Story 54 - Mindful Church
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Shaun Lambert
Mindfulness and its practices have become increasingly familiar to many in our society, however its understanding and use within the Church is still relatively sparse. In brief, the current secular practices of mindfulness stem largely from stress-reduction courses developed in the 80’s, initially created as an adaption of Buddhist teachings on mindfulness. However there are many Christians who would argue there is space for the use of mindfulness within our church communities, indeed that its very essence can be seen in the Christian faith, looking back to the early Church fathers and within scripture itself. In this sense, ‘mindfulness of God’ is often distinguished within Christian circles as something very different to more general forms of mindfulness, ‘mindfulness of God enables us to restore our broken, fragmented and distorted vision of God, and frees us to see with His eyes rather than our own. In this sense mindfulness of God is central to our discipleship goal of becoming like Christ.’ 
Shaun Lambert is a Baptist Minister who is exploring new forms of ministry and mission, particularly focused on the use of mindfulness and community. As well as having been in church ministry for many years he is also part of the New Wine leader’s network, and Mind and Soul Foundation network and has trained extensively in counselling and psychotherapy. Since 2006 he has researched and written several books on mindfulness in different perspectives, including the psychological, Christian and Buddhist perspectives and thinks mindfulness is a new social phenomenon which needs to be engaged with, especially as it is applied in mental health, work, education and learning, relationships, creativity as well as the spiritual.
At his previous church in North London, Stanmore Baptist, he led a Mindful Church Café for four years at a local Costa, creating a space where people from different backgrounds could gather to explore their capacity for awareness and attention. As Shaun explains, the strapline to these cafés was ‘mindfulness for health and mindfulness of God,’ not only aiming to provide benefit in terms of mental health but also a strong missional approach to reach people in the community. Interestingly, Shaun noticed that those who came were not only interested in mindfulness for health but also in the spiritual side. Using different practices of mindfulness, such as doing a mindful walk, mindful reading but with the option of reading scripture or a meditation with the option of using a Christian format, Shaun notes how invariably people were drawn to using the Christian words and practices offered.
This experience with the café gave a good framework for Shaun to see how a third space using mindfulness could be used in mission, and whilst the cafe had a break in order for other ministries in the church to receive focus, (see Missional Adventure story no. 44 about Refuge Coffee at Stanmore Baptist - https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/591820/Story_44_Genuine.aspex ) he is now stepping out of church leadership in order to focus more fully on the use of mindfulness with church communities, with the aim to facilitate others to do likewise.
Alongside this, and particularly as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Shaun realised there is also a great need for community across many parts of society, especially seen in his work with local students. Seeing an opportunity for a fresh expression of church but not, as Shaun says, ‘by planting a congregation but simply by starting where people are at, starting with health, spiritual questions and community,’ he is also now exploring how to create shared living communities and various models of co-housing. In order to authentically experience this Shaun and his family are now preparing to move to Scargill House in the Yorkshire Dales, to temporarily live in community there in order to learn more fully what it means to live in Christian community. Seeing many benefits from living in community, Shaun says that we all ‘have a homing instinct to belong, to live in community, to actually be in a much deeper relationship with each other,’ and he believes this year with the Coronavirus pandemic has created a Kairos moment ripe to bring together this mix of mindfulness, spirituality and community.
Shaun encourages the wider church to see the possibilities of incorporating mindfulness, even through the current online mediums we are almost forced into, by using simple practices that can encourage the church ‘to get out of their heads and into their bodies.’ Furthermore, he feels the limitations that have been imposed on physical corporate worship can actually facilitate a more contemplative type of service, engaging all the congregation to participate, pushing back from the consumerist dilemma prevalent in so many churches and enable the church to participate, not just spectate.
For anyone wishing to know about mindfulness and/or its relation to mission and community please feel free to contact Shaun further at https://shaunlambert.co.uk , or firstname.lastname@example.org.