Being called to serve those on the edge was a case of ‘going home’ for Lindsay Smith. Here she shares her counter-intuitive journey to becoming ordained as a pioneer distinctive deacon in the Church of England.
The calling to the edge is, well, edgy – and often risky. It’s a place of fragility, rawness and a gift that is so profound you get a glimpse of Jesus being with and transforming the hearts of those who walk quietly along the bumpy, dangerous road that some call the edge.
My own story has seen me walk and continue to walk along that familiar bumpy road, where exclusion and social prejudices are the normality of everyday life. But the bumps that formed this road on the edge are comfortable ruts to me, and the edge was my home, a place of safety, a place where I functioned within my capabilities and found friendship and love.
As a pioneer distinctive deacon in the Church of England, my calling is to the forgotten corners of the world so Christ may be made visible. Yet through the process of ordination, I have been removed from the bumpy road of comfortable ruts and placed into the unfamiliar world of the centre.
Placed at the centre
You could say my ordination placed me firmly into the centre of a labyrinth, deep in the middle of the time-honoured church. Therefore, the only way to the edge, the only way to the people that I love and to the place where God is calling me to serve is to continually walk from the centre outwards (counter-culturally). In other words, ordained pioneer ministry is inhabiting the world of ever-increasing circles and walking a reverse labyrinth, journeying from the centre to the edge.
I first physically walked this reverse labyrinth while on my ordination retreat. But before I walked in the direction of ever-increasing circles, I walked inwards and followed the ancient practice of prayerfully walking the ever-decreasing circles of a labyrinth that always brings you into the centre. As I walked towards the labyrinth’s centre, I was desperately looking for ways to fully embody this journey of pilgrimage, to retreat from life and immerse my whole self into this journey of stillness, silence and solitude.
I walked inwardly with purpose and felt nothing… not even a whisper or a hint of something spiritual or holy happening. Each time I landed in the centre of the labyrinth I felt called back out.
Called to walk out
After a while, I started experimenting with walking the labyrinth in different ways, barefooted, backward, eyes closed, and the list goes on. Only when I intentionally started my journey from the centre did I find a sense of inner peace and rediscovered those comfortable bumps and ruts of life.
I am a pioneer who occasionally stepped into the time-honoured church. Yet God has called me to be ordained as a deacon pioneer, to walk out through the west door of Wells cathedral and serve the time-honoured church from the centre outwards. To work with the bishops and the priests with whom I serve. To proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents for God’s purpose of love. To respond to the call of Christ and be a disciple who is called into the forgotten corners of the world so Christ may be made visible.
My ordination placed me in the centre, and God continues to call me outwards to walk to those living on the edge. To be with the sick, the lonely, the oppressed and the powerless in both the time-honoured church and with fellow seekers and nomads, to creatively respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives: establishing new contextual Christian communities that some might call church. To be in secular spaces and transform them in the name of Christ.
An affirming gift
The missional footsteps from centre to edge are mostly walked with foolish confidence, the odd wobble, and a carefree playfulness that has been nurtured and grown through the CMS Certificate in Pioneer Mission. I have had the amazing privilege to be involved in many different ways in the last three cohorts of the Certificate in Pioneer Mission in Bath and Wells and beyond. During the course discernment process, you get a sense that the candidates realise that God is calling them as they are, for who they are, and for the gifts that they bring. You can feel their joy and see their relief when they finally say God is calling ‘ME’. Yet that was not my own journey through the first cohort: I was firm in myself and my understanding of pioneering. The course was an affirming gift that continues to underpin my daily ministry.
The distinctive nature of ordained diaconal ministry is the ministry God is calling me into. However, I did not become a deacon (I was already a pioneer) until the bishop laid her hands upon my head on 2 October 2022. The walking of the reverse labyrinth was the moment when I realised God really was calling ME, Lindsay, to be a pioneer deacon. Calling ME to playfully and prayerfully walk a reverse labyrinth with others along that familiar bumpy road, a place that others call the edge, a place that is home.
To find out more about the Certificate in Pioneer Mission, check out a hub near you.