can we imagine…
church beyond gathering?
church beyond once a week?
church as always on connectivity to christ and one another?
church where community is the content?
theology and resources of church being open source?
church valuing the wisdom of the crowd rather than the knowledge of the expert?
our church/spirituality being easily found by seekers because we tag it that way?
an ethos of low control and collaboration?
an economy of gift?
church as spaces for creative production and self publishing?
church as providers of resources for spiritual seekers and tourists?
He has suggested to clergy in the Diocese of Leeds, that it might be helpful to ask these four questions:
(a) what have I/we lost that we need to regain in the weeks and months ahead?
(b) what have we lost that needs to remain lost – left behind in another country?
(c) what have I/we gained that we need to retain in the future?
(d) what have we gained recently that was useful for this season but needs to be lost if we are to move forward?”
When we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
What might we hold onto from the experience of the last 9 weeks or so ?
you restored your heritage when it languished;
Yesterday was Ascension Day in the Christian calendar. It’s the day when the church remembers Jesus’ return to the Father – 40 days after the resurrection. Jesus left his follwers with a command to pray as they waited for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. That would happen on the day of Pentecost, 10 days later.
In recent years, many Christians have used these 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ This is a prayer that we offer continually, but we are called to pray this prayer especially at this time.
In our congregation in Gloucester, we are praying that we will learn new lessons about what it means to be church at this time of crisis.
We are considering some questions to help us with this prayer:
- what is church to you?
- what is the spiritual bread you need each day?
- why St Paul and St Stephen’s? why do you come to church here?
- what is it that you cherish about our community?
- what could be different in the days ahead?
- what could we hold onto?
- how is God asking us to reach out to others?
- what are the temptations we need to avoid – as a church?
- how do we allow God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven in this place?
I’m thinking about the first question today.
One model of church (Purpose driven church) has these five priorities: Worship, Evangelism, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry.
(I won’t unpack any of those words here)
Others will have other models to describe church … One that I have found helpful is found in a book by Eugene Peterson: Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.
He has five – Prayer Directing, Discipleship Making, Community Building, Pain Sharing and Injustice Resisting. (I’m actually paraphrasing his categories, which he describes slightly differently)
Notice the absence of Worship and Mission ….
I think that’s because Worship and Mission are not things that we do but more about who we are. Worship is at the heart of all of the five categories above. As is Mission. To share the pain of another in works of service and compassion is a missional activity. To resist injustice is a mission activity.
So I would argue that one of the ways we need to see church is with Mission at its heart, not simply a set of activities. The famous analogy of fire works well – As a fire only exists through burning, so the Church only exists in mission.
For many churches, this is about changing a mindset. Having a complete revolution in the way we think, so that we see everything in our lives through a lens of mission.
And at the heart, this mission is not ours to contain and own, but it is the mission of God, expressed most completely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And God invites us to be a part of his saving mission to the world, bringing reconciliation through forgiveness and peace through justice.
It’s good to remember another recent well used phrase – It is not that the church of God has a mission, but that the God of mission has a church.
It is only when we are people defined by mission as much as worship that we will see the world blessed by the church. Otherwise, we remain behind the doors of our churches, in a different kind of lockdown, unable to be the agents of blessing to the world.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the longterm effects of Lockdown. Some of course are bad news – for families suffering bereavement, for those whose businesses will not survive, for those whose education has been affected.
There will be some good news as well. But I think we will have to be attentive to what that might be, otherwise we will slip back into old ways.
We have on our shelves a book by Walker Percy – The Moviegoer. I can’t actually remember if I have read it. I bought it on a recommendation years ago, and I’ll have to revisit it.
I was reminded of the book today when I picked a random page (page 73) from ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ by Brennan Manning. He is writing about a moment in the book that helped me make some connections with where we are in Lockdown.
The Moviegoer tells the story of a commuter who has a pretty good life in many ways, but in spite of that feels bad all the time. Every day as he rides the train he is gripped by a nameless despair.
Then, one day, while on the train, he has a heart attack, and is taken from the train to hospital. he wakes up in a strange place, surrounded by faces he doesn’t recognise. He see a hand on his bedsheet, and not realising it is his own hand, he marvels at the way it can move and open and close.
Percy describes what happens to the man as an awakening, as bit by bit, he encounters himself and his life in ways that he hadn’t done for years. The ordeal restored him to himself. What he chooses to do now will be the whole burden of his existence …
His heart attack has liberated him from a meaningless life and set him on a path to a new existence.
Manning writes – “Percy plunges his heroes into disaster and ordeal, only to speak out of the whirlwind about the worst of times being the best of times … through the catastrophe they discover the freedom to act and to be”
It’s as if we have all had that ‘heart attack moment’ when we suddenly went into lockdown. For Christians, and those of other faiths, that meant we could no longer meet together. Our buildings were closed.
For Muslims, this has been a Ramadan like no other. On a typical night in Ramadan, mosques would be full with hundreds of people, many of them praying all night. How terrible to not be able to meet together in this way. Yet out of this catastrophe there may have been new opportunities, new discoveries, new experiences.
Christians too have had to cope with online virtual services, and all that lockdown has meant.
But could this time signal a reawakening ? As we ask questions about our faith, and the meaning of church, might this lead us as churches to discover a new freedom to act and to be.
More to come, as I ponder on all of this.
Peace be with you.
Some phrases above are quotes from ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’