The London I'd heard of was damp and dreary, but the London I experienced on the first Texas Baptists Learning Lab was anything but. I found the city awash in mid-summer sunlight, broad rays bouncing off weathered stones and gilded storefronts, illuminating bustling faces full of energy and thought. There wasn't the slightest hint of a fog. My expectations proved to be amiss.
And in a way, that's exactly why I was there. Fourteen of us – men and women, young and not-so-young, pastors and lay leaders – banded together from across the state to embark upon the 7-day voyage with the express purpose of learning. Through a series of interactive exercises – from haggling for food outside Brick Lane curry houses to topping off Oyster Cards in the crowded overground to feeling the current of the Columbia Road flower market – facilitators urged us to be open to change and imagine new and different possibilities for the Kingdom work we do.
And the questions that arose are exactly the type the partnership between Texas Baptists and London-based Matryoshka Haus seeks to ask: What else? What else could church look like? How else might we approach mission and ministry? Who else is building and maintaining authentic community? What's more, what do these things look like in an increasingly post-Christian context?
From a neighborhood greenhouse Andy talked of measuring transformation; Chine at the Evangelical Alliance shared her struggle to detoxify a brand and re-engage millennials online; Ian at Moot Community talked about going against the establishment as an espresso machine whirred in the entryway of his church's medieval sanctuary; from a Wapping cafe Johnnie outlined Church Mission Society's efforts to equip pioneers; Johnny and the Earlsfield Friary community treated us to a magnificent feast with food sourced from their neighborhood co-op while Gav, a practicing pioneer, poured out his soul to quiet chords on a guitar; Thomason warmed us with blankets and spoke of hospitality from the backyard of her suburban home where families and students find short-term housing; Dave – over a traditional English breakfast at a greasy spoon – insisted we have to reach folks beyond the church walls in pubs and other places they frequent.
Over and over again, our group witnessed amazing people applying creative solutions in specific contexts. Then, during an emotional debriefing, we were tasked with drafting a plan of action so that, upon our return, we could transition from students to practitioners and live on purpose just like those we'd watched.
I thought London would be damp and dreary, but it wasn't. I'm glad I took the trip to find out what else it could be.
For more on the Texas Baptists/Matryoshka Haus partnership contact Elizabeth Biedrzycki at elizabeth.biedrzycki [at] texasbaptists.org.