Today sees the launch of a community audit I am leading – A Church4U? at an event based in a local school, followed by a church service focused on the story of the road to Emmaus. The focus of the audit is to use surveys, focus group and films to discover the heart and soul of the area- a place with two distinctive christian communities yet no dedicated church building. We hope to discover what residents, and those working in the community, understand church to be, and also if they want to be part of a vision that will establish a multi-use church building as much about community service and a place to be as a venue for Sunday worship.
After the death of Jesus the disciples lost heart and hope. Their Rabbi and leader had died and they were devastated and had little idea of what to do next other than to return to their former lives. It was as if that previous three years had counted for nothing. On the Road to Emmaus Jesus revealed the truth of his mission to them and they learned that they would receive power through the Holy Spirit. They would gain hope and a new mission and would have some story to share- a story destined to turn the world on its head. Today two churches will meet in a community centre without any outward visible sign that they are church. I will be asking them about how many people they are walking with every day on their own road to Emmaus and how these strangers or friends will be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus?
For a previous post on a related topic see https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/now-you-see-me-now-you-dont/
In the opening chapter of Acts the resurrected Jesus tells his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promises of the father- The Holy Spirit. The disciples are excited at the prospect of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel- they still don’t get it! Only a few verses later Christ tells them to be his witnesses on Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth and then he disappears! As my friend George Lings would say, the message may have reached the ends of the earth but the church has set up a number of mini-Jerusalems. How many Christians effectively reach out beyond church walls other than through blitz events like Hope and Soul in the City and specific ministries like Street Pastors?
Some would say that the church is obsessed with Jerusalem and making it look better, bigger, slicker and brighter- when the real need is to set up camp in Samaria or even venture to the ends of the earth. As a church we tend to focus on people who are like us- Churched- those comfortable to be our people. What about the de-churched on the fringes of Samaria who are at least 3 times bigger than we are and many of whom don’t like who we are? What about the non-churched where we could come into contact we a group amongst the under 45s who are 6 times greater than that age profile in our churches? There is some excellent news and stories around the Back to Church Sunday initiative for which we should praise God, but we can’t ignore the facts that around 40% of the populations have had some experience of church yet have not returned- was it really their fault. My friend George suggests that the complex DNA have the church has dominant Anglican genes called worship and pastoral care and that evangelism and mission genes are recessive. For a national church, the Church of England, the number of people who appear to be deeply alienated from us is disturbing. It’s time to leave Jerusalem.
A few weeks ago a met a Jewish Christian called Steve Maltz and he gave me a copy of his book ‘How the church lost the way’– a fascinating argument about how the Way of the early church has been obscured by the influence of Greek philosophy which has worked its way through every facet of our Christian life, from doctrine to rituals and from practices to attitudes. Steve does a great job in taking the reader on a journey back to the roots of the Christian faith with a compelling simplicity and invites us to consider the implications of boxing in our faith to ritualistic church attendance and hymn singing. To get the full flavour of Steve’s argument you’d have to read the whole book for yourself but here’s a brief taster to wet your appetite:
” To a religious Jew everything is spiritual, everything is theological, everything is sacred. Life is not compartmentalised…the key distinction between Greek thinking that has insinuated itself into all parts of the Church thinking and practice…Jesus once had a spat with a Samaritan woman about acceptable ways to worship God. He spoke to here of future time when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth, so worship is going to have to be infused in spirit and in truth. It needs to be of a spiritual nature because God is spirit, but it needs to be based on truth..The Western Church has evolved into a rigid pattern whereby the phrase we will move to a time of worship is a cue for throats to be cleared, brains emptied of the mundane and legs and arms placed on standby and praise and worship is understood as a musical genre. It puts God in a box and misrepresents him as someone who can only be worshipped in recognised spiritual ways, such a sprayer, singing and proclamation. Hebrew worship frees us up totally to worship him using every part of our created being, body and soul with our arms, legs, voice, mind and spirit.”
