the end of an era… or on the threshold of something new…?

… a concluding reflection on my ‘Hug Cullompton’ years.

614921_511521685528553_1599187832_o At the weekend I said my goodbyes to those I have walked this journey with. This week my family and I will move on to pastures new.

Endings are often sad, and for me this ending is made all the more poignant by the fact I am leaving during what is clearly a time of transition for Hug Cullompton. Life moves on and people’s circumstances change.  For many of the Huggers change is something to be welcomed, but for others it is difficult to envision Hug Cullompton being any different.  They weren’t there to see it being conceived and birthed, and emerging into a shape which has altered as the organisation has grown.

So what is Hug Cullompton, and what might it become?  For many years I, along with many others, have been trying to it – but really it defies description: for it really is like nothing else. Part of that is because it is utterly contextual, created from nothing in a particular time at a place with a certain group of people; but it is also because it has been so experimental. It is the result of a shared vision of a group drawn together by their vastly different spiritual backgrounds and beliefs, reflecting the religious and social complexity of our time.

Together we have explored what it means to be in relationship, both with a God beyond human imagining and with each other; whilst at the same time sensing an urgent need for transformative change in our community and the world.  As a Christian I would summarise our raison d’être in the words of Jesus:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10.27)

But we’re not all professing Christians by any means (although I think we all believe in Jesus); and to describe what we are as ‘a church’ would probably be to stretch the definition too far.  My strategy group has suggested that Hug Cullompton (and my ministry as a whole) might be described as having a liminal function: that is, one which offers the space and opportunity to explore faith and spirituality without the doctrinal and practical constraints of ‘traditional church’.  And in some ways that might well be true. Liminal is an interesting word. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as 

“Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process” or “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.”

Were the purpose of my post, and declared reason for bringing Hug Cullompton into being, simply to create church, then this would be a fair enough assumption.  And I certainly see a desperate need for the church to create ‘liminal’ spaces – both physically and spiritually – where a journey of faith may be embarked upon at a far earlier stage than ‘going to church’.

But I wonder if describing Hug Cullompton as occupying a liminal space does it a disservice.  Liminality suggests standing on a threshold to something else – an intermediate stage for those who will move onto something different (better?).  Of course I will be moving on, as my post has been for a set time and I am now leaving to move back into more traditional church contexts.  But for the other members Hug Cullompton is not transitional. It is their spiritual home, a place where they are free to question, to explore, and to play their part in making the world a better place.

When I was appointed to this post ten years ago, the then Moderator who appointed me told me, “Do not be afraid to fail.” I have often pondered these words.  What does failure look like, and was I always going to be expected to achieve nothing more than that?

I suppose if ‘success’ were to be measured in terms of numbers of bums on seats on a Sunday morning, I have failed utterly and miserably. But I really don’t think, in this case, that’s what the definition of success was meant to be. The whole point of the post was to be freed from traditional limitations and expectations in order to experiment with what church might one day become.  And I’ve certainly done that.

There will be one more blog before the year is out – my suggestions for churches wishing to create ‘liminal’ spaces for people thinking of beginning a faith journey.  For a deeper reflection on my experiences go here.

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