Susan Bowden-Pickstock sniffs out a rumour.
For the past two years I have been undergoing ordination training at Ridley Hall Theological College. This was not a direction I expected to take in life, but I found ordination a lot easier to pursue once I had heard of pioneer training.
I have always worked in the secular world and really enjoyed it. I don't come from a Christian background and, despite committing myself to pursuing my own relationship with God from a very early age, as an adult I found a disconnect with the Christian subculture. I wanted to be able to take my faith seriously and live in the world, enjoying most of what human culture was producing – and to me this is what a good fresh expression of church is involved in. However, in the 1970s and early '80s there was no such thing and I was more than content to remain outside full-time Christian work.
Now, 20 years on and with careers in both nursing and broadcasting behind me, I am at the end of my training for ministry. It's still a slightly odd place to find myself, but it is the right place. I find myself reflecting on some of the many things I have learnt over the last two years and I'm more and more convinced that what we need to get away from in the church is dualism – the sort of spirituality that Augustine was surrounded by and unsurprisingly fell into to an extent. By the way, I do love Augustine's 'Confessions' which is one of the freshest and most beautiful pieces of Christian writing in our wider canon.
What I mean by dualism is the mindset that says what we need to pursue is the spiritual and not the earthly, the sort of thinking that as a teenager I was encouraged to adopt with phrases such as: 'Be in the world but not of it'. That was a great favourite with our youth leaders I remember.
I want to shout back over the years, 'What good is that? How is that thinking going to relate me to my non-churchgoing neighbour? What does that give me in common with anyone except like-minded believers? By adopting it, how much am I missing of God's valid and divinely-loved creation and all that his creatures have done to express their divinely-cherished humanity?'
Clearly I could preach on this!
My final question: Would fresh expressions and pioneer work have even been needed if we had not been so heavenly minded that we were no earthly good? Perhaps I am being harsh but, as good pioneer disciples, one of the mantras we have learnt to chant is: 'Find where God is and join in'. Rumour has it that God enjoys creativity, the outdoors, film and literature and art, human striving for excellence, everything that builds community, laughter, love, adventure…