This edition of the Bradwell Papers arrives at a time when we are still reeling from the events of 11th September in New York and Washington and just prior to those events I was asked to offer a lecture on international development in relation to the theology of the Kingdom of God at a conference entitled "Why Development Matters", and it therefore seems to me timely to offer here a shortened version of that lecture as a modest contribution to the debate. It does not seek to make the case for understanding our own part in the construction of an unequal world, for I know that that is argued adequately elsewhere, but it does seek to bring some theological insights to bear upon our situation.
Many of us were honoured to be at two special services which took place in our Cathedral in July at which our departing Bishop of Colchester, Bishop Edward, preached and we were so moved by the wisdom of what was said that we have prevailed upon Bishop Edward to allow us to publish them here.
Finally, as our Area Teams get under way, I am grateful to the Evangelism Officer of the Colchester Area, Penny Horseman, for her piece on evangelism as a midwifery exercise. This will, in due course, be published elsewhere in a longer version.
I trust that you will enjoy reading this edition and feel prompted to write something for our next publication.
With very best wishes,
International Development and the Kingdom of God, Bishop Laurie
Bishop Edward, A Personal Tribute by Archdeacon Martin Wallace
The Peace of God, Bishop Edward
Shedding the Leaves, Farewell Sermon by Bishop Edward
Midwife Evangelists: Some Thoughts, Sister Penny Horseman CA
Let me start by considering a character from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jeremiah the prophet stands in the Temple with a wooden yoke across his shoulders. The yoke represents what Jeremiah understands to be the harsh realities of history laid upon the people by their God. But Hananiah believes that history must simply give way to the ideals of religion so he breaks Jeremiah's symbolic yoke. Jeremiah believes that God is concerned for history and context – that God takes the 'Moment' seriously. So he returns to the temple, this time with a yoke of iron across his shoulders. The people will be exiled to Babylon – they will be carried north-east by the relentless historical forces of an increasingly global market and military machine. History will out! Hananiah represents Religion as Ideology, but that idea has to make way for the realities of history, says Jeremiah. The prophet must read the Signs of the Times, and address God's new future.
These same tensions continue to this day wherever God is doing a new thing. For example, we might assume that the definition of community that we've grown accustomed to must forever hold true – that every community must have a boundary to indicate who belongs, a margin beyond which one does not belong. We must know who is 'in' and who is 'out' of a community. So when we are challenged today by the Development debate to look for new definitions of community – to ask afresh who should be in and who should be out – are we angry alongside Hananiah and say this does not fit the old ideology, or do we say with Jeremiah that God can do a new thing? This new thing, this 'Kingdom of God community' where the boundaries are porous, where there is a strong centre but no excluding boundary, seems highly improbable. The old ideology says that someone must be marginalised. But Jesus takes those from the margin of the old community (the man with the withered hand, the little child, the leper) and brings them to the centre. He takes all our presumptions about community – and therefore about exclusion and marginalisation – and turns them inside out. His Kingdom of God is a new 'community', with a new definition!
Let me turn next to a prophet of our own day. I am arrested by these words of Moltmann:
“We are not theologians because we are religious; we are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God. We are crying out for his righteousness and justice and are not prepared to come to terms with mass death on earth.”
He then goes on to say:
“But for me theology also springs from God's love for life – the love for life that we experience in the presence of the life-giving Spirit and that enables us to move beyond our resignation and begin to love life here and now. These are also Christ's two experiences of God: the Kingdom of God and the cross, and because of that they are the foundations of christian theology as well: God's delight and God's pain. It is out of the tension between these two that hope is born for the kingdom in which God is wholly in the world and the world is wholly in God.”
['Theology in the Project of the Modern World', in A Passion for God's Reign, ed Volf. Eerdmans '98]
Let me stay for a moment with 'God's pain' - “Why have you forsaken me?” Moltmann likes to warn us not to rush so excitedly into pondering post-modernism without first acknowledging what he calls the present 'sub-modernity'. For the folly of modernism has brought with it the impending death of our planet and the impoverishment of the majority of the world's population. The 'development' of the industrialised wealthy nations, he explains, has been at the expense of other nations and of nature, and now continues at the expense both of the developing countries and of forthcoming generations.
