Emerging Church and Spirituality Shopping

Article from Emerging Church “Fresh Expressions” UK website (bold emphasis added):

Steve Hollinghurst, Researcher in Evangelism to Post-Christian Culture at Church Army’s Sheffield Centre, and Yvonne Richmond (Chaplain for evangelism at Coventry Cathedral) kicked off a national tour ‘Equipping your church in a spiritual age’ designed to help local churches engage with today’s growing interest in spirituality.

Mind, Body, Spirit

Last weekend, Steve was speaking on ‘discovering meditation with the Christian mystics,’ at the 10th Mind, Body, Spirit festival held in Manchester’s G-Mex Centre. This is the second biggest fair of its kind in Britain with over 15,000 visitors shopping for spirituality over three days. You will find herbal remedies, crystals, angel inspired art, past life therapy, spell-casting and various forms of spiritual and psychic healing.

Fairs like this are now quite common with over 150 of varying size being held across the UK each year – part of a growing culture connected to the contemporary search for spirituality in modern Britain. All those who come tend to be spirituality open and keen and relaxed about exploring ideas, theories and approaches to further enhance their search for the spiritual.

Steve has been running a ’Regenerate’ stall there for three years and is well-known for successfully training and equipping churches to engage with the spiritually seeking communities. This comes after being a key member of ‘Elemental’ at this year’s Glastonbury festival where Steve and others engaged with spiritual explorers through washing feet and providing a music, chat and chill out venue. He even runs a web blog called on earth as in heaven which he describes as ‘a place dedicated to musings about the work of God and how it is expressed at lived out in this new spiritual world and its many cultures.’

Spirituality shopping’ is really in at the moment,’ says Steve. He is an ordained Anglican minister who, in his early teens, turned his back on all things church and within a few years was into the occult, tarot, astrology and ritual magic.

‘The Regenerate stand came out of awareness that amidst this search for spirituality, Christianity was simply not on the agenda. Whilst some Christians remained of the view that this spirituality movement should be ignored, and others that it should be opposed, my encounters with people exploring spirituality led me to believe that not only were these people worth taking seriously, many were directly experiencing what seemed to be the God I also knew.’

Steve describes his main challenging in engaging with this new community to be to create a place where he could meet with people who were spirituality open enough to encounter a fresh expression of Christianity. From this idea the vision was born of a stall offering such an exploration in amongst all the others – Regenerate.

Steve continues, ‘We knew that many of the people we were seeking to connect with were either hostile to or suspicious of the church so we did not want to call the stand anything that made it immediately obvious we were Christians, so we chose the name regenerate – pointing to the way we believe Jesus could regeneration lives.’

The stall contains some carefully chosen Christian symbols such as a Celtic rather than a traditional cross, as Steve found that the idea of Celtic Christianity is more openly received. Other symbols were more subtle and require people to explore them as visual maids for meditation – including a depiction of Jesus as the tree of life. This became something of a talking point with those who stopped to admire it and opened up conversations about Jesus at the centre of life.

For those interested in the power and symbolism of tarot cards and angel decks Steve uses a ‘Jesus deck’ as a different way of communicating the Gospel stories. He asks people to chose a card from the deck and then explores with them the story the card depicts and the accompanying biblical text. Regenerate also offers healing prayer to people who are exploring a whole range of therapies and they are generally very open to being prayed for. Steve explains that he is keen for them to understand that as Christians we believe in a God that heals rather than the success of a particular technique.

Steve describes Regenerate’s presence at MBS 2005 a great success with increased and deeper encounters with spiritual explorers than in previous years, leading in some cases to people significantly reviewing their attitude to Christianity. He reckons around 200 individuals visited the stall over three days – many of whom who normally have no contact with Christianity.

One irony is that some of the main business Steve and his team had was from other stall holders who asked for prayer despite being practitioners of alternative healing and were both surprised and delighted to see Christians at the event. Steve comments, ‘A number of these had childhood church backgrounds and saw church as something deeply unspiritual and certainly did not associate the church with healing or meditation. Much of the work we are doing is in breaking down these negative stereotypes of what church is.’

Steve’s commitment to this area has work has opened up a role for him within the Group For Evangelisation (A co-ordinating group of Churches Together in England and a specialist researcher post in evangelism to post-Christian culture at Church Army’s Sheffield Centre. He was a key speaker in last year’s ‘Where’s your church in a spiritual age?’ tour of eleven venues across the UK and has recently returned from speaking engagements in the USA.

Along with other colleagues, Steve has a presence at the large Mind Body Spirit and Glastonbury Festivals where he is convinced people show a very open attitude to the Christian faith as a factor in what he describes as a ‘consumerist approach to spirituality, where Jesus is considered one of a number of product options.’

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Be Alert! — Consumerist, Spiritual Shopping aka Cafeteria Christianity delivered as “Fresh Expressions” Emergence Christianity.