since 5am, entertaining a child that has developed an aversion to sleeping and we’ve just been waiting for the moment we can hand them to a friendly face at church and have Just.  One.  Moment.  Of.  Peace.  Or maybe we’re simply sat there, half distracted by the busyness of the rest of our lives, already thinking about the meeting we have tomorrow, the fact that we still need to get the dog booked into kennels next weekend and we can’t work out how to respond to that colleague who sent a snippy email last Wednesday and whom we’ve successfully avoided since then.

How do we worship from these places?  How do we bring our busy, messy, awkward lives as an offering to God that is authentic, heart-felt and invites him to meet us as we are?

The nature and purpose of worship is to bring “worth” to God.  To respond to his goodness and mercy from a place of gratitude, adoration and honesty.  It is a sacrificial offering of our time, talents, priorities and focus, in honour of the God who loves us.  Why do we worship?  Because the Bible tells us to.  Because we were created to.  Because if we don’t, then the rocks and mountains will cry out on our behalf.  Because God deserves it.

But God also knows us.  He knows when we’re coming to church slightly late and frustrated with the parking.  He knows when we’re praying with our eyes open to stop us nodding off in intercession (I speak from personal experience here…), he knows when we’re sat there in the church building but when our mind is in the office, the school, the Doctor’s surgery, the supermarket or the football stadium…  And God is available for worship in all of those places too.

The concept of “whole-life worship” is that we need to stop compartmentalising our lives into “holy” and “un-holy”, “sacred” and “profane”, “church” and “normal” life.  We need to learn to recognise all aspects of our lives as being part of God’s interaction with us and learn to worship him in the “gathered” fellowship of Sunday services and the “scattered” elements of our Monday – Saturday life.  He cares about those too.

By bringing in recognition of the dual nature of our lives as Christians to our Sunday services, we empower, equip, commission and disciple one another to be 24/7 followers of God.

How do we do it?

  • Maybe our words of welcome could reflect the events of the previous week in the church, community or country as a whole, drawing people from work and leisure in the outside world and into God’s presence.
  • Maybe our closing prayer or words of dismissal could more clearly commission people to live out lives of service and worship in the other 6 days of the week – making specific reference to the lives and experiences of our congregations.
  • Maybe the songs we sing could have a specific relevance to a current situation we are facing as a church, the images on the projected slides could be of our local community or the hymn introduced by a member of the congregation for whom it has a wider “whole life” significance.
  • Maybe we could invite a different person each week to share what they will be doing “This Time Tomorrow” and commit to praying for them (and others in similar situations) supporting them and celebrating the fact that God will be with them in that meeting/exam/hospital appointment/playgroup/interview/conversation.
  • Maybe we could have people offering thanksgiving for something specific that God has done that week (I have used Psalm 136: 1-4 as the starting point for this and had some wonderful spontaneous examples of God’s love at work in ordinary life, with the whole congregation responding “his love endures forever” after each one).
  • Maybe we could adapt our language so, instead of saying “we will now have a time of worship…”, as if what we were doing before was irrelevant, we recognise the “gathered” nature, with words like “as we meet together in God’s presence to bring our worship into his church today…” or “let’s continue our living worship of God by…(singing, reading, listening, receiving etc.…”)
  • Maybe we could acknowledge the fact that everyone is coming from different places, recognising the light and shade in our congregation’s livesFather God, as we gather today from our scattered lives, we bring joys and frustrations, hopes and disappointments, celebration and sadness and lay them all before you…”

We don’t need to make radical changes or upset the stalwarts on whom the church has been faithfully built.  We simply need to recognise that our Sunday worship should be a rekindling of our spirits and a re-commissioning to do what we should be doing in every aspect of our lives – living, loving, working and serving in Jesus’ name.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” – Colossians 3:17

If you would like to know more about this area of Whole Life Worship, why not book for the Whole Life Worship Training Day being held in Banbury on 5th October 2019 (I attended earlier this year and found it hugely inspiring!).

