Personal update from Miriam Swaffield
Love thy Northern Neighbour
I've been in York pretty much exactly 9 years. Three as a student, then a further six as a fully fledged member of society who pays taxes, has a residence parking permit and everything. I've moved four times, I've lived with many different combinations of brilliant people in various forms of community, I've eaten at Betty's, driven a red boat, rolled down the banks of Clifford's tower at night, eaten at as many of our independent coffee places as I can afford and have been inside train carriages from across the history of the railway. I even recently felt sick via the chocolate story tour. I've done my bit for York tourism.
I've also had experiences not featured on glossy brochures. Many trips to York city hospital with friends and once for myself. I learnt what heroine does to a person here, how real spiritual warfare is, how empty the fridges and tough the situations are of some homes that stand side by side with student houses. I've fallen in and out of love, got a degree, a taste for good coffee and made friends who are now family for life.
In this time I've also been raised by G2, the church I settled in as a fresher, in so many ways. Right from the early days of setting up tables at David Lloyd gym, through to learning what being a leader might mean for me. I helped start student mission out of our midweek student groups, learnt and lived what mentoring really means, I preached for the first time here, helped baptised friends, and saw brand new people meet Jesus. I remember when we moved to the old school in Tang Hall and amazingly our numbers doubled. I remember when we had a generosity explosion, and when times were tight. We've prayed through the night, cried as parts of the family got really sick or even died, and wept for joy at turnaround stories and miraculous provision. I eventually helped lead G2 as a whole family on the core team, and now the strategy team that helps steer this brilliant and evolving ship, and it is both simple and true to say, I have stayed in York because of our G2 community and what Jesus is up to in and through us.
And yet I'm leaving York. Why?
I believe part of the future story of G2 must be that we serve beyond ourselves. That sounds obvious I know, and of course in lots of ways we already do this; through charities we are partnered with, in all the ways our community serves the city in our workplaces, and the broader Church. We send a small steady trickle of our leaders off to get ordained within the Church of England too... so we aren't totally G2-focused or York-focused I know, we do give away of ourselves already.
However, I hope, pray, and believe that in the coming years, G2 will play an even bigger part in seeing our nation blessed and the kingdom of God come, especially to our northern neighbours, the towns and cities that aren't so far from us but don't always do so well on the stats. This means G2 doesn't just plant churches and initiatives in York. We can't keep all our brilliant, talented, passionate and faithful leaders to ourselves. Yes, many of you are meant to make York home for the foreseeable, but some of you will play it too safe if you stay forever ... and you know it.
It's part of the G2 DNA and core to our belief in God to give away and invest what we have been given, not just hold onto it tightly. It's like faith... when you've received the gift of it, you can't keep it to yourself. But just like sharing the good news, as you give it away, it multiples, not lessens. Good news breeds good news. If God has given G2 something, and I really think he has, it's meant to be shared and given away and this will actually strengthen our church.
Of course, we have lots to learn still, but some things by the grace of God, he's crafted in G2 already. Like the gift of raising younger leaders, being a church predominantly full of 18-30s (normally the least likely demographic to make up a church), and creativity in how we even do this thing called church, both in the gathered and scattered forms. There's plenty we need to work on, but I'm convinced there's plenty we could also bring to the table if we shared ourselves with other places, in other contexts, for the sake of the kingdom of God being advanced.
With all this in consideration, I have decided to leave our beautiful city. And I'm making a clear distinction here; I am leaving York, I am not leaving G2 as such. Ok practically, I'm not going to be in Sunday gatherings, leadership meetings, running a hub or any of that stuff any more. But in a wider sense, I actually feel like I am to be sent out, as part of G2, to go and learn in another context what it might mean for our little church community to participate in loving our northern neighbours, as part of the much bigger story of God's Church being renewed and reimagined all over our land.
If G2 is to serve beyond York, we've got to start some time, with someone, somewhere. Since I believe in this and I help lead this thing, then why not me? I don't have the right to challenge and call anyone else to live something I'm not prepared to live anyway. So why not have a go at learning about a new context? I’m thinking of this as a 'placement year' as it were, living out this idea that we can go down the road and love our neighbours and have faith that somehow in this weird upside down kingdom, crossing the road can make all the difference.
Fast-forward through my year of wrestling through the longer, quieter, discernment process and I've decided to move an hour down the road to our neighbouring town of Middlesbrough. It's in the same diocese as York but of an utterly different make up and vibe, just google it. It has a university of at least 10,000 full time students but at least 70% of this population are local Teessiders who only travel down the road to uni. Very different to York. There are of course local churches around, and I've met a good number of their leaders so I'm really looking forward to getting to know them more and hopefully doing what I can through Fusion and our G2 experiences, to equip the churches to try some student mission and stengthen any student work that might exist in the area. I'll obviously settle in a local church as my new home base too in time.
It sounds silly perhaps, but I want to reassure you, this doesn’t feel like an act of begrudging obedience to God’s call. Beautifully, I felt that when God stirred me about leaving York, he invited me to choose where to go, it was more about asking me “what do you want Miriam?". This invitation didn't seem beautiful at the time of course. It’s been a hard year actually, as those closest to me will know more fully. And I'd have much preferred just blind obedience and total abdication from any ownership of the choices of my next steps. But upon finally taking another step towards growing up and deciding for myself to move to our northern neighbour, God has then started working on my heart for the place. So now I already can say I "love the Boro" whilst I don't really know it yet. God is kind.
I also have no idea where this story ends or what it means for G2 in reality. Other than, I really want our church story to be one of generosity, adventure, pioneering and what will seem foolish recklessness in the way we give and serve and move and leave ourselves exposed to the mercy and movement of God. Personally, I want to learn all over again in a brand new context, I want to see and hear more stories of students coming to faith from universities that will never make the Russell group, and I want to position myself to have far more reliance on God and understand the difference prayer makes. I want to live a better message than I preach, which means I aim to keep finding the edges of my comfort zone and reminding myself they are movable, with the Spirit of God living in me.
That's it really. No grand strategy, no master plan, in fact no plan past a year's rent. Just simple obedience to God's invitation, simple prayers that God would use me despite myself and all my rough edges and character flaws, and that God would also use G2 beyond ourselves as we try and send out in this way. I figured if I can give it a go, it might give others the courage to give a few outrageous ideas, thoughts, dreams or little kingdom nudges and hunches a go too. I want discipleship to be as bold and beautiful and mysterious and hard and light and worth it as I suspect it is. So let's keep stepping up, stepping out, and seeking first where the kingdom of God might be close at hand.
I'll be back from time to time of course, as I'm still G2 family and this is our story too. Christian is overseeing me still, and the Fusion York office means work will always bring me this way. But that's what September brings. Do pray for Middlesbrough and for our church family. I reckon Jesus is up to something.
Love Miriam x