Kerry M Thorpe, author of 'A Guide to Mission Accompaniment', writes about 'Accompaniment in a time of crisis'
Accompaniment in a time of crisis!
There has never been a time like this: so many of us suddenly separated from the usual routines and responsibilities of what we fondly thought of as normal life
But crisis is famously associated with opportunity. St Paul wrote some of his most profound letters from prison. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in lockdown There are many accounts of finding faith in a period of enforced self-isolation. The Christian family is replete with stories of light coming out of darkness, hope out of despair. Breakthrough insights of faith often occur during the most challenging times.
So, what are we learning? What are we discovering? What are we re-evaluating?
Many of the conversations and theological reflections that I am picking up on are asking searching and far-reaching questions about the way that we do church. It is a topic whose time has come. For the moment, we can no longer access our church buildings. We are currently forbidden to gather for formal worship events. We find ourselves reflecting, surely church is so much more than the buildings and the formalities that take place within them? Of course, we have often paid lip-service to the idea of relational church. Much has been said and written about the priority of our relationships with each other in the family of God. Now it is being put to the test.
A relational God is always and ever committed to a relational church ‘They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ (Revelation 21:3) has always stood as the fulfilment of the Eden paradigm, walking with God in the cool of the evening, and so tragically lost at the start of the biblical story in Genesis 3.
Jesus used the primacy of relationship as both the message and the method of Gospel Discipleship: ‘Come to me...’ and ‘By this will all people know…’ are the abiding principles of a relational journey of faith. God makes friends with fallen humanity and the way that message is conveyed is by making friends with fallen humanity. The commission to the church is to go and make friends with fallen humanity. A relational God conveys a relational gospel through a relational church. That is the solid theological foundation upon which a life of ‘Mission Accompaniment’ is built.
I personally learned, in so many walks of life, about the indispensable value of mutual encouragement, support, mentoring and simple friendship. First as an apprentice jockey, then as a Funeral Director and Embalmer, I discovered the qualities of life-changing relationship that would later blossom into full fruition when the Gospel of God’s relational Kingdom burst into my young adult life.
The principle of relational mission accompaniment time and again proved the breakthrough in a lifetime of subsequent ministry. From curacies in two Churches of a thousand people, to being a vicar in a church of a mere handful; from growing a struggling parish church to planting new congregations; from classic parish ministry to pioneering and helping to found the Fresh Expressions movement, I have learned and re-learned that friendship, relationship, mission accompaniment is God’s heart for all that we have, are and do.
So what now can we do to encourage, support and maybe even challenge each other, in these unique times? Perhaps those lessons of Accompaniment have been preparing us for just such a time as this. Church leaders, older Christians, and all who care about the continued growth and maturity of family, friends and colleagues, will want to find a way to be pro-active in using these days to engage creatively with one another. We want to know that the very practical necessities of daily life are in hand for ourselves and our loved ones. Beyond that, we will find ourselves asking, ‘how can we turn this time to good?’ ‘what initiative can we take that will contribute to the blessing and flourishing of our families, friends and colleagues?’
It will be to the principles of Accompaniment that we turn. These are the values that can equip us to journey with each other through the kind of re-evaluation that this time of shaking and sifting will bring about. We can be sure that values will be examined; life-goals will be revisited; priorities will change. In these days of social media and virtual connection, as well as the good old telephone, we can still be part of that for one another. Whether we are in contact with family, friends or colleagues we can be using the best principles of accompaniment to ask, ‘how are you doing?’ ‘what are you learning?’, ‘what is changing significantly for you?’ Good accompaniment always has in mind the flourishing of those with whom we are relating By asking the best questions we can allow an open response and create space for honest reflection. Jesus offers to us ‘life in all its fullness’, we can help one another to define what that might look like in practice. As good accompaniers we can listen well. We can help to provide space for reflection. We can offer support to one another in the process of mapping out our responses to the present reality. We can help to chart a course into an uncertain future. We can be the friends that Jesus invites us to be, with him and with each other. We can grow!
How will you respond?
Kerry Thorpe has been in ordained ministry for 38 years, planting churches and helping to shape the Fresh Expressions movement. He has held Diocesan roles in Canterbury, with particular responsibility for developing new forms of church, and is currently a freelance coach, consultant and Mission Accompanier.
A Guide to Mission Accompaniment by Kerry M Thorpe. Published February 2018, BRF. £7.99