Suffering, kingdom and patient endurance

18 March 2021

As the Methodist Chaplain to students at the University of Bath, Karen Turner interacts with young adults from many different backgrounds and in lots of contexts; and often asks herself how all these relationships and conversations can be a part of a deepening discipleship.

b43i0130I noticed recently that, in the first chapter of Revelation, John describes discipleship as sharing “in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance” of Jesus (Revelation 1.9, NIV). This might not be something we normally advertise about church but I wonder if it might describe the challenge and glory of discipleship not just for the early Christians but for this generation, too. We may not face persecution, but following Jesus in our culture takes tenacity and will require support along the way. We are learners in the way of Jesus; we need one another and we need our relationships to be honest, real and deep.

A model for ministry

Andrew Root, in Faith Formation in a Secular Age, suggests the story of Ananias in Acts 9 as a model of ministry for our time. When Paul had a profound spiritual experience on the road to Damascus and lay, literally, blinded, he was in need of the ministry of someone brave enough to pray for him and gently lead him to participate in the faith community, who would help him begin to make sense of how his world had been upturned.

b43i0182We don’t know, of course, but we can guess that not everything fell instantly into place for Paul. There was a lot of theology for him to think and pray through in light of his experience and it was ten years before he wrote his first letter to a Christian community. Discipleship might be catalysed in a moment but the lifelong chemical reaction fizzes on, supported by the prayers of the community.

Prayer and community

It is easy to forget that prayer is what makes any ministry possible. With prayer, even among 25,000 students, it becomes possible to run into the same people several times in a week in whom God is already at work, or find yourself sat next to someone on a bus who is struggling, or befriend a student who you are later able to support through a crisis. Following in the footsteps of Ananias, for me, is about trying to listen to how the Spirit is leading and being willing to sometimes get it wrong.

God’s kingdom is made of people and I love to be a part of bringing people together who might not otherwise mix. When running a ‘drop-in’ with cake, I know that initially some students are only there for the free food. However, over weeks, relationships develop and both Christian students and those who have no faith begin to get to know one another and speak about things of importance, including spiritual things. The cake becomes the excuse, but not the real reason that they gather.

I know a few students with Methodist backgrounds and many more with no Christian background at all. We host in our home each week random students who I’ve met, alongside some students with Methodist backgrounds and their non- Christian friends. They are a friendly and welcoming crowd and are willing to talk about their reflections on Bible passages as well as holding their lives before God in prayer. Regardless of where they are on their faith journey, they are happy to be included.

b43i0254In Bath we also host a residential Christian community for students, supported by the ‘extended’ community from the Methodist church next door. Here, eight Christian students actively work out their faith together with daily prayer, shared meals and service. Our hospitality is making this potentially life-transforming year possible, as we learn what it means to live out the call to be family together.

Authenticity and tenacity

Young adults long for experiences that feel real and authentic. The more we are willing to be honest about our own faith journeys, the more they might want to share their stories around our tables.

Are we willing to talk about the moments when we knew that God was near and also how we have kept going when we felt let down?

Some of us, like Paul, may have had a ‘blinded by the light’ moment; however for all of us it takes time to allow God to complete the artwork of holiness in us. That which keeps us going is what will call students deeper into this adventure: sharing our sufferings and praying with one another, and, like Ananias, being open to including the least likely people and patiently walking forward together.

This article originally appeared in the connexion magazine, issue 14.
Photos: © Mark Kensett, TMCP