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Preferring the indigenous to the colonial  

25 November 2016

Alastair McIntosh on a model for mission


St Aidan’s Way of Mission: Celtic insights for a post-Christian world
Ray Simpson with Brent Lyons-Lee
BRF £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20



RAY SIMPSON is the Lindisfarne-based founder of a new monastic movement, the Community of Aidan and Hilda. His Australian co-author, Brent Lyons-Lee, is an expert in indigenous mission initi­atives.

At one point, the authors com­mend the practice of lectio divina. It means “godly reading”, and is based around the four Rs of reading, reflec­tion, response, and relaxing. It serves them well. Often, all there is to go on is fleeting insights into Aidan’s life from Bede. But, in the spiritual realm, a little goes a long way. The Irish saint’s very name means “little flame”. From the book’s first chapter — “Incarna­tional and indigenous mission” — we are carried straight to religious flashpoints of contemporary im­­portance.

Born at about the time that St Columba died, at the end of the sixth century, Aidan was commis­sioned from Iona to evangelise the brutally warring Anglo-Saxon settlers of Northumbria. Not for him the later Romanised colonial model of mission, a model replic­ated from Australia to the Americas, where “the gospel was preached, but abuse was modelled.” Instead, the Lindisfarne mission seeded “little colonies of heaven” that helped to grow “an indigenous, English-speaking church” .

I loved the chapter on “Soul friends and lifelong learning”. Here we are reminded that, when uni­vers­ities were separated from a spiritual grounding in the Beat­itudes, and Christ’s relationship to nature, they lost “a holistic under­standing of godly learning that embraces head, heart and hands”. Other chapters explore pilgrimage, women as spir­itual foster-mothers, social justice, and religious rule and rhythm.

There are those who would see “Celtic Christianity” dead and buried. There are those who believe the future to be post-Christian. This little gem is a lectio divina of the signs of resurrection.


Dr McIntosh is an Honorary Fellow in divinity at Edinburgh University. His latest book, Poacher’s Pilgrimage, is reviewed opposite.

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