‘The unbearable love that is always for us’ – interview with Sarah McKearney

‘Love that cracks the walls of our lives’ is the driving force for Sarah McKearney, who completed a certificate on the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course and who now joins us for occasional modules on whatever topics she feels would be beneficial. Helen Harwood was delighted to interview Sarah.

HH: When you first joined us back in 2010 you said you would like to be thinking and learning new ways to reach out to Rose Hill (an area close to where you live). Can you tell me more about the parish you live in and the needs you see?

SK: I live in a parish that has an ancient church and picturesque village surrounded by a large 60s housing estate and a second area, which is bisected by an important road, and has many transient occupants, many from Europe. The congregation has been mainly drawn from the village surrounding the church. The housing estate, Rose Hill, uses the church for baptisms and weddings and a few funerals. Baptisms (infant) are every Sunday after the main service and usually fill the church with family and friends. It is important to acknowledge that Iffley Church is THEIR church even if they only come for these life changing events.

The congregation is lively and the church full for the main Sunday service. In many respects I imagine it to be a typical Anglican parish, a sandwich of the old and new. It has a growing number of children to the Fish & Chip Club which runs on a Sunday and some other evenings, and an elderly but highly motivated group who come to services and events during the week.

The needs that I perceive are for a Pioneer presence in both Rose Hill and the other area (Donnington). There is a curate living in Rose Hill and her remit is to work in that area. Donnington has no ‘official’ outreach although there are a few members of the congregation living there. I feel that a confidence to share the gospel is not easy for all and if this is the case then work is needed to encourage confidence or for leaders to be identified to model this practice.

How do you feel those needs around you and within you have developed; how have you developed to the place where you are today?

The Pioneer course came my way when I was looking for something more than the Diocese training days. I was aware of the gap between Sunday services and my work at that time as an advocate for adults with severe learning difficulties and their carers and families. I needed to ‘get my teeth’ into something. Well! I felt as though I had swallowed a whale to begin with! I was very unconfident and aware that I was much older than other students. I knew that it was the right thing for me to be doing but I felt inadequate for the task! I’m not sure if I saw God in the process – I just clung on to him.

What would you say were good bits of your work, and what is it that has been most difficult?

I hope that I am more the person I was created to be, I certainly feel more comfortable with who I am and with my different ‘take’ on things. My artist persona is comfortable in my work in the church now and I am confident about sharing the gospel in my way in leading our Emmaus group. I have at last met other people who also look at things a bit differently, handle faith without kid gloves, really SEE the world and people about them and the everyday relevance of Jesus and his stories and resurrection. The most difficult bits have been making space to write/make the assignments.

Can I ask how you feel the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course has impacted on your life in the last three years?

The good bits of work were those where the imagination was set free. eAdvent was one of these. Those interested signed up to post a comment on a predetermined piece of scripture of the Christmas story. It was not necessarily theologically correct because the 3 kings were included the first time! Of the 24 people chosen to post each was given a number and the text and that day they posted to a closed email both the text and their comment or illustration or whatever. As we had more than 24 interested the others could comment on the post but that was all. We said no negative comments about the postings and the conversations could only last for 48 hours from the initial post. We had a party to start us off and everyone got a goodie bag of texts and stuff! It has now been used in a neighbouring group of 3 parishes and managed to include the thoughts of people who never show their hand, if you see what I mean! We will be doing it again this Advent.

The two most difficult bits: Realising at the very beginning of the course that I didn’t know who I was in God’s sight. I nearly withdrew from it all and found it really distressing to realise that I had forgotten who I was. Having four children and seven grandchildren and lots of relations had somehow fogged up my vision of myself.

The second difficulty was working with my husband as the vicar of the parish and knowing that his path is not the same as mine. I have learnt to be patient and not to cheer when my suggestion turns up six months later!

What do you think the future holds?

The training has had a huge impact on my confidence to teach and preach in my parish as a Reader and children’s leader and to initiate things with confidence even if they are new, different, and cause some raised eyebrows. I have met some amazing people doing real gospel work in a way that I will never do but with whom I feel at home. I have explored other ways of being a Christian community or church, which I long for, and I have been taught by inspiring leaders – how ever any of us are ever going to be able to define a leader! I even feel that being an Anglican is where I am called to be – amazing.

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

The future is always mysterious. I never know when God will call us to move elsewhere but for the moment it seems as though our future will be here for the next year or two. I hope to be moving out of the children’s work now that there are four other people to take it on, to be concentrating more on the Emmaus group and on a further group for those interested in developing their faith. In 2014 my husband has a three month sabbatical towards the end of the year. He will be away for about seven weeks and so I have the opportunity, with the backing of the PCC, to make my own plans for that time. Of course there are far too many things I might do!

I hope that the future holds the growth of this group of Christians into a power house of faith and sees the next generation fill the gaps left by older members decreasing in strength. I do begin to see it happening. For myself I want the future to be one of increased longing for the paths of the Lord because the longing will increase the will and the increased will has the opportunity to reveal the unbearable love that is always for us and cracks the wall we can build around our lives.

Please pray for discernment and for a real ability to love as I am loved.

I have just been given 10 second sermons by Milton Jones and have to send you this one: “Would the owner of the Ferrarri number plate CSG 3P71 please sell your car and give the money to the poor.”

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ANVIL journal of theology and mission

Volume 38 issue 1 is out now. The theme of mission and disability is explored by Kt Tupling, Naomi Lawson Jacobs, Rachel Noël, Bill Braviner and more...

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