Details can be found at https://www.engageworship.org/events/whole-life-worship-saturday-banbury

Alternatively, you can search the resources and ideas at LICC for ideas: https://www.licc.org.uk/ourresources/

Making Space To Be With God in Advent

As Advent approaches, it can be easy to get swept up in the frantic search for presents, the battle to get the food shopping done, the endless list of chores before the family visits…

 

Yet at the same time, it’s a season when we’re looking to increase our time with God.  We want to study the Bible, spend time in prayer, meditate on those well-know prophesies of old and just be still in the midst of the crowds and contemplate the meaning of the season.

Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation.  This season, just as Lent, is a time when we prepare ourselves to embrace the full meaning of Word becoming flesh, arriving as a tiny baby, dying as a Saviour.  Advent draws our eye back to the promises of God and gives us time and space to consider the riches of God’s plans for his people.

Maybe, then, we need to give ourselves a break and seek God in the simplicity of everyday life.  Maybe it’s quality, not quantity, God wants…

Grab the moments of stillness or quiet

Each day, there will be certain moments where you find yourself with a few minutes in which there’s nothing to do.  It could be whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.  It could be putting the TV on mute during the adverts in a TV show.  Perhaps it’s at that moment where the kids/dog/spouse have gone to sleep and you can just pause momentarily.  At this time of year, standing in the queue at the shops, or waiting under a shelter while the rain stops can all be very practical (and regular) opportunities to take a breath and remember the presence of God among his people.

You could:

  • Have one short verse each day.  You can quickly re-read it through the day in the quiet minutes.
  • Have an email/app on your phone with an Advent reading or prayer timed to your lunch or coffee break
  • Use study notes that give you a brief 5-10 min reflection that can be squeezed in before bed/over breakfast/while dinner cooks
  • Choose a certain place in your house/office and start a habit of pausing there each time you pass and recalling something to thank God for this Advent
  • Recite a simple breath prayer at those quiet moments

Find chances to multi-task

“Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren, suggests lots of everyday activities you could use to reflect on God’s presence:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Making beds
  • Drinking tea
  • Eating a meal

It’s both practical and thought-provoking!

Another simple thing that can be done is to take an ordinary daily task and practice doing it with God.  A classic example is a commute – perhaps listen to worship music, an audio Bible or podcast.  The “Christmas in Ordinary Time” series here http://contemplativeathome.com/page/5/ is a lovely one.

Walking the dog, going for a run, cleaning or doing the gardening are other things that can be done in God’s company.

Diary some extra time in

Think about taking opportunities to spend longer with God, even if it can only be occasional.  Look at your diary for the next few months for a day where there’s less happening –a group you belong to isn’t meeting, your partner/child/ housemate is going to be away, you’ve got an afternoon off work etc.  Book in an appointment with God at that time (give him a code name if needed – he won’t mind!).  Looking for these times can be a great way of setting aside time to go deeper. 

Why not take some time out:

  • Take yourself to a coffee shop and have a festive treat whilst reading a book/Advent study (Paula Gooder’s “The Meaning is in the Waiting” and “Walking Backwards to Christmas” by Stephen Cottrell are both fantastic!)
  • Go for a walk in the park and chat to God about what’s on your mind as you do
  • Book into a retreat centre for an Advent quiet day or prayer meeting
  • Visit a church service or event that you wouldn’t normally attend

Find the thing that makes you tick

  • Gary Thomas has written a great book – Sacred Pathways – which is widely available
  • NCD has produced a survey which can be accessed online: https://3colourworld.org/en/etests
  • David Csinos has researched this area – The Church of Scotland has a really helpful summary of his ideas.  It’s applied to children but makes an awful lot of sense for adults too

Work out when and where you feel most alive with God – your preferred spiritual style.  For some it might be formal worship in church, for others it may be getting outdoors in God’s creation, for others creative arts, quiet contemplation, acts of service, times of prayer/fasting.  This Advent, make an effort to find the things that get your heart racing or touch your spirit, and make time to do it.  If it’s something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore and will help you reflect with passion on this season of promise and anticipation.

