A first class adventure

Andrea Campanale was part of the first CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course cohort. Since then she’s taught on the course, helped set up pioneer learning hubs around the country and created an alumni network. But, as she tells Naomi Rose Steinberg, in pioneering you never really get comfortable. And that’s a good thing.

Naomi: What was it like to be part of the first class of pioneer course students in 2010?

Andrea: It was brilliant being there at the start and helping shape the course as well as learn. I’d been working among spiritual seekers for five years – and it had been really tough because my passion was for a group that was viewed with suspicion by some in the Church. I kept having to convince people I wasn’t going off the rails, that I was trying to do what God was asking of me.

I got to CMS and they understood that I genuinely wanted the Church to be there for people exploring alternative spiritualities. Once I realised I was in a safe place, it dawned on me how hard it had been working in isolation. Being part of the course helped me heal.

Aside from your experience with spiritual seekers, what do you think you brought to this learning community?

Since I’d worked in PR, I became a natural advocate for the course and its aim to call the Church to the edges. And early on I’d become aware of discussions in the wider world around shame and vulnerability. I’d seen the connection between that and working in mission. So we explored Brene Brown’s material on having the courage to be vulnerable.

Because to be creative is to be vulnerable, there’s a certain fragility in pioneering. And while it’s good to acknowledge and embrace vulnerability, it’s also important to exercise discernment and build resilience so you don’t fall apart when people question what you’re doing.

The pioneer course seems to have gone from strength to strength, but from the inside, has it felt fragile?

With pioneering, when you start out you think there’s going to come a point where you feel secure in what you’re doing because it’s grown successful enough that you can almost coast. But the longer I’m involved, the more I think you never reach that point. Every year when we recruit new students, there’s this fear that no one will sign up and it’ll all fall apart. But that keeps us reliant on God.

What have been some of your favourite things to come out of the course?

The Good Shepherd Boxing Community David Harrigan started: a group of guys who are finding that faith connects with their everyday lives. Also Jenny Allan who started Jenerous, an ethical clothing brand. She expected to do something within church – yet it became apparent that she was really passionate about fashion. She longed for it to be ethical, godly. Jenerous is a beacon of how to do business in an industry where there’s much to be critiqued. Pauline Randall, an older course student, created a missional presence at Billericay indoor market, taking drinks to stall holders, chatting, offering prayer.

David Harrigan (centre), founder of the Good Shepherd Boxing Community.

I love that it doesn’t matter how old or “cutting edge” you are. The danger is tending to think of all the really “out there” stuff. Yet there are people doing things that get less fanfare making a real difference.

What are some challenges facing pioneering mission?

I think pioneers are sort of wanted and yet not wanted by the Church. Pioneers can help renew the Church and take it into spaces it struggles to reach. But we have to be careful not to create a “them and us”. We love the Church; that’s why it hurts when it doesn’t “get” us. Church history is full of pioneers and adaptation. It’s part of this adventure we go on with God in trying to make sense of the history, the heritage, the tradition in the time and the place that we find ourselves. It should be invigorating, renewing.

I think pioneers have changed some of the culture in the Church around innovation and risk-taking for the gospel. But it’s hard for institutions to be disrupted. And with COVID-19, there can be more fear and resistance to change, even though we’ve seen it causing people to open up to faith in ways we’ve long prayed for.

What keeps you involved in the course and what are your hopes for its future?

I’d like to see us become more international and more accessible, particularly for people who aren’t academic. What’s great about the course is that it’s not just an academic exercise; it genuinely makes a difference. Someone said to me that CMS is the gold standard of pioneer training.

The greatest joy is seeing people flourish into all that God has made them to be. I’ve just finished marking assignments and they were so full of creativity, grace and empathy I had tears streaming down my face. I thought, this is why I do this.

I love helping people see they are part of a bigger movement of God. So when things don’t go right, you can hang onto the fact that there are so many people wanting to share faith in creative ways and that faith can and does bring transformation in the world.

Published 15 February 2021
Europe, Middle East and North Africa

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