In 2005, Andrea Campanale felt called by God to pray for people at Kingston’s Green Fair. Overwhelmed by the response, she built a team of volunteers across the churches in Kingston-upon-Thames and trained them in outreach, prophetic evangelism and dream interpretation. As this event was only once a year, she began to try new ways to connect with these spiritual seekers at others points in the year. She now runs Sacred Space, Kingston, a project that uses the arts to explore spirituality.
• Can you tell me about yourself – who you are and what you do?
I am 41 and married with two sons. I was brought up in the Church of England and my Dad was the youth worker. He was also president of the Depressives Association for a while so we had quite broken people coming in and out of our home. This caused me to grow up realising our faith has to make a difference to every aspect of life and could see there was a huge disconnect between this and my experience of church. I had a career in public relations and was a leader in the church for 9 years. I am now a mission partner with CMS and training on the pioneer mission leadership training course. I work part-time for the YMCA, London South West and help them to creatively ensure we are catering for people’s spiritual needs as well as their physical and mental well-being. I also partner with the chaplain at Kingston University to reach students who are spiritually seeking.
• What happens on a typical day at a spiritual seekers event?
We begin by setting up either our stand or tent depending on the type of event. Once set up, we chat to people who show an interest and suggest they try what we are offering. In this environment people are incredibly open and very happy to sample what’s available. We always listen first and respond with where they’re at. We don’t judge and only offer an opinion on their beliefs or practices if asked directly. We do however share our experiences of Christian spirituality and aim to give seekers a positive impression of us as Christians.
• How did you end up in this kind of ministry?
I have always had lots of friends who were not Christians and I began to observe their interest in spirituality that was unconnected to religion. This was highlighted one day when a friend rang to tell me of a spiritual experience she had had at the station while waiting for a mutual friend. When this person didn’t arrive, she became more and more anxious but heard a voice telling her it would be OK. Sure enough the friend eventually turned up safe and sound, if a little stressed and apologetic! She was asking me what it meant and despite all my years of Christian faith and church leadership I did not know how to respond! I felt I had missed an opportunity and began to think that God was doing something in the world that Christians were unprepared to engage with. A short time later I heard a talk by Yvonne Richmond who had just completed some research into people outside of the church having just such spiritual encounters. She mentioned Christians who saw this interest as an opening for outreach and as a consequence were going to fairs, putting up tents and offering to pray with people. I knew in that moment this is was what God wanted me to do. We had a Green Fair in Kingston at that time which attracted 20,000 people. So a month later I was there with a team of volunteers, the Hari Krishna’s on one side and the man with the healing gong the other! I really did not know what to expect but once the fair really got going we had queues for our tent. I remember at one point just looking out at all these people and weeping. Here were, “all these sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36)” because the church had withdrawn from the very place where they were open and searching.
• What has the journey been like? Have you always been sure of God’s leading?
To be honest, it has been a very difficult journey. While I have felt sure of God’s leading, it can take you into places conventional Christians find disturbing because it challenges their perception of God and how He operates. I spent a lot of years trying to explain and justify what I do and had not appreciated how much it had eroded my confidence. CMS has been a lifesaver! They have supported, affirmed and encouraged me and studying on the course has helped me to understand what I have done intuitively so I can now say to my critics I am contextualising the gospel!
• How would you define evangelism?
I struggle with the word evangelism because I think it has often been done so aggressively, it makes Christians feel guilty and can encourage confrontation. I prefer mission because it is more holistic and focused on the transformation of both individuals and communities by the love of Christ. Many of those we meet have had bad experiences of church and so we try to give them a positive encounter. I like to think we are creating a space where God can reveal Himself. Too often I think we feel this pressure to get in the whole gospel and give someone the opportunity to say the sinners prayer while we have the chance! However, invariably people come to us with a vision or a dream where it is clear God is already at work in their lives and it is our role to point Him out. I believe that if Jesus is truly the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 2:10) then we just need to fulfil our part and not get in the way of Him doing what He knows this person needs.
• What barriers have you overcome on your Christian journey in sharing your faith, and how have you overcome them?
When I was at university I was ‘evangelised’ by a Christian cult who told me that despite having given my life to Christ I was not saved. They showed me Bible passages about God’s judgement and the punishment I was in for if I did not do what they did and go to their church. It was horrible and I felt so confused and condemned! God’s wrath must always be balanced with His love and compassion. Having been on the receiving end, I always try to treat people as a unique creation and don’t set out to convert them but to show how much God cares for them and wants to be in relationship with them. A lot of the time people are searching because they have had a bereavement, are struggling with a long term health condition or have experienced a relationship breakdown which they are seeking to make sense of. Therefore, we have a responsibility to not take advantage of their vulnerability but comfort them and introduce them to the God who is able to heal and give them hope. This has led me to have real issues with the way we do church. I feel that while we want people to come to Christ, we also want them to fit our way of doing things so they look and sound like us! I really believe we have to build faith communities that are a reflection of the disciples we are making. If the UK church is serious about seeing this nation re-enchanted with the gospel I think we have to recognise the huge shift in the collective mind-set, be a lot more imaginative with how we communicate the Christian story and create communities that really live what they say they believe!
• What are your thoughts about Christian women being dangerous?
It never ceases to amaze me how leaders can be so selective about the portions of scripture that are taught and the way the difficult or interesting bits can be glossed over so we lose their radical edge! I have been reading a book called ‘My own worst enemy’ by Janet Davis and she uses the stories of women in the Bible to highlight how much power we have if we don’t constantly run ourselves down. What is so brilliant is that many of these women defied the law and were commended by God for their faith! For example Tamar (Gen 38:11-27), the wise woman of Able (2 Sam:13-22) or the woman Jesus healed of haemorrhaging (Luke 8:40-48). We are dangerous when we challenge the injustice of the status quo because there will always be those who are doing very well out of it. However, the Kingdom of God requires us to turn upside down the power structures of the world so that the last become first (Matt 20:16) and we demonstrate God’s fairness in the face of corrupt and rebellious systems of control. I like to think by partnering with Christ in places of alternative spirituality I am dangerous to the powers of darkness. But I am also being a provocation to the church to be unafraid of mission in potentially hostile environments and to embrace disciples who will reshape the way we think, worship and live together in Christian community.