This month Helen Harwood talks to Neil Wild, based in Banbury and pioneering arts-based community initiatives
HH: How did you come to apply for the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course and why?
NW: For some years I had been looking for a course just like this but didn’t know where to look! I wanted to find a place to ask questions, to be questioned and even to question my beliefs. A friend of mine who is now my mentor, Rob Husband, suggested I look into it further and after a chat with Jonny Baker I concluded CMS was the place and so wanted to apply. I have struggled and still do to an extent with the word ‘Pioneer’. It speaks to me of a lonely existence; someone on the edge, someone unable to work in a team or someone having to take a radical step into something new because that was the only way. I guess I am seeing that in many ways some of these images are true and are to be accepted, even rejoiced in (perhaps not the team thing). Change is needed and often the catalyst to change needs to be someone who is tired of the traditional, someone who is brave, prepared go out on a limb, to run the risk of unpopularity and do what their heart is stirring them to do. I was indulging myself this afternoon whilst driving home after a meeting in Peterborough listening to some classic tunes from the1980s including some by Paul Weller. His lyrics frequently stir the emotions. We don’t have to take this crap, we don’t have to accept the status quo, we can call for change. Whilst Weller’s goal was political, the sentiment is definitely applicable to the way we opt to live out our faith. If we are seeking the kingdom of God on this planet then Jesus calls for radical action and we need to come together to call out the prophetic voice that’s inside us. Somehow the CMS community fuels this prophetic voice. The learning opportunities this course provides helps me channel this voice and accept myself as a Pioneer!
Can you tell me something about Mosaic?
Mosaic is a name some friends of mine have put to an expression of the arts in Banbury. We believe in giving creative opportunity to individuals and groups of people. We believe our community will be strengthened through opportunities to experience and participate together in this creativity. We have worked with local arts venues and bars – with them hosting the event rather than reinventing something ourselves. Mosaic-inspired activity has so far included various live acts including musicians, singer songwriters and spoken word. There have been some great highlights along the way including a lunchtime family poetry workshop where any one could come armed with their favourite poem to share with the group, and with live poetry from more acclaimed poets, Harry Baker and El Gruer. Numerous folk were inspired to write their own stuff and were brave enough to share it with the audience present. It’s a slow burn. We’ve been doing stuff for a couple of years now and where it will lead or what’s next is unknown but there’s something exciting about giving expression to the creative voice within us and I am sure that voice will get further opportunities to be seen and heard.
I know you were give a special stone whilst in Guatemala, what is this?
I have had an awareness of the heart of God for the world for some time and a few years back I had the opportunity to tag along on a week’s trip around Guatemala City with some trustees of a street kids’ charity active in the country. I met some wonderful people whose determination to serve God challenged me. One person gave to each of us something to remember the country by and as a Spanish speaker he gave me a stone with the words in Spanish reading “your dreams will die if you do not pursue them”. I think he had heard me talk about my desire to find out what God’s call upon my life meant. He was encouraging me to pursue the dreams inside me. There are resonances here with [Mosaic]. To speak out what’s inside, to act out what’s within and to see creativity expressed. The heart of God is within us, let’s discover it and live out what that means. Without overplaying it, this course is certainly an important part in helping me do all of that!
You have spoken about the importance of journeying with others and looking sideways. What does this look like?
I hinted earlier about my dislike of working alone on something. I believe a Pioneer can be a team player and walk or run with others. A journey is an exciting metaphor to use. It’s a bit like my recent trip (pilgrimage) to Galicia (you can see I do like things Spanish). In that instance my family and I knew where we were aiming for but we didn’t know the way we’d get there, or even if we would. It’s fun being on a journey and it’s even better with others around us. The looking sideways bit comes from Richard Rohr. His series of talks on looking sideways (from Greenbelt 2009) was fantastic and I still think about what he says. Sideways is a different way of seeing something. There is much around us to see. Too frequently we miss it. We only see what we are looking for. Many times in our journey each day there is something new to see. That’s part of what it means but its impact is wide. How we read the bible, how we see others, our church, ourselves and the Godhead.
How have you managed to weave together your course, your work, your family life, your church and your dreams?
This one always makes me smile as it gets asked of me frequently. I love the word ‘weave’. That’s a good description of how it is with its different strands interconnecting. If my life was too compartmentalised I would have gone over the edge by now! Everything overlaps and it has to otherwise it would be plate-spinning big time. That along with a realistic expectation of my commitments; what I can achieve, to know when to let go of something and say no. At the end of the day, my wife and family comes first. If that all falls apart then the rest can certainly wait.
What does the future hold for you?
One thing I am learning is to embrace the now or the present moment. I thought about this when recounting the story of my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to my year group the other month. A pilgrimage isn’t just about the arrival at the destination. It’s also about an acceptance of the preset, the now. My wife is good at encouraging me to accept the now, not in the sense of putting up with something but in the enjoying of the present moment. My children are growing up and their growing quite clearly leads to more demands on me for more of my time. In the past I would have been looking beyond the now, to the time when I would have more spare time, time to do stuff and really be a Pioneer. In fact now is that time, I am embracing the time with the children, my wife and those around me day to day. This is what I am doing. I have just opened a new work office in Bicester, sensing it’s a place to spend time work-wise to develop new business. So I can see my future is continuing to invest in my job. Recently I stood down as a church elder, knowing it had run its course for me. It was a positive experience and one I’d repeat but I knew if I wanted new things to develop I had to stop a few things I’d done for some time to free up more of me to something else. That more of me has been more time for my family. If that’s all it is then great.
Lastly, how can we pray for you, Neil?
I always appreciate support from people both by praying but also any form of encouragement always gratefully received! Please pray about anything that comes to mind as you have read this interview, in particular please pray I allow the Holy Spirit to weave an amazing pattern out of the different strands of my life!