Helen Harwood talks to Pioneer student Andrea Campanale, who joined the course in its pilot year and has just become the first student to graduate with a foundation degree.
HH: Looking back over the past four years what were you expecting to find on the CMS Pioneer course and were your hopes justified?
AC: I think I was looking for some theory to hang my practice on. I had already been doing my pioneering mission to spiritual seekers at new age fairs for five years when I started the course and had just followed God’s lead. It had largely been stepping out into the unknown and seeing what worked. I’d received a lot of questioning from other Christians and found it difficult to justify what I was doing, so wanted a greater confidence that my missionary activities were good and consistent with the bible and church tradition. I’ve definitely found that, but more importantly I’ve grown in my knowledge of who God’s made me to be and have a greater sense of my own vocation than I could have imagined. Also, I had grown very weary and isolated. The pioneer course has provided with me a learning community that has affirmed me and encouraged me not to be afraid to reveal my innovative ideas and fresh insights. It has given me a safe place to be vulnerable again.
What’s been the biggest challenge doing the course, and how did you find the strength to meet those challenges?
I think the biggest challenge has been grappling with the difficult issues that have come up for me as I’ve studied and read. I wasn’t doing the course to get a qualification. I was doing it for my own personal development and to be better at the mission I was already engaged in. I therefore wanted to allow God to challenge and change me as much as possible through the experience. This doesn’t come without a lot of soul searching and a lot of tears! I found the strength through being able to share those struggles with the friends I made on the course and, rather than avoiding the difficult stuff, digging into it further! I deliberately chose assignment questions which forced me to try and understand the issues which were surfacing for me. I was very grateful that Jonny and the team allowed me the freedom and flexibility to go with that, as well as the support to ensure I didn’t completely lose the plot in the midst of the struggle!
I wonder how you manage to keep your faith alive and active in the midst of all the work you do. How do you keep it fresh and has the course provided any help with that?
The course has definitely given me access to resources which help to sustain me spiritually and fuel my mission. My ongoing Bible study has been enriched by Tom Wright’s Everyone series, for example, and I’ve loved the different styles of worship that I’ve experienced. I can now find opportunities to engage in more diverse expressions of worship through the networks I’ve become aware of and contacts I’ve made on the course. It’s been good having a retreat once a year and I definitely want to keep that as part of my routine. I have also been given the confidence to set up a missional community locally. I now have people around me who are on a similar quest to more intentionally live out their faith so that it makes a positive difference to our environment. We have developed a rhythm of meeting through the month and I allow space for everyone to experiment with worship. I also provide opportunities to do different kinds of mission and this is where discipleship happens! It’s as we work together to extend the kingdom of God that confidence is built and the challenges of our faith become live and real. I love to see members of our community flourish in their unique and surprising callings!
As you prepare for your graduation what are you most proud of in your achievements of the last four years? (I know you are a very modest person but I also know you have achieved a lot!)
I think the things I’m proudest of are where I’ve taken what’s been given and added something of my own passion and creativity to it. For example, we did a presentation on a missionary pioneer as part of the mission story of the church module and I was able to arrange a special viewing of original drawings by the person I chose, Lilias Trotter, at Oxford’s Ashmolean museum. I’ve written my own creed with a group of single mums I support and a ‘shame-free’ Eucharistic prayer. Starting to write again has been hugely significant and creating a blog is another manifestation of my increased confidence to reveal what’s going on in my heart and mind. I have also done a lot of speaking and presenting. I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to inform and enthuse others with thoughts and ideas which stretch and enliven me.
What would you say to aspiring pioneers everywhere about the benefits of the CMS course?
You don’t have to do it alone! I think it is a fantastically successful strategy of the enemy to have us believe we are on our own! I love the bit where Elijah says to God that he is the only one who has not bowed the knee to Baal and God says no, there are still 7,000 who have remained faithful to me. We can believe we are the only ones out there doing new stuff and struggling with the powerful forces of the status quo. But it’s not true! The pioneer course provides a place where you can learn and be equipped for your ministry as you do it. But it’s also where like-minded Christians can share the highs and lows of trying new things for the glory of God! We are inspired and shaped as much by one another as by the teaching or the input of the pioneer staff team, as excellent as that is.
What does the future hold for you? With all those visits to Psychic fairs you must have your own crystal ball by now!
I am planning on doing the MA next! I’m excited by the prospect of going deeper in my study. With regards to practice, I will have been doing outreach to spiritual seekers for 10 years next year and I want to do more to encourage others to think creatively about mission. I want to share the stories of what our amazing students are doing in terms of mission in order to inspire others in the Body of Christ. I already train teams to go into mind, body, spirit-type events but really feel I have much more to give. This is both in terms of skills to pass on, but also the confidence to step out and trust God even in the midst of opposition from the people you least expected and thought were on your side!
How can we pray for you?
Please pray for financial resources so I can carry on with my pioneering and do the MA. For opportunities to do the envisioning and equipping that I believe God has for me in the future. I’d also like to have a fun and chilled summer this year so I can really recover my strength and energy before commencing the MA course in September. It was great to celebrate with staff and students at my graduation on 8 July. At this occasion, I also became one of the first officially recognised CMS pioneers within the Church of England. Please pray for us as we work out what that means and how we create some kind of an alumni so students who finish the course will still feel supported and have access to on-going training beyond the limits of the diploma or MA programmes.