Safe place, truth space

It has been described as, ‘a safe place where terrible things happen!’

There are a lot of questions out there but too few spaces where you can really wrestle with them, working things out for yourself while supported by others. Why do the really important questions make so many people feel insecure? Since 1983 Workshop has been trying to create just such a place, quietly ‘under the radar’ in different locations across the country. An inclusive environment that draws people from across the Christian traditions and well beyond. The shape is simple; taking Jesus as its centre-point it approaches questions and issues from a range of trajectories, always probing for what is authentic and life giving. No stone is left unturned all possibilities are examined. The biblical vision of shalom predominates, with a creation-centred passion for justice and peace.

Look around the room. Across the age range there are those comfortable and active in their local communities of faith, eager to deepen their understanding and so live and serve more significantly. They are likely to be sitting next to someone freaked out by every idea of church, holding on to faith by their fingertips desperate to find meaning. Every year at least one person will announce on arrival, “I’m here to give God one last chance …” This is the disturbing yet exciting reality of engaging with street-level Christian learning today.

Each weekend is shaped around a theme, be it ‘Spirituality’, ‘Creativity’ or ‘World Faiths’; or any of the other fifteen to choose from over a two-year cycle. Saturday evenings may offer a simple meal to which special guests are invited or activities included to stimulate thought or spiritual encounter. Recently an orthodox Rabbi reflected on his evening, “I left having learned much more than I had taught.” Everyone else felt equally enriched. This is what happens when space is created for learners to be teachers also.

I must have been looking for something like Workshop, because when a colleague told me his wife had done this “life-changing” course, I thought, “That’ll do me.” I was clinging onto the edges of the church; sick of trite answers and embarrassing theology that just didn’t cut it in the world I lived in. With some trepidation I rolled up to the first Workshop weekend, fearful of the crushing disappointment of it being ‘more of the same’. Hot tea was the first thing that made me feel at home. That and the welcome – warm as the toast that was handed out liberally. It’s not hard to recall what drew me in, that balmy September weekend. The sheer excitement of learning, teachers who knew their stuff and exposure to ideas that stretched the brain. Being able to ask anything you wanted.  And when I opened my big mouth and said I thought something was bollocks, nobody was shocked.

It was almost a sense of grief, as our time concluded – sadness at the prospect of losing this precious little community that allowed you to discuss the incarnation with people you met in the corridors and the ladies’ loos. It wasn’t a bed of roses.  There were people who got up my nose (as I’m sure I did theirs) and some with ideas I profoundly disagreed with. But what I so valued was that this diverse group of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and theological standpoints, could sit together, respect each other, and get on with the job of working out what it means to live with faith in the 21st century.  This is what “church” SHOULD be, and the Workshop experience gave me that vision.   I still get on my high horse about how rubbish church can be; I still struggle like mad with faith, I still wrestle with doubts; and I’m even more “liberal” than ever before… but I’m comfortable with all that…..because after all, faith is a journey.