All I know is that these arguments will run and run as people strive for the authentic model for Christian community and worship. While we do , just let’s remember He is the God of Jew and Greek and Brit and African and American and Indian and Chinese and Australian and so on and so on until the ends of the earth and for all time. I am sure we are getting parts of our worship and understanding wrong and we have missed out on much, but thank God for the Good Shepherd who never gives up on the strays who have lost their way and thank God that we can keep asking questions and discovering more of Him each day. Steve’s idea about everything being spiritual and there being nothing out of bounds for God is also echoed by teaching minister Rob Bell. See this brief excerpt from his film Everything is spiritual and judge for yourself:
This week I read that a Church in Westbourne held a special community thanksgiving service for a murdered Big Issue seller. Hundreds of homeless people die or are killed across the UK every year and their passing goes unmarked. Thank God for the Editor of The Baptist Times who made the story of Ralph Millward front page news.
Ralph was an alcoholic and Big Issue vendor in Westbourne whose pitch for sales and sleep was outside the town’s Marks and Spencer store. His battered body was found outside the store on the morning of Friday, May 8th. Three youths aged 14 and 16 have been remanded in custody after appearing in court charged with murder. Ralph was well-known in the area and his brutal murder has sent shock-waves through the streets of this close-knit town. West Cliff Baptist Church has a well established ministry of reaching out to the local homeless community and Ralph had regularly used the services provided since their inception. The Revd Richard Burfoot, Ministry Team Leader at West Cliff said the church was ‘’privileged’ to have known Ralph- a gracious, gentle and polite man who lived a broken existence.”
At Friday’s weekly breakfast drop-in candles were lit and a two-minute silence held to remember Ralph and a memorial service began with a community processions from M&S attended by hundreds from the community. This community seems to me to bestowing Ralph such dignity, respect, compassion and love. It reminds me of the episode in The West Wing when Toby Zeigler organised a full military funeral for a homeless ex-Vietnam veteran who had died wearing a coat Toby that had donated to a homeless shelter. Zeigler was profoundly moved by the plight of the man who had served his country with such bravery and honour.
On behalf of the Christ who showed love and compassion to the outcasts, the scorned and the rejected- I’d like to thank the Christians and people of Westbourne for showing similar respect for the life of Ralph.
After waiting nine years for a new minister worshippers on a Scottish island are to be blessed with a truly 21st-century replacement. The Rev Fiona Lillie left a vacancy on the island of Hoy, in Orkney, when she was called away to serve another parish — but now churchgoers will have a virtual minister, beamed into the kirk every Sunday, sermon and all. The bold scheme will be ratified by the Ministries Council at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland this month and a pilot project will soon unite the congregation of Hoy with others on the islands of Flotta, Shapinsay and Rousay. None of the four islands in the virtual ministry attracts a congregation of more than 20 and at present services are usually led by local volunteers, or by a “pulpit supply” of peripatetic preachers.
The new scheme envisages a fully interactive service each week built around a £100,000, two-way, video conferencing system and its supporters say it will perform a key role for the Church, delivering the Word of God to the whole of the country, just as John Knox would have wanted.
“The Church wants to serve the whole of Scotland. This will get services to people on outlying islands on a Sunday, which is something the Church must do. We will be able to deliver worship properly and locally,” the Rev Dr Martin Scott, secretary of the Ministries Council, said.
I can’t wait to see how they will share the peace and if the local church fete will operate via e-bay instead of on the church lawn in the driving rain!
For the full story see Times online http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article6269590.ece
Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph reported that male worshippers like to sing “proper macho songs” in church and feel uncomfortable with hugging, holding hands or sitting in circles discussing their feelings, according to a survey on behalf of Sorted magazine. 72% of the 400 UK readers of Sorted who responded to the survey, preferred the sermon as their favourite part of the service: no surprise there it’s usually about telling people what to do or how to think.
I realise that that research suggests that when men come to faith they tend to have a stronger influence than women on other family members joining them, but I am not sure what churches are expected to do about the findings of this survey. I know Jesus knocked around with 12 blokes but he was also very counter-cultural in terms of his relationships with women, and for me, Christians more than almost any other groups should be trying to encourage mean to be a little more vulnerable and demonstrative in their relationships with fellow believers without putting at risk their masculinity.
I know plenty of men who love the worship songs of Rita Springer which leads us into a more intimate and dare I say less macho relationship with God and each other so I thought I share a video of one of Rita’s best known songs with you her. Fellas, if the actions put you off just think of Jackie Chan and thumb through your Bloke’s Bible.
Click here for the full article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5278040/Male-worshippers-like-to-sing-macho-songs-in-church.html