Sam and Suzie Abramian have lived on the North West Norfolk coast for the last seven years. They initially moved to the area for Sam to serve as minister in an established church in Hunstanton. About 18 months ago, they felt God begin to prompt them to move on from the post but it juxtaposed to a clear call to stay and explore a different kind of ministry. They started their new role as missional listeners in January last year, moving into a rental property in a nearby village, just one week before lockdown began. We caught up with them to hear how things are going.
We have been engaging with ‘missional listening’ for some years before formally starting last year. We often had dedicated times for praying around our communities, taking time to hear what God was saying and looking where God was already working. However, the busyness of ministry in a medium-sized church and issues of project management meant we were unable to give missional listening the time it fully deserved until now.
As we began our new roles, the initial ideas we had focused on creating missional communities; however, these had to be suspended as lockdown was announced. We soon discovered that lockdown was a great time to start listening in our new village.
We feel blessed that our new home is on a working arable farm, meaning we have people passing our house throughout the day, even during lockdown. As we have become familiar with their different rhythms of daily life, our months have been filled with plenty of conversations, connecting to whoever passes by.
Lockdown was a combination of strange and yet wonderful opportunities to spend prayer walking in our village and getting to know our neighbours as everybody was at home. Our son had been attending the village nursery and school for the last two years, so we assumed we knew the whole village… only to discover that we didn’t! Walking around the village with no agenda or time pressure had a very different feel; we now had time to look up the history of the village and ask neighbours for local knowledge, all of which helped us know how to pray and hear where God is, or isn’t, moving in the area.
We’re both active people who like to do things and pioneer new projects, so the restrictions around social contact prevented us from running ahead with too many ideas. At the same time, our offers of help to various community groups, projects and people were rejected! We believe God didn’t want us to be busy with action but to be engaged with listening and prayer, something we have learnt to accept is an action in itself!
As we engaged with this kind of intentional listening, God has given us plenty of surprises, particularly with unexpected conversations. Some of these have been because of people sharing their anxiety relating to COVID-19, others have been because of our previous roles, and others have just been flat out miraculous! One example is a planned 20-minute prayer walk around our village, which Suzie began with reasonably low expectations. Three different people came out of their homes to ask the same question about what kind of church work we’re starting. Some one and a half hours later, we realised the need to be flexible with time when missional listening!
Over the past year, with the ebbs and flows of lockdown, there have been wider opportunities, some of which have been the result of listening in the past, but others are pointing to something new. We restarted a weekly discipleship group for local ‘church-less’ Christians, initially meeting outside in gardens around fire pits and now gathering in different homes. With the suspension of a large baby & toddler group we lead, we have started a temporary baby café for parents with babies, something we have prayed and listened over for many years but the time never seemed right until now.
We’ve had the joy of baptising two people in the sea last summer and, just when we thought God didn’t want us to help in community groups, Sam was asked to help coach a children’s football team!
We have been learning more than ever of the need to continue to listen, especially with the continual change that COVID-19 has caused. This means being rooted in spiritual activity and disciplines, spending extended seasons in prayer, meditation of scripture and fasting. It also means being available to the people we meet and open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, rather than rushing onto the next activity or event. We have the joy over the past year of seeing God clearly shape our steps, guide us and even surprise us along the way as we continue to listen.
This article first appeared in Issue 3 of Mosaic magazine (January-April 2021)