Awaken Interview with Scott Cripps

len: Tell us the story of Awaken.. when did it begin and what was the shaping imagination?

Scott: Awaken is a story of a group of people setting out on an adventure to discover what it means to follow God into the heart of a neighborhood and to be a part of His reconciling work. We began as an evening service at a large evangelical church where after engaging in that form of community, a number of us banded to together to strike out this journey. Our imagination was shaped through a number of ways. Initially, we were willing to ask significant questions regarding God, His Kingdom, the Gospel and the Church. We dreamed of ways in which we could enter the neighborhood, live amongst folks, and discover the simply yet significant ways we could connect with our neighbors and live lives of love and service.

len: Tell us about the context.. what is the texture of the neighborhood and how has it shaped Awaken?

Awaken exists within an established, older neighborhood in the northwest part of Calgary called Bowness. Until the 1960's, Bowness was a separate town with its own infrastructure and identity. In the mid 1960's it was engulfed and incorporated into Calgary but the distinct identity of Bowness has maintained. Today in Bowness you can find 'I heart Bowness' stickers, a grocery store called 'The Bownesian' and during the Calgary Stampede, Bowness has its own parade.

Geographically Bowness is its own enclave with the Trans-Canada highway providing a boundary on one side and the Bow River on the other. Awaken has been shaped by Bowness in a number of ways. Firstly, we realized that in a neighborhood with such a strong sense of identity, in order to authentically connect and love, you have to be a Bownesian as well. You have to live and move within Bowness and demonstrate a commitment to the neighborhood to gain a sense of connection with other folks there. As well, Bowness has a significant portion of its population that lives close to or below the poverty line, with subsidized housing, low-income rental units and a small homeless population. This socio-economic reality means that the gospel in this community must have a strong sense of compassion and justice.

Awaken has had to learn how to offer clothing, food and hospitality in the name of Jesus to marginalized and economically challenged folks. We realized upon entering Bowness, that a Sunday church service was not what our gift to the neighborhood was to be, but rather, our gift is to live incarnationally amongst our fellow Bownesians. So at Awaken we try to live simple, hospitable, just and compassionate lives because that creates the fertile soil for the gospel to be received here.

len: According to Luke 10 the Spirit goes before us in mission. That means that we go out as listeners and watchers. How important has this role of discernment been in the life of the community?

Listening and discerning have played a very important role in Awaken's development and engagement. We recognized right off the top that this had to be our default posture. We did not want to be a community that assumed it had all the answers, all the solutions and was able to do church the best. Rather we entered Bowness humbly, slowly, asking questions, learning from all who would talk to us about what life is like in this place. We take prayer walks, we ask for eyes to see and ears to hear so that we can understand what is really going on in Bowness and then be able to respond accordingly. At Awaken we feel God is really moving in Bowness and we have genuine excitement about our role and how we can partner with Him, but we aren't going to jump without praying and listening first.

len: Are there particular events that have been critical in the life of the community in these first years?

Awaken has two full years under its belt here in Bowness and is just entering its third year. There have been a number of significant events that have been critical in the life of the community. Firstly, a number of folks at Awaken have moved into the neighborhood. This has been a radical demonstration of a commitment to our vision. To pack and move and relocate into a beautiful yet messy neighborhood has provided our community with a local presence, a position to really understand what is occurring here and momentum to really connect with our neighbors.

Secondly, in our first year, we built a community garden and invited the neighborhood to garden with us. This initiative provided us at Awaken with a living metaphor of new life and resurrection while at the same time providing folks without access to a garden of their own to come and get outside, meet others and enjoy fresh vegetable and fruits. Thirdly, we have connected intentionally with the churches that have been here for a long time. A ministerial has developed where we not only encourage one another but we plan and coordinate together to reach out into Bowness. And finally, a critical event for us at Awaken has been the development of our covenant which binds us together to live faithfully as God's people in this place.

Awaken exists under submission to our S.E.N.T. covenant.

