Advent season is about newness breaking into our old, tired, expected realties. Jesus’ first coming – as a baby refugee who was born to a virgin – could not have been more unexpected. In Jesus’ second coming we wait for the surprising re-newing all things and God’s promises fulfilled. At this time in the Christian calendar I have no trouble feeling tired, weary and fed up of the current realities. Hurried, overwhelmed, even anxious at times, I can drag myself to end of year obligations. Advent season asks, however, if I will take a deep breath and join with others in faith, anticipating that the new world Jesus promised is not only possible, but immanent. God’s Newness is on its way. I pray each one of us can experience this joy in this Advent season.
Our family has had some newness of its own these last few months. Some signs of hope included:
Our daughter Amy Kate turned 21 (we got to be with her in Melbourne) who started her first full-time job (support worker with young adults coming out of Psychiatric hospital) and we got to meet her boyfriend Bobby!
Our son Aiden grew 6 inches and joined a gym! Aiden is pictured here greeting me with a sign as I got off the plane at Birmingham airport!
Ash was commissioned as our Parish Vicar. Its was a crazy night. We started with an accordion player and Aplacas with clerical collars welcoming people in and ended with local heroes being awarded and eating delicious curries made by our Muslim neighbours. Oh yes, in between we also had Archdeacon Hayward, Bishop Anne, Rev Steve Faber (URC) Bishop (Pentecostal Bishop) and Rev Dan Yarnell (head of UK Churches of Christ) speak, pray for and commissioned Ash!
We met our first Foster Great Granddaughter in Australia. She is the baby of our foster Grand daughter Christine, who is the daughter of our late Foster son Metus!
While these were all fun ‘firsts’ for us, they are real examples of the new work God is doing ‘in’ and ‘through’ us as a family. We have a deep sense we are planted, growing and now ready for a new season of fruitfulness.
We have, however, hit some capacity barriers that are wearing us down. Living primarily on faith support through people who know us, trust us and believe in what we are doing is not easy in the UK. We are so grateful for all those who stand with us, enabling so much to happen, but we’ve needed to also supplement our income with different streams of employment to make ends meet. We are looking to limit some outside employment streams to better focus our work, but if we did that we’d have a shortfall of £10,000 in our annual budget. Could I ask you to pray and if possible give a special Advent gift to help us thrive in this new season of hope?
Bless you in your Advent season,
Ash and Anji Barker
PS Please financially support us here.
Signs of Something New? Praise and Prayer Points
After a difficult transition to the UK, we have begun to wonder if we’ve now entered into a new season of fruitfulness. For example, we experienced some amazing ‘first fruits’ on three fronts in the last few months that could be signs of hope for our future.
Signs in Winson Green
Praying we can see God’s kingdom more fully come in Winson Green as in heaven, signs of hope have included:
Ash was commissioned to start a new ‘Fresh Expression’ congregation as part of Winson Green Parish. Pray that Ash’s role as Parish Priest will open more doors to invite new local discipleship, partnerships and worship. Pray especially for the team building for formal launchings of LocalChurch@4pm (January 14th) and Making Connections (Christian enquiry group, January 17th).
Renewing Black Patch Park has begun. Reports have been approved at Council level and the Friends of Black Patch Park (of which Ash is a committee member) are part of shaping the Park renewal as well as helping see new housing developed around the park. Praying this renewing work will help make our neighbourhood like a close knit urban village.
Anji has now become the voluntary CEO of Newbigin Community Trust (see NewbiginCIO.wordpress.com) which is based at Newbigin House (where we live) and has seen all kinds of community events run by neighbours in local partnerships such as Fun Fairs, Flavours of Winson Green Cooking school, Annimal Encounters, Job Club, Grow Group, Community Meals, Weekly Youth Group, Social Media Surgery, Neighbourhood excursions. Pray for Anji’s sustainability and supportive leadership in all this and all the upcoming Advent events including Christmas Eve celebration.
