Healing and hope, delight and purpose, friendship and peace

Helen Harwood catches up with former MA student, Elizabeth Alden, to see how studies helped her practice and what happened to a guerilla gardening project.

HH: It is great to speak to you again, Elizabeth, as you left us last summer having done a Pioneer MA with us. So, where are you now, in terms of ministry and mission?

EA: We are now over half way through our five years’ paid pioneer work in Frome (Somerset) with young adults. We have seen God guide us to work towards sustaining what we believe he will continue beyond our current involvement. We have therefore closed 1625bookclub, and are working with a local church to establish a community house in Frome. We are intentionally shifting our involvement with teams towards supporting them in what God is calling them to take forward.

Elizabeth in Frome with a freshly made birdbox for the Giant’s Garden

That is great news. How has the course helped and equipped you for your work?

As I began my dissertation, I realised how clearly the MA course had laid all the foundations I needed to design, analyse and write up a research project. From participant observation in term one, through mission and ecclesiology, to the resources and methods module, I had been equipped for research and writing.

Heart shaped slate with verse from Jeremiah 32:41: I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
A plaque in ‘The Giant’s Garden’ community garden

The theological reflective writing and many discussions with fellow students and tutors – particularly Cathy Ross and Jonny Baker, my supervisor – helped me as I grappled with listening to the voices of young adults, and trying to work out what action we might take as a result of what we heard.

Throughout the course I had been able to apply learning directly to the work in Frome. For example, having learned of the importance of listening and being hosted, I intentionally listened to the young adults in conversation and sought their views. This resulted in a Spotify Sunday Lunch playlist to which the young and ‘you oldies’ contributed a favourite piece of music each week. I had to change my settings in order to listen to one young man’s contributions! (My explicit content filter meant that otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to listen to any of his favourite songs.) We enjoyed far-ranging conversations, which often returned to questions about the Bible and Jesus and, on occasion prayer.

As we continue to prayerfully work out how to encourage those young adults who are seeking to navigate a life of discipleship to Christ, those foundations of looking out for signs of God working around us (in the Missio Dei), listening to and learning from others have been key. And the fellowship enjoyed on the MA with students and tutors has strengthened and empowered me in God’s grace to persevere in the challenges of life as a pioneer.

Brilliant. I am glad our MA so glad it helped you so much. So, Elizabeth what’s next for you in your life of ministry and mission?

I continue to enjoy partnering with Christians in Frome to bless young adults in different ways. On completion of my Masters, I sought God to see where I could continue to listen to young adults and young people and to support them as they live as disciples in their context and I have joined the Movement team. Movement was set up in the Diocese of Bath and Wells nine years ago to serve the local church with a vision to see youth, young adults and leaders engaged, equipped and empowered to be all that God has called them to be. This began with worship nights, gathering together dispersed young people in our rural diocese. It has grown: we now also organise training events and create resources. As their Equipping Lead, I am privileged to work with this fantastic team to develop and resource training and learning with and for our young people.

Guerrilla gardening, young adults – and a new vocabulary: interview with Elizabeth Alden
Read Helen’s previous interview with Elizabeth

Can you tell us what has happened with the Guerrilla gardening, and all you are doing?

The Giant’s Garden is a beautiful work in progress. We have rebuilt broken walls, cleared rubbish and weeds, planted seeds and shared in the joy and delight of harvest. We have planned and built, with young adults at the helm, and supported by people in the local community and churches. It is an outward visible sign of work which God seems to be doing in the hearts of those who come, including us! People find healing and hope, delight and purpose, friendship and peace.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells led a service of blessing for the garden. His staff have since given their approval for us, in partnership with St Mary’s Church, to set up a new monastic community in Mary’s House, which is on the same site as the Giant’s Garden. (The photograph below, taken on the day of Bishop Michael’s visit, shows Mary’s House (the community house), on the right, which adjoins the church hall and St Mary’s Church, Frome.)

From autumn 2024, four self-supporting adults will live in community for a year. Shared life will be marked by a daily pattern of prayer, weekly work in the local community, and a rule of life with shared values and approaches to missional living. We expect that a wider community of local people will join in some aspects of the community’s life and mission.

We are holding a series of workshops to help discern the rule of life for this community focused in and around Mary’s House on Saturday 6 April 12pm-3pm, Saturday 27 April 10 am-1 pm; Saturday 8 June 10 am-1 pm at The Hall, St Mary’s Frome. If you would like to consider being part of this community, you are welcome to come to any/all of these workshops. Please let us know at info@maryshouse.org if you would like to come, and any dietary requirements.

Elizabeth, how can we pray for you?

  • Please join us in thanking God for helping me complete the research project, and for the insights that has given into the work God has called me to in Frome and with Movement.
  • Please ask God to continue to bless, and to reveal his loving self to the young people and young adults in the Diocese of Bath and Wells.
  • You are welcome to sign up to join in our week of prayer between 22 and 28 April.
  • And please also join us in asking God to lead us as we discern the charism and practicalities for Mary’s House, and as we ask him to call those who will form the community living in Mary’s House, and the community surrounding it.

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