The story is well known. From the seventeenth century on, European traders bought African slaves, took them to America where they were exchanged for gold, cotton, and so on, which was then taken back to Europe. The point is this: those profits provided the investment capital for the industrialisation of Western Europe. We have now turned our resultant luxury into their international debt and we further benefit from the cheap labour in the countries we have thus made poor. We have devastated the natural environment and driven rural populations into the teaming new megacities, so overpopulated that they are quite unable to sustain decent standards of human life. If the poor try to escape this slavery they are branded as 'bogus' refugees at the fortified boarders of the nations that have grown rich at their expense. God hurts, and how Mammon prospers.
But Moltmann spoke not only of God's pain but also of God's delight. The cross, yes, but also the Kingdom – the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. So what is this “will of God on earth”? In development terms, how does it cash out?
All development work relies on the assumption that what is being offered, the target of the development, is at its heart good and beneficial for all. Most of our contemporary development programmes assume western capitalism to be good and beneficial and that under-developed nations need to be incorporated into that trade and economic system so that they too can benefit. The cry of the developer is, “Come on in, the water's lovely.” But amidst the clamour of would-be bathers we also begin to hear the response, “but your water is contaminated, so we don't want your questionable water.” Essentially it is an accusation that the goodies on offer are contaminated by the strings that are attached to them. It is instructive to remember how Jesus responded to similar pressures.
Jesus himself had been schooled in a Nazareth carpentry and masonry shop. No doubt his family had been attracted to the area when they came from Egypt because of the availability of work now that Herod was reconstructing the demolished city of Sepphoris. The city had been demolished because of an uprising of local Galilean political sentiment. Then, when Jesus was just twenty, work began on the new city of Tiberias – and the only reason for its existence was to divert foreign magnates and traders to the west of the Sea of Galilee in order further to integrate the Galilee under Herod Antipas into the global trade-structures of the surrounding empires. Jesus lived in a Galilee where local culture and traditional economic relationships were now being overwhelmed by global forces and foreign development, and he does not appear to welcome it. Indeed, having earlier benefited from it in the carpenter's workshop he makes the decision to leave the trade and take local fishermen with him into a new relationship with the powers that be, urging the populace to search for a wellbeing for themselves and society which starts from a premise of a radically different nature.
I therefore now want to talk about relationships and the quality of relationships. Strange then that I begin by talking about money? But money is a symbol of our human transactions – it is a signifier of relationships, and therefore poverty – the lack of money – is but a symptom of poor relationships. If our relationships are unjust then our trade and the distribution of money will signify that injustice. As my friend Peter Selby has it, “Money is the crucial test of koinonia.” [Koinonia, the Greek word means 'commonality', or better 'the quality of relationships'] The quality of our relationships says Jesus, should mirror the quality of the relationship that God wishes to have with us. “They will know you are my disciples by this – that you love one another.” Again, only the relationship of love can make three become one – so the three persons of the Holy Trinity are united by love. And since we are created in God's image, we likewise should love. The whole Law and the Prophets can be summed up in this, says Jesus, that we should love God and our neighbour as ourselves.
This mirrored Trinitarian love is a love which sets free, and yet the key passage of the Hebrew tradition related to freedom, the Exodus, is not the key motif taken up by Jesus nor by the early Church. Exodus is not the best story for Jesus. For Jesus is not advocating freedom as escape. Quite the reverse. Jesus eats the Passover meal of the Exodus story but then he does not escape. On the contrary, Jesus teaches his disciples that they will find their freedom and their salvation in relational engagement. He speaks of the Kingdom community as infiltrating the wider community as leaven and salt – engaging in this loving koinonia fellowship even with the so-called 'enemy'. This is indeed an essential and astonishing feature of Jesus' Kingdom message. Relationships of this order are not merely reform, they are salvation. This is not merely development, this is transformation. This is Development as Kingdom of God, for to come face to face with the alienated and together to experience the grace of reconciled relationship – that is to meet God 'in the midst', where the Kingdom is born among us.
This is why Jesus begins his inauguration of the Kingdom by calling all people to new awareness and a sense of repentance: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News.” [Mark 1 v15] Whilst the Thatcher era was pleased to chant 'there is no alternative' (TINA) Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God on the basis of alternative – a completely new mind-set. Metanoia, usually translated as 'repentance' is better rendered 'opening oneself to a totally alternative mind-set and way of life'. Metanoia repentance is a conscientisation, an awareness of how things really are. It is an awareness which demands change and self-sacrifice. This is why Jesus repeatedly performs miracles of transformation of awareness, giving sight to the blind. He heals the paralytic so that he is no longer dependant on others to carry him. He heals the paralytic from the debt of sin and thereby makes him independent. He can take up his own bed and walk. His awareness is transformed and he can now have a new quality of relationships. Once we are aware that our development programmes may flatten the genius of a so-called 'under-developed nation' and keep them dependent, then it is possible to detect that better ways must and can be found for rich and poor nations to be in relationship. Without metanoia our development programmes will turn out to be just more of the same dependency by another name. The paralytic will still be carried by his friends.
