For the first graduates of Holy Rumpus!, the CMS pioneer hub in partnership with Bath & Wells diocese, their celebration – like so many others this year – had to go online. Fran Smettem, chaplain to the course, was there and was struck by the impact the course had had, and the community that had been formed:
It was the end. It didn’t feel like we’d reached the end, but suddenly, on 11 July, it was the end of the first CMS Pioneer Certificate in Bath & Wells diocese.
Part of that feeling, of course, was because it wasn’t the end any of us had been anticipating back in January when we’d first started thinking about what our celebrations might look like. With just rumours and whispers of Covid-19 at that point, our thoughts revolved round how we would gather in person and what that could/would/should look like: marquee on Cathedral Green? Circus tent? Art exhibition? Campfire?!
Instead, 12 students plus friends, family and supporters, and several facilitators – course leaders, tutors and chaplain – gathered together on Zoom to give thanks, tell stories, share the journey, and bring our experience to a close.
Bath & Wells is a huge diocese, with a range of contexts, and we represented that – in geographical and contextual terms we ranged from the towns in the north west of the diocese to the rural villages of north east and south Somerset. The journeys that we had each been on were reflected in the stories that were shared and the learning that took place.
Glass of bubbly in hand, everyone was invited to contribute. Some told personal stories of transformation; others of how they’d encountered the God of surprises in unexpected moments and places; others talked us through creative demonstrations of learning, such as St Paul’s Twitter feed and expressive hashtags around the time of his conversion, and the postcards Job sent to a friend marking the points of his journey into despair and out again.
We laughed and cried together during the year, and we laughed and cried together on Zoom too as we heard the impact the course had on each other. Everyone had grown in confidence, self-acceptance, and missional understanding. Our guests of honour, Bishop Ruth, the bishop of Taunton, and Alastair Bateman, CEO of Church Mission Society, both spoke of being moved by the personal testimonies they heard. Ali said, “I was so moved to hear the many personal stories of how the pioneers had grown in confidence and developed their unique voices as they explored innovative ways to connect the gospel with their local communities.”
We finished the formal part of the celebration with the virtual celebration of certificates, and then came the bit we were most looking forward to – Secret Pioneer. [If you’ve taken part in Secret Santa at Christmastime, you’ll understand the idea.] As chaplain, I’d overseen the draw, so I was looking forward to seeing what the outcomes were! And I wasn’t disappointed. Gift after gift revealed prayerful and careful thoughts and depths of relationship developed over the year. It was beautiful to see!
We’ve had a fabulous year as the first cohort in Bath and Wells. We won’t be the last. And we’re looking forward to being able to celebrate together in person one day!