Safe Haven

Waltham Abbey is the venue for Safe Haven, a spiritual home for people who live with mental illness.

Revd Di Crook, curate at Waltham Abbey, is herself a trained counsellor. Before ordination she worked with people with mental illness for many years. Safe Haven is one of a number of activities supported by the West Essex Mind and Spirit Cluster Group. The cluster group aims to provide resources and support in the area of mental health and Safe Haven has become an important part of that.

Safe Haven is for anyone of any faith or none. It has tried to meet in a non-religious building but people prefer being at Waltham Abbey which has 'a spiritual feel'.

Meetings are simple. To begin, a meditation is read. This is followed by quiet. People indicate they are ready for communication by placing a lit candle in the middle of the group. When everyone is ready, people can share their thoughts.

Writing about Safe Haven, one member of the group made this comment:

I am sure most of us who came along as facilitators or members never expected that we would receive ourselves, far more than we were able to give. Boundaries and barriers have slipped away as we take up the opportunity for personal reflection in the presence of God and then the privilege of sharing in sometimes very intimate and personal moments as all seek to express their feelings and needs.

Not all present would recognise or even understand the movement of the Holy Spirit, but that presence is always there, encouraging, lifting up, comforting, healing and empowering.


Blesséd aims to impact the lives of younger people who do not relate to some traditional forms of church, but with a more 'ancient:future' perspective than some other fresh expressions. Simon Rundell, Parish Priest for the church of Saint Thomas the Apostle, in Elson of the Diocese of Portsmouth, works hard to nourish, support and facilitate Blesséd with a personal passion for gutsy mission. Simon is most definitely a visionary! In fact, a number of other sacramental initiatives have taken inspiration from Simon's work with Blesséd in and around South East England.

When you have nothing, the sacrament is everything.

Blessed - robesBlesséd is an unfunded, somewhat unloved and quite ramshackle loose collection of individuals seeking to draw deeply on the incarnational mysteries and views of the sacramental life and through that proclaim ancient truths in modern ways.

It has been a dream to realise Blesséd as a truly alternative, ecclesial community, to foster and support a non-parochial gathering which is centred upon the Eucharist. This has been a long, hard and quite frustrating process, as the necessary work which underpins this can get lost beneath the pressures of other things: of parochial commitments and responsibilities and lack of money and time. Frankly, I am not sure it is working well at present and not convinced that what we want is necessarily what God actually wants.

One of the most important things about alternative worship (and the spiritual communities associated with it which seek to 'reach out for God') is the recognition that we might, and indeed have the permission to, fail.

Blesséd makes in its own way, a significant yet small contribution to the sum total of 'creative worship' as a form of mission. It expresses a different perspective than some of the more protestant-influenced fresh expressions and irritates some in its insistence that the sacramental life touches everyone whether they know it, like it or dislike it. As with other fresh expressions, we are placed on the edge or outside of the Church BUT engaged with the local unchurched or dechurched culture.

Blessed at GreenbeltYet the outside is just where Church is called to be. This may not be a comfortable place, but it is from this vantage point that we can proclaim a transformative, newly-relational insight into society, following a God who calls us to engage with the wider community.

Being a fresh expression is inherently about struggle, about failing, as well as moments of success. In Blesséd numbers remain small, those who share in worship and support each other online are few and far between and weak and tired. And yet, that is what we are called to do – to support each other in our frailty, to gather in our brokenness to share in something tangible and yet powerfully inexpressible.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. Our very weakness, poverty and vulnerability are the source of our reliance on God.

So where does Blesséd go? If it isn't a formal, licensed, constituted or commissioned community, what then will it look like? It will, I sense, continue to be a roving resource and irritant: an inspiration to some and a folly to others; a burner of carpets and good ideas and a shot in the arm for those seeking to find a new place to encounter God in the Eucharist.

There is no agenda, just an openness to God. Pray for us, and help us to discern God's will. Until then, the altar is open and we, the people, gather to seek Christ present amongst us. Come.


A time of 'quiet and contemplative spirituality in the workplace' may seem like a pipe dream in these difficult days of economic downturn but that is exactly what is happening in several locations across Poole. Paul Bradbury explains.

Reconnect is a missional community in the heart of Poole. One of several initiatives growing from this community is work:space which is a resource for people in the workplace, offering half an hour of stillness and silence at the centre of a busy working week.