It seems to me that this is part of the reason why Jesus chooses the most radical life-style option. He is not born alongside the poor but as the poor and bids his followers be the same. The Church alongside the poor is still inclined to carry the bed for the paralytic. The Church as the poor, or a development agency as the poor, has the awareness to know that there is no salvation, no forgiveness of sins, without the radical shift to post-colonial, post-imperial relationships.
Jesus begins to create his new community, the new Israel. Through his parables, his Signs, his sacraments, he points to the Kingdom of God, and teaches his new community to pray, “thy Kingdom come.” The prayer then goes on to describe this Kingdom as a society of mutually enriching repentance. We pray God to "forgive us our trespasses" on condition that "we forgive those who trespass against us". It is mutual forgiveness. So the poor have to forgive the rich as the rich have to forgive the poor. Here is no room for recrimination by the poor or for self-justification by the rich, but it provides the basis for a quality of relationship between the two from which mutually nourishing structures of trade, work and community can be built. Poor labour relations between rich and poor are an insult to the Creator God, for anything which alienates us from our work mars the image of the creator God in us. This is why labour relations between rich and poor are so important to the essence of what it is to be God's creature – for to be alienated from our work is, as Marx pointed out, to be less than fully human. The mutually forgiving relationships of the Kingdom put right in us the image of the creator God, by allowing us to be at one with our own creativity, and to work with the environment and with one another. We should not be alienated from either. Another reason why development matters!
But relationships of this quality, with the environment, with society and with our own creativity, call for self-restraint on the part of the aggrieved poor, and self-sacrifice on the part of the rich. It is not going to be easy. And it is instructive therefore to note that it is precisely these two graces of self-restraint and self-sacrifice that are both evident in the incarnation of Christ, who inaugurates the Kingdom.. The incarnation – this 'down to earth' act of self-limitation by the Godhead in the Son is the ultimate act of self-restraint and self-sacrifice. And this self-sacrifice turns out to be the key mark of his Kingdom. Status, wealth and power give way to the inclusion of the marginalised and rejected.
For the sake of all this, Jesus engaged in a courageous ministry of education by word and action, and calls upon the Church to do the same. He breathed on his followers the Holy Spirit who gives life and freedom to the human imagination. So when we immerse ourselves in our traditions of bible, sacraments, theology, liturgy – from that mix, inspired by the freedom of the Holy Spirit, come fresh understandings, a renewed quality of relationships, and a praxis to suit. We simply begin to see development in a different way. For example, the biblical traditions, inspired by the Spirit, will teach us that Justice, after all, can be partisan rather than blind. When “justice flows like a mighty river” crushing all before it, it is not justice as we often picture it, as a careful weighing of evidence and argument. Here is Justice which will no longer be gainsaid. Biblical justice hears our “brother's blood crying out from the ground” and comes in vengeance. To create trade agreements so that there is an equal, level playing field for all nations when it is clear that the poor nations have no chance of competing equally with the rich and powerful, is to offer anything but biblical justice. Level playing fields may issue from blind, western justice, but not from biblical justice.
A further example. While some may think our talk of the Kingdom to be fantasy, Spirit-inspired imagination will question instead the reality of our present financial structures. The financial markets rely on the unfounded belief that 'Futures' are more than a charade – that international finance is more than merely pieces of paper or figures on a screen. But it's all a figment of the collective imagination. The Kingdom of God is more real than any of that! More real than international finance! And which one do we allow to drive the global market?
And while we're speaking of 'futures', let's remember that the Kingdom of God is the absolute future writ large in the present. It is born of hope although it is firmly based on reality – the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, the Kingdom's inaugurator. That is why we can live now 'as if' the Kingdom is already here, for in many respects it is. It is not a fantasy. The eschatological nature of the Kingdom pulls us forward into the future, for the Kingdom is now, but not yet. To have such a future reference makes us always ask where we think our present actions are leading in the future. What is the aim, the end point, of our development programmes? Who will bear the cost now and in the future? Who will be the true beneficiaries and why? It's a future reference, so often omitted by the so-called developers.
