What Next for Karl?
It is with some sadness that The Connexion say farewell to Karl Relton and his wife Karen from The Countess Free Church in Ely, but give thanks for the vision God is leading them to. We wish them every success for their new venture in Leicestershire and ask God to continue to bless them.
Read below Karl's account of how he deliberated the 'What Next' question.
The Covid pandemic lockdown experience affected different people in diverse ways. For some it was brutally hard, with effects we are still seeing play out today. For us, however, the actual lockdown period was a spiritually releasing and fertile time. We found that we could 'do what we do' – pointing people to Jesus in various one to one encounters - with a fresh freedom & boldness. Despite the loss of physical Sunday gatherings we actually found ourselves spiritually richer, with new spiritual disciplines of a short home-time evening prayer together (which we still practice to this day), and using the Sunday morning space to pray earnestly for brothers & sisters in Christ (which we lost when physical gatherings became possible again).
During that period many church leaders entertained radical 'what if?' discussions, but we could see that 'the busyness of church' could easily dilute away the fresh thinking. We already had clues from our own ministry in Ely – running small informal groups for those new to or exploring faith (we went on to call these 'Lifeboats'), and encouraging believers to take initiative with their friends & neighbours (we coined the term 'micro-initiatives' for these). These hints led us to realise that stripping away the complexity (as Covid had temporarily forced on us) and following a simpler 'bare faith' strategy was possible – and for us desirable!
A question a leader must periodically rehearse is: “Dear God, What next?”, without assuming the answer will look the same as it had done before! We realised the answer for us was to go further and model this simplicity for others. We concluded that we needed a new context for that, and so started a search – especially considering new housing estates where community is being formed from scratch. God's leading and guiding led us to a conversation with a baptist pioneer in New Lubbesthorpe in Leicestershire, working on what will be a significant new housing estates where excellent 'Kingdom Seeds' were already being planted. The existing community development work was going well, and there was scope for help to come and join!
But more important - we think - is the mindset that we are going with. Simplicity is key:
- We want to demonstrate the Kingdom of God
- We want to lead people to Jesus
- We want to disciple people in following Jesus such that they too demonstrate the Kingdom, lead to Jesus and disciple others …
We can do the above from a modest rented house on the estate ('incarnational mission'). We can do that without a stipend! God has blessed us over and over financially, giving us the confidence to go forward living by faith. There is no official 'role' or money to support a role in this case, but that didn't seem to deter Jesus and the first disciples!
The Countess of Huntingdon was keen that the gospel was rightly preached. In her time-frame a valid approach was to build preaching stations (the chapels we now have) and supply eager preachers. Our post-millennial context is quite different – and yet still there is the need for the gospel to be rightly shared. On a new housing estate near Leicester that is what we are going to do, even if it proves to be one nearby household at a time.