Ready for Advent Newness?

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: