Whitby Christians Explore Villages Of God

Links between Whitby and The Community of Aidan and Hilda have been growing through our long-standing retreats with the Whitby OHP Sisters and more recently through meetings with members of Whitby Christian Fellowship who have a vision for the Christian presence in the town to become more embodied. One of its members distributed flyers about my new book 'Hilda of Whitby: a spirituality for now' to many shops and other contacts and this has produced all kinds of responses. Gwen Whitmore writes in The Whitby Prayer Letter that some Christians circulate: 'This week I was moved by words of a newly published book, Hilda of Whitby. Written by Ray Simpson, he noted hopeful signs in Whitby now, from visiting pilgrims as well as local Christians. To quote, “No longer do they fritter away their time with life-drainers and graves of the dark. They want to spend time with the young Warrior, the Son of God, and with Hilda, His heroic struggler against the dark forces that seek to divide, debilitate or destroy. Inspired by Pope Francis’ challenge that the church might become ‘the home of all, not a small chapel that holds a small group of selected people’, they have a passion to restore Hilda’s place as a village of God. {p. 127 Hilda of Whitby}.Regarding the members of the Body,‘There would be no body if each member was independent.’ 1 Corinthians 12:19

‘Hilda’s Whitby offers us a model of true community. Today’s capitalist economy has turned us into a collection of consumers – a collision of egos rather than a community. Few today are able to live together in one close-knit place such as a monastic village, but the essential Biblical values of community may be expressed in diverse ways – for example, letting the church be a home for everyone in the area; sharing meals, produce or a listening ear; praying and caring for those in need. The balance between theological study and practical service in the training of Hilda’s students was holistic learning at its best . . .

The Community of Aidan and Hilda (which Ray Simpson founded) describe their courses as head through the heart learning; they are based on love of God, people of spiritual learning, not love of letters. The foundation course on its way of life, ‘Igniting the flame’ encourages students to learn by reflecting on scripture, creation, inspired people and experience, using all five senses and by obedience to God'.

The prayer letter editor adds: 'A final personal comment. I too have observed and been told by others of signs of change in Whitby area churches of various denominations and none – change is irrespective of denomination because it comes from individual Christians taking God’s call on their time, talents and personal resources far more seriously. Not playing church, but being Church.

Back then to the opening words – Whitby one year on. Ray Simpson has depicted Hilda as a real life figure of distinction not for her saintliness, but for her dedication and determination to make change happen. Gwen Whitmore highlighted the impact the book has had on her and has enthused me with a message. The message is that it is not events that are making the difference – special services, concerts or notable speakers (though nice for Christians) - but the church being a people who provide a welcoming home for our community. Welcoming in the first place by our attitudes and then by our actions which should flow from the attitudes! The test of attitude is when things suddenly happen and we are caught off guard – it’s what comes out naturally when we don’t have time to put on an act. That is what our community sees, those who Jesus wants us to mix with.

What might I pinpoint as significant “engagement” this year? A village exercise group that almost doubled in size; a home group that got to grips with personal front-lines; a village ladies meeting that has changed from being led from the front to being a place of open discussion; Street Angels Whitby maturing and a food bank beginning (people from various churches involved in both these and agencies too); people beginning to feel “comfortable” in each other’s church communities (I cite Messy Church in local villages); and, last but not least, Hope Hub that has provided a regular relaxed atmosphere for people of all ages.

Posted at 02:08am on 23rd May 2014
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