Living in a laboratory

It’s a rather a strange experience when a group of people from another country come to visit your friends and city, with a view to learning from you. The week before last saw Matryoshka Haus’ inaugural ‘Learning Lab’, sharing our community, the varied life of the church in London and our fabulous city itself. For a week, all of us were living in a laboratory, in the company of a team from Bent Tree church in Dallas.

Thankfully there were no bunsen burners or chemicals, but there were plenty of experiments – for both Americans and Brits.

DSC_0512Lindsay’s fabulous programmes for the week. (Credit.)

For the Americans, this was a full immersion into a culture that may have a language in common, but in many ways that’s where the similarities end. They came from a mega church; we’re a small missional community and the churches some of us attend are tiny compared to it. We live in an increasingly secular society; Texas is in the heart of the Bible Belt. Christians in London (and the UK in general) are increasingly experimenting with what being a Christian actually means in our context and what relevant worship looks like. There was a lot to learn, explore and consider.

Irony of ironies, I couldn’t play as big a role as I wanted to because I needed to work on an ecclesiology essay on the subject of ‘gathered congregations’ versus ‘informal networks of communication’ in contemporary British society. Thanks, Vicar School!

Bent Tree at St George'sBent Tree meets St George’s. At least they were able to come and visit me while I was working!

Despite not being able to get to know the team as well as I wanted to, I did end the week genuinely sad to be saying goodbye to a group of people with whom I’d shared life for a week and who I’d connected with on many levels. Gleefully, I left our final meal with many offers of accommodation in Dallas, so I’m sure this is not the last I’ll see of the team!

Learning Lab farewellsFond farewells on the final night. [FYI, that blue bag in front of me contained 4 bags of Peanut Butter M&M’s – score!] (Credit.

What it brought home to me is how much just living our lives with others can have an impact. Each night, members of the team ate with different members of our community. I shared an excellent pub meal one night; had a couple of women round for dinner at my flat another evening; in between, we all gathered at an Ethiopian restaurant where I was part of a panel sharing my experience of blogging. A group came to my church, where I was leading a service and was hugely encouraged by the smiling team of Texans sat on the front row. So, over  just a few hours, some of this team got to see me at work; heard personal stories about my life and calling; got to ask me questions about why I do what I do; and spent time with the group of people who are effectively my London support network.

UntitledOne of my non-Texan highlights – sitting next to Dave Tomlinson on our panel. (Credit.)

Obviously, it wasn’t all about me! In fact, it was just as much about me as it was about each of the individuals within the community – because the reason Matryoshka Haus is the way it is, is because of the individuals within it!

This was a brave trip for the Bent Tree team. Traditionally, church ‘mission trips’ involve constructing worthy buildings, or leading  a vacation Bible school – or something similar that has a tangible outcome. London is not a traditional mission trip destination. Tantalising city break? Yes. Gritty mission field? Not so much. These guys had to explain over and over why there were going while raising funds, dissuading people from assuming that this was just a jolly. They came knowing that they weren’t looking to change things or leave a visible mark, but to allow themselves to be changed.

[Incidentally, that latter point is an issue on which could be written an entirely separate article. An article that I may in fact be overdue in writing for a different publication…]

But London IS a gritty mission field, and I think the Texans went home realising that and appreciating what a different context we face.

DSC_0927Reflections turned into tablecloths… (Credit.)

And it wasn’t just the Texans that went un-touched by the experience. At our final meal together, one of the Texans told the room that their week with us had given them “a good idea of what humanity looks like at its best.”  I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that I heard a gasp from the British person sat behind me. We aren’t really humanity at its best – far from it. We are broken, hurting, confused, healing, growing… I could go on.

We are humans and humans by their nature are some mixture of: broken, hurting, confused, healing, growing, etc… But we can do better. Our community can work harder at being just that – a community. We can be more hospitable. More sacrificial of our time and talents. We’re still figuring out how this life together works and may never work out the answer.

In fact, I rather hope that we don’t figure it out, because I think the excitement is all in the trying.
Life is one continual experiment in one rather large laboratory.

Learning Lab in front of St Paul'sA whole ranch of Texans on the Millennium Bridge. (Credit.)

The Learning Lab blog shares the preparation & the first part of the week.
The In Da Haus blog tells more, from a MH perspective.
We’ve Storify-d some of the tweets and photos.
There’s a Flickr pool full of photos.

Comments

  1. Chris B says:

    Hey Liz! My friend, Michelle Attar pointed me to your blog via her Facebook. I go to Bent Tree with her. I sure love my church and I’m glad they got to meet you. I wish I’d known about the the trip BEFORE they left for it; I’d liked to have joined the adventure. I LOVE London! Its a fascinating city, especially for a redneck from a small city in Oklahoma. When we were there a few years ago, I was hugely curious about the state and health of the church. Thanks for sending some of our folks back with a glimpse to share with us. Hopefully next time I’ll get to meet you and receive a glimpse for myself. Have a great day, and God bless!

    • Hi Chris! Nice to kind of meet you! It certainly was fabulous having the Bent Tree guys with us – Michelle may be able to point you towards some interesting books to read too.

  2. Liz, you are hilarious!! I love your stuff… keep up the good work !!

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