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Interview: Lyn Weston, director of C of E relations, London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

07 August 2020

‘When we all model disciple behaviours, it becomes infectious’

Ninety-eight per cent of UK Christians aren’t in church-paid work, and they spend 95 per cent of their time away from church, much of it with the 94 per cent of our fellow citizens who don’t know Jesus. Most of them don’t feel equipped to make the most of those opportunities, but imagine if they were.

LICC [the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity] was founded by John Stott, in 1982, to help every Christian go out into their bit of God’s world confident that God can work through them, and that Jesus is good news for people: the things they do, their organisations, homes, streets, shops, work, school, and beyond.

It’s so freeing when lay Christians realise their work really matters to God. Too many have a sense that God only cares about church work, paid or voluntary. They feel as if working at a bank, a building site, or a café isn’t significant. It’s rarely something we’re taught explicitly, but it can be really damaging.

We help different kinds of churches work out what discipleship might look like for them. The way an Anglo-Catholic priest equips people probably looks quite different from how the leader of a Charismatic Evangelical church does it, but we’re all united by our love for the same Saviour, and we can all be fruitful for Christ in daily life.

After working in fast-moving global digital banking organisations, coming to work in the Church was a culture shock. But the Covid-19 crisis has catapulted us all into the digital space and the vast opportunities of having an online community, as well as physical gatherings. I’ve evidenced such rich connections, and I’m hoping that the Church will learn from this new way of working.

I hope it will give us a platform to speak into a world that’s confused and more conscious of mortality. If we speak with love, grace, and compassion, we can show Christ’s light to the world, speaking hope into fear, not airing our disagreements.

There are many churches that are really making the right responses online. Others have just replicated what used to happen in the physical space, which isn’t inclusive to outsiders.

Initiatives such as Thy Kingdom Come at Pentecost are beautiful opportunities to speak with a powerful voice about prayer. God is waiting for all his people to sincerely pray “your kingdom come” — and not on our terms. Everything has been stripped away from us; so we have complete space and freedom to pray with passion, wherever we are, like never before.

Colossians says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though for the Lord.” Jobs are opportunities to join in God’s redemptive work for all creation. As a leader in a bank, I wasn’t able to confess the name of Jesus — but I could model godly character, make good work, minister grace and love, and mould culture.

The banker helping people steward their resources, the builder providing homes and communal buildings, the barista giving a really good cup of coffee and a warm welcome — these things glorify God, making earth that bit more like heaven.

If you feel you need to squeeze in time for God — you don’t. Glorify him with every spreadsheet and email.

I work with leaders in the national Church at Westminster, and bishops, archdeacons, and senior diocesan leaders, and deaneries, mission areas, cross-denominational networks, parishes, and individuals. I used to spend two days a week at LICC’s offices, just off Oxford Street, and another two days anywhere in England, and Fridays in my home office in the north-west of England. Now, I’m doing most of it by Zoom, which cuts out the travelling.

I partner with dioceses, which includes developing and delivering resources and training through discipleship learning hubs, which are immersive learning experiences, delivered at intervals over a two-year period, to a group of ten church teams in each hub. I’m also a self-supporting minister, preaching and leading in my parish, as well as preparing couples for marriage and baptisms.

I loved my 27 years in the retail and financial-services industries, but accepting change is joyful and painful for everyone. We all consciously or unconsciously ask: What’s in it for me? And, perhaps, feel all sorts of emotions. It’s really important to allow grief and lament about what needs to die before moving forward. But moving forward is important.

How individuals react to change is unchanging, but there’s an increasing demand for expertise in change leadership. Organisations need to balance the force for stability, structure, and order with the force for adaptation, novelty, and experimentation needed in any living system. They need to keep in synchronicity with the ever-changing world. It’s critical for the Church of England: not changing our beliefs, but changing the ways in which we interact and build relationships.

Jesus told stories. Can we tell these stories today? Each of us has been given a place, moment, and life-experience to make us disciples, wherever we are. We each hold the gift of storytelling in our hands. For example, I love the more mature ladies in my parish, and encourage them to realise the power of the life stories they tell. When we all model disciple behaviours, it becomes infectious, and the Church changes.

Spiritually, I’ve formed a rigorous rule of life. Daily immersion in scripture and in prayer keeps me grounded in truth. It’s as essential as the air I breathe and the water I drink.

I was born in Northern Ireland in 1968, the year the troubles started. Violence and killing affected everyone, and the pain of unnecessary death was the norm. When I was just under three years old, I had meningitis and pneumonia, and came close to my own death. The hospital I needed was on the other side of a massive riot in Belfast. Thankfully, God gave the ambulance driver the courage to drive right through the riot. Eight other children didn’t survive the epidemic. A few years later, my baby brother Richard died from a rare childhood cancer; but our faith was deep, and we kept close to God.

At 20, I’d grown tired of dodging bombs and terrorist attacks, and I headed to the bright lights of Leeds. At 35, after a few serious life traumas, I experienced a renewed sense of God’s calling.

I’m married to Phil, and we have a son, Luke, who’s 13. Giving birth to my son was my proudest achievement. But it also felt pretty good to run past Buckingham Palace on my first of six London marathons.

I’d love to go on another mission in Africa. Working in Uganda in 2012 was a life-changing time for me. I learned so much about love and grace and being totally dependent on God.

I’m not an angry person by nature, but I get really angry about abuse of power, especially in the Church. My prayer is that, as safeguarding issues are brought to justice, so, too, will all other forms of bullying and harassment — and that those who shield these sins will repent their failure to stand for truth and justice.

I’m happiest spending time with Phil and Luke, going on adventures, doing outdoor pursuits, and especially white-water rafting. We love to walk on the beach most days.

I live my whole life in hope. I know now I don’t need to fear, as God will always be there, no matter what life throws at me. The same is true for everyone who puts their faith in Christ.

I pray a lot. My prayers are that the 94 per cent will come to know the love of Jesus; that the Church may be talked about for our love, compassion, and graciousness rather than our theological differences and unkindness.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Stormzy. I’d ask him to sing “Blinded By Your Grace”, and to compile a rap with me. This really is my dream.

The Revd Lyn Weston was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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