HeartEdge 2021
A blessed Christmas 
and a Peaceful New Year.

As we move out of Advent, here's a shorter email update to wish you a blessed Christmas and a peaceful New Year. 

With Covid on the up and in the midst of Christmas plans being hastily remixed, we hope you stay safe and find joy and wonder rekindled by that first Nativity.

This month:
  • Grace - a Christmas conversation about God, home and identity with Bev Thomas, Winnie Varghese and Azariah France-Williams.
  • Sam Wells on weariness and finding the joy this Christmas.
  • 'Print of Nails' - an extract from a new anthology looking to Holy Week with Steven Shakespeare on the Power of Healing.
Brian McLaren on Living God's Future Now
"The gospel is a transformation plan..." Brian McLaren in conversation with Sam Wells - here. "When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven he's talking about a new way of living..."
Covid weariness... and finding joy
"Weariness characterises the Christmas story. Government regulation causes the upheaval of the census that takes the holy family to Bethlehem." Sam Wells on the realities of Christmas and finding joy here.
God and race

"I wanted to explore the pain... and to understand what, 'every tribe, nation and tongue together worshiping'. And all the people I saw in my local church all looked like me..." Advocate and minister Bev Thomas on "race", theology from a wider perspective, burning bridges, the legacy of Joel Edwards... and the best Christmas carol ever. Conversation about God and race with Winnie Varghese and Azariah France-Williams here.

Watch out for 'How', dropping in January 2022. The new podcast with Bev Thomas and Sarah Rogers tackles HeartEdge approaches to the 4 Cs - congregation, commercial, culture and compassion... with practical tips, tactics, ideas and stories from practitioners... 
Performance Poetry and Spoken Word
"If you have ever watched slam poetry or a dramatic monologue at an open mic night, the intense, emotional delivery of spoken word may have stayed with you long after it was over..." Could performance poetry or spoken word be something for your church to showcase? Here's why... 
How to make community partnerships
"How do we work more closely with those outside the church? How do we best engage and strengthen the existing relationships between ourselves and other organisations in the area?" In our experience the same challenges come up. We have tactics and tips - here.
Developing the church building - resources
"A grassroots movement for changing the food system by empowering  local communities to grow their own food, started by a Unitarian Church in Todmorden West Yorkshire?" Intriguing... learn more about how to grow a food project that feeds your local community here.

