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Graduation December 2019 – Beautiful Diversity!
December 20, 2019

With Christmas only a few days away the excitement is really starting to rise, as people think about the fun times that are to come over the next week and also the fact that the beautiful bubble, they’ve been living in for the last 6-12 months is about to pop, it can be bittersweet.

We have 14 Catalyst volunteers heading back home to resume their regular lives in early January, and each of them will leave a small hole here, only to be filled and healed by the next cohort of volunteers who will arrive with us. The Ash family is a diverse and ever-growing family, with enough love for everyone.

But for today we just feel joyous as graduation is upon us, and it is with excitement and expectation that we await the first act to come on stage and show us how they have interpreted their learning from their time at Ashburnham Place into a final Catalyst project.

OK, the countdown is over and without further ado, we turn our attention to the new promotional video that has been created for Ashburnham Place, and it’s certainly a hit with the people in the room, as they whoop and cheer spotting themselves or their friends on screen.

Straight into the director’s skit and oh my goodness what fun it is. A fabulous 70’s medley of singing and dancing that is pure fun to watch. David shows off his midriff, Paul wins the award for the best costume with his wonderful purple jumpsuit, Adam and Andy triumph in their rapping and of course Hannah steals the show with her beautiful voice. It really is a fabulous start to the evening.

Image Credit: Michelle Pannell

Once the excitement dies down a little Hannah and Christian welcome everyone to the night and explain a little about how the three streams of the Catalyst volunteer programme work. Tonight we’re about to see the creative interpretations of our graduates.

Edwianah is first up, she’s accompanied by fellow volunteers Maya, Christian and Alexey. She has been recording a track in the studio with Aydee, inspired by Psalm 33, telling us it is the lines “Praise the Lord with the harp, sing to him a new song and shout for joy” that really speak to her. She uses her voice and music to glorify God, and her song is talking about how God comforts her and how His words speak to her. It’s a powerful performance and you can see how much the lyrics mean to her.

Christian from Italy, who is on the life theology stream, is up next talking about the resurrection of Jesus. He shares that in a few minutes he can’t say all there is to say on this topic but he hopes to prompt us to think a little deeper. He leaves us with the thought “Our faith is based on Jesus resurrection and if it hadn’t happened our lives might be very different.”

From singing and speaking to house building, there is great diversity here tonight. Debora from Italy and Noemi from France, tell us how they wanted to build a house that wouldn’t hurt the environment. They feel that “as Christians we should live in harmony with the environment”, and showed us their model house, they made from wood, straw and clay. Because of Isiah 28:16 they put a rock as the base of the house, representing God as our cornerstone and foundation. Debora ends by telling us “We have been formed from the clay by God, we must learn to treat the earth as if our life depended on it”. It was a fabulous and unusual project and it good to hear the house is going to a squirrel charity in Battle.

Christian introduced the next act as “He’s French and he’s hairy!” and that set the scene for quite an unusual project from Jean-Baptiste. With Catalyst Go! he went to the Lake District and saw lots of fabulous prayer pillows, so he made himself a special jacket and then sung alongside an animation of Kanye West. I have to be honest and say I have no idea what was going on but Christian assured us there was a deep and proud theological message behind the video!

Up next was Macey from the USA, she told us that before she got here, she thought that her worship was restricted to church and since being at Ashburnham Place she has learnt that you can meet Him anywhere. Macey used her background in photography for her project and what a clever one it was. She made a camera obscura (a pin-hole camera), to see Ashburnham Place reflected in our rooms as a backdrop, and they really are stunning. Macey said “through these pictures I wanted to convey my journey of opening my boundaries of worshipping God. I realised He is everywhere and I can worship Him in all places.”. How beautiful, thank you Macey.

Hannah introduced Ervin from India next, he had an idea about uniting the body of Christ for his graduation platform. So, he created an online platform to bring people with a passion for Christ together. He showed us his website where you can leave details of your vision and we can all encourage each other by commenting. He had a number of bible verses that had guided him, but cited Matthew 24:14 as a foundational one, as we need to go out with the gift we each have and preach and spread the word.

