Pioneer as Guest: the return of the Friar

Pioneer is a term which is being used very widely in the Church at present.  In talking to various gifted pioneers I have come to see three kinds of pioneering ministries in the Church.

Firstly, parish renewal is led by those who feel called to work within inherited modes of church.  Secondly, fresh expressions influenced by the Mission-shaped Church movement and led by those who are called to work alongside or on the edge of inherited modes of church.  And thirdly is what is Ralph Winter calls sodal ministry, but others might call friar or peregrini ministries.  This is what I am coming to know as guest ministries. 

The concept of guest ministries seems to offer a language that begins to articulate the vocation of those who feel the call to an ancient but seemingly forgotten ministry; the ministry of being the guest.  This may resonate with those who feel called to pioneer but do not reside easily within inherited or fresh expressions of Church, although they may rest there for a while.  Whilst those engaged in parish renewal and fresh expressions of Church are hoping to be good hosts, the sodal pioneer or friar hopes to be a good guest. 

A guest and a host are not direct opposites.  You cannot identify the characteristics of one and recognise the other in its inverted form; but neither can you separate host from guest.  One only exists in the presence of the other.  In the untidiness of emerging Christian community the two can share the same space and one can easily become the other, if only for a season. 

To be a good host is to create space for welcome.  To hold open the space enough that strangers and friends alike are afforded a dignity and respect that is inherent in their creaturliness.  To be a pioneer host is to reshape the social order so that the last become first; those unwelcome are now welcome.  To be host you must have a space that you command and the ability to change the environment to suit your guests that they might eventually feel that they belong and join the host in their hosting. 

To be a good guest is to find yourself in the company of others (often strangers); to relinquish control of the conversation; to bring gifts to the party; to travel light; to practise the art of vulnerability; to be drawn to public spaces; to be willing to wander. 

Ian Adams writes: ‘The friar understands that the open space requires us to surrender our control.  We are vulnerable on the road.  'Have a safe journey', we say.  'Call us when you get there', urge anxious parents.  Travel can be an anxious business.  Home is so much safer.  But there is something vital about this human experience of stepping out into the unknown …’

To be a pioneer guest is not simply about the church being in the community, it is about a conscious decision to leave behind the host community and participate with another people group in another space.  The hope of the guest is to move from an unknown to a named person - just like the incognito Jesus in Emmaus who helps hosts discover they are guests in a much bigger narrative.  It is to enter into a space where you are unknown and begin to wonder what transcendence, community, beauty, meaning and dignity mean here.  Others may choose to join you in that wondering and if a small community emerges the friar will often move on and leave it behind to be guest in another space. 

‘Perhaps it is the art of being guest that Christians in the West most need to recapture ... if we are to experience holiness in encounter with those who are different from us and participate in the kind of community to which God is calling the whole of humanity.’

Simon Sutcliffe Venture FX

 

This is an extract from "Letters Home Spring 2012". 
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