I had spent time listening to people talk about their spirituality and found that many of them pray or meditate. I wanted to connect with people in the workplace because we are trying to meet people where they are in a setting where they spend so much of their time.

Barclays Bankwork:space started in Barclays Bank headquarters in Poole and it is open to people of any faith and none. Using resources from the Christian tradition, it offers people an opportunity to reflect and explore their spirituality within a work context.

work:space has continued to develop in Barclays House and we now offer a small library of books on spirituality and work that people can borrow. The Barclays work:space group is small because a number of employees have come to the end of their contracts while others have taken leave due to stress but there is no doubt that it is making a difference to those who come and helping to nurture faith in them.

More recently, work:space started in the training college of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Poole is home to the charity's purpose-built conference and training venue in the Old Town area.

RNLIThe college hosts teams from lifeboat stations across the country for training and development. Within the building is a beautiful room with amazing views across Holes Bay – a great setting to host work:space. The group will be meeting monthly at first but we hope in time to be able to make it a weekly get-together. It has been really well received by the people within the organization and I'm quite excited about the possibility of it also developing within the council offices here.

It really does feel like we doing the right thing at the right time with this because employees are under such pressure and this is a valuable resource for them – though it can be hard to get people to drag themselves away from their desks, even for half an hour, because they are worried about how that may be seen or what workload will be there when they return.

Rhythm of God and The Well

Rhythm of God - Paul CudbyTanworth-in-Arden is a small rural parish between Birmingham and Redditch. Paul Cudby, vicar of St Mary Magdalene church, explains what they are doing to reach those who don't 'do' church.

There is a large commuter contingent here and in many ways there is a sense of suburban-church-in-the-country about the place. We recognise that in a diverse culture we need to meet a wide variety of needs and so the pattern of worship varies across the month.

Rhythm of God (RoG) is a monthly evening service which we subtitle 'Contemplative Prayer Drumming'. Our aim is to use rhythm and the natural rhythm of words to aid us in a form of Lectio Divina – meditating on a short passage of scripture or a creed – in which the rhythm of a phrase can be played by the drummer as a way of taking the words down deeper into the soul, and as a leaping off point for worship. At the end of the session we sit in silence for a time and then anyone can share what they felt, experienced or thought during the service.

Rhythm of God - church

The numbers attending are fairly small but for some of them this is their only experience of church, which is fine because this is church. Specifically this refers to a number of teenagers who I initially met because they attended a weekly drumming class I run at the neighbouring church primary school. When they move up to secondary school they are invited to start coming to RoG, some of whom now do regularly. For most of them this is their way of seeing church and my co-leader (Tim Scarborough) and I recognise the missional nature of the service.

We have now got six or seven lads on the books with usually four of them there at any one time. One now helps us with our standard all age services but he finds that Rhythm of God is the place where everything 'joins up' for him. We are gradually evolving our own liturgy and also seeing some interesting outcomes. One of the lads is aged about 12 or 13 and when we ask for any responses after our silence at the end of the service, he comes out with some things that are amazing – quite profound and mystical.

For me, this is something that has grown out of a personal passion for music. I started playing drums when I was 16, later getting involved with percussion and I now play folk clubs and pubs across the area. Anyone coming to a Rhythm of God service will arrive about 20 minutes beforehand so that we can just play to warm up.

Rhythm of God - inside church

The Well, also monthly, is a service of contemporary night prayer and meditation with musical contribution from celtic harp, piano and percussion. Once again there is a strong missional element in providing a contemplative place to explore our relationships with God for those who are either uncomfortable in traditional church or not available on Sundays.

In each of these cases the numbers are small by city standards and some query the need for these services but that is the nature of rural work in my (limited) experience and there's no doubt they have become church and a spiritual lifeline to people.

Rhythm of God - weathervaneWe're also in the process of developing a contemplative Eucharist under our 'Soul-Space' banner (a name derived from Greenbelt and an explorers group we run) for those attending our youth group. Five or six had decided they wanted to be confirmed but for most of them, Sundays are not a good time. I said I would be very happy to have a youth group communion service in the vicarage for them once or twice a term – very quiet, very reflective, lots of candles and incense. At this point I have given them a reflective outline to consider what they would like to do with it. They are excited at the prospect and so am I.


The Moot monastic community (featured on expressions: the dvd – 2) offers hospitality and welcome in the heart of the City of London to 'questers' or 'spiritual seekers'. Vanessa Elston, one of the community's core team responsible for developing mission and evangelism, describes its work.

