From Durham to New York: the MA essay that keeps on giving

by Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts is a Methodist Minister, writer and speaker. He did his initial Ministerial Training at the Wesley Study Centre in partnership with Cranmer Hall from 1988-1991.

When Harry and Meghan were busy pledging their troths, I was watching the ceremony in the company of the Bishop of New York and several of his colleagues in a lovely country retreat just north of the Big Apple. How did I come to be there? Well, it all began with an essay I wrote as part of an MA in Theology and Ministry at Cranmer Hall/Wesley Study Centre in the late noughties.

At the time I was working for the Fresh Expressions Agency led by the former Warden of Cranmer Hall, now Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft. As part of a module on the Book of Acts I chose to answer this essay question; What lessons does Acts 2:42-47 provide for the contemporary movement to resource and develop fresh expressions of church? I enjoyed writing the piece and was grateful for the generous mark awarded by the module tutor Mark Bonnington. With Mark’s encouragement I submitted the essay for publication in a theological journal and when that was published, I thought that would be that. But it wasn’t……

My thinking continued around the themes of the essay and the idea of developing them into some form of model for encouraging growth in Christian discipleship began to emerge along with a name: Holy Habits.

In 2015 I had a three-month sabbatical and with it the opportunity to write a book. I had recently co-written a book about fresh expressions and pioneer ministry with Cranmer luminaries David Goodhew and Michael Volland so I wasn’t a complete novice but the thought of writing a whole book on my own was quite a challenge, particularly as my typing is pathologically awful.

In the event I really enjoyed the work and was very grateful to a number of critical friends who rigorously reviewed the draft and suggested ways in which it could be improved. One of these was former Director of the Wesley Study Centre, Roger Walton who was particularly helpful and encouraging.

An old school friend of mine, Malcolm Down, kindly agreed to publish the book with the proviso that I bought the first 500 copies! The thought ‘What if nobody buys them?’ did cross my mind more than once but in the end I need not have worried. To our surprise and delight they sold quickly and as I write we are on the 14th reprint. One of those who bought a copy early on was the Bishop of New York who enjoyed it so much that he bought another 200 copies for his ministers and then kindly invited me over to talk with them about it.

After the book came out others began to embrace and explore the Holy Habits vision and following some wonderful work by the Birmingham Methodist Circuit a set of resources to help Churches explore this way of forming Christian disciples was published by the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF).

More publications have followed including a series of Bible Reflections, a set of Group Studies, a Lenten Course and a collaboration with the Messy Church movement.

So, the moral of the story is you never know where all those hours of study spent researching and crafting an essay might lead. When it is safe to do so we are off to Australia next as the Uniting Church there has adopted Holy Habits with great enthusiasm too. For more on Holy Habits please visit http://www.holyhabits.org.uk

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