Join HeartEdge in 2022!
  • Tuesdays: Sermon Preparation Workshop, 16:30 (GMT), livestreamed at here. Sam Wells and Sally Hitchiner discuss Sunday's readings and offer practical tips on preaching. No sessions on 28 December 2021 or 4 January 2022.
  • Wednesdays: Community of Practitioners workshop, 16:00 (GMT), Zoom meeting. Email jonathan to register. This is a space for practitioners, lay and ordained, to reflect on theology and practice. Each week, we alternate between 'Wonderings' and discussion of a work of theology. Books include ‘The Hidden Wound’ by Wendell Berry and ‘Improvisation’ by Sam Wells. 'Wonderings' we reflect and pray on our week. Newcomers welcome. No sessions on 29 December 2021 or 5 January 2022.
  • Podcasts: Essential monthly transatlantic conversations about home, identity, God and race - it's (G)race - all hosted by Azariah France Williams and Winnie Varghese. Listen and subscribe here.
Events - humbler church Bigger God
Jesus is Just Alright 1: Rocking the Church calendar – Tuesday 4 January, 19:00 GMT, via Zoom. The popular format returns. Register at here. Delvyn Case and Jonathan Evens share rock and pop music for Lent. Delvyn is based in the Boston area and set up Rock of Ages here. Jonathan Evens is Associate Vicar for HeartEdge at St Martin-in-the-Fields and co-author of ‘The Secret Chord’ here, looking at music in cultural life written through the prism of Christian belief.
Jesus is Just Alright 2: Rocking the Church calendar – Monday 10 January, 19:00 GMT, via Zoom. Register at here
Pioneer Practice 1 'Be You'... In Congregations | Compassion | Culture | Commerce with Jonny Baker and guest - Thursday 13 January, 8.00 pm. 'Be You'. Via Zoom. Register here. New Series Jonny and guests dig into the gritty reality of of pioneering. Started - or starting something or if you have an inkling or an idea you want to explore and get started.
The Binding of Isaac According to the Elohist: Thursday 13 January, 15:00 GMT, via Zoom. Register here. Dig into the story of Abraham and Isaac via a video of the world-premiere performance of this new work and then engage in small-group discussion about the ways it explores the complexities of this ancient story. With Delvyn Case, composer, hymn writer June Boyce Tillman, and Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh, leader of The City Congregation New York.
Jesus is Just Alright 3: Rocking the Church calendar – Tuesday 18 January, 19:00 GMT, via Zoom. Register here.
Pioneer Practice 2 'See'... In Congregations | Compassion | Culture | Commerce with Jonny Baker and guest - Thursday 13 January, 8.00 pm. 'See'. Via Zoom. Register here. New Series Jonny and guests dig into the gritty reality of of pioneering. Started - or starting something or if you have an inkling or an idea you want to explore and get started.
Pioneer Practice 3 'Build'... In Congregations | Compassion | Culture | Commerce with Jonny Baker and guest - Thursday 13 January, 8.00 pm. 'Build'. Via Zoom. Register here. New Series Jonny and guests dig into the gritty reality of of pioneering. Started - or starting something or if you have an inkling or an idea you want to explore and get started.

Missed it? Find earlier sessions here - or on our video section of our Facebook page.

Last Word:

Power of
healing is placed

"We are called to lived out Christ's defeat..."

We are called to live out Christ’s defeat — and thus become his co-redeemers, writes Steven Shakespeare

“YOU KNOW you’ll always be on the losing side. . . ” I remember the conversation even today. I was 18 years old, still at school. I had decided to go away and do theology at university, much against the wishes of some members of my Christian Union, who felt I would be forced to ask too many questions. It was a nervous, exciting time, and I was feeling the first stirrings of a vocation to ordination.

I shared this with a friend who was not a Christian. He obviously thought I was crazy. Why would anyone want to front a declining, discredited insti- tution? Why put yourself in the position of “always being on the losing side”? I can’t remember what I said at the time. I doubt it was very profound. But the question has stayed with me, slumbering.

IT WAS recently prodded into wakefulness again. I took a visiting theology professor to meet church and community activists in Everton, near where Liverpool Hope University has a campus, to discuss justice and empower- ment. The local parish priest, who has been involved in community action for many years, was talking about the contribution Christians can make. He said: “We have to learn to fight losing battles.”

It made me sit up and take notice. Here we were, talking about how people could overcome the dead hand of fatalism and learn to act for them- selves, to speak with confidence. And suddenly we were talking a different language, about loss and failure. What was going on?

I ADMIT to being allergic to the rhetoric of failure that some Christians seem to be in love with. “All pain, no gain” is a version of the gospel that is envious of success, dismissive of achievement, and self-indulgent in its pessimism. When self-sacrifice is made the beginning and end of religion, all God’s delight in creation is snuffed out.

If we develop a martyr complex, it becomes easy to believe that suffering is good in itself. It’s a seductive idea, but also a dangerous one. It feeds the attitude that if the poor put up with their lot, if women accept a beating from their partner, if gays force themselves to be celibate, then they will all be more Christ-like. The pain will purge them, make them holier.

But Christ didn’t come to nail us to a cross and leave us there. His Passion is also a protest. It exposes the machinery of sadism for what it is: power at the service of fear.

