"Mind, Body and Spirit"
Ben Edson : sanctus 1, Manchester UK


'Your aura is all sparkly' was the first comment that I received after I had prayed with someone at Manchester's annual Mind Body Spirit fair. This is the place where spiritual searchers come to explore spirituality. Sanctus1, an emerging church in the city centre of Manchester, decided that they should also be there to offer a Christian alternative.

It is also the place of spiritual consumerism, 15 to have your aura photographed and 25 to have your tarot cards read; where the entrance fee is 7 and each exhibitor pays over 500 to be there; where toe-socks have spiritual significance and hence cost 7. Yet this is also a place of great hurt and of great searching, where people reach out to loved ones no longer with them and where they come for a short-term, commitment-free fix to life's complexities. However, above all it is a normal place, where everyday people try to make sense of everyday life.

This was the environment into which Sanctus1 were plunged. We offered a sacred space in this commercial centre, a place of quiet meditative reflection. The space contained a number of spiritual installations to encourage people to explore spirituality from a Christian perspective. These included a prayer wall, bread & wine and a plasma ball. We also offered foot massages to people who were exhausted after being on their feet all day. However, the most popular service that we offered was prayer for healing. This is an environment within which there are Reiki healers, psychic healers and a variety of other spiritual healers; it was culturally appropriate to offer healing from a Christian perspective.

As we listened and prayed with people it became clear that these were just normal everyday people seeking answers. The media portrayal of 'new-agers' as tree-hugging hippies is as inaccurate as all generalisations; this particular people grouping quite simply reflects a broad-cross section of society. I spoke with teachers, students, retired people, professionals, children and church goers; a broad cross section of society. However, what is different is the language that is used; words like charkas, Reiki, auras, iridology and kinesiology. These are words of a culture that, like all others, need to be listened to and understood before engaging in meaningfully dialogue.

I was encouraged that people were genuinely pleased to see us there, we encountered no hostility and as a colleague of mine said, 'People are more open to prayer here than in church!'

However, there is an uncertainty within me that reaches into the heart of my being. I want to be in this environment sharing with these spiritual searchers but I am aware that by being here we become just another product for the spiritual consumer. However, the reality to the 10,000 people who passed through the doors of Mind Body Spirit Fair is that Christianity is just another product. A product that is perceived as being religious and not spiritual and hence a product that is not attractive; this is the reality with which we all have to grapple.

I am uncomfortable with the consumerist approach to faith and my instinct is to withdraw from consumeristic spirituality. Do I therefore take my fantastic product off the shelf and hope that people enquire after it? Or do I sell out to the culture and say that my Christian faith is just another product in the spiritual market place? I do neither.

The space that we provided was not selling anything, everything was freely available, we were there to be servants to those around us. Serving the Reiki healers who were tired out, helping those who we overwhelmed by the event and being a listening ear to those who needed in. By being at the event we were not selling out to consumeristic spirituality, by being there and offering 'Free Healing' I believe that we were showing that the God of grace is available freely to all who ask.

Ben Edson is Church Army City Centre Missioner for Manchester. He is a founder member of 'sanctus 1'


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