S (Story/Scripture)
E (Experience/Encounter God)
N (Neighborhood)
T (Together)

Having a living covenant has provided us with language, structure and focus. It provides us with something that we can invite others into and work towards ourselves.

len: Recently we have measured success by numbers and dollars and buildings. Have you escaped that temptation, and if so what metrics do you use or what Scriptures help you evaluate your call?

We have escaped that temptation. We place so much emphasis on relationships that to measure success numerically, we would that we have betrayed the very core to who God has called us to be. Success for us is viewed in terms of our commitment and faithfulness to our covenant. Whether there are 10 or 100, Awaken will move forward only as our ability to form relationships will carry us.

What does leadership look like at Awaken? How do you make decisions? Do you have a process of communal discernment?

Leadership at Awaken is messy and is an area we are working on. Decisions are made through a leadership team in consultation with the community as a whole. We are seeking ways to empower and release people while maintaining a sense of 'eldership'.

len: What special skills and capacities have you had to develop that were perhaps latent to be effective in mission?

For me personally, a number of skills and capacities had to be developed in order to be effective in mission. One was the ability to work bi-vocationally. My time is split between Awaken and a software company. This has allowed Awaken (a community of 40 folks primarily in their 20's and 30's) to be able to allocate its resources to mission. It has allowed my family to buy and move into the neighborhood. And it has created within Awaken an ethos where the pastor is not expected to be all and do all. Another capacity and skill that has been developed is the ability to live visible and vulnerable lives courageously. Upon planting Awaken I have been propelled to live my faith in manner that is recognized and visible within Bowness. This has required me to have a level of faith that I have never had previously in my life and a level of courage I have never had previously in my life.

len: What role does preaching/teaching play in the life of the community? How do you get beyond the formation/information duality?

The formation/information duality is a constant struggle for us. Awaken follows the revised common lectionary with the hope that we are shaped and formed by scripture. The lectionary removes the ability for us to pick and choose what scripture we approach and so places us in a posture of submission where we are not looking at conquering scripture so much as we are hoping that we are being shaped by scripture. So preaching and teaching does occur at our gathering. Currently though, to off-set the reality of one person speaking every week we have developed what we call a 'Small Group Sunday'. This is where on the first Sunday of every month we simply eat together and one of the covenant communities within Awaken provides all the content and leads our time together. We are also active in inviting outside voices to come into our midst to teach us and help shape us. So we hope that through the lectionary, through communal participation and eating together and through outside voices we move from a place of consumer to place of pilgrim.

len: "Belonging before believing" is one of the shifts in post-Christendom. Is this true in your experience?

In my experience it is true. Through our community garden, a community supper ministry and other neighborhood engagements, we are able to cultivate relationships, people are willing to come and explore what we are about, they take on the mission and nature of the community and then they identify themselves as believers in God. Currently Awaken has a number of folks from the neighborhood that are journeying with us that have some level of faith and belief but what is really connecting them to us is the sense of belonging.

How do you balance community and mission? Are there special disciplines that keep you "awake" to God?

Our SENT covenant is what we have put in place to help us maintain that balance of community and mission. It keeps the tension of neighborhood, encountering God and community all together for us. Along the way we have found that the disciplines of generosity, compassion with the poor and marginalized, liturgy, prayer walks, confession and prayer have all helped us stay 'awake' to God and each other.

len: What is the relationship of Awaken to the larger body of Christ in Calgary? What does this look like in practice?

Awaken is a collection of folks with all sorts of Christian background and experiences. Although we are a part of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, we are a congregation that has adopted a generous orthodoxy and a willingness to work with other churches in the neighborhood. We try to maintain a kingdom focus which places a greater emphasis on God's will being done than our own existence. So often this means that we will partner with the other churches in Bowness for the sake of God's kingdom in Bowness. Our own growth and recognition is not a high priority for us so we will gladly lend our hands, our resources and our time to help other Christian communities in Bowness.

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• © 2005-2008 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on April 18, 2008