Our conversation in that inner-city community centre was about a different kind of power. Christians had no monopoly on struggles for dignity and justice, for decent housing and healthcare. What they brought to the table was an imagination shaped by the cross and resurrection. They were willing to fight losing battles, not because they loved failure, but simply because it was the right thing to do. It was the process of struggle that gave them a new heart, a new identity — and a glimpse of what real victory meant.

IT IS no secret that the theology of atonement — of how Jesus’s death recon- ciles us to God — is in a tangle. The Reformers sought to free Christians from the idea that they could earn or buy salvation, and emphasised the free initiative of God. The Son takes the punishment for our sins on himself, and we do nothing to deserve that offer of grace.

The problem is: what comes next? How do we live? Unfortunately, a new religion of puritanical, obsessive moralism can rush in to fill the vacuum. I have seen how vulnerable students join intense Christian groups that try to police their behaviour, and warn them that, if they are not good and pure, God will abandon them to the devil.

It is a sad irony that the most extreme forms of belief in election and predestination can lead to the most anxiety-fuelled attempts constantly to “please” God and prove oneself worthy of God’s love.

Arguably, this is a by-product of the lingering idea that God always demands a price for forgiving us. God’s justice demands blood, sacrifice, and pain. And even when we are told that Jesus has paid the price, fear and guilt can still set the agenda for our faith.

WHAT IF we started from a different place? What if we did atonement theology from the streets surrounding that community centre? How would it look?

We would have to begin by listening to the real lives of people, before imposing our theological theories. And we’d have to understand that one of the problems is that, too often, people in such situations feel that things are “done to” them. Decisions are taken without consultation; stereotypes are peddled without knowledge. A theology that makes people simply passive, and then anxious to please, will not be a theology of liberation.

Paradoxically, it’s the idea of fighting a losing battle that helps us here. For that is what Jesus did: he lost. But in the process, he fought and struggled, so that a new freedom from violence and oppression came into being. He fought, not through force, but through refusing to submit to and be defined by the political and religious establishment. He would not become a pale reflection of their fear and domination.

SO, Jesus resisted. And his strange victory called a new kind of community into being. That community is called to a new way of life, which is not simply about being good, or desperately trying to recruit people to shore up its power. It is first and foremost called to be a community that knows it is accepted, and which ultimately, therefore, has nothing to fear.

Think of the imagery used in the New Testament for this new community. It is God’s family, no longer slaves but free men and women, children and heirs of God. It is Christ’s body, intimately linked to him. It is a place of gifts, where the Spirit dwells.

The Church is an empowered community, which does not need to be anxious about its identity.

PERHAPS the most radical dimension of the Christian faith is that God calls us to share in the work of salvation and healing. God places the divine image within our shared humanity. Men and women are called to be fruitful not only by producing offspring but by creating places to live, tending the earth, telling stories, and making art.

If we are co-creators with God, we must also be co-redeemers. That may sound like a dangerous lapse into “salvation by works”, but we need to be freed from the limitations placed on our imagination by past disputes. The Bible clearly gives the people of God a key role in being a light to the nations, ministers of reconciliation, stewards of the mystery of grace.

Sometimes we can’t quite bring ourselves to believe that God is revealed in the way that Christianity affirms. We’re quick to summon again the God who controls everything and leaves nothing to chance. The Bible suggests something different: a God who takes risks, a reckless and passionate lover who wants us as partners, not pawns.

Atonement cannot happen without us. It cannot happen without commu- nities who live out the power of Christ’s defeat, and the victory of his servant- hood. In a world obsessed with targets, numbers, and the outward trappings of success, that is the astonishing gift the Church can still name, and celebrate, and live.

Steven Shakespeare features in 'The Print of Nails - the Church Times Holy Week and Easter Collection' available late January 2022 here

HeartEdge is an initiative of St Martin-in-the-Fields
We are grateful to all our founders. Which may be you. Thank you. 
Also our funders Hymns Ancient and Modern and Allchurches Trust.
Got this far? Fantastic. Have a great Christmas and see you in 2022. 
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