Moot - banner

As a monastic community we are seeking to deepen the ways we encounter God, ourselves and others in community, spiritual formation and mission.

Our worship draws deeply on the sacramental and contemplative traditions, bringing together the ancient-future dimensions of the faith. We aspire to a common rhythm of life that expresses our commitment to living sustainably, holistically and justly. We also explore spiritual practices, postures and virtues as means to the transformation and inner liberation required to live out our Christian vocation.

Hospitality and welcome are part of our rhythm of life; they represent a significant strand in the monastic tradition and have a long biblical and Christian tradition of practice that best describes how we are called to engage with the 'other', our 'neighbour', the 'stranger' – particularly those who may lack resources to support themselves.

Through our presence in the City, we regularly meet those who are increasingly dissatisfied with the assumptions and lifestyle offered by secular modernity. Many are looking for resources to support their quest for meaning, spiritual experience and practice but are not turning to the traditional church to do this. Our society is increasingly post secular and open to exploring the spiritual dimension of life but the Church has been slow to effectively engage with this shift in the culture. As a result we have been experimenting with two forms of welcome and hospitality on offer to those who are looking for more to their lives, but are resistant to traditional forms of church and evangelism.

Moot - circleOn Wednesday evenings at St Mary Woolnoth's Church, opposite Bank Tube station and the Bank of England, you will see banners on the railing offering 'Free Meditation' to those who are 'stressed in the city'. Inside the church a group of 15-20 people meets every week to be led through a series of relaxation exercises into a 20 minute silent meditation, following the sacred word approach of the Benedictine Monk John Main. We are encouraged not to worry if our minds seem to leap about like monkeys at first, but to keep drawing ourselves back to our 'anchor word' or 'image'.

This method is to help us still our minds, so that we can begin to get beyond the surface clutter and distraction that prevents us from encountering ourselves at a deeper level and going beyond ourselves to encounter the divine. After the meditation we reflect on how our stress levels have, or have not, been lowered and there is an opportunity to share thoughts, reflections and questions on the process. In this way, those who are spiritual questers experience stillness and transformation. As a result some become regular visitors who are now in a process of opening up to Christian spirituality.

Twice a month on a Wednesday evening, in a large pub near St Mary’s, city workers share a drink or meal while a group of people meet in a back room for what we call a ‘Serum discussion’ based on one of the bigger questions around life, God and spirituality. The group starts with an icebreaker in which everyone introduces themselves and then there is a short 3 to 5 minute thought-provoking discussion starter which ends with a question.

Moot - tableWe then split up into smaller groups where the conversation is facilitated so that everyone participates on the same level, feels listened to and respected. The ground rules of Serum are explained so that the goal is not 'to win the argument', or 'get the right answer to the question' but is about mutual learning. If you listened in to one of these groups you would become aware how this approach can take the discussion beyond an intellectual debate about ideas into something far more personal involving heartfelt searching and consideration. It is amazing how honest and open people can be with others they have never met before.

You would also notice how this approach works best when the Christian presence and voice is in the minority and how people find it much easier to listen when they no longer feel threatened by an atmosphere of dominance or control. A trainee ordinand described Serum as ‘unique in his experience’ in that the church was hosting an event where it was not asking people to move towards it but providing a genuine space of mutual encounter and dialogue.

In these ways Moot is seeking to engage with those who may be a long way from traditional forms of church but are searching for ultimate reality through spiritual experience and finding safe spaces where beliefs and perceptions can be explored and discussed in a non-threatening and non-argumentative environment. The meditation group has been meeting for over a year while the Serum discussion groups are a newer venture – both are attended by a majority of non-Mooters.

One of the challenges of living in a big city is sustaining and growing community and Moot is no different in this respect. We have big ambitions for a small community and are looking for new participants to help us develop our programme of spiritual and missional events in the heart of the City of London.

Contemplative Fire

Candles, quiet drumming and chanting. Anointing with oil. The breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, food and sacred story. It could be any century, any country, any community of Christ's followers. But this is a Gathering of Contemplative Fire, a fresh expression of church.

We welcome the pre- and post-church generation and spiritual searchers of any path seeking to understand the way of Christ the contemplative.

This is an invitation to a radical transformation of consciousness on the Way of Jesus: the ancient and contemporary path of unknowing and knowing, of being loved and loving, of letting go and taking hold.