Anji is actually based at Oasis Community Hub in the Oasis Academy Foundry (our local Primary School) which is now bursting at the seams with community run activities each day including cooking, Real Junk Food, benefit advice, lunch time clubs, animal therapy just to name a few. The local woman have been particularly empowered to speak and advocate for their concerns. Please pray for more community space!
Our new football club, Soho Albion (see SohoAlbionFC.org), have all 4 teams topping the league as our first season began. Pray that our local young people and their families will continue to come together with West Bromwich Albion’s help to create real footballing opportunities, build life resilience and a nurture a deeper sense of local community.
Worth Families started with our first workshops to train up local Christians to be matched to stand with local families who need some extra support. We partner with Oasis, Gas Street Church and Worth Unlimited and hope it can be a model that others in the city can use. Pray that the sharing of life together will be life changing on both sides.
Signs with Urban Leaders
Praying that our start-up Newbigin School for Urban Leadership can help mobilise, prepare and equip Christian leaders for our new urban world. We are grateful for these first fruits:
Urban Change Makers began! This is our emerging urban leadership program that helps develop more fruitful community building, community organising and community enterprising with teams from priority urban areas. So far two week-end intensives and a ‘best practice’ site visit saw teams of urban leaders from Birmingham and East London engage with themes like Compassion and Innovation.
The new academic year started. Our Newbigin School for Urban Leadership now has partnerships with various colleges and its really starting to take shape in equping urban leaders in more formal ways. Some first fruits included Ash in Frankfurt with Dr Wes White leading a week-long MA intensive on global urbanism with leaders from Church in Action with Nazarene Theological College (Uni of Manchester). Pray for Ash has he has more NTC MA intensives in Manchester (Jan 2018) and Nairobi (June 2018) as well as working with Mike Pears leading at Bristol Baptist College (Uni of Durham) with an MA intensive in Urban Ministry in Bristol (Dec 11-12 2017 and Feb 5-6, 2018). Ash also has accreditation to supervise PhD students as part of a research unit with Bristol Baptist College/Uni of Aberdeen. Pray for the right students to invest in to join these courses.
Ash was in the USA in September to connect with potential educational partners too and enjoyed lecturing and sharing on campus at Eastern University (Philadelphia) and Cincinnati University. A highlight was catching up with long-time friends and supporters Tony and Peg Campolo as well as Shane Claibourne. Pray for proposed ‘semester abroad’ programs that we can host in Birmingham.
Ash joined also joined a research project led by Chris Ives (Nottingham Uni) and Jeremy Kidwell (Uni of Birmingham) around urban sustainably that included interviews with urban leaders at Urban Shalom Forums and will hopefully result in published as an article in a major journal. Pray the research work will contribute to helping promote urban sustainability and the role that faith can play.
Ash and Anji enjoyed time in Melbourne not only seeing family, but speaking to over 10,000 people at Citilife and Discovery churches respectively. Pray that more people will be mobilised for neighbourhood engagement. Listen to Anji’s inspiring podcast at Discovery Church here.
We’ve run lots of accessible, informal and immersion training. With Gas Street Church and Christian Aid we just completed an 8 week Wednesday night course on ‘Moving from Charity to Justice’. Please pray for some important upcoming leadership development events including:
> Missio Dei Retreat for Christian leaders in Glasgow with Church of Scotland as part of Renewing Ministry conference Feb 13th-15.
> World renown mission thinker, Dr Steve Bevans, will be in Winson Green for a seminar with CMS and Birmingham missioners (10am-3pm, Feb 7th, 2018).
Ø First Newbigin Public Lecture with Steve Bevans and responses by Mike Royal and Paula Gooder (7pm, 7th February, 2018 at St Martins in the Bullring)
Signs in Global Urbanism
Praying we can see cities become more resilient, sustainable and inclusive around the world and that Christians play their part in seeing this happen. The climate of opinion seems to be shifting and role in it seems to be clarifying.
