Exciting times ahead for Lee Abbey’s SMCs

This article was published in the September to December 2017 issue of Rapport magazine.

Susan Edmondson unpacks the future vision

In April, we had a wonderful joy-filled celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Community in Knowle West. Two weeks later, at Aston, we heard the ‘pioneer person’ of Lee Abbey Small Missional Communities (SMCs), Audrey Martin-Doyle, retell the story of the beginnings of that Community. In Acton Vale we have heard that the Community are seen as safe friends on an estate recently troubled by some violent incidents.

We have much to thank God for as we see the threads that these Communities have woven into their local areas, sharing in mission, being a praying presence, supporting local churches and changing lives, often in unseen, probably in many cases, unreported ways.

Our SMCs are fragile, but resilient, small, yet effective; they have proven longevity, are part of the story of faith in their locality, and the words of a song by Matt Redman came to mind as I was writing this:

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
God, You are faithful

But … as an SMC Board, we have recognised that the context in which the SMCs are working has changed in the last 29 years – the society we live in, the understanding of church, the way that mission is done – and we need to be intentional about their future. Over the years they have been reviewed and discussed, but relatively little strategic action has been taken.

We have two excellent buildings, and the Communities in them (along with other employment and responsibilities) seek to look after these properties and build Community, do mission, pray, self-fund and fulfil many other expectations. We’ve realised that our capacity for further development of SMCs, or for a wider recruitment strategy, is limited. Many other interesting and varied expressions of community have emerged in recent years – through organisations like CMS and Eden and in dioceses – and we have no real representative out there meeting these other groups. We have 30 years of experience of being Community in areas of urban deprivation, but no ambassador to spread that knowledge.

So … as a Board, we undertook a consultation with other parts of The Lee Abbey Movement posing a range of future scenarios, from which the overall consensus was that we should continue to operate SMCs but that we could not do that without appropriate resourcing.

Tim Watson of Chemin Neuf community responded to us: ‘Lee Abbey SMCs are missional because … their mission flows out of their common life. The ‘fruit’ of missional work should never endanger the ‘tree’ of community life, otherwise members will burn out.’ We had a strong sense that God was saying to us that we should put more resources into encouraging this fruitfulness in our SMCs   by giving more support to the ‘tree’.

As a result … we are appointing an Advocate for LASMCs.

This role will involve representing LASMCs in the networks of new monastic and missional communities nationally, exploring partnership with other agencies, fostering a culture of  discipleship, encouragement and appraisal within existing SMCs, engaging with the wider Lee Abbey Movement, looking at recruitment issues and responding to possibilities of forming new SMCs.

We are delighted … to announce that Revd Andy Wooding Jones has been appointed to the role, and we hope he will introduce himself in a subsequent issue of Rapport. He was for several years director of Ashburnham, a Community and conference centre in Sussex, and he and his wife Margaret have lived at Lee Abbey Aston. He will combine this role with existing training and ministerial work in the Rochester Diocese.

Above all … we want to give God the glory for the way we have known His guidance through this process, and ask you all to pray for these new opportunities.

Susan Edmondson,
Chair of the SMC Board of Trustees

Small Missional Communities website