Home Search Menu

More Rapport articles

A season of change in the Small Missional Communities

Andy Wooding Jones, the SMC Chair, relates how SMC trustees are aiming for firm foundations

This article was published in the September to December 2023 edition of Rapport magazine.

One of the architectural features of Mediterranean countries is housebuilding that anticipates future development. Houses are made with extra-strong foundations and flat roofs that can later become the floor for an additional storey.

The Lee Abbey Small Missional Community (SMC) Trustees recently held their first residential trustees’ meeting for many years. The meeting marked the transition of chair as Susan Edmondson handed the baton to me.

The context of the meeting was to reflect on the foundations on which the SMCs have been built and developed since the late 1980s when Aston started, following the invitation of local churches. Ministry and mission began in Knowle West in the 1990s following a similar invitation and in the 2020s we responded to an invitation from the Diocese of Exeter to help reopen St Mark’s Church in Ford.

Having considered our foundations – the Lee Abbey Rule of Life, our SMC hallmarks, our history and our stories – the trustees were confident that we were still being called to build on those foundations as we look to the future.

Building foundations

Foundations are important. When Jesus taught about wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24–27) he warned about the dangers of poor foundations – particularly focussing on the consequences of hearing God’s word and not putting it into practice. As the SMC trustees considered our foundations and the God-breathed calling that dated back to the 1980s, we were very aware of the danger of good ideas which might exclude God and end up not as an extra storey for a new season but as an extension on sandy foundations, which could badly impact effective future mission and ministry.

Many readers will have been praying for the three Communities in response to the Call to Prayer at the beginning of June; as you continue to pray, I would like to provide some commentary to our particular prayer requests.

Praying for new Community members

All our Communities are in a significant season of transition and we need to see a miracle in the next months. At the moment the trustees know that Aston, Knowle West and Ford are already under-capacity, and additionally a number of current Community members have said they are going to be leaving, as they sense God opening new doors for them. The trustees believe that we need to pray very specifically that four new people will join each Community by Easter 2024. There is something very poignant about praying for the twelve who will not just be looking for somewhere to live but who will fill a call to the Lee Abbey Rule of Life and the hallmarks (see below), a call to the places we serve and a call to live in Community with others. Through this article I invite you to pray and also to be alert to people you may know who God might be calling. For more information please see our website (leeabbeysmc.org); there is an enquiry form for anyone who wants to find out more, or who would value a conversation with members of one of our Communities. Within our prayer for Community members we are praying for those who might also feel called to leadership within an SMC.

Please pray for those living in Ford, Knowle West and Aston at the moment. We are very aware of the huge potential and opportunities for mission and ministry in Plymouth, Bristol and Birmingham but it is much more challenging to respond to those tasks, to look after a large house and to maintain spiritual discipline when you are under-resourced with people. Over recent editions of Rapport and at the recent Movement weekend you will have read and heard some faith-inspiring stories of God at work through the presence of the SMCs. These are the stories of a tiny group of people faithfully responding to the prompts of the Holy Spirit and serving the wider communities around them with love and grace.

Our SMCs pray to be a blessing in so many ways, to the people and places they serve:

  • to individuals, such as the extra-ordinary connections the Aston Community have built with many of their neighbours
  • to community activities, like taking part in events on the green outside the house in Knowle West
  • to praying for transformation such as the Ford Community has seen, as each week they have joined local church leaders to pray blessing on the streets of Ford and the surrounding areas of Plymouth.

Our continued prayer is ‘thy will be done’. After many years of exercising ministry in some of our urban areas, our prayer is that we continue to build on God’s foundations, open to his call and trusting that we continue to be obedient to his will.

For the past few years, I have stayed overnight in one of our SMCs each month. As I have had the privilege of seeing up-close all that our Communities are and do, I am excited to see how God develops our vision in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you for praying for us.

Hallmarks of Lee Abbey SMCs

The hallmarks of Lee Abbey SMCs were developed to cover the main issues that need to be addressed in order to have a functioning SMC and reflect, as far as possible, the vision, mission and values of Lee Abbey in Devon.

What makes us a Community?

  • Commitment to life together – praying, discipleship, eating, care of home and garden, supporting and respecting each other.
  • Participation in the Lee Abbey Rule of Life
  • Living under one roof, though we may have associates.

What is our outward focus?

  • Lives marked by the desire to bless and honour all in community and neighbourhood
  • Working with churches
  • Clear missional focus involving all
  • Essentially in urban situations.

How are we organised? (internal focus)

  • Locally supported in prayer and accountability
  • Members should have part-time paid work – ideally no more than three days per week
  • Financially sustainable
  • Identified leader – enabling not authoritarian.

The Lee Abbey Rule of Life for our SMCs

Our Rule of Life is a guideline to help us, not a set of rules to restrict us, underpinned by our vision and values (see opposite):

In response to Jesus Christ’s love, we seek to …

  • worship him and seek his will through regular prayer, Biblical reflection and joining with others for fellowship and communion
  • deepen our personal commitment, recognising that our minds, time, talents, possessions and relationships, as gifts from God, are to be increasingly surrendered to him
  • share his saving love through our attitudes, lives, relationships and practical hospitality
  • live in openness and honesty, being open to be known for who we are, accepting one another in love and saying nothing of others that could not
    be said to them personally if love and wisdom required it
  • help build community where we live, work and worship
  • respect and serve all others, welcoming every guest and stranger, being a voice for the voiceless and working to alleviate poverty and injustice
  • cherish and protect God’s creation, which God the Father loves and entrusts to our care

… trusting in the help of the Holy Spirit.

This Rule of Life forms the basis for the promises (leeabbeydevon.org.uk/community/promises/) that we make as Community.

Vision, mission and values

Our vision is people encountering Jesus Christ so that lives, relationships, communities and our environment are transformed by the life of God.

Our mission is to facilitate this by welcoming people to stay in the house, served by a Christian Community.

Four values shape all that we do:

  • Encounter – we are here to facilitate life-altering encounters with Jesus Christ, hearing his call and living it out as part of his church
  • Community – we encourage relationships that are generous, humble and honest, enabling all to grow and follow God’s call through shared living
  • Hospitality – we share what we have, welcome with generosity and make space for the ‘other’
  • Simplicity – we keep the main thing as the main thing and ensure sustainability – of people and planet – in pursuing it.

Ven Andy Wooding Jones

For more information

More Rapport articles