Urban Shalom Society was launched. Advocating for urban Christian engagement and witness ‘upstream’ is now happening as Urban Shalom Society was launched in November (this was a merger of International Society for Urban Mission and Urban Shalom Project). Ash is grateful for the new structure that allows him to be part of the Exec and focus on Communications and establishing an Urban Poverty Taskforce, but not have to drive the organisation or agenda. We especially appreciate exec members Andre Van Eymeren (USS International Co-Ordinator and editor of New Urban World journal), Chris Elisara (USS Campaigning WEA Creation Care) and Bryan McCabe (USS Young People’s Engagemet and Bakke Uni) and Michael Mata (USS Educational Engagement and Asusa-Pacific). Please pray for this team what is also a coalition of urban educational institutions (Including Newbigin School for Urban Leadership) providing the engine room for Urban Shalom Society activities and ventures.
Urban Shalom Society helped run the first United Nations multi-faith Urban Thinkers Campus and Urban Shalom Forum in Singapore in November 10th to 15th. The theme was around what faith communities have to offer the cities we need and drew global leaders of faith from around the world. Please pray as recommendations to UN’s World Urban Forum and various publications and statements are made God would use.
In October Ash visited the USA for conferences, colleges and churches (Detroit, Cincinnati and Philadelphia) including Urban Shalom Forums. In 2017 Urban Shalom Forums were run in Bangkok, Melbourne, Adelaide Birmingham and Sydney, Detroit and Cincinati. Please pray for Urban Shalom Forums planned for Kuala Lumpur, Nairobi and Cape Town in 2018 as well as an Urban Shalom Summit in Manilla in November as part of Micah Global Triennial.
A new book ‘Urban Shalom and the Cities We Need’ was released in October. Alongside Andre, Chris and Bryan, Ash co-editored the book and provided a chapter. It’s our first book published as ‘Urban Shalom Publishing’. It’s a great Christmas present and can be bought here:
Please have a listen to the two recent radio inteviews Ash has been involved with:-
Andy Peck interviews Ash Barker on Premier Radio about ministry in Winson Green and the founding of Newbigin House and Newbigin School for Urban Leadership. Click here to listnen.
Tony Campolo interviewed Ash Barker on his ‘Across the Pond’ radio show. Click here to listen.
It’s sometimes difficult to know if we are making any real impact. How can we be certain if we are on the right track? Are there other paths we can find to greener pastures? When Jesus was asked about this dilemma he simply answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39). We have begun to know a little about what this sign of Jonah means for us as, our journey in Birmingham continues to unfold.
There is often the ideal. Jonah had a call as a prophet of God. He may well have understood this as a position of power and privilege, speaking for God against injustice and corruption as so many previous prophets had done. To have some idealism and vision can be a good start, but holding too tightly to expectations of certain results and tying our self worth to these measures of impact undermines our unique God given call. In Jonah’s case God called him beyond his own shores to help a city made up of those outside his own ethnicity and religion. Instead of going to the city of Nineveh as directed, Jonah tried to run away to Tarshish, a city far more in keeping with his ideal of himself and role. God loved Jonah, knew him well and got his attention in dramatic fashion to turn him around. Ideals and good intentions may be a beginning, but they are not enough to see real change.
There is the ordeal. Jonah ended up deep inside the belly of a huge fish. He couldn’t run away from himself and God’s call on his life. There was a kind of death and grief that he had to face about himself. In dark and smelly spaces our false images can be burnt off and change in us incubated. Indeed, Jonah would not have had the capacity to be a change maker without this trauma and humiliation inside a huge fish. Richard Rohr writes of this sign: ‘It seems to demand that we must release ourselves into a belly of darkness before we can know what is essential. It insists that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control. It might even be saying that others will often throw us overboard, as was the case with Jonah, and that will get us to the right shore—and even by God’s grace more than any right action on our part…Jonah indeed is our Judeo-Christian symbol of transformation. Jesus had found the Jonah story inspiring, no doubt, because it described almost perfectly what was happening to him!’ The belly of the beast is a necessary place for incubating change in us.