Finally, I want to stress just what a challenge all this is. For to engage in Kingdom activity is to seek to eradicate from the globe the very injustice and suffering that some non-believers would say proves there is no God at all. The suffering of the world, which for some proves there is no God, prompts us to work for God's justice, God's perfect society, the Kingdom of God on earth. In some senses we have to do that in the face of the facts of suffering! But that is the beauty of faith – we will not know whether our work was ultimately futile until the Kingdom comes, or does not come, in all its glory. But the Lord's Prayer bids us respond in faith that God's will can be done “on earth as it is in heaven” – and in that way we have the privilege of 'hallowing the Name' of God, and we work and pray for mutual Development as an earnest of the Kingdom. That's why development matters.
The Venerable Martin Wallace, Archdeacon of Colchester
Bishop Edward was Area Bishop of Colchester in this Diocese for six years until his retirement in the summer of 2001. We all remember him as a man not only easy to love but also full of wisdom which could take us all off guard. His approach always was to observe, reflect, pray and then fire disarmingly from the hip with a lovely honesty. Edward Holland's humanity, humility, hospitality, humour and holiness all flowed from a heart which had grown through a long ministry in North London, Gibraltar, Naples and Bromley, before becoming Assistant Bishop in Europe. He brought all that with him to Chelmsford and his final sermons, reproduced here, bear all the hallmarks we had come to expect of him.
Chelmsford Cathedral, 1st July 2001, Bishop Edward
Three years ago I had the privilege and opportunity to have a sabbatical leave lasting three months and I decided to spend half of it in India. Before setting off I was given much advice by friends, guide books, experts, and others. Most of the advice was coached in warning terms about the food, water, dangers of travel, difficulties of language, the heat, the need for special clothing, protection against insect bites, disease, robbery and theft, kidnap and even murder.
As a result I took with me an immensely heavy bag filled with all sorts of things for every possible difficulty. A knife, fork, spoon and mug in case I needed them, padlocks and chains for my luggage, toilet paper (which in the event was extremely useful), medicines of all sorts, water purificators and clothing for all circumstances. In fact in the end the bag was probably more of a danger to me than anything else.
But I also took some familiar words of blessing from Philippians. I wrote them down on the first page of my journal on the night before I left home.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
I carried them with me and kept them in my heart. They kept me going and enabled me to go through sometimes frightening, quite often hard and difficult situations, so that at the end I was able to say I would not have missed a single moment of it, and though I was tested and tried, and at times would happily have come straight home, I was immeasurably enriched by it all.
Today, those of you being ordained are also setting out on a journey and these words I believe are ones that you too can carry helpfully in your hearts.
The Peace of God does indeed pass all understanding for it is not a peace that allows us to be untroubled and undisturbed, even un-endangered. It is an inner secret, a peace that keeps our hearts and minds safely so that we can cope with even the greatest stress without losing our faith, or even should we lose our faith enables us to find we can rely on the faith of others and above all the faith of Jesus, especially in his time of greatest testing - on the Cross.
It is peace which will give us the courage to go into hard places and situations that we could perhaps avoid, to go where we feel vulnerable and unprepared, able to engage with difficult and even hostile people and conditions.
Our Reading from Romans speaks of us presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice and that word 'sacrifice', which seems to be a bit unfashionable today, is I believe a key word for all Christians, but absolutely essential for those entering the ordained ministry. To be truly a living sacrifice requires that peace of heart and mind which will enable us to put God first rather than self. We are "called" into the ordained ministry: "I chose you," Jesus said to his disciples, "you did not choose me"; and however much we may have wanted and still want to be ordained, we need that mind set that says this is God's work before it is ours. Otherwise we shall get into that muddle that James and John found themselves in as they tried to assess the rewards of being Christ's followers - sitting in state is neither here nor there - rather it is being baptised with the baptism of Jesus and drinking from the cup He drinks from.
The baptism of self-giving, dying to self and living to Christ and his love. The cup of sacrifice, if necessary to the point of death, but certainly for all of us the, at least as difficult, self giving in our daily lives. We are not called to live at our convenience but to be available for God's work which is often very inconvenient.
