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02 September 2014

The Magnificent Seven: where are they now?

The Magnificent Seven: where are they now?

In the May / June 2004 edition of idea,we asked what was then a new generation of gifted Christian leaders – all aged 30 and under – why they were investing their lives in Christian ministry. A decade has passed since then, and we've caught up with six of them to find out if they have the same passion, vision, buzz and razzmatazz as they did back then.

Patrick McDonald

Patrick McDonald launched the Viva Network at the age of 19 in order to co-ordinate Christian ministries working with 'children at risk' around the world. Viva Network links 4,000 organisations reaching 160,000 children. In our issue 10 years ago, Patrick said he didn't expect he would be leading the Viva Network in 10 years' time.

"I have tried hard to remain focused on who Jesus has called me to be and what he has asked me to do. Emily and I now have four children and we think we might start fostering or adopting when our youngest (4) gets a little older. We have moved in part to accommodate that and now live somewhere where we can be a 'drop zone' for travelling missionaries and our church. I handed over the baton of Viva to a new CEO in 2012 because I felt God pushing me out of Viva. The Lord more or less told me: "You are good at getting things started – and Viva is now started, so move on. As well as feeling 'pushed' out of Viva, I felt pulled into a new project – Oxford Ventures for Social Enterprise Ltd (OxVen). OxVen is a catalyst and an incubator for new missional ventures. For us, church remains central to all we try to do and we have managed to develop a robust strategy for our church missions work at St Aldate's, Oxford, which is focused on Europe. We now have three church plants in Europe under way and we helped set up the Oxford Centre for Church Growth (http://www.occg.co.uk/) in partnership with Wycliffe Hall. Our goal, loosely, is to set up a 100 St Aldate's like churches in cities like Oxford, but across Europe. This will probably take us the next 25 years - but that's okay." 

Helen Warnock

In 2004, Helen Warnock was the youngest general director ever appointed by Scripture Union (aged 30) as she headed up the Northern Ireland office. It's a role she still holds, and immensely enjoys.

"It has been an incredible learning curve and I consider it a real privilege to be part of SU Ministry. I have enjoyed learning more about working with children and young people and how to open the Bible and engage with God together; as well as considering the strategic needs of both working nationally and with other agencies. I want to be part of considering the long term priorities for youth ministry and being part of actioning that over the next 20 years. So I am half way through a doctorate with the focus on youth ministry as I wanted to create some space to consider wisely what the future of youth ministry needs to be about. I feel more than ever called to young people. Again and again I meet children, teenagers, volunteers who inspire me as they seek God and walk out their faith. But it is not all plain sailing. More than ever we need to speak out with grace, whether in the church or outside the church and always be people generous with love and grace. Over the 10 years, the challenges have been personal - seeking God amidst a busy schedule, seeking discernment, walking with friends in difficult times. But as always He is generous. I had a sabbatical earlier this year which was a precious time of enjoying more time with God and reflecting on the incredible relationship He calls us too and the opportunities I have had."

Ten years ago, Helen was the only woman heading up a para-church organisation in Northern Ireland. Is this still the case? "In the last three to four years other females have been appointed in the youth sphere - there are now around four women heading up youth para-church organisations or youth and children church denominations. It has been great to see this shift."

Helen Da Costa

Helen Da Costa, helped to lead a new expression of Church in Manchester a decade ago. In the time since, it's been a time of adventure, travel and creativity.

"Between 2004 and 2009 I spent time travelling, living in different countries and working with charities in different aspects of international and grassroots development. I continued to support the running of 24-7 prayer rooms in the Manchester and occasionally, elsewhere. When I can, my favourite place to be is still in a 24-7 prayer room. For the last five years I have been living in Manchester and raising my four-year-old son. Some of the other things I really enjoy are blogging and studying photography. I also continue to work with the charity I helped to start in 2004 – the Kampala Children's Centre - which is in Uganda and provides a home for vulnerable children."

Paul Wenham

Paul Wenham, 36, lives and work at Ashburnham Place, a Christian prayer and conference centre in East Sussex. Previous to this, he lived in Manchester and ran a charity called The Mustard Tree (mustardtree.co.uk) which worked in city communities to help people realise their potential to be people bearing good news. He is husband to Penny and has three daughters.

"I have recently joined the team at Ashburnham Place and we are in an exciting time of exploring how we steward this stunning 220 acres of grounds and gardens and 275 bed conference and prayer centre in East Sussex. Over 50 years ago this place was given as a gift to extend the kingdom of God in the world, we are now asking what it looks like for us and this place to be given as gift in 2014 and beyond. In terms of the last 10 years, I've noticed there is a significant and vibrant section of Jesus' body who are finding community, purpose and Jesus-shaped lives within their communities, and growing beyond the highly concentric shape of Church. Over the last decade, there seems to have been a shift toward serving through social action projects across the Church spectrum. I have been challenged to find a faith that is sustained in everyday situations; that isn't dependent on a consumerist version of Christianity, or waits for the next top worship album, the latest big name on the platform or the rolling conference circuit but finds God's manna (every day but nonetheless miraculous sustenance) in normal everyday life. During the last 10 years my dad has been diagnosed with a terminal illness in motor neurone disease. This has clearly had an impact on the whole family but one which has strengthened faith and made it more real in the midst of struggle. Unless we as the Church enable one another to do this we are in danger of never moving beyond milk stage to maturity."

Andy Knox, 34, also helped to lead the same church as Paul Wenham and Helen Da Costa. He and his wife Kat, along with their three children, now live in a small village on the Lancashire / Cumbria border. Andy works as a GP in a busy surgery in Carnforth.

"For me, the last 10 years has been a journey of 'falling upwards' as the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr puts it, and embracing more fully who it is we are made to be. We left Manchester two years ago after a series of dreams. There have been two key narratives for me along the way. The first is a fresh perspective on how utterly key the incarnation is, and who Jesus reveals God to be. The second theme has been the focus of Paul in the letter to the Ephesians when he highlights the priorities of the people of God - marriage, family and work. These last 10 years for me have been about building a really strong foundation to our marriage, so that the rest of life flows from a place of the covenant Kathryn and I made together. I have learnt the rest of who I am and what I do lacks integrity if I am not looking to serve my wife and love her deeply from the heart. I know of no better environment in which to embrace humility, practice forgiveness, and kill off the ego! Being a father has also been transformative. I love my kids and am constantly challenged that it's not ok for them to get the dregs of me because I'm too busy with other 'important' things. My work in the NHS is a complete privilege and a joy. To bring love, compassion, healing, hope, tenderness, care, therapy and a listening ear is in and of itself 'ministry'. Andy also hosts conversations online at reimaginingthefuture.org. He says the evangelical mindset has been: 'We have the truth and we're going to tell you the truth, because the truth will set you free'. Jesus is the truth and the truth is that Jesus is love. And love does not force itself on other people, it serves and it listens. I love sitting down with people of all backgrounds of faith, or of no faith and giving space for conversations about a reimagined future. So when people say church is losing a generation, I don't share in the pessimism. I don't know much about the 'church scene' but I find the life of God absolutely everywhere."

Gavin Calver, aged, 34, now heads up Youth for Christ. Read our interview with him on page 26 of the September / October edition of idea magazine

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