Christopher Landau is being commissioned as the new Director of ReSource, formerly known as Anglican Renewal Ministries, on Wednesday 8th September. I asked him about the organisation, his own experiences, and renewal in the Church today.
IP: What is ReSource? Where did the organisation come from, and what has been its role recently?
CL: One way of expressing ReSource’s purpose is as a call to remind the church that the renewing work of the Holy Spirit is for every kind of church, in every kind of context. It can be too easy to think that ‘charismatic’ equals large gatherings, contemporary music, little or no liturgy, and an emphasis on networks rather than local geography. I think ReSource has an important role in helping churches—particularly English parish churches—come alive in the Holy Spirit regardless of any particular ‘tradition’ label they might own. So we work in local churches, and online, providing training and retreats alongside a suite of courses and other resources. A particular recent focus is the ‘Saints Alive’ course, and we are about to launch the Alongside scheme, providing prayerful mentoring support to clergy and other church leaders.
The history really begins with a central London curate receiving a frankly unexpected spiritual awakening in the early 1960s. Michael Harper’s decision to leave his curacy at All Soul’s Langham Place, to launch the Fountain Trust, was a pivotal moment. The Trust provided a focus for charismatic renewal throughout the 1960s and 70s, both within and beyond the Church of England. When the Trust was dissolved in 1980, a group committed to seeing that work of renewal continue within Anglican contexts formed Anglican Renewal Ministries (ARM). ReSource continues the work of ARM and was launched in its current shape in 2004, bringing together that renewal history with a focus on mission, inherited from the Springboard initiative.
One critique of charismatic movements is that they can become focussed on religious experience at the expense of everything else; I think ReSource’s focus on the work of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of mission helps avoid that. When a Christian is filled with the Spirit, his or her faith often comes alive in a new way; when this happens to several within a church it can transform their corporate engagement with a local community. Mission in all its forms is then inspired by this outpouring from God, rather than simply being the best humanly-originated ideas of some people of goodwill.
In that sense ReSource is called constantly to highlight the spiritual realities at the heart of the Christian faith, inviting people to encounter the fullness of God’s presence – enabling them to do so in ways that are sensitive to their current context and understanding.
IP: Why were you drawn to being involved in the organisation? What do you see as its potential?
CL: We desperately need more bridges and fewer walls within the church. I know of too many people who have, in effect, shut down the possibility of any kind of unprompted or unexpected personal encounter with God—perhaps because of how they perceive ‘charismatic evangelicalism’, or perhaps because of previous negative personal experiences. I think ReSource is well-placed to share some of the insights and riches of what can be called ‘charismatic renewal’ with the wider church, in ways that recognise the hurdles some face but ultimately rejoicing in the kinds of encounters with God which were undeniably central to the growth of the early church in the first place. We also support churches that experienced something of the charismatic renewal of recent decades, but are looking for a new injection of life.
ReSource often emphasises that its work is with ‘little, local and ordinary’ churches—celebrating each of those characteristics rather than seeing them as problems. My curacy was in two ordinary local parish churches in inner London, and I came across the work of ReSource while looking for an organisation to lead a parish weekend. Subsequent conversations with the current director Kevin Roberts (formerly archdeacon of Carlisle) led to my working for ReSource for nine months after my curacy, leading a review of the ministry’s purpose and helping to discern its future direction. What fascinated me during those months of conversations with other churches and agencies working for spiritual renewal was that they could all see the valuable purpose of a ministry that championed the work of the Holy Spirit in recognisably Anglican contexts, unafraid of liturgical prayer or traditional hymns, and thus delighting in the diversity of the church.
With all the current debate about the future of the parish system, I feel ReSource has an important role to play in helping ordinary parishes see what is possible in terms of renewal—not merely for personal spiritual development, but so that mission to a local area is enlivened. There is something important and even prophetic about bearing hope for even the smallest and perhaps most overlooked parishes. I very much hope we can be a particular source of inspiration for those heroic clergy responsible for increasingly large groups of churches.
IP: What has been your own experience of the Holy Spirit at different stages in your Christian life? How will these experiences shape your approach to leading ReSource?
CL: Having grown up in a traditional Anglican market town parish, before a choral scholarship reading theology in Cambridge as an undergraduate, I then attended an HTB plant in London and saw my faith come alive in the most unexpected of ways. I received the gift of tongues while saying Evening Prayer aloud in a hotel room in China on my final foreign assignment as the BBC World Service’s religious affairs correspondent, before beginning ordination training.
I absolutely understand that some aspects of ‘charismatic’ religious experience mystify or even concern some faithful Anglicans. I hope, under God, I am able to engage in a ministry of translation between those of different traditions and backgrounds. In essence I think much of the church in the west has a profoundly impoverished view of the Holy Spirit, and ReSource can help churches appreciate and experience the dynamic living reality of the third person of the Trinity.
