What does it mean to ‘live well’ in this place? – Interview with Heather Cracknell

2013 intake students on CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training.Helen Harwood talked to the Rev Heather Cracknell, a pioneer minister in Norwich Diocese. She joined the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course for last year’s Missional Entrepreneurship module.

Hi Heather, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell me what led you onto the module?

I’ve met Shannon Hopkins through various events and networks, and I knew she has something unique to say in terms of the nuanced space between mission and social capital. As my current work is really needing to be financially sustainable it felt like entrepreneurship is a key part of building for its success, and anyway, I dislike the term pioneer and prefer the word ‘entrepreneur’, so it all fitted! I went to learn and connect with others who are on a similar journey.

Heather, can you share a bit more about your church and the calling you felt to mission and ministry?

Well, to cut a long story short, my partner Paul and I felt called out of evangelical house churches into the Anglican Church, as it felt like the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement was evidence of the church taking cultural change seriously and trying to grapple with incarnational, contextual mission. We then became involved in an Anglican Church which allowed us to develop an alternative worship community called Ambient Wonder, which shaped my experience of worship and discipleship.

My sense of calling to ordained ministry was clearly to pioneer ministry – I distinctly remember when Jonny wrote about this new stream of ordained ministry on his blog when it was first announced, and I thought, “When I go forward for ordination in 10 years time (when my kids are older) then they’ll have ironed out the teething troubles.” Ha! God had other plans!

I was the first pioneer that the Norwich diocese sponsored for training, in 2008, which feels a real honour. I am clear that my calling is to those who have never been part of the church, and I feel that what I learnt in alternative worship needs to be further inculturated in unchurched culture.

I am the first pioneer curate in the Diocese of Norwich, placed in an area of new housing. Most people in my neighbourhood have no experience of church at all, although it’s an affluent area where most people are educated professionals, working and raising young families. Even before we moved to the area, I felt God prompt me “What does it mean to ‘live well’ in this place?” I want to share with people the practice of abundant life, of connecting with God in stillness, in prayer and action: giving, loving care and justice. How can the church help people be better parents, partners, citizens, neighbours? How can our inner transformation, by being known, loved and forgiven by God, translate into transforming our communities?

Our project, Cringleford Hub, is about helping people connect and exploring ‘living well’. We facilitate all sorts of activities, from book club, new parent cuppa and chat, a pub quiz team to Christian mediation. We have community meals, picnics and discussion groups exploring faith. In the past month we’ve launched ‘Church at the Hub’, a twice-monthly gathering of all ages to explore growing in Christian faith. We hope to open a social enterprise cafe in a community venue, in order to be as accessible to the community as possible. It’s emerging and sometimes it’s emerging slower than I’d hoped, but I feel like the loving service to the community is growing trust and depth here.

How was the Missional Entrepreneurship module in relation to your ideas for development? Did you have any breakthroughs at the weekend or beyond it?

In some ways it was almost a year too late for me, as I’d been working and developing the ideas for my project for that long already, but I recognised through the course material that the way forward that I’d forged on that journey was taking me in the right direction. It just felt like I’d had to work hard to figure it out for myself! The most valuable thing was the creative way the sessions were facilitated, and having the tension between profit (social and financial) and mission explored through discussion and having people with different backgrounds inputting into the sessions.

I hear you have been chatting a lot on Twitter; can you share a few of your more memorable quotes and explain how much communication is part of the process for you?

Social media is a key part of my ministry and my life really, I love the connectivity and sharing of ideas. I use Twitter (@revheath) to share the ridiculous, profound, ordinariness of life as a “vicar”, working mum, feminist, football fan, crafter and community missioner… I figure people have chosen to follow me and can unfollow me at any time, so I share from the heart about what’s important to be, be that women’s rights, Norwich City football club, my struggles to juggle everything or the beautiful moments of seeing God at work through my job. I don’t post the same sort of things on Facebook, because my family and the friends I’ve reconnected with from all the stages of my life so far don’t need me stuffing their newsfeed full of feminism or theology, they can find those links if they want to, but I value the interaction with them differently.

I can’t bear the notion that people give up social media for Lent: like my interaction with them is a distraction from their true purpose or ‘a guilty pleasure’ that they need to cut out to focus on God. Yeah, thanks for that… Social media, as Vicky Beeching points out, is neither intrinsically good nor bad, it’s a tool. And I love using that tool to build relationships, explore issues and gain insights.

When I last heard about your vision for your area, you were keen to open a cafe, can you say more about that or about what other ideas have come to the fore?

The cafe is still a vehicle we’re working to develop in order for the Hub to serve the community, by providing a drop-in space for people to connect. It’s a bit frustrating how painstaking the negotiations have had to be around the venue and format for that to take shape. But it’s right to take time to find the right venue to be the best we can be for our neighbourhood.

What do you think the future holds?

My hope is that the variety of activities, and the opportunities to volunteer in the Hub cafe and the program of groups, will engage a real variety of people: and that those people will be drawn by the love of God into an abundant life, serving each other and our neighbours, growing in discipleship and ‘living well’.

Lastly, how can we pray for you?

I am learning so much at the moment – there’s barely a day goes by when I don’t do something for the first time – so I really need wisdom, strength and protection. Please pray that I’d continue to be open to the Spirit’s leading and live a life of prayer and balance so that I can be seen to ‘live well’ too. And pray that the Christians around us would continue to support, encourage and give to the project in order to develop our missional presence in our community.

If all this talk of the Missional Entrepreneurship module has got you excited – Missional Entrepreneurship in 2014 will run from Sunday 16 (evening time from dinner) with teaching starting the morning of Monday 17 November until lunchtime on Friday 21 Nov 2014 (during global entrepreneurship week). Get in touch or read more about past weeks.

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