Whilst Contemplative Fire attracts those from different Christian (and non-faith) backgrounds, it is accountable to and in creative dialogue with the Church of England. Wherever Contemplative Fire establishes itself as a praying, liturgical community, the blessing and partnership of local and diocesan leaders is sought. Such a context allows for two-way prayer support and the opportunity, with the inherited Church, to share and wrestle with theological, missional and pastoral issues.

Contemplative Fire resources its individual members and its network of local groups through a combination of learning materials, experiential processes, creative worship and the training and equipping of its local and national leadership.

To learn more about the activities of Contemplative Fire in your area, or to explore membership, please visit our website.

Travelling light, dwelling deep with Contemplative Fire:

A personal rhythm:

  • reflective opportunities for opening to the presence of God;
  • a deep sharing with others;
  • a learning journey;
  • costly giving: an offering of our gifts and ourselves to the wider community.

In small groups:

  • threes – structured silence, deep listening and personal sharing;
  • sevens – table liturgy celebrating the festivals, with stillness and response flowing from texts from the bible and spiritual writers;
  • open circles – stories and pauses, with a chosen book as focus;
  • prayer at the heart – Ignatian group discernment;
  • still waters – quiet reflection and body prayers from the Christian tradition.

In larger groups:

  • living the mystery: the way of Christ the contemplative – series of single days of theological and experiential exploration;
  • gatherings in different places and spaces, for contemplative eucharist;
  • pilgrimage to now/here – walking in beauty, building awareness and community;
  • wisdom on the way: rhythm of life weekends and retreats – the dynamic of prayer, study and action;
  • land, sea, sky: journeying at the edge – seashore conversations;
  • member events celebrating our journey together as 'companions on the way': a community of Christ at the edge.


StillPoint, a collection of resources and spaces for those attracted to the contemplative tradition, is a new fresh expression in Oxford. Ian Adams and Matt Rees explain.

StillPoint - logoStillPoint began out of our work as Ordained Pioneers and the hOME and mayBE fresh expressions of church communities in Oxford. We became aware that there were many 'on the edge' of our work who were interested in spirituality but not religion, who would not look to the church for what they are seeking. We had become increasingly convinced that there were great resources and practices that could nurture faith coming from the contemplative tradition. One of the great opportunities for today is that ancient contemplative approaches to faith find resonance in our current post-religious context. We therefore wanted to explore how we could enable people to encounter such treasures through some form of resource centre offering ways into the practise of Christian spirituality. This could open up a depth of faith for Christians living in the 21st century, and could assist spiritual seekers to encounter the Christian contemplative tradition. This would be offered as a gift, as a way in, an accessible approach to Christian contemplative spirituality.

StillPoint - exhibtionIn a place like Oxford, the sense of being 'spiritual and not religious' is huge, so connecting with such people is important. We also wanted to do it for ourselves, so that we could be living a depth of the faith informed by such practices. The focus then has to be assisting people on their particular spiritual journey, a key area for the church to get involved in if it is serious about mission in the twenty first century.

A challenge for the church is to shift an understanding of the faith from 'something you do' like going to church, to a sense of Christianity defining 'a new way of being', enabling you to become more whole, more self aware, more human and to make a difference in the world. This is a call to discipleship, and perhaps we have often dumbed down on what it means to be a Christian disciple. It is important to discover and practice a spirituality that brings love, transformation and peace.

StillPoint - launchSo we began StillPoint, offering a mix of resources and possibilities. We have run a series of meditation workshops drawing on the Christian tradition. We have invited some long-experienced practitioners of the Christian contemplative tradition to run workshops and offer their insights. We have also put on an Art Exhibition on a theme, again aimed at enabling people to quest. It is very important to us that StillPoint is focused on the experiential. We want StillPoint to be a centre of practice rather than another study centre.

StillPoint - cinemaWe have deliberately from the beginning not used church spaces, but used a cinema and a local arts café as public space, to seek the spiritual in the ordinary so that it can be trusted space for spiritual seekers. We have created a website, again aimed at those who might define themselves as spiritual and not religious.

Our hope is that StillPoint increasingly supports spiritual seekers to explore the Christian faith and for Christians to increasingly understand and grow into the depth of their faith, fit for the twenty-first century. It is still early days, but it is already exciting to see what has happened and the potential for it to grow and make an increasing impact where we are.