Because of this personal history, I bring with me a genuine understanding of, and respect for, the breadth of the church. I certainly understand the suspicion some have of large charismatic churches and ministries; I know (and lament) the levels of mutual mistrust and the ways in which we so easily erect barriers between those of different church traditions. I may be unique, for example, in having trained at (the liberal catholic) Ripon College Cuddesdon and subsequently having been licensed to (the charismatic evangelical) St Aldate’s Oxford. In Anglican contexts, people often seem to react strongly to one or other of those! But I do genuinely love the church as the bride of Christ, and believe ReSource can be one organisation among many that prompts the church to live in its full potential.
IP: What do you see as the primary needs for renewal in the Church today?
CL: I think we need a recovery of hope. There are so many obvious ways in which the institutional church fails—so part of our challenge is to be reminded of the unshakeable hope of the kingdom, and try to receive that as a gift that shapes the life of the church… not because of our own striving, but because of our willingness to be open to God being so much bigger and more extraordinary than our own best efforts.
Someone at Christ Church Oxford told me after my final sermon there this summer (as an honorary cathedral chaplain) that in the week before, they’d had to type my name into a number of rotas and orders of service. Instead of ‘Christopher’ they’d kept typing ‘Christhoper’. I rather like that—and took it as a prophetic encouragement. It’s easy to spend a lifetime criticising the church (and as a religious affairs journalist I was sometimes accused of exactly that), but I do believe that I personally, and ReSource as a ministry, are both called to hold out the hope of life in Christ to a church that can get overly distracted by its own internal affairs, and forget the glorious relationship between us and God that should underpin everything else.
IP: You have written recently about disagreement in the Church, and how we can handle this better. Where do you think we have gone wrong in the past? What are the opportunities here to learn to handle our disagreements better?
CL: We have become so quick to ‘other’ fellow Christians, and it seems to me that we are particularly poor within the Church of England at recognising that Anglicans with different convictions remain part of the one Body of Christ. If this is true, it surely has an impact on how we seek to engage in disagreement, because the person with whom we are in discussion is a brother or sister, a part of the vine, one whose feet I might be called upon to wash. There seems to me a particular irony that some Christians apparently find it easier to love a foodbank client of another faith, or a homeless person without faith, than they do to love a fellow Christian with whom they disagree on an issue like sexuality.
A key point I make in my book A Theology of Disagreement is about the work of the Holy Spirit—in particular, whether we are willing to see the fruit of the spirit as a paradigmatic text for how Christians relate to one another. If a ‘fruit of the spirit’ test were applied to Anglican interactions on Twitter or at General Synod, for example, I believe the manner of our arguments would be transformed.
Sometimes it really is as simple as asking, am I visibly loving my Christian neighbour with whom I disagree? And do they see and appreciate at least my attempt genuinely to love in this situation? That doesn’t mean abandoning the pursuit of a singular truth that sets us free, or indeed removing the possibility that there may be grounds in future for a split or schism. But it does mean taking seriously what it means to love our fellow Christians and give real consideration to how conflicts might be transformed, were there agreement about the importance of what I characterise as loving disagreement.
IP: What do you hope ReSource’s main contribution to the Church will be?
CL: A core belief for us is that no church is too small, too old, or too isolated to experience spiritual renewal. The Hebridean Revival is a good reminder of that, and I think ReSource is called to encourage hope and expectation of who God is, and what he can do through his church—including the local parish churches of England. Too much church life risks becoming functionally atheist, in relation to actual reliance on the prompting and presence of God to shape how we choose to spend our time or money.
There are so many church communities which are ageing fast, and where it really isn’t clear where the next generation of worshippers is coming from. Of course one option is to plant something new. But I believe ReSource has an important role in the next decade or so to remind us all what is possible for the God of the impossible, seeing existing churches revived and renewed, and serving their local communities.
IP: How can we pray for you in this new role?
CL: For wisdom from God about how best we can serve the church. We want to meet clergy and other Christians where they are, and provide resources and input that genuinely serve their presenting needs. Of course like all such ministries we pray for the financial support to maintain and expand the work.
Please pray too for the expanding team of ReSource Ministers who carry out so much of our work with churches and individuals—and that in all this, more Christians in this country would know the joy and hope that comes from a faith that is alive in the Holy Spirit.
Christopher Landau is the incoming director of ReSource for Anglican Renewal Ministries. A former BBC World Service religious affairs correspondent, he has a DPhil in Christian Ethics from the University of Oxford, published this summer as A Theology of Disagreement (SCM Press). He was previously an associate minister at St Aldate’s, Oxford. He is married to Carolyn and they have three young children.
His commissioning service, including a sermon from ReSource’s Patron Mark Tanner, Bishop of Chester, is at 4 pm on Wednesday 8th September. The service will be broadcast live online here.