Please don’t call me an evangelical. It’s become such a tainted term in America (where ‘white evangelicals’ overwhelmingly voted for current President) that Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne and other church leaders are rebranding themselves Red Letter Christians. Many Bibles print what Jesus said in red letters, hence the name and intention to focus on his words.
In the UK, evangelical hasn’t been so synonymous with conservative politics. Back in 2013, when I first worked for Christian Aid and later Tearfund, I met Christians serious about evangelism (getting people into church and into heaven) alongside social justice and inclusion, not either/or. One of those friends I made is Matt Currey. His Twitter bio is the kind I’d usually mock and avoid (‘Husband, Parent, Son, Disciple’) but it reflects his sincerity towards a life of love, relationships and community.
Matt works for the campaigns team at Tearfund, helping Christians and churches to think different, live more simply and speak up for change, especially focused now on combatting climate change that risks reversing global development. For Matt, that change starts in his pocket: ‘I have a Fairphone, the world’s first ethical smartphone. I like how the makers looked at an everyday object and thought “how can this be done differently?” It’s a vision that says it doesn’t have to be done this way.’
His evangelical upbringing focused on Christianity as personal salvation. It was, as is often the way, a life-changing volunteer trip to Kenya in his early 20s that broadened out his faith ‘It opened my world view. Early in the trip I was sitting with my hosts, hearing their stories and how their life was different from mine. These were people who didn’t have access to water, education – what I took for granted and even resented sometimes.’
‘And yet they were on a pursuit for life and joy amidst challenge. It was very inspiring.’
You can see on Matt’s blog how he lives out his own pursuit for life and joy. On his birthday last year, Matt started a year-long celebration of being 40 in 40 ways. The project is broken up into 10 new experiences, 10 challenges, 10 journeys and 10 creations. Eight months in, he’s watched tennis at Wimbledon with his daughter, started a workplace music club, written an album and next month is hosting a day gathering on Soulfulness.
Friends and family have supported Matt by donating to his week-long dressing-up and giving advice. ‘I’d previously curated 40 nine-day journeys as a work project, but it became work-driven. 40 in 40 is an opportunity to do something significant and intentional, to bring more life and carve out an intentionality for things I’ve not had the confidence or time for before.’
‘An old lecturer told me: “Is this a driven thing or a life-giving thing? Be kind to yourself, be mundane.”’ For his bigger challenges, holding a fundraising gig for the Refugee Support Network back in November and now organising the Soulfulness day, there’s been ‘a joy a tension between the stress, the anticipation and the purpose of what I’m doing.’
Welcoming people and bringing them together is always close to Matt’s purpose or vocation (‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’ are the other Christian buzzwords that come up in our chat). He’s been a Youth and Community worker, has a theology degree, works for a Christian charity and leads worship with his guitar at a West London church. It’s a template that often ultimately leads to one job. So do people expect him to become a Vicar? ‘If we genuinely believe we’re all priests and all have a vocation to put faith into practise, does priesthood always mean ordination [and becoming a Vicar]? There’s value in our everyday lives as priesthood.’
Of course his current job is putting the theology background to good use. Matt’s a member of one political party and knows his colleagues, who share the same Christian faith, are members and voters of all the rest. ‘It helps that you unpick and deconstruct your faith at theology college. This makes me want to seek and understand, not to rush into justice and judgement’.
Matt admits he shies away from conflict, but I’m always inspired by his eternally optimistic activism that says the world must be different and the church has to put itself at the forefront of that change. He’s proudly evangelical about social justice as much as salvation: ‘I’m not afraid to challenge and expose where faith is not engaging with the community…. There’s a fullness of the Gospel in our relationship with creation, God and others.’