A hundred pioneers gathered earlier this month to present and facilitate discussion on academic research mission in the UK.
The Pioneer Hub at Church Mission Society (CMS) was first established in 2011, with the aim of providing a network of resources and support for pioneers in the south-central region of the UK.
The 12 November, however, marked the first time that members of the network were able to meet at a formal academic conference to discuss the challenges of pioneering new communities and missions.
Reverend Doug Gay, who lectures in practical theology at the University of Glasgow and is currently pioneering a missional community within his own church, opened the day with a session entitled: 'Rip it up and start again', during which he reflected on his personal challenge to "put his money where his mouth is" as an academic now returning to church leadership.
He posed a series of questions for those seeking to grow and develop new communities of faith "in a post-modern culture that distrusts institutions and prizes inclusion". He questioned the balance between authenticity and pragmatism, between ordained and lay-led leadership and what patterns of worship might "encourage holistic spirituality".
Seminars held throughout the day featured research from the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course run by CMS.
Jim Barker, who lectures on the course, discussed the way in which communities of practice might provide support to pioneers. Student Andrea Campanale presented the findings of an independent study which looked into what the Bible teaches about shame and its implications for presenting the gospel, in addition to the necessity of creating "shame-resilient" communities and of "reframing" the shaming practices of the Church.
Beth Keith used her seminar to identify "the pioneer journey", while Anna Thompson gave a reflection on transformation.
Fr Gerald Arbuckle ended the day with a talk on the relationship between grief and dissent, saying that culture is "resistant to change and will suffocate creativity".
He proclaimed the necessity of "leadership that is prepared to let go of past attachments and make space to mourn. For unless we acknowledge loss, sadness will snuff out any energy for change".
New Director of Mission Education at CMS Jonny Baker said: "Gathering so many pioneers really created a buzz in the room. The sessions provoked thinking and gave plenty to both encourage and inspire. This is particularly important for those who can feel isolated and discouraged as they seek to innovate in their locality."
The conference is to become an annual event, and contributors will compile their research for publishing.