To be honest, I haven’t wanted to as much as look at the papers and the dissertation I produced for my MA in Mission (Celtic Mission and Spirituality) in these last months! It’s a bit like that with any major piece of study – you spend so much time with it that you get tired looking at it! I am, however, just abour ready to revisit it!
Today I was thinking about a piece of work I did in response to Pete Ward’s writing in ‘Liquid Church’ – a book which suggests a transition to a more fluid way of meeting and being church, founded much more on relationships, networks, and churches as resource hubs for spiritual life. He advocates utilising the best aspects of ‘consumerism’ to achieve this – this is probably the most controversial part the work, but he rightly affirms that we can’t reach a culture by just purely dismissing it. It’s a bit more indepth than that, and don’t want to dumb down Pete’s work, but the book stands so much in contrast for our fixed and boundaried church systems. We are often more occupied with the ‘Sunday Show’ and the institutional expression of the church than we are with facilitating the life of Jesus’ community.
There are a whole range of smaller groups experimenting with more radical* approaches to Christian community. It isn’t so easy to point to larger, more established church communities who have successfully transitioned into new ways of being that more effectively facilitate the flow of the Spirit and the life of Christ among his people. The journey is usually much, much slower, but not impossible. Admittedly, many established settings are reasonably stuck in their ways and take time to shift – but patience really is a virtue! If time isn’t taken over significant and lasting change, you run the risk of losing momentum with smaller and inconsequential shifts which get you nowhere.
Early Celtic monasteries were both static and fluid…or at least squidgy round the edges. They were centres of art, learning, community, instruction, prayer and evangelisation. Their presence meant that they were a hub of local mission, service and worship…and ultimately of significant influence. What was less static was the encouragement of the brothers and sisters to get out into the community, walking the lanes and paths of their ancient world, carrying the gospel to the nations (up until the 7th century Synod of Hertford, which effectively banned the roving Celts!!!). Much of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and parts of England were converted through this wandering for Jesus. But sadly, the full weight of Rome came against the fluid with some rigid parish and diocesan systems. Just a huge clash of mindset, method and mission.
Thing is – in the 21st century, our communities are much less static, and so the ‘local’ everythin struggles. Everything is more fluid. Whilst been rooted in the local is a great aspiration, I wonder if we expend too much effort fