The tree of life has become a powerful metaphor for the SpiritSpace community (image copyright Evie Mowbray 2021)
Over the last year, despite the restrictions in place, mission partner Andrea Campanale has seen new opportunities develop to meet with spiritual seekers – including a new international community starting from scratch.
As well as teaching on the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course, I seek to connect with those who would call themselves “spiritual but not religious”. This has taken me to Mind, Body, Spirit events and to local fairs, but in summer 2020 I was invited to an event on a different scale.
Started in 1986, Burning Man is an annual event held since 1998 at Black Rock City, a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada. It derives its name from its culmination, the symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy, referred to as “The Man”, that occurs on the Saturday evening before Labor Day [the first Monday in September].
“Once considered an underground gathering for bohemians and free spirits of all stripes, Burning Man has since evolved into a destination for social media influencers, celebrities and the Silicon Valley elite,” says the US-based NPR website. In 2019 it was attended by 78,850 people. In 2020 for the first time it happened virtually, from 31 August to 6 September.
I was part of a team of Jesus followers in the UK and US who provided reflections, workshops and one-to-one prayer encounters. I had the privilege of doing Ruach card readings with participants. Ruach cards use a biblical interpretation of imagery from nature to offer some divinely inspired insight. The last card has a verse of Scripture on it and is prayed as a blessing for those willing to receive.
I always find it amazing and a huge privilege to listen, be able to bring a word of encouragement and pray for those who are so open to hearing from the Spirit of God. Through the wonders of technology, I had spiritual conversations with folk from New York, Colorado, Washington, Florida and California, as well as some in the UK!
Encouraged by the conversations we had at Burning Man, and aware of a real openness to exploring spirituality, the team felt there was a place for a new collaboration.
On Sunday 1 November 2020, the first regular SpiritSpace gathering took place. It is an online creative collaboration for those who might describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, creating a space for spiritual seekers to experience Jesusinspired art, meditations and prayer ministry.
It is led by Colin Brice of Eden People in Guildford, Dee Cunniffe, Came to Believe Recovery USA and UK, and Hope Deifell from North Carolina, with Simon Tierney, a former CMS pioneer student, and I as part of the team.
As the SpiritSpace team, we now bring together contributions from artists, poets and musicians at 8–10pm (UK time) on the first Sunday of each month. An image of the Tree of Life has become a powerful metaphor for what we are seeking to achieve. In the main Zoom room, themes such as bridges, fire and light, and streams in the wasteland have been pursued.
These provide wonderful opportunities for creatives to produce resources that are appropriate for this audience, while being authentically Christian. (You can see them on the SpiritSpace Camp YouTube channel.) There is also the option of small group or one-to-one encounters in breakout rooms. These include dream sensing, inner healing, body blessing and Ruach card readings.
We’ve had videos that brought Scripture to us, leading to a discussion about hope and the sharing of different people’s experience of journeying towards greater self acceptance and wholeness. A recent meditation using the image of a flash flood functioned as a confession and then another of the team sang a gentle song of praise and gratitude, which we were encouraged to join in with as we became familiar with it.
Around 30–40 people now interact with us over the two hours and we are beginning to see some people come back time after time who really feel part of the community we are building. There are folk in Australia and France who regularly attend, as well as from all over the US and UK.
One visitor commented, “I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the entire SpiritSpace family. I cannot even imagine the amount of time, planning and energy required to provide the healing and love that all of you give to us.
“It is my third time here. I come here because I feel completely accepted for who I am. My colleagues, family members and most friends have difficulty incorporating spirituality into the splendor of life; I feel limited in what I can share with them.
“I also come here for hope, inspiration, insight, awareness, healing, discernment, kindness, generosity and compassion.
“I also come here for empowerment and it is my hope that I can return the same with each person I interact with, continuing to expand the tree of life.”
For a number of years, I’ve been thinking about using the format of a worship service contextualised for the people I’m seeking to reach out to with the love of God. At our last SpiritSpace event I really felt like we were beginning to achieve that.
We are not trying to force this. Rather, we are seeking to prayerfully discern together where the Spirit wants to lead us. We are sensitive and kind, allowing God to meet people and touch them where they need it most.
What is remarkable is that the screen is no barrier to that at all!
Do you have a dream of connecting to a community that doesn’t do church? Find out about pioneer training at Church Mission Society.