As deacons, and let us remember that priest, bishops and even archbishops, remain deacons for the rest of their lives, you are all in the serving business - whoever would be great, Jesus says, must be your servant and whoever will be first must be the willing slave of all. But this does not mean you are to be a universal doormat.
Nor, and I can see one or two family members looking a bit apprehensive, does it mean that you cannot live a normal, human and family life. Indeed our families and friends will be very much part of all this, as Paul tells the Romans - we are called to be members of one Body. One Body, not two or three. Though we are many, we are one Body in Christ and individually members of one another. It includes the whole range of our relationships. Somehow in Christ it is all one.
In ordination we are not just being commissioned to do a job - certainly not a 9am to 5pm five days a week sort of job - and then our time is our own. Nor a 7am to 10pm seven days a week, as some mistakenly think. Ordination (like baptism and being any sort of Christian) is firstly about being human, being human in a new way, though in fact it is a very old way, the original way. It is about living life whole with a large heart on a grand scale in which there is no limit, at least in theory, to our sympathies, for our sympathies are to be those of Jesus, those of God. But if it is about scale, it is also about depth, while our vision is large our attention is to detail so that family, friends, personal and daily life are where we begin. If we get that wrong, then it will all be wrong.
And this does not mean that the vicarage family has to be perfect - God forbid! But hopefully it will be cheerful, open, a place where the generations engage with each other reasonably honestly, where you can have a good row and get over it, where people can behave badly and be forgiven, a place indeed where the Peace of God which passes all understanding will be known.
As deacons you are to be Servants of Christ, and indeed Servants with Christ, in the Church and outside. It is to be part of your persona, but it is a persona that does not call you to silence your gifts, your understandings, your needs, but rather to bring them to the service of the whole community - it is you that is the living sacrifice, not some empty shadow of yourself. Actually, of course, what we are all to bring to each other as human beings, whether ordained or not, is God as we know him. That is our real service to one another. Our First Reading which begins with Isaiah's vision of God reminds us of what is crucial to our humanity and to the humanity of all: to know there is a God. That he is our God because he made us, loves us and lives with us, and that he believes in us even when we do not believe in him or indeed believe in ourselves, and he works through us continually in his purpose of enabling the world to rediscover that it is his World.
In good times and bad times we need to have the peace of God in our hearts and minds so that we keep a perspective which says with Mother Julian "all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well".
Today is a launching of you like new boats, quite small boats, into the often rough seas of Christian life and ministry. If we can have that peace in our hearts when all else seems to be on the verge of wreckage, then we will not need to stay in the shallows but when necessary will be able to brave the more difficult waters to reach those places where God would have us be.
We are all here to support you in this launching, you have our prayers and love, for you and your ordination matters to us very much. May you and all of us and many others, be blessed in your Ministry.
Chelmsford Cathedral, Sunday 15th July 2001
I feel a bit like a tree in autumn - shedding its leaves. Some are already dead and life will feel all the better without them. Others still have some life in them but need to be pruned in order to allow new life to come through: furniture, knick-knacks, books, crockery, pictures, even committees and pieces of work, are passing out of my grasp to pursue their life in other hands or to reach their end on the refuse dump. From the bottoms of drawers, cupboards and piles of paper appear old photographs (in which of course some of you appear at different stages of my life), magazine articles, half finished sermons, long forgotten letters and the odd apple core!
Amongst all this, surfaced this! It's a piece of the Berlin Wall which I was given when I went there to take possession of the Garrison Church which had been given to the Diocese in Europe for civilian use as the British Army left Berlin following the collapse of Communism. This piece of wall seems to be a symbol of human life and can represent a warning. The wall was built to separate the brave new world of Communism from the corrupt old world of Capitalism. It was an assertion of power but also a confession of fear. Communism was not working and so the wall was built to hide the failure, to proclaim a success that wasn't really there, and of course to prevent people from running away. In the end the failure was so complete that the people behind the wall found their voice and the wall came down.
In this service we mark the fact that I too have, like most people, built (or at least tried to build) my own brave new world. I have created a life, developed expertise, acquired knowledge and come to possess many things and I too have built my walls to protect me, to bolster my courage and to hide my fear. Now with retirement a good deal of that is being dismantled and I must re-discover who I am, as far as possible without the defence system that I have developed.
It is a wonderful opportunity but, of course - just as the wonderful new Europe that everyone proclaimed after the fall of the wall has not exactly materialised and there is now a good deal of disillusionment and some looking back to the flesh pots of Egypt - so I too must be careful not to simply build a new defence system.
