Monday, May 15, 2006

"What do the congregation really long for?"

Was the question that hencity posed as a springboard for my thoughts on Isaiah 60 for yesterday’s sermon.
The more I considered, the more I was filled with a terrible sense that they probably don’t for the most part have many longings at all,- except, perhaps, for a residual nostalgia of the good old days of Bishop Robert and a church that was (reportedly) bursting at the seams for every single Sunday service. There seems to be no real belief that anything will ever change…either for better or worse. I look at the sea of grey heads on a Sunday morning, and though the church is full, it is unlikely that most of those present will be around in 15 years time,- but because there aren’t too many empty spaces, everyone feels quite secure.
They applaud our work with the young families who come to OpenHouse and Little Fishes,- but don’t recognise that what is happening there might be the start of something new that could be a gift to all of us.
Disturbingly, I suspect there may be little or no expectation that God will do anything much, except in a private, discreet, deeply Anglican sort of way…
And by expecting little, we are not only safe from being challenged but are also sure not to be disappointed. Perhaps the collective experience has been one of gradual disillusionment, akin to that felt by Isaiah's contemporaries who returned to Jerusalem but found that life was hard, and the streets of the city by no mean paved with gold.

So, I found myself looking a congregation for whom life is mostly comfortable, quite OK, but among whom there’s no sense of excitement, of possibility…
And I wondered whether this perspective had emerged through disappointing experience,- and what that might be.
I imagined a church full of enthusiastic disciples, keen to share the good news of God's love that they had experienced...and wondered how we'd got to the point of comfortable, affectionate inertia which now seems to be our norm.
Our Paschal candle is still alight, but it doesn’t seem to illuminate much beyond our doors.
Our Eucharists are still full of the alleluias that greeted the resurrection morning, but the world doesn’t seem to notice.
We claim to be full of joy, to live as Easter people,- but our friends and neighbours are reading from a different script and just don’t see a difference in anything.
Arise, shine, for your light has come?
Maybe, but we still seem to be falling over our feet and stubbing our toes in the gloom.
Time for us to wake up, perhaps, to begin to expect amazing things from God, and look out for signs that He’s doing them.

In the event, it wasn’t much of a sermon…I got sidetracked into the need to rethink our dreams, and to be proactive in making them a reality and linked into Christian Aid Week and kind of lost sight of what had been niggling me originally. But at least now I know what MY dream is for our congregation…that our current culture of respectability might become a culture of expectation, so that we look like a people who believe that God IS alive and active. Even in Charlton Kings.


Emily said...

I think that is such a good question. I know I posted about this earlier, but I feel many of the churches I supplied at over the past few years have lost the spark of the good news, so many dead faces when we're celebrating the Real Presence of Christ.

I also think the lives people are trying to lead such the life right out of us--worry, anxiety. . .

We're going to have to reinvigorate our tradition for sure, and I feel hopeful about that, but the dying in order to live part is kind of hard.

serena said...

Really insightful reflections, thanks.