Christianity came into Britain wrapped up in the pax romana but had begun to become less popular and populous within the reach of the Imperial rulers. Instead, the people were returning to their own religions and beliefs and rejecting the religion that had been compelled upon them. In Northumbria, an exiled king—Oswald—returned from Scotland to become ruler once again. He had been forced out of his home land and had taken refuge among the Scottish and Irish Christians near Iona. While at Iona, he had been converted to the Christianity that his companions professed and, so, when he returned to Northumbria he sent for missionaries from Iona and not from Rome.
The first missionary was a man by the name of Corman who experienced little to no success and, eventually, left Northumbria and returned to Iona. He reported to his friends, colleagues, and superiors that the people were too stubborn to be converted and too entrenched in their polytheistic ways. When met with the legacy of bad discipleship and spiritual formation, Corman found that what he had to offer the people was not of interest to them. He gave up when growth was not immediate and went home where he was comfortable. One man openly criticized Corman’s methodology and approach to ministry in Northumbria. This man is the one that Iona sent to replace Corman. His name was Aidan.
Aidan was different. When he arrived, he founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne and slowly involved himself in the lives of those whom he hoped to minister to. Instead of showing up and simply preaching fiery sermons and expecting the immediate movement of the spirit and explosive growth, Aidan recognized the importance of relationships. He started a monastery and devoted himself to prayer, worship, and investing himself in the lives of others. He wasn’t trying to recreate Iona in Northumbria but, rather, recreate the situation and circumstances that gave rise to Iona—committed followers of Christ gathering together in relationships to worship, pray, and devote themselves to the ministry of the Kingdom of God.
Aidan made it a habit to walk between the villages of Northumbria and converse with any who might walk along the way with him. He spent many days simply walking and talking with people and learning to love them as they learned to love him. His conversations were not engineered attempts to “witness” to the people but, rather, he understood his life to be his witness and the relationships he built as ways for others to partake of his life. Oswald gave Aidan a horse, once, because he had heard that Aidan was walking between villages as he went about his ministry. Aidan gave the horse to a nearby beggar and insisted that he’d rather walk. Aidan knew that a horse would disconnect him from the people he loved and was invested in. He knew that spiritual formation and invigoration of people was accomplished slowly and through prayer, worship, and healthy, sincere relationships.
Aidan’s monastery grew slowly and steadily and was intentionally composed of people from Northumbria. So, as the people of Northumbria needed more Christian leaders they were provided with people who they knew and trusted already. This was part of Aidan’s plan all along—not to make the Northumbrians over in his own image but, rather, to help them follow after God who had made them in God’s image. Aidan would die in Northumbria many years later, but his monastery and ministry would continue on as a witness to those who had ears to hear and as an example to all of us.