“Let the children come to me…”

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there”  Matthew 19: 13 – 15

 

In recent weeks I have been feeling challenged by the provision churches make for children in worship.  I have met with a number of churches and individuals who are exploring new ways to bring different congregations together, create a new approach to all-age worship, start children’s groups or reach out to children and young people in the community.  But I have also had conversations with people who don’t fall into the category of child, youth or young parent, who have been led to question their place within these services.  As a church, we have a real desire to see the next generation coming to know Jesus and begin a relationship with him…  What we aren’t necessarily sure of is how to do that!

At a recent Praxis event in Birmingham Cathedral, this question was being addressed directly.  One lady I spoke to had lots of children in a lively charismatic church and wanted to find ways of making sure that worship was more than just singing and dancing.  Another gentleman I spoke to came from a traditional church where the desire was for younger people to join the congregation without losing the distinctive nature and tradition of how they did worship.

There seems to be a growing challenge in a consumerist culture where we look at what we get out of church – but we need to readdress our attitudes.  Worship isn’t for us, but for God.  We’re there to bring an offering of praise and celebration (and some days, lament) in response to life’s journey and God’s presence with us.  As such, church isn’t there to “entertain” or “put on a show” for the congregation, but to draw them into God’s presence.

How then do we bring children into an environment that is authentic worship, teaches theological truths and yet is accessible for them to feel that they have something of value to offer alongside the adults in the congregation?  Based on the conversations and conferences I have recently been involved with, there seem to be a few key things to bear in mind.

Children are smart.  There can sometimes be a feeling that we have to “dumb down” worship or teaching to make it “easy” for children.  However, are we actually giving them an introduction to the faith?  Are we helping them understand the nature of God’s love and the saving grace of Jesus?  If all we do is put on a circus, with a vaguely moral message, they may as well be watching Cbeebies, and we’re actually cheating them out of something far more meaningful.  Creativity or metaphor isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but they must be properly explained and put in context.  We shouldn’t sell them short – the children I have come across have a hunger to really understand these wonderfully rich Bible stories and often ask the pertinent questions that we adults feel afraid to.

Secondly, we can’t presume that all children enjoy worshipping in the same way (or in the way we plan for them!).  Adults and children alike are all different from one another in the way they approach God in worship.  For some, it’s a gentle spirituality that seeks time and space to be still as an offering of worship to God.  For others, a lively and charismatic setting, with music and dance is more their scene.  Some like the depth of tradition found in the beautiful old hymns, others like the relevance and accessibility of modern worship songs with a more contemporary feel.  When we welcome anyone into our churches, we need to offer them the opportunity to just be themselves.

Creating variety, space and opportunity for children and young people to offer their own ideas and suggestions will probably be very enlightening.  If you’re doing a lively action song, make sure that you also have times of stillness and quiet.  If you’re having an interactive “everyone shouting out the answers” type sermon, make sure there’s a space and activity for those who don’t feel able to join in to be nurtured and learn God’s word (particularly if you have children or adults in the congregation who perhaps struggle with over-stimulation or lack of clear routine).  We need to be aware that catering for certain demographics should not mean alienating others and any changes we make to the services we hold still need to reflect the ethos and identity that first drew people to the congregation.

Finally, children love to feel like they can offer something to the wider life of the church.  Get them on the prayer or reading rota.  Let them take up the collection.  Get them to write a bit of liturgy or have an interactive preface where the whole congregation can offer the things they’re thankful for.  Interview all ages about their life events or achievements as a “testimony” slot in the service then pray for these things.  You’ll be surprised how little services actually need to change in order to cater for children.  The fact they feel involved and valued is far more significant than whether we do action songs (which I know for a fact some children find excruciatingly awkward!).  The bonus is that, by involving all ages in all elements of the service, you overcome the idea of a “family” service or “children’s service” and develop an environment where all generations, in whatever stage of life they may be feel like they can belong.  Church is the family of God, and a family is a spectrum of ages.  We need to ensure that each member has their place, and can be drawn into God’s presence through authentic and inspiring times of worship.