Our trouble is we know, as our reading from Geneses has reminded us, that we are made of dust, the same stuff as the rest of the world. We are very frail and that worries us. We want to be strong but we know that we are not. What we forget is that while it is true that we are only flesh and blood, dust of the earth and that we will decay and die, we have been breathed into by God, filled by his Spirit and that can never die - that is our hope and faith and it is from this that, as our reading from Revelation tells us, God will build a new heaven and a new earth. There is an embryonic new heaven and new earth already within each of us and in all of us together, for it is something we can only have together. It is the whole of creation that will be renewed and we will be a small but essential part of it. That is our hope and it lies there in our origins, and it
As Paul writes to the Colossians, 'set your mind on things above not on things that are on the earth for your life is hidden with Christ in God.' We have to live our lives with that knowledge and hope now. While having frail and physical bodies made of the dust of the earth, the spirit of God lives within us. We need to know that, to make ourselves very conscious of it and allow ourselves to live with the confidence that it gives us.
And that is how we have to be. We cannot escape our physicality and become spiritual heavenly beings detached from this world, and we must not descend and become merely physical this-worldly material beings, dumb beasts existing only to feed our bodies. We have to live in tension - made of dust but filled by the Spirit, living life on earth but our minds set on things above, so that our physical bodies and this material world are seen and known in a new way as an expression, not only of our spiritual life, but also of God himself.
To believe in the life of God given to us as the life of the Spirit is not to deny the value and meaning and purpose of this life and this world but to enhance them, to declare them as being of ultimate importance. God promises a new heaven and a new earth but the new earth can only come if we will let the spirit of God be known and lived with here and now.
That is our difficulty. We can see, touch, smell and hear this physical world. It is all around us and we are very aware of it, and it not only impresses us with its strength but it makes us afraid with its weakness, so we want more and more of it to make us feel stronger. It is easy to think that this is all and to put our faith in our little empires. Like the story of the Tower of Babel we human beings like to build and build so that we can forget our need for God, forget our weakness without him and believe we can stand on our own feet.
The Towers of Babel always collapse, our empires fail one way or another and we find ourselves faced with failure and disappointment, a sense of loss - or if we can just remember him. God.
He is there at the beginning breathing into us, giving us his spirit to live our earthly lives with him rather than without him, and he is there at the end in his promise of a new heaven and a new earth which will include all that he has created and loves. Nothing will be missing for all will be made new, all will be purged and seen to be of God and filled with the spirit of God.
And of course he is here in this daily life that we live now hidden, as he was hidden from many in the life of Christ, though seen or glimpsed by many others, and as he was hidden on the Cross from almost everyone except Christ himself, who knew his presence even in his seeming absence - his mind set on things above even when he was being dragged down into the deepest darkness that the dust of this earth can offer.
When our empires collapse, or are taken from us, or simply fail to be relevant, then we have an opportunity to turn back and re-discover life with God. Like Europe, we will fail again and again to do it well, or even to do it at all, and walls will be erected to hide the truth that we cannot live without God. For alone we are only dust, but actually we are never alone for God is with us and within us.
If we will, we can live with that knowledge as Christ himself lived - a human life lived with our minds set on things above so that heaven and earth are made new in us as it was in him.
Sister Penny Horseman CA, Colchester Episcopal Area Evangelism Adviser
"Mission in another key area that cries out to be released from the influences of McDonaldization."1
In his book The McDonaldization of the Church, John Drane concludes with a section "Dreaming the Church of the Future".2 It is in the context of this section that he uses the phrase "midwife evangelists".
It is by no means an original phrase nor a new concept. Ameiel Osmaston was using this idea in the 1990s in her missiology teaching at Ridley Hall; it occurs in The Logic of Evangelism by William Abrahams3; and it is frequently used by Stephen Cottrell. However, it is not my purpose to engage in source criticism about the phrase. Rather, I would like to set it in its context, to examine it more closely and to challenge us with questions about how we develop our own ministry and the ministry of others in the light of its challenges.
The historical context is far more complex than a simple juxtaposition of Celtic and Roman models of the church4. So whilst it is good to learn from other ages and cultures, it is dangerous to read too much of our own age into that of others. Living as we do in the first post-Christendom age we are approaching a situation which is new.