There can be a new deal. Jonah was spat out by the great fish in the place that God had intended all along. He landed on Nineveh’s shore smelling of fish guts and his skin bleached white, but this strange man was now ready to offer nothing but a deep and authentic sense of God’s message for change. God had changed the messenger and Jonah’s Message would see a whole city transformed, far beyond his wildest imaginings. I am convinced we can only make our unique change making contributions in the providence and power of God. That as we let go of our ego’s fragility and become the uniquely, even strange, people God is preparing us to be, we can see transformations we couldn’t even dream up if we tried.
In so many ways I can relate to Jonah. We thought we were coming to Birmingham in November 2014 to do certain roles, with certain goals in mind. Yet, these ideals were quickly swallowed up. Indeed our initial plan hardly survived the impact of landing in the UK. Twelve months in and we were deep in debt, despairing and not even able to afford to run away to a place we thought more suitable. I am sure it was no accident that our first home in Winson Green was literally on Nineveh Road! Over this time we became different people as God has worked in us to build our capacity for transformation through us. Consider these amazing places God has brought us since we moved into Newbigin House (the former Winson Green Vicarage) just 12 months ago.
Oasis Academy Foundry was named UK School of the Year for its diversity! This local Winson Green primary school, where Anji is based, was in special measures and facing closure in 2013. The role the Oasis Community Hub (that Anji founded and leads from the school) and its community based initiatives with parents from the school was instrumental in helping make this transformation possible.
‘Soho Albion FC’ was formed as a partnership between our local community and West Bromwich Albion FC and over 700 kids and their parents have been involved so far. Steve Hopcroft, who is head of West Brom’s Youth Academy and originally from Winson Green explained that no organised football for young people in Winson Green was available any more. As we talked a plan was hatched and after visiting every Primary School in the Soho Ward with local leaders a new football club was born. After initial trials wth over 700 young people, a training squad commenced with some of the best youth coaches in the UK. The Season proper starts in September and there is also a development squad preparing for trails to join the West Bromwich Albion Academy.
Over 20 neighbour-led community projects have commenced in Winson Green over the last 12 months with over 200 neighbours involved most weeks. Winson Green was the subject of a much maligned documentary shown on UK TV about contemporary poverty. Newbigin Community Trust was formed as a Charity in October 2016 as neighbours came together to renew our neighbourhood and support local initiatives. Many of these community projects are in partnership with local schools, churches and prisons. Some are self-help groups (eg, Grow Groups, Youth Group, Young Mum’s Group), Social Enterprises (eg Flavours of Winson Green Cooking School, Animal Encounters Mobile Zoo, Hair Dressing,), Recreation and creativity (Jogging Group, Dad’s and Lads Football, Soho Albion FC), Places to meet and connect (Community meals, community hub, prison visits and mentoring).
Over 70 urban leaders have participated in our courses, groups, forums and retreats. Many urban leaders need fresh insights, frameworks and spiritual practices to grow in their vocation. Newbigin School for Urban Leadership (CIC) was officially formed in January 2017 to raise-up more compassionate, resilient and innovative urban leaders. This has been happening through credited courses (eg, MA in Theology-Urban Mission with Nazarene Theological College, University of Manchester), leadership formation programs (eg. Newbigin Associates, residencies), immersion courses (eg. with Church Mission Society and Operation Mobilisation) as well as informal groups and retreats (eg. Gas Street Groups, Miss Dei retreats).
The United Nations invited us to host an ‘Urban Thinkers Campus: Faith Communities and the Cities We Need’. Christian often avoid going ‘upstream’ to see what is causing poverty. Urban Shalom Project was formed in Quito at the UN’s Habitat III gathering, October 2016 to help Christians engage in urban challenges, opportunities and the UN’s New Urban Agenda. Already Urban Shalom Forums and talks have been held in Melbourne, Adelaide, Bangkok, Birmingham with more planned in Detroit, Sydney and Cape Town. Publications (‘Urban Shalom and the Cities we Need’ and the journal ‘New Urban World’), Pod Casts ad a Call to Action are ready to be launched too.
