‘People are endlessly complicated and infinitely interesting’ – Interview with Rob Winn

A fascination with people drives Rob Winn, in the first year of his MA in Pioneer Mission Leadership with CMS, together with a desire to find out how faith can help them live in a way that is good news for everyone. Helen Harwood finds out more.

Images from Following the Star, a nomadic, mixed media art project exploring the themes of Christmas and Advent.

HH: Hi Rob, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I know our readers will want to find out what makes you tick but first can you say a bit about Venture FX, and your involvement in it, please?

RW: Hi Helen, thanks for inviting me to be interviewed. Venture FX is a really exciting initiative funded and supported by the Methodist Church. It’s exciting because it gives people like me opportunities to try out all sorts of interesting and unusual things – more on that later… The vision is to see the Christian faith creatively engaging with contemporary culture and each of the 14 VFX pioneers across the country are doing that in many different ways. There’s more information on the website.

OK, on to you, Rob, and what makes you tick! What is it that drives you and makes you work the way you do? I understand you want to share the gospel in culturally sensitive and contextually relevant ways. Tell me more… And also can I ask about your introduction into mission and pioneering?

I think the thing that makes me tick is people. I’ve always loved being around people: helping people, learning from people, laughing with people, sharing with people…People are endlessly complicated and infinitely interesting. One of the most significant things in my life is my faith. I am interested in finding out ways that faith can positively influence the people that I meet. Can it inspire, encourage, challenge people to live in a way that is good news for everyone, for them and for their communities?

Mission and pioneering has always been just an extension of how my faith influences me because it’s something I believe is worth sharing. One of my first memories of doing something ‘pioneering’ was when MSN Messenger first came out. I organised a profile for our school CU to take it in turns logging into the account and chatting to people online about faith. That was an early memory of doing something pioneering but I don’t remember ever being properly introduced to it.

Can you tell us about the work that you’re doing in Milton Keynes, is there a formula churches can follow or is there more to it than that?

My work in Milton Keynes is really varied and often a lot of fun. I don’t think there’s a formula to it but there are probably some useful principles worth noting. The main emphasis of my project is just being with people, taking the time to listen and to learn, and supporting them however I can. As part of this I go along to the YMCA residents’ lounge each week and I go to a spirituality discussion group where people on different spiritual journeys are able to share ideas.

I try and take part in the city’s festivals when possible; last year I ran a tent for prayer or reflection at the International Festival and MK Pride, and we provided an art installation at the Carols in the Wood event in the city’s tree cathedral. We also put artwork around the city in the week before Christmas, inviting artists to create a piece based on the title ‘following the star’ – more details and pictures at www.followingthestar.co.uk.

Milton Keynes is a fast-growing city and so there is lots of need for groups which help to bring people together. I’m currently working on setting up a volunteering collective for people to meet like-minded people and help fund-raise or run community events.

There are lots of different aspects to my work but there are also some common themes. I always try to start by listening to what people want/need. I spent a lot of time during my first year asking people what they thought about life in Milton Keynes and what else was needed. I also try to avoid repetition. There are loads of great groups and events which already take place in the city, the last thing I want to do is compete with them, so where possible I’ve tried to get involved and support what they’re already doing

What would you say was the harvest of your work so far, and what have been the toughest bits? Do you have a good sense of humour, and does this help?

To stretch the harvest metaphor, I feel like we’re still in spring, there are lots of flowers and buds shooting up but who knows what the harvest will be? There’s lots of beauty and creativity coming out of the conversations I have and the things that I’m doing with people that I’m really pleased with. When I first started I wasn’t convinced that anything would grow at all. The toughest bit was certainly the first year. It takes time to get to know people and to get to know an area and I felt like I was barely making any impact.

There have been lots of positive experiences. Taking a group of people I met at the YMCA to Greenbelt was one of them (and definitely needed a good sense of humour). I’m also really looking forward to what might come out of a volunteering collective I’m setting up.

How has connecting to the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course been helpful to you?

As well as the excellent teaching and opportunities to meet other people doing similar pioneering work, it has also been really helpful to carve out some time for reflecting on my work. On Tuesdays when I come to CMS I feel like I can leave lots of the organisational day to day aspects of my work behind and use the course to stimulate thinking about my work overall and to reflect on how it’s going.

How do you see your work developing and continuing into the future?

I’m not sure…I don’t know whether one or two of the various things will take off and become the focus or whether it will continue to be a range of different activities all going on in parallel. I’d like it if some things became self-sustaining so that they can continue to grow organically when I’m no longer able to run them, and I know other things will come to a natural end over time. Of course, something completely different might be just around the corner.

Lastly, Rob, how can we pray for you? And is there anything else happening you want to tell us about?

I’d love it if people could thank God for the things he’s already doing and that he’s willing to let me (and others) get involved.

I’d also like to tell you about (shameless plug coming up…) a day event we’re running in June for for Christians seeking to understand and engage with contemporary spirituality and spiritual seekers. It is on 8 June, 10am-4pm at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone in Central Milton Keynes. We will have talks and workshops from Andrea Campanale, Ian Mobsby and Steve Hollinghurst. Details and tickets from www.engagingevent.info.

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