Setting our own discussion in more recent Church history, we are just beginning to recognise again a variety of approach in evangelism in a way that has not been true for 150 years. A good summary of trends in evangelism can be found in the Report of the Working Party of the House of Bishops5. It is clear that our late 20th century emphasis on evangelism as preaching comes from American revivalist attitudes as well as a modernist reliance on imparting knowledge as a prime means of faith development6. Process as a term to describe coming to faith comes mainly as a result of the work of John Finney at the beginning of the Decade of Evangelism7. A proclamation v. process debate continues in some sections of the Church but there is an increasing acknowledgement in both "camps" that these aspects of evangelism are just that - aspects. Both of these tend to neglect the third strand of evangelism which is teaching.
John Drane's emphasis is on variety and less dependence on package in all aspects of church life and this is very much what we see in the New Testament Church. Vain attempts have been made to produce a uniform pattern of ministry from reading Acts and the Epistles. Good News People concludes that "the New Testament encourages us towards a holistic definition of the word (evangelist)."8
This can be seen in the ministry of Jesus (the first model for the evangelist). He has both a public proclamation role and we see him in a "one-to-one process method of working."9
In the only detailed account of an individual called "the evangelist" we see Philip engaged in serving10, proclamation11 and "one-to-one" process evangelism12. One individual with a variety of methods of working, meeting different situations and God's leading.
What do we know about midwives? In the word itself (from Old English) the prefix "mid" means "with" and this is the central concept. In this style of evangelism an individual (or group of individuals) is "with", they accompany the person as they are "born again"13 in faith into the Kingdom. It is this being with that is the important aspect of "midwife evangelism". Unlike the type of proclamation that treats people as a crowd to be preached to (and not all proclamation needs to be like this), one-to-one evangelism is "with" the person in their questioning, doubts, exploration and searching. They are present "with" to encourage, guide, assist and accompany. These are the obvious ways in which this model works.
What other aspects of the model are important?
Firstly, at their best midwives are flexible. They recognise that the timing of the birth is not within their control. Flexibility in timing, in needs, in working "with" the person as their needs arise is important. These all translate directly into evangelism.
Expertise is important. Here is a person who has proven skills in this area of life. They are recognised as such. Are we on the look out for people in our congregations who exhibit the skills necessary for this area of service? My great grandmother was a midwife, practising in the days before the Midwifery Act (1911), she had been recognised by her community as a person with skills that no doubt she developed "on the job". The state didn't allow her to practise by the time I was born, but her skills were recognised within the family, often in preference to the State midwife who was my grandmother's lodger!
She had learnt by doing: apprenticeship is important in learning skills in faith sharing. This is as true of midwives today as it was 30 years ago when I can remember being practised on by students! In teaching evangelism skills, the apprenticeship model is of the greatest value and nothing can beat learning by doing. How are we apprenticing those who could learn these skills and develop their gifting?
With these comes sympathy, a prerequisite of being with, being alongside. An unsympathetic character can delay the process by being quite out of tune with what is going on. I can remember this with feeling (even after 25 years). Faced with an unsympathetic character it is amazing how one can control even something as inevitable as birth if you feel the need!
Skills of spiritual discernment, communication listening skills, as well as knowing when to speak a word in due season, are all important parts of the gifting of the spiritual midwife here. Much more could be said about the place of teaching here, a part of the midwife's role too.
Lastly, although for a short time the midwife has a "follow up" role, in due time she leaves the responsibility where it belongs. It is not her baby, she has done her work and others now have the responsibility. We should beware of creating new Christians who are too dependent on us for their faith development.
There may be a parallel role in spiritual midwifery for a birth companion. Perhaps the sponsors of the Emmaus Programme are the equivalents of this.
As with any model, it must not be pushed too far or it begins to fall down. I would say to those who look on this model, because of its origins as being gender specific to women - it is not. All those whom I have consulted, both men and women, said that it should not be. If it is, then is the Church failing its men in the same ways that our society seems to be failing boys in education? Are we failing to find ways that men can use this model successfully? It is a good model in that it takes into account the complexity of the task of evangelism in our times. I like the definition of evangelism by John Clark:
"Evangelism involves a subtle process of human interaction. Through it, men and women experience God's love, expressed in his people, and come to hear and understand the truth of the gospel. The Holy Spirit is at work in all this, often in ways we do not understand. As a result, people start to follow Christ and join his church."14
Something of the mystery of God's work of new creation is appropriate here as it is in the work of human birth. Someone who can be with us is what is needed
So I leave you with these two questions: