I was blessed with the gift of not fitting in, they said!

A Celtic cross mosaic stands at the centre of a churchyard on the Isle of Wight transformed by Ali Mascarenhasand friends

Ali Mascarenhas

Helen Harwood talks to Ali Mascarenhas, our first undergraduate student who is completing the course fully online. Based on the Isle of Wight, Ali didn’t even think she was a pioneer. But her creativity with what was on her doorstep proved otherwise.

HH: How did you hear about us? I believe you attended an open day online; can you tell me how that experience was, please.

AM: I heard about CMS through a few people I had met at online pioneering events. I attended the Open Day online and it was informative and I was particularly impressed by what other students said about the courses and how they felt before and after.

Tree of Life mosic created for Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee

I could identify with what they said about ‘before the course’ as it was similar to how I was feeling. I had been doing some pioneering for about a year but felt rather isolated, not particularly confident, had gaps in my knowledge and felt a bit adrift with pastoral issues I came across.

I understand you did not know you were a pioneer until recently, when a new vicar (a former CMS student) came to the church. Can you tell us more?

Yes, I was considering leaving the church I attended. I did not think as a church we were looking outside the church to the community and felt I ‘did not fit in’. I thought there was something wrong with me as ‘everyone’ else seemed quite happy with how things were. 

A new vicar arrived and I decided to talk to her about how I was feeling. She seemed to understand completely and said I might be a pioneer. I was totally surprised as it was not the answer I was expecting and did not know really what a pioneer was!

I believe your pioneering started after you attended Pioneering Parishes, please do tell us more about that course, and how that felt.

The new vicar suggested I went on Pioneering Parishes and I enjoyed it. It was a bit of a relief to meet likeminded people and hear creative and inspiring stories of what people were doing. I felt anything was possible. The discussions seemed to confirm my thinking about many things. It seemed I was blessed with “the gift of not fitting in”, they said!

A Celtic reflection session in the Olive Garden

Your work in your churchyard with the help of the community sounds amazing. Do tell us more about how God had other plans for your gardening with the community.

After Pioneering Parishes, I did not know what to do next so decided just to wait and trust that if God wished me to do something, he would let me know. 

Sometime later, I was at a church meeting and people were commenting about the state of a particular area of the churchyard that was overgrown. The thought seemed to come from nowhere but I suggested we invited the community to take part in clearance of the area – it was agreed.

I had not even looked at the churchyard at that point and later when I did, the scale of the problem was rather overwhelming – 15ft overgrown shrubs and trees covered in a canopy of brambles with graves deep within. I must be crazy! 

However, the community enjoyed taking part, coming with chain saws and rakes and we cleared the area over several weeks helped by tea and cake! We have regular work-parties now to help the gardener.

Speaking of gardening, how has your pioneering grown?

I had no plan and thought that the clearance would probably be the end of it. However, when we cleared a corner in the churchyard, it was in a secluded area, clear of graves and had a good view. I ran a gardening business with my husband at the time and I talked with the volunteers about creating a reflective garden with biblical plants. They were keen to do it. Seating was donated and the area became a place of quiet rest called the Olive Garden, the vicar donating an olive tree. 

One thing seemed to lead to another, growing ‘organically’ like following a trail of breadcrumbs (or the Holy Spirit!). 

The Olive Garden was a good venue for meetings and we organised some nature talks on various topics, inviting the community and an Island expert on the subjects.

More mosaic: a nativity font cover was Ali’s latest community art project

I wondered about doing some community mosaic art. I am a glass artist and had done a little mosaic but had no experience of teaching or leading a such a project. However, I thought, why not see what happens! So, we created a Tree of Life mosaic for the Queen’s Jubilee, a Celtic Cross, and more recently a mosaic nativity to fit on the church font. It has been quite a learning experience!

Chatting with people during refreshments and working with others on activities, there are opportunities to share life and faith. People get a sense of satisfaction, enjoying contributing to something bigger than themselves. 

In the community art projects, people who perhaps thought they were ‘no good at art at school’ surprise themselves by learning new skills and contributing to the bigger project, encouraged and supported by myself and others in the group.  

Brilliant to hear. The image is beautiful, tell us more about Celtic worship.

Yes, with another volunteer who had an interest in Celtic worship we thought we could maybe pilot a few short reflections in the Christian year on a weekday afternoon with refreshments in the Olive Garden. 

The events were popular and, in the summer, we ran a series of reflections looking at the lives of four Celtic saints. The ‘saints’ dressed in cassocks or other appropriate garb and were interviewed about their lives. It was quite funny and we enjoyed ice cream afterwards. 

We now have a monthly Celtic meeting and have included lunch over the winter months, but inside!

Ali, I understand you are a moth recorder and trapper?

I set a special light trap at night to attract and capture moths. I identify the species in the morning and send my findings to the county moth recorder. It is harmless procedure and the moths are then released.

My sightings contribute to the national moth database, which is an important indicator of what is happening to species and also to the environment in which they live. If we do not know what species we have, we cannot help them flourish. There are about six to 10 regular moth recorders on the island so it is an unusual pursuit!

God can use all skills and it is wonderful to share with others, during nature talks, the secret life of these largely unseen nocturnal visitors.  

Lastly Ali, how can we pray for you?

Prayer for ‘what next’ for the project and that I don’t miss God’s leading and plans.

Open days coming soon

If you would like to find out more about study with CMS Pioneer Mission Training – even if, like Ali, you don’t think you are a pioneer – we have several open days coming soon, both in Oxford and online.

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