Saturday, March 31, 2007

Meandering around Caroline's questions (more work in progress)

Caroline Too said
I guess that I do struggle with the idea that our job is to get people to come to church for Eucharist, guest service, seeker service, fresh expression or ...
Shouldn't we be out there?
What might we be doing if we were living "this is my body broken for you" out in the world and what would we be doing if we were living "this is my blood shed for you" out in the world
and if in addition to being a living sacrifice; we were a living sacrament to our Lord, what would we be doing and who would we be doing it with and do you think that more people would see Jesus if we lifted him up that way?

As challenges at the beginning of Holy Week go, these don't make much pretence at pulling punches, do they?
But of course, she is absolutely right.
We need to not just to go out, but to stay out in the world, to live sacramental lives there that speak of God’s transforming love,and show its power. Guest appearances aren't enough if we are serious in following the Word made flesh who lived among us.
My favourite definition of priesthood has always been that coined by Austin Farrer
“a walking sacrament” – and if that holds good for the ordained ministers of the church then its clearly every bit as true for each and every member . The only difference is that the ordained might have an advantage of being recognised either by uniform or because they are themselves known in their community, - so that their efficacy as a sign might, just possibly, be more explicit…Which means, I fear, that all the times when I fail, (so that’s every day of my life, then) are equally obvious.
There's a prayer that I don't use as often as I ought which includes the plea that "today nobody should think the worse of You because of me..." Perhaps now would be a good time to find it again.

But it seems to me that this sort of incarnational ministry depends hugely on our having a relationship with the community. All the discussions that I’ve been part of around Fresh Expressions of church have at their centre the idea of community…of meeting people where they are, and joining in with what God is already doing there. I've watched with delight as Michael has gathered a community around his family to become a new kind of church in Gloucester. One year ago, that church did not exist. Tomorrow, its family members will be offering worship in the Cathedral...all because Michael has taken time to be in the city with no agenda other than God's agenda. He has loitered, prayed, made connections, loitered and prayed some more. And a community has gathered.
That’s something I get hugely excited about, and certainly my experience in schools and with our Youth Group (who mostly do church independent of what is happening with the medieval walls on Sunday mornings) suggests that it can be much easier to engage with God without extraneous mediate our relationship with God through our relationship with one another.
But that's because I've been given the privilege of time to get to know people, to explore the big questions with them, and we are all comfortable with each other in all sorts of situations....We can be the Body of Christ to each other because there is a basic level of trust and familiarity.
But what about those people who aren't part of any obvious networks...those who would be hard put to it to describe where they felt at home? We need some existing group into which we can welcome them in Christ's name, while we get to know and love them for themselves.
When an obvious network and community doesn't exist, liturgy provides a framework to enable a disparate group to gain its identity as the Body of Christ worshipping together. And for a disparate group, maybe an identifiable sacred space (something a bit like a church, perhaps) is a helpful focus for gathering.
I just don't know.

I’ve been struggling quite a lot with thequestion of how to do ministry without relationship recently…When I'm taking my turn at hospital cover, I'll find myself precipitated into peoples lives with no idea of what has gone before, and no chance of hearing the next chapter of their story. All that is asked of me is that I turn up, say the holy words and so remind patients and families that God is there for them. They don't want to be connected to a network. They don't want a relationship with me at all. They just want someone who has (to quote the wondrous David Hoyle) been given "words of power".

I have one congregation member who is in a P.V.S. ,- has been for several years now. Every now and then, when I’m feeling really guilty, I visit her. I never knew her when she was well. She doesn’t know me. But I sit there and talk and pray and read large chunks of the psalms (about the only communication that feels even half way meaningful) because it’s part of what I’m for.
I'm there to remind her (but she can't see this) that God is still there.
I find it very hard.
Relationships are key - but when they are not possible, liturgy enables us to articulate truths that we would not dare to explore except with our closest confidantes.
Where that liturgy happens is another question...


Caroline said...

Sorry, me again..

a couple of points

1) ... but what if liturgy and church buildings are what is alienating?

2) this isn't the prayer you were thinking of but perhaps it gives a little more positive slant!

Lord God
be in our every act.
May all we do
reflect your wondrous grace.
May our words
tell others of your love.
May our actions
speak of Your grace and power.
May each person we meet today
have reason
to be grateful to You,
Oh Lord our God

I do hope that you find some moments to be still this very busy week

Caroline Too

Kathryn said...

No apologies...a conversation isn't up to much with only one voice!
I do realise that liturgy and buildings are often the problem, I'm not saying they are the whole answer, but I do think that we need a combination of church through relational networks (yuk phrase, but can't think of a better way to put it) and church that is just identifiably there as church.
Of course, you can have buildings without liturgy as Michael so beautifully did last night in the Cathedral...or liturgy without buildings....or community without either. I'm a real believer in that famous "mixed economy church" which ++Rowan wants to see...even though the process of being both/and could potentially exhaust everyone.
re Stillness - yes...I did. See today's post. It was wonderful :=)