2017: A Faith Odyssey

In 1968 ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, possibly the most iconic sci-fi movie of all-time, hit the cinema.  16 years later the sequel, ‘2010: The Year We Make Contact’ arrived.  Both are firm favourites of mine, but a clip from ‘2010’ has been going around in my head this week, a week that has been hugely significant for me and I hope will be significant for additional needs and disability ministry to children and young people… It’s a clip that fits well with what’s been going on with me…

In the clip, Dave Bowman (a character from the original film) appears to Astronaut Dr. Heywood Floyd and reveals to him some amazing news…

Dave Bowman: You see, something’s going to happen…
Heywood Floyd: What? What’s going to happen?
Dave Bowman: Something wonderful.
Heywood Floyd: What?
Dave Bowman: I understand how you feel. You see, it’s all very clear to me now. The whole thing. It’s wonderful.

On Wednesday, the following announcement was made by the new CEO of Urban Saints, Richard Langmead, to the staff team:  Also, there are some exciting changes ahead for Mark Arnold as he will be stepping down from his role as Chief Operating Officer (COO) and transitioning to a new Inclusivity role with Urban Saints. Over the next few months Mark will gradually scale down his COO duties, and scale up his additional needs ministry work. Mark is committed to fundraising the lion-share of the cost of this new post while topping up with income developed through his training and conference activity…  Strategically, inclusion will be an increasingly significant issue for all youth organisations and should be an important part of Urban Saints mission to young people…”

Wonderful news for me personally, and the next stage on a journey that I’ve been on for a while…

Some four and a half years ago I was invited to give a talk on inclusion of children and young people with additional needs for Phase (a youthwork collective in Bedfordshire); it went really well and as a result ‘All Inclusive?’ was born… Nearly 100 events and conferences later, with thousands of leaders trained and many connecting through the associated ‘Additional Needs Alliance’ group www.additionalneedsalliance.org.uk, this has become an established and lively ministry within Urban Saints www.urbansaints.org/additionalneeds

There are significant partnerships, we have influence on a number of key groupings, and our national profile in this area is increasing rapidly. In the autumn of last year, it became clear that this ministry had developed to the stage where it was no longer possible for me to run it alongside my Chief Operating Officer role. My health began to be affected as I tried to do both, and then God spoke to me powerfully and clearly about the impact doing both was having on me; he also made it very clear which path he wanted me to travel on.

As I explored this further, praying for wisdom, speaking initially within Urban Saints and then seeking advice and guidance from others, everything pointed in the same direction. I must focus on additional needs ministry; it is my calling, what God has put me here to do.

All that remained to be decided was whether this could happen within Urban Saints, or whether I needed to venture out on my own. My overwhelming desire, and I firmly believe God’s too, was for this ministry to remain within Urban Saints, to continue to grow and flourish, to wash over everything that we do, and for Urban Saints to continue to be seen as one of those leading the way in this area among Christian children’s/youth organisations.

When our new CEO joined, we had several discussions about this during which Richard gave his support to the plans for me to go full-time at Urban Saints with additional needs ministry. We built a plan which transitions me into this role full-time by mid-year, giving time for my COO replacement to be recruited. We took this plan to the Board of Trustees, and to my great delight and everlasting thanks they unanimously agreed.

There are some things to figure out, some sacrifices to make, some exciting plans to now drive forward with, but I know that God goes ahead to prepare the way. I was reminded while thinking about all of this that when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, the priests stepped into the river before the water stopped (Joshua 3:14-17). This is a big step of faith for me, and to an extent for Urban Saints, but one that has the will of God all over it.

Over the next few months I will gradually scale down my COO duties, and scale up my additional needs ministry work. We’ll even figure out a better name for it! I hope you share my excitement for this next stage with me; I would also greatly value your prayers as all of this is worked through! Thanks friends, you all know that this is my passion, you all know why, but so does God and he’s made all of this possible and I’m very, very grateful.

As the film character Dave Bowman said… “You see, it’s all very clear to me now. The whole thing. It’s wonderful.”

10th February 2017

Image rights © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’)

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