These are just some of the headings and highlights to give God thanks for. While so much is set up for us now, there is still so much to do. A sense of call has emerged here is that we are to be ‘planted’ in Winson Green and then ‘linked’ to the world. That despite our weaknesses and mistakes, God can use our unique gifts and experiences to make unique contributions.
Ash and Anji Barker
PS. About 25 regular supporters have helped provide the finances and prayers to make these experiences possible and we are so grateful for this! To go the next level, however, we would love to add another 25 supporters who know us, trust us and believe in what we are doing enough to gift finances and prayer. Details can be found here: http://newbiginhouse.uk/donate/
October saw us rely more fully on faith support. Trusting God will provide through people who know us, trust us and believe in what we are doing has not been easy, but Anji and I can now engage more fully in our unique vocation here. We also have the needed space to build capacity for future impact and a Sabbath day once a week! Thanks to your support these highlights happened this month:
Our residential community in Newbigin House has grown to 7 resident people as well as 2 alpacas, 2 lizards, 4 chickens and pug called Yoda. This month we have also had over 25 guests stay with us from all over the world with over 200 different people coming through the old vicarage for various groups, training, meetings, meals…. and mayhem!
Local ministry in our Winson Green neighbourhood has gone to another level. Weekly community meals, weekly prison ministries, family outing to Blackpool, Grow mental health support group started, youth ministry. We now also help lead Prison chapel one a month and a local church service once a month too. Just to name a few of things happening! Anji also got her ‘FAB Community Hub’ building at the local Oasis Foundry school so there is more space for youth, family and community initiatives. Neighbourhood leaders have come together to form Newbigin Community Trust which was approved by the Charity Commission to give local leaders a greater voice in renewing our neighbourhood together.
- See Newbigin Community Trust’s vision and ethos here:
Raising-up of more resilient urban leaders through our School for Urban Leadership has begun. We launched new weekly leadership programs this term with Newbigin Associates (7 community leaders in Winson Green), MA in Urban Mission (9 urban leaders with University of Manchester’s Nazarene College), Gas Street Group (11 urban leaders exploring urban mission) as well as Missio Dei retreat day (4 urban leaders for discernment), an Immersion Course weekend in Winson Green (9 CMS Pioneer leaders) and ran a retreat day with Baptist ordinants (30 leaders at Bristol Baptist). We applied for the Newbigin School for Urban Leadership to be a Community Interest Company and had Lianne join us a day a week to be our administrator to help this entity be like a strong trunk to so that our dreams for urban impact can grow like branches.
Going ‘upstream’ to try and prevent people being pushed into torrents of urban poverty and to fight for more just and sustainable urban future at a global level has had some important breakthroughs too. October 15-20 I went to Quito, Equator to co-lead a delegation called ‘Urban Shalom Project’ to the United Nation’s Habitat III for the future of cities. We ran a pre-conference (The Gospel and the future of cities) to help our delegation to prepare to represent 600 million Christians at the UN gathering with 45,000 leaders. I had the privilege of being present in the assembly hall when the nations of the world committed to the New Urban Agenda for more sustainable, resilient and inclusive cities. A campaign, publications and forums to help Christians engage with this global agenda will be launched next year and I will continue to co-Convene as Urban Shalom Project as part of the co-alition made up of Micah/World Evangelical Alliance and Lausanne.
- Here is our press release
None of this would have been possible without your trust and belief in us! We are so very grateful for the providence of God through so many generous friends, families and communities. Transitioning back to faith support is not simple, but we are conscious of Hudson Taylor’s encouragement that ‘God’s work done in God’s ways will not lack God’s resources.’ Thanks for standing with us as this adventure unfolds.
Ash and Anji Barker
World renowned mission thinker Dr Steve Bevans will give the first annual Newbigin Public Lecture on the 7th February 2018. For more information, please click here.