Saturday, May 20, 2006

From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain...*

In the wake of thoughts about African Christianity, it was rather dispiriting to spend time on Thursday with some visitors from our link diocese in South India…Their host while they're in Gloucester is part of our "Fresh Expressions" group, and he’d thought that they might find our meeting interesting,- which they probably did, if not quite as he’d hoped.

You see, they seem to be firmly wedded to the idea of church as "pastor + congregation + Gothic style building + Hymns A& M" (the latter, according to WonderfulVicar, to be sung veeeerrry slowly,- presumably a sign of reverence) .
They made it very clear that all the creative ways of being church which we had been discussing with enthusiasm simply WEREN'T church at all in their book. For them, I suspect,we were not so much barking up the wrong tree, as totally barking!
Café church? - Cafes are places to drink coffee.
Dog walks? Good exercise for humans and dogs, but even when done with an intentional spiritual element they are positively sinful if they replace your attendance at a formal liturgy on a Sunday.
Messy Church? Downright disrespectful of the God who brought creation out of chaos.
What’s more, if a small Christian community emerges out of the work of an evangelist, to be a church it has to get itself organised…key into some Real Liturgy and develop a PCC and Church Wardens at top speed. That’s what you need to be church.

I do appreciate that where Christianity is a minority faith, there is perhaps more need to focus on visible witness,- but it did make me sad to think that the witness would be valued most if it matched a model propagated by Victorian missionaries. Indigenous expressions of church are clearly disapproved of by the mainstream church, in their diocese at least. There, she apparently sees herself as called to continue to suppress and not to baptise the culture,- so I went home feeling rather ashamed at the legacy of Empire, that lingers so tenaciously long after the final sunset.

*PS The title of this post comes from a truly terrible hymn which we sang at the Anglican Convent that I attended for Kindergarten. I loved the travel agent's pictures that the words conjured up for me (From Greenland's icy mountains, to India's coral strand, Where Afric's sunny fountains roll down her golden strand....)and just didn't understand why my father would shudder if I sang it around the house. I grew up a little, changed schools and didn't come across it again till rifling through the hymnbook for sight- reading practice in my teens. It comes in the section of The English Hymnal "For Missionaries",- and is a classic of its type. But I have to say, I think Daddy had the right idea!


Fiona said...

Wot, no GLITTER? How does one understand the mysteries of the Gospel without making a mess?

Robert said...

Sorry you don't care for Reginald Heber's magnificent hymn, "From Greenland's Icy Mountains"-- considered one of the finest missionary hymns in the English language.

Yes, the perspective of the writer is early 19th century, but I can't write it off for that. Missionary work in those days was truly heroic. Those who engaged in it, including Heber himself, later, were courageous pioneers.

The only shortcoming of the hymn that I can see is the implication that the unsaved heathen are "over there," and not also at our door--though I'm sure Heber understood that.

If you can bring yourself to check out a bit of background on the song :-) you can find it on my blog, Wordwise Hymns, for May 30th.