Yesterday morning I found myself in an entirely elegant drawing room (only word for it) on College Green (Gloucester’s own Cathedral Close) as part of a small group “Doing Theology”.
This was a joy on all sorts of levels….
For starters, the group was convened and facilitated by the wondrous Canon D H, - whose praises I’ve sung before, as one of those gifted teachers who opens endless windows for you with no apparent effort
Then, of course, I love the opportunity to think aloud, with other interested (and interesting) people – and my level of engagement was such that I dared to contribute something along the way, despite feeling a bit shaky about my credentials…And we had a rather excellent lunch thrown in.
As our launch pad yesterday, D presented us with print-offs from assorted church websites, featuring mission or vision statements where they could be found (apparently these were not always the easiest things to discover– lots of churches felt it was more helpful to make their timetables or history clear than to define what they actually exist for). Vision statements lead us into a discussion on the nature of church...and what colours we would expect to nail to our masts.
Interesting. Very interesting.
The websites D had chosen were mostly from a particular evangelical constituency, - so words like “vibrant” “growing” and “fellowship” were much to the fore together with “Bible” “mission” “discipleship” and similar buzz-words, - many of which were simply an exhausting turn-off to me...Notable for its absence was the word “inclusive”…and any references to Eucharist (OK, exclusive word…Communion?? Breaking bread together???). Prayer did come up, but with less emphasis than worship.
No surprises there, then!
There was a general acceptance in the group that the websites were aimed at a very particular constituency – like-minded people, already churched, who might be moving into an area and doing some prelimary research on places of worship. A couple of us pointed out that websites were also great resources for those who were tentatively exploring the edges of faith – when I have my own church I’m definitely going to include some sort of “Prayer Requests/Light a virtual candle” link because even the most obscure curate blogging quietly over here occasionally gets contacts from people who are hurting, people who need a priest but are nervous of a real flesh and blood one in their neighbourhood, one who might actually ring the doorbell. An online alternative is much safer – pastoral care with no strings attached- and it that's something that a church website can provide, I'd really want to facilitate that.
From here we moved on to a discussion about what we would include on our websites, and thence to the essential nature of church. Hot on +Lindsay’s illustrations of cross-shaped ministry, Mchael Ramsey’s “The Gospel and the Catholic Church” was much to the fore. In it, he asserts that the sole purpose of the church is to proclaim Christ crucified- though we agreed that we’d allow the empty tomb to be part of the proclamation.…Then today Rick (celebrating the silver jubilee of his ordination) quoted some more Ramsey on the same theme of ministry that hurts...
"In your service of others, you will feel, you will care, you will be hurt, you will have your heart broken. It is doubtful if any of us can do anything at all until we have been very much hurt, and until our hearts have been very much broken. And this is because God’s gift to us is the glory of the crucified—being sensitive to the pain and sorrow that exists in so much of the world."
We had to admit that as a marketing ploy "Join the church to have your heart broken" might not work, but I loved one contribution from a priest whoprobably knows a fair bit about broken hearts, since he is currently shepherding his own congregation through the closure of their church building and their migration to join a neighbouring team…He said simply that the church worked on the model of
“Love received, love shared, love given”
That said an awful lot more to me than those sites with their emphasis on discipleship and Bible based teaching – but then, I’d clearly be outside their target group anyway!