Jessi from Germany has been song writing for quite some years now, and she told us how she loves the arts and thinks they’re powerful. She has a heart for the broken-hearted and finds creativity can bring healing to people, saying that her time at Ashburnham Place has helped to bring closure to some of the things she has been working through.  Jessi sang us her song ‘they say’, accompanied by Eva on piano.

It was great to see Cristina from Spain be bold and come on stage to share a few words and her video about praying. She is one of the shyer volunteers currently, but it is wonderful to see her growth. Cristina said she learnt to be patient at Ashburnham Place, and that the time of waiting, is the time of battle of the Christian faith. When we get tired of waiting, we can make bad decisions, it’s like we say we don’t trust you anymore God. Trusting God and being patient for His time is so important and guided by Isiah 40:31.

Sabrina from Italy, opened by saying that Ashburnham Place is an important place to develop your passion, and she is so right. We are very much seeing that at this graduation tonight with such diverse expressions of our volunteer’s journeys. Before coming here, Sabrina was studying fashion and she combines her love of God with her passion for fashion design. So she incorporated three special places into a dress design – the lake, the staff room, and the orangery. What a unique and fascinating project.

Sari captivated the room with her rendition of a Hungarian folk song, her voice was stunning, such clarity and depth of emotion as she sang the tune pitch-perfect. She said she chose the song because of its meaning; it’s about leaving a country and being far from someone you love. She added that singing is her language with God, it is the way she expresses her emotions and it’s helped her to take another step in her life. How wonderful, you sure mesmerized us tonight Sari.

Our last presentation was another powerful one, with a collaboration from Kseniya (Kazakhstan) and Sung Min (South Korea). They did a drama set to a song and took us through some of the important scenes in the bible, such as creation, the fall and redemption. My goodness, we couldn’t take our eyes away from the stage, as it was flawless and so elegant. It was such a privilege to see the often quiet Kseniya come alive and wow Sung Min sure can dance! It was a truly fabulous job from them all, including six friends who joined them on stage to do such an extraordinary event. As it ended Christian summed it up well, by saying it was “A beautiful retelling of the depths of Christ’s love for us”.

Hannah thanked the graduates again for their extra hard work and then took some time to thank those who made graduation possible like Aydee, Regina and Ollie and Hannah from Essential Christian.

With the performances over it was now time to move to the business of graduation, and Andy reiterated what an amazing night we’d had and congratulated the graduates. He said he was in awe of our volunteers who leave their country, many at just 18 years old and come here to serve. He continued “It’s a joy to speak to you and when we ask what do you want from your time at Ashburnham Place, the answer always come back ‘we want to develop our relationship with God’. Well, we’ve seen you blossom as people and deepen in your relationship with God. What a privilege!”

Andy continued by talking about how we send our volunteers out to the four corners of the earth, to fulfil the purpose of this place, which is to extend the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. He then had a personal word for each of the graduates, with an encouragement for their future.

We had a wonderful blessing read out by Andy, and written by Brother Michael. Let me share it for you to enjoy too –

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, exclusion, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God, Our Abba – Father, Majestic Creator, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word and Our All Vulnerable Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, Our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore. Amen

Of course, each graduate came onto the stage to receive their cap, goodie bag and certificate and then do the all-important cap throw, to be captured on film, or more currently Instagram or boomerang forever!

The graduates had one last surprise for us as they performed ‘So long, farewell’ from The Sound of Music and the formal part of the evening ended with all the audience waving and singing goodnight as the last graduates left the stage, ready to enjoy some fizz, snacks and dancing.

We can certainly say that this graduation evening was another triumph, the skills, talents and diversity of our volunteers are what make Ashburnham Place such a rich and beautiful community to be a part of.

Do please check out https://catalyst.ashburnham.org.uk/ if you are interested in becoming a volunteer. We still have spaces available for starting in January, June and September 2020.