All You Need Is Love

On Saturday 19th May, the world stood still as two people entered into a life-long commitment of marriage in the family chapel in Windsor.  It was conducted in front of family, friends, celebrity guests and hundreds of millions of TV viewers, all wanting to catch a glimpse of Meghan and Harry’s big moment.

The news that evening was, as expected, awash with footage of the ceremony, pictures of the best (and worst) outfits, commentary on the celebrities who were in attendance and, of course, the dress.  But what nobody had expected was the huge reaction to the sermon…

The evening news, the papers, Facebook, Twitter, (and a variety of other platforms which I am too uncool to know or use) had all gone crazy for Bishop Michael Curry’s message of love and hope.  I was watching with family back up north and sat, alternatively open mouthed and cheering, as the Gospel message was preached.  Unashamedly.  Vibrantly.  Emphatically.  With love at the centre.

So what had grabbed our imagination so much that a 13 minute talk about Jesus was getting as much media coverage as the royal couple themselves?

Firstly, enthusiasm.  There was a sense that Bishop Michael knew he had something worth listening to.  The style of delivery was engaging and passionate, and he made it clear that what he was saying was important to him.  He believed in the message he was preaching and the value it held for the people listening.  We were caught by that enthusiasm.

Secondly, relevance.  He made his message fit the context and the audience listening.  He referenced the importance of love, both within a marriage and within the structures that govern our daily lives.  Education, politics, conflict resolution, justice…  Nothing was beyond his vision for a world ruled by love.  He painted a future of hope and suggested that it could happen, inspiring the people listening to perhaps look at their own sphere of influence.  We could see the relevance of what he shared and we wanted to act on it.

Thirdly, risk.  The common observation being shared in news reports and online commentary was along the lines of “The Royal Family have never encountered this before!”  I suspect that this is probably not true, but it may be true to say that, for a formal occasion such as this, that level of passion, vibrancy, humour and all-out “ooph” may have taken a few people by surprise.  There was a conscious decision that Bishop Michael was going to take this opportunity and run with it.  We can often feel that people won’t want to hear about Jesus, or that we will be met with hostility, but that is very rarely the case.  People are usually receptive and polite, even if they don’t choose to pursue it themselves, and sometimes we will be rewarded with a good conversation that helps a person move forward in their journey of faith.  He was being given a platform to share the Gospel with a potential audience of billions.  And oh, was he going to take that opportunity.

Finally, and most importantly, God was at the heart of it.  The references to creation, the references to fire, the focus on the revolutionary power of love, were all under-pinned by one simple message: that love can change things for the better, God is love and love comes from God, so therefore the love of God can change everything.

One of the fundamental aspects of a healthy growing church is an inspiring worship service.  Something that people look forward to.  Something that will get them enthusiastic about their faith and help them learn to worship God and articulate this love for Him through a variety of mediums.  It might not be the thing that first brings them in, but it’s what keeps them there.  Perhaps unexpectedly, this is what we saw being modelled at the royal wedding ceremony, through a passionate sermon, rousing hymns and an uplifting gospel choir.  We may have all tuned in to see the dress, but we got so much more.

When we look at our church services, whether sung worship, the sermon, times of prayer or the other times of ministry that flow through it, are we enthusiastic?  Do we want to be there and feel like there’s a real value in it?  Is it relevant?  Is it helping us to draw closer to God in the everyday situations we find ourselves in?  Is it risk-taking and spirit-led, being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things or the unexpected nudges that the Holy Spirit gives to go in a new direction?  Finally, whether formal or informal, sung or spoken, charismatic or contemplative, is the underlying foundation of that gathering one of expressing love?  Our love for each other and our love for God is the very essence of what Christ taught us to build the Church on.  Inspiring worship services are an essential expression of this.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions.  Each church is the unique expression of its members, but if you would like to explore these questions further and discuss how to develop your own worship, then please get in touch.