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?
I was in a conversation yesterday about what the church might look like after lockdown. There was a bit of a presentation, and then some questions. Most of the questions seemed to be asking ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions.
How will be be able to worship with social distancing ?
How can we use what we have learned in lockdown ?
What new expressions of church might there be in the light of church on zoom, facebook and Youtube etc?
I remember a few years ago, preparing to lead some sessions on working with difference and conflict in our church.
We had some questions to think about. When would be the best time to do the sessions ? Where would we hold them – in our own church, or at a neutral venue ? How many sessions would we run ? How would we decide which of the material to use ?
All necessary questions relating to the practical delivery of the material.
However …. before we considered any of those questions, it would be more important to ask – Who would we like to be there ?
Since we had a maximum number of 24 places so that we could do some group work, we decided that rather than open it up to anyone, we would focus on who we really wanted to be there. Having key leaders there meant that we would stand a better chance of the learning being spread through the congregation, so we invited the church council to be there, as well as leaders in different areas of church life. This would just about fill our 24 places. We made sure that personal invitations were sent, and on the day we had pretty much all the people we had hoped for.
So I am trying to transfer that thinking to aspects of ‘Church after Lockdown.’ One thought is to try and find out how lockdown has affected not only the church community, but our parish generally. So forgetting the ‘what,’ and the ‘how,’ and the ‘when,’ for a moment, I started thinking about the ‘who.’
The outcome of this might be to invite a cross section of key people in our community. Not too many to make a conversation difficult, and bearing in mind the precautions that would be necessary. So for example, a doctor, a nurse, a leader from another faith, a city councillor, another church leader from a different denomination, a business owner, a teacher, a supermarket worker, etc etc, as well as from our own community a church council member, a member of the congregation ….
I just get the sense that this exercise in focused listening would stand a chance of helping us understand our community better, and how as a Christian community we can serve our neighbourhood.
Grace and peace to all of you who are doing exactly that.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a beautiful book ‘Life Together’ in 1938, during Hitler’s rise to power. It’s an acknowledged classic.
He has much to say about community – here’s the heart of it:
Christian community is not based on anything that we have in common from a human point of view. That is – it’s not to do with having similar backgrounds, or interests, or political views, or ethnicity, or social status, etc, etc.
All of the above are about our natural, human relationships, desires and ideals. These may well form the basis for political parties, clubs, and other activities, but the Christian community is not a common interest group. By contrast, Christian community comes into being simply because of our common faith in Jesus Christ.
Anything else that becomes a foundation for Christian community will eventually fail, as we discover that our imperfections and our differences outweigh what humanly draws us together.
The only genuine uniting force is that common faith in Jesus. We are one with each other only because we are all connected to Christ.
Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual, and not a human reality. In this it differs from all other communities. When the scriptures call something spiritual, it is talking about that which is created only by the Holy Spirit, who puts Jesus Christ into our hearts as Lord and Saviour.
Bonhoeffer, Life Together, page 18, slightly paraphrased.
So, when we look at our own Christian communities, we must keep this at the centre of our minds and hearts, to avoid some kind of visionary dreaming that would set us off looking for the perfect community through some other route.
And, when we look at our sisters and brothers in Christ, we remember that it is God who unites us in Christ. If we lose sight of that, we will end up judging one another by some other human standard, and lose what is a most precious gift, our life together in Christ.
Today is Pentecost Sunday
The last of the questions I’m thinking about is:
How do we allow God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven – in this place?
I’m coming to the end of the book ‘Church After Christendom,’ and I’ll just have a few thoughts here.
De-emphasise worship, and make Mission and Community Building just as central
Reduce the number of church focused commitments to allow congregation members to be involved in other activities and mission opportunities outside church.
Cultivate simplicity – which does not necessarily mean blandness or lacking in creativity.
Take a long look at ourselves, using tools that are there to help us identify areas of strength and weakness – especially in areas of conflict within the church. Use resources such as Appreciative Inquiry, The Healthy Churches Audit, Bridgebuilders.
Promote lay participation and become less ‘leader centric.’ Encourage multi voiced worship.
Refocused commitment – we live in an age when it is often said that people do not want commitment – yet movements like extinction rebellion show that where people see something worth struggling for, they will do it.
I love this prayer, with four words that are used to describe the way we are called to be … full of generosity, joy, imagination and courage
Living God, draw us deeper into your love;
Jesus our Lord, send us to care and serve;
Holy Spirit, make us heralds of good news.
Stir us, strengthen us, teach and inspire us,
to live your love with generosity and joy,
imagination and courage;
for the sake of your world,
and in the name of Jesus, Amen.
… Of the blog by Jonny Baker, which I haven’t looked at for ages.
In his blog post on flipped church, he refers back to some questions he was asking himself nearly 15 years ago …