New Wineskins for New Wine

February 4, 2019

Dear John and Peter,

Before anything else let me say a big Thank-you John for hosting this evening’s delicious dinner.

I pray that as you read this email God will help you both hear my heart–for God’s kingdom to come swiftly, and for us all to be working effectively together for a multiplying movement of individual salvation and institutional transformation. Revival & reformation.

I have been uncertain how and when to say this, but with the Trustees Meeting coming up this Friday it seems urgent to put some thoughts in writing. I said this to Peter ten days ago, but I would like to say it to both of you and the other trustees. But I would like to say it first to you, Peter and John, before sharing it with the others. I welcome your advice and input.

When Peter, you asked me, in the course of praying together about what it might look like to establish a House of Prayer, if I would also pray about getting involved with the books in May last year, it opened up a wholly unconsidered avenue of inspiration. And almost immediately I found that I’d conceived a vision for a bookshop as missional hub/house-of-prayer, where the books were not merely a convenience for local Christians, nor a commercial strategy to pay the bills, nor a background design feature to provide ambience. I saw how simply by stocking a wide range of people one could demonstrate in practice and principle that the place was open to a wide range of people (and their wide range of worldviews): thus potentially catalysing unity across the deep divisions that scar the Christian church, and encouraging deep engagement between Christians and non-Christians on the whole host of questions of life on which people disagree. I saw how a context of books could help set a culture of inquisitive learning and curious discipleship, and help guard against that facile Christian tendency to assume that we all agree and that we are right and ‘they’ are wrong. I saw how restarting a Christian bookshop could align with my unusual set of entrepreneurial/missional/academic gifts and skills.

From the start of July I have thrown myself into the necessary work of helping transform Gladstones into Tree of Life Christian Bookshop. I have put a website up. I have helped in the kitchen. I have got a bookscanning app working. I have been working on a point-of-sale app. I have sorted out all the second-hand books downstairs.

I had hoped that in doing this I would build trust and in due course be granted increased freedom to put into practice my own vision for what a Christian bookshop could be. But it doesn’t seem like that is really going to happen. John has stepped into Peter’s role as manager of the building, and his instincts on how things should go forward seem in most particulars to be quite different to my own. Rather than coming together as a team which is more than the sum of our parts we instead seem to be somewhat treading on each others’ toes and inhibiting each others’ style. I hope this doesn’t sound bitter.

John, you have done a fantastic job at stepping into the role and bringing in new volunteers and I hope things go from strength to strength.

But it seems likely that if I am to run with the vision that God has given me for a bookshop as missional hub/house-of-prayer I would do better to try and work it out somewhere other than 18 Slater Street. New wineskins for new wine. My hope has always been that Tree of Life Bookshop might give me a model that could be multiplied–though it is only recently that it has occurred to me that perhaps this might best happen sooner rather than later. So I have been looking at renting a shop: for £500/month there are several possibilities, in Tuebrook, or Wavertree – we visited this one this afternoon) –, or on Edge Lane. I’m thinking it could be called ‘Word & Spirit’. (=Books & Coffee?!)

I may be overstating the degree of incompatibility between my vision and the established structure of Tree of Life. Maybe it’s just that I know God has called me to be a starter. And I deeply believe wherever possible multiplying small things is a more effective Kingdom strategy than adding to big things. (Though most ideally big and small would work in partnership.)

I would like for this not to be a painful parting of ways, but to be the bringing to birth of a vision for Christian bookshops that has sprung out of my being involved with Gladstones/Tree of Life. I would appreciate your help in my new venture–specifically, I have wondered whether you would allow me to take say three thousand of the second-hand books downstairs and use them to stock a new bookshop, and as they sold I would give you £1 of the purchase price (the numbers are of course negotiable). I could perhaps continue to be involved in some ways (website; starting something on Friday nights; encouraging and promoting rhythms of prayer; bookshop advice), and indeed if and when my ideas succeed it may give you more confidence to take the risk of using my tools and tactics.

I am of course committed to continue until the end of this quarter. But since the Trustees only meet formally every few months it seems to urgent to communicate what I’m thinking now, before the Trustees Meeting on Friday, and I hope that you might encourage the other Trustees to support a proposal for me to take some of the downstairs second-hand stock to help start a new bookshop. If this were combined with some new SPCK books on a consignment basis, and some other assorted second-hand fiction I could have a promising opening hand!

I will see you soon.

Grace and peace, Peter