We continued our exploration into church this week, as a family…all nine of us sat around the dining table (I think it was possibly the sight of chocolate mini eggs that did it but hey, whatever works!!)
We’ve been on quite a journey, beginning with the concept of church as community but realising that community exists in many guises and we can tap into it in spheres other than church. So it was suggested that church was perhaps a community where we encountered God; but when we probed more deeply into that we discovered that actually we encountered God in all sorts of places, activities and experiences. So we wondered if church was more the place where the stories were shared and the encounters encouraged! The question then became “for what purpose?” Why do we need to share stories and be encouraged?
As family we talked about the beginnings of church and “the Way” of Jesus, about living a lifestyle that in some way honoured the teachings of Jesus but an awkward kind of silence fell as we tried to understand what that looked like…”well, being kind I think” said one and “love, that must have something to do with it” mused another?! Well it’s a start!!!
I guess for our story, as we try to work out how to be church and are in the privileged, scary yet exciting position of finding a church to lead, the thoughts we’re exploring are huge. We recognise that there are elements of existing church that just don’t connect anymore. Some churches have lost sight of the revolutionary, upside down, counter cultural teachings of Jesus…so the idea of being a church that really explores what it means to be human while experiencing the divine is actually interesting! A church that encourages lives to be radically different to the way of the world because it knows that what the world offers is not enough and it doesn’t last; a church that looks for something that holds those bigger questions about who we are and why we’re here and offers a forum for talking that through! That’s where I think this conversation about church is headed!
There is, alongside all of this, an awareness that church through the centuries has included elements of prayer, song, sacrament and teaching in a variety of expressions! Maybe there’s something about humanity trying to express a connection to that ‘thing that is outside of themselves’ that requires more than the limited language we have. There’s something about connection to the divine that goes beyond our regular human expression of ourselves. When we express our souls we often find words are inadequate and that music, art, even ritual are a more faithful articulation.
There also seems to be something about how humanity functions within groups or systems, something about how we as humans create structure and ritual no matter what culture or tribe we’re part of. Maybe as a way of associating meaning and purpose to who we are and what we’re doing!
I’d been thinking about this blog all week and we drove home after visiting friends in Dartford, we sat in traffic waiting to enter the Blackwall Tunnel and spotted this sign:
“Traditions are important in neighbourhoods so let’s invent some”
Traditions like the village show, the school fete or the scarecrow festival…(I imagine you’ve lived places with their own community tradition). Tradition exists in neighbourhood and in family too. Most families invent rhythm, tradition and even ritual; structures that allow mornings, meal times and bed time to flow; traditions that enable the celebrations of Christmas or birthdays or other ‘holidays’, as well as rituals that mark significant life events.
Sporting groups also create fascinating ritual that we just take for granted! I observed Dover Athletic fans arriving to watch a game, dressed in scarves and tops associated to their team. They enter the ground, take their seat(most likely in the same seat as the previous game!) snd observe the players carrying out their own pre-match routine. The same routine each game of lining up, shaking hands, tossing a coin. The match kicks off, there are songs sung, chants that echo around the ground; at half time the obligatory pie is purchased and the second half is enjoyed (or not – depending on the teams performance!!). Together they encourage each other as they worship their sporting heroes! The whole experience is full of rhythm, ritual and tradition.
It seems that most groups and communities create systems that provide structure, comfort and security. Church seems to be no different.
However, there has to be a purpose to those routines and rituals. Something more than just comfort and security! There’s something about making a difference for good in the world; about making connections beyond ourselves and our immediate friends and family. Those rituals need to extend into care for others; those we don’t know or understand, as well as those who our lifestyles inadvertently impact through the every day choices we make. As we realise who we are actually in relationship with we discover a greater care and responsibility for our neighbourhood, our towns and ultimately the planet. As we explore this we learn what love really looks like as well as who and what that love impacts!
Within all of these thoughts is a challenge to grow, shape or simply be church…to invite others to join in and together find the expressions and conversations that allow those involved to be fully alive. You could give your whole life for that!