Bryce Tangvald’s journeys following Jesus have taken him from Colorado to Australia to Somerset. I asked Bryce, who is a third-year diploma student at CMS, more about his story and his experience of discovering pioneering.
HH: How did you get into pioneering mission in the first place?
BT: Growing up in America in an evangelical context, I was introduced to mission-based thinking around church and community fairly early on. I was raised in an environment where my early faith influences were Conservative Evangelicalism mixed with Christian movements of the 60s, 70s and 80s and Messianic Jewish Christians. Spending my teens in Colorado, I was bewildered when I was discouraged from befriending and serving a certain needy group of people who gathered in our area. So I made up my mind to do it anyway, because that’s what Jesus did. I later invited my friends to join me. Most of the friends we made at this time were homeless, addicts, hungry, students, or a combination of the above.
Not long after this, I was introduced to ‘Scum of the Earth’ church in Denver, Colorado, CO, whose mission was to serve the needy and down-&-outs of the area. While attending ‘Scum’, I made the decision to attend a Discipleship Training School in Brisbane, Australia with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) after which I did an internship with the Church Army near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Fast forward a few years after getting married and pursuing careers, my wife and I moved to the UK where I began doing youth work with a local church alongside working as a tree surgeon. A group of church friends saw the need for an alternative or modern-take on worship, which developed into a monthly worship service called ‘Alt.ar’.
During this time, I joined with a small missional group located in my town, running a fortnightly event pop-up drop-in cafe, operated out of an old caravan and gazebo in the middle of the night and the middle of town, established to help curb the violence of regular pub-goers and to communicate the hope of God’s love in the midst of otherwise dark situations.
Then, seeing a need for a safe gathering space for families and young adults in our town centre, I launched and ran a Friday night Live Lounge music event, arranged with the local Costa Coffee. This ran for about one year.
Around this time, I realised our town’s very busy monthly market didn’t have any representation from the local Christian community. So, I contacted the market organisers and set up a Rest-Area space called “Oasis”.
Through these experiences and a number of others, I recognised a particular characteristic to what it was I was doing: reaching into the corners of society where church communities weren’t necessarily going and doing what Jesus communities were always called to do, but maybe not in the standard way.
HH: How did you come to study at CMS on the pioneering course?
BT: In the middle of several projects and ideas that I was developing in my spare time while l working as a tree-climbing arborist, a friend was seeking pioneer ordination. This friend told me that what I was doing and the way I was thinking was pioneering and that I was a pioneer. He suggested that I consider pursuing a vocation to pioneer ordination. One caveat, the Anglican tradition was still fairly foreign to me at this point. Long story short – I was recognised nationally as a pioneer, though not for ordination in the Anglican church.
However, after much deliberation, a Pioneer Advocate in my diocese offered to sponsor me through training in mission and theology with CMS. What a blessing this has been!
HH: How have you found study with us, is there anything that inspires you about study at CMS?
BT: The academic environment made me really nervous at first. I haven’t been in proper education in quite a while and the quality of my education was really lacking through my teenage years. However, I feel I’ve taken to it like an otter to a river (more playful and joyful than a “duck to water”). I’m now about two and a half years through the three-year diploma programme.
Many people say that theological training can be daunting and can develop more questions than answers. I’ve often felt like the yarn of the tightly knit theological sweater that I inherited has been unravelled to be re-woven into something brand new that covers a much more inclusive and far reaching theology of what it means to be a Christian. This has been a challenging but exciting growing process that I am hoping will never end.
While in the CMS learning environment, I’ve felt at home. The CMS mission partners and staff we’ve interacted with in CMS House, Oxford or in pioneer contexts during class residentials have been as supportive and encouraging as they are knowledgeable and friendly. At CMS, there is an ever present atmosphere of “possibility” and “potential”. I have felt like God has been prodding me to pay attention while in that environment.
HH: What were you doing or exploring in terms of mission before lockdown?
BT: Before lockdown, I was running a church youth-group, mentoring in schools, volunteering with a late night drop-in cafe on the weekends and we were just planning a new design for our rest-station “Oasis” at the busy monthly markets. At CMS, we had just finished studying “Mission Ecclesiology” and were mid-way through a module on “Pastoral Care & Ethics”.
With these two modules ringing in my ears and the freshly vacated space in my schedule, I was very eager to step out and begin to address the many issues that were becoming so quickly apparent.
However, in my situation, it became a “hurry-up and wait” sort of situation, like an airplane in a holding pattern. And, yes, it was frustrating. All in-person meetings were cancelled. I was furloughed from all church-based youth work for about six mouths.
HH: What areas have you managed to work on (both personal and mission-related) during lockdown?
BT: Personally, I think Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have forced me to stop, to step away from business as usual and made space to listen. This time has been an opportunity for personal introspection and a greater opportuning to reflect upon God’s calling on my life.
While I am far from working this out fully, I know that God is a God who works in the midst of journeys. Something that came out of the pandemic was the release of the song “the Blessing”, by Kari Jobe. This underlined the need to bless our communities, even if we aren’t able to be physically close. Early on, I realised that many of my neighbours were very isolated. So I invited all my neighbours to join in a physically distanced garden dinner party once a week, to watch the sunset and be communally grateful for all we have. In light of not being able to have communion in church buildings, these times became our “communion”. The question “What shape does the ‘Good News’ take in this developing post pandemic time and place and how can l be involved in it?” has become central to my thinking and planning.
Since coming off furlough, I launched an online youth group on the weekend and a videogames hour for young people midweek. These are just a few examples of some of these journeys.
HH: How can we pray for you?
BT: As l come to the end of the diploma studies with CMS, l am looking for a project, opportunity or community that I can sink my teeth into; something that both my wife and I might be involved in. Please pray for wisdom and discernment as we weigh up the options that are presented to us and make life changing decisions together.
This is also a time of reflecting on what we need to set down and leave behind, which seems to be the hardest but possibly the most pivotal for the shape that our future takes. This is a big prayer point for us in this current season.
Finally, pray for the ideas, plans, projects and theology that have been developing in our minds over the past few years, that God would highlight where he is moving and keep us in step with him.