by the Revd Peterson Feital, Founder of The Haven+and Missioner to the Creative Industries for the Diocese of London
I’ve been reflecting recently how movements inspired by the Reformations, The Moravians, and John Wesley have all shaped the history of the ‘Western’ church. Men, women, young, and old, followed the vision for a Church that embodied love, care and community living.
Of course, there were also negative things in these movements, as colonization also happened with devastating effects. However, many missionaries did get things right, keeping the love for God and their neighbour at the heart of everything they did and taught. These people prayed with expectation, fervour and faith, together. They moved the archaic establishments to become kingdom enterprises that impacted the social and the political spheres of society and changed the mission of the ‘Western’ church forever. Missionaries, pastors and evangelists went everywhere, in many capacities: teachers, doctors, and builders etc, to teach the world about the redemptive power of Jesus’ love.
I’m a Brazilian – well I’m actually part native as two of my great-grandfathers were European settlers. Missionaries influenced my life in every way possible. They brought a passion for the Gospel; they brought the visual and performing arts in their delivery of the Gospel; they brought liberation from having to conform to an oppressive political mind-set. They showed me Jesus and taught me spiritual disciplines: how to pray, and how to serve and show love to all, unconditionally. Still, there was sadness about them when they shared that the Western Church was ageing, tired, bungled up in intuitionalism, and that individualism was curtailing their ability to be emotionally and spiritually close. These missionaries invited their spiritual ‘children’ to come to the UK to help the Western churches, and to remind them of their roots. Many, like me, responded to that call.
I came to the UK nearly twenty years ago, looking forward to meeting the British, and my spiritual parents. I had spent my life reading about Spurgeon, Susanna Wesley, John Wesley, to name but a few, and I was hungry to learn more about mission, prayer and discipleship. I was thirsty to drink from the water of wisdom, but what I experienced when I finally reached the UK was that the teachings of these elders seemed to be nearly completely forgotten. It broke my heart, into pieces.
Last Easter, when Archbishop Justin Welby said that after Covid-19 ‘we can’t go back to where we were before’ my heart filled with hope for a renewed future. I realised, however, that we cannot move forward without remembering our Grandparents of Faith. We need to return to the roots of the apostolic mission that Jesus gave his disciples, and which the Reformers adopted, to move forward. I also realised that what is paralysing the church is a lack of courage to be free of power and control. As Paul Tillich puts it, ‘courage can show us what being is, and being can show us what courage is’. Fear produces a culture of uncertainty and confusion, making institution into a disorientating space. God does not want us to be trapped and confined. His Will in Psalm 18:19 is to bring us into ‘a spacious place’, a place of freedom.
You may be asking yourselves what you may have forgotten from our Parents of Faith. I know this is painful for me to say this, but I have tried your ways here in the UK, and it has hurt and damaged me, and some of my brothers and sisters too. So, from my heart to yours what I have learnt here, may give you glimpse as to what has been lost: I have learned cynicism. I have learned that prayer is without the expectation that God can show-up. I have learned to love at arm’s length.
I have learned that growth is numerical, not a growth of character that matches Jesus. I have learned that loving and including individuals, from LGBT to the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the addict, and artists, creatives and mental health individuals are merely peripheral exercises, and not ministries at the heart of who we are and the ministries we do.
I have learned that we spend more time trying to protect Jesus with policies, which are more about control, than facilitation of His redeeming power and truth. Well, I do not believe that Jesus needs protection, and this is what he illustrates when Peter and the other apostles try to stop the heavily bleeding woman from being noticed and recognised (mentioned in three Gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke).
I want to tell you, for the sake of my grandparents, that whether you do or do not, I will not go back to the way it was before Covid-19. So, I will not let cynicism replace hope any longer. I will pray with faith for Jesus to turn up, and I will love people at close range.
Numerical growth will not be more important than discipleship. And – I will hang out with the broken, the disgraced, and the destitute – even if that bothers and makes the institutional church question me, and the ministry God has given me to do.
I can see, now, that there is an intrinsic difference between suffering for an institution and suffering for the Gospel.
Please note the original title was “We Can’t Go Back…But We Can Honour Our Grandparents of the Faith”
 Tillich P, The Courage To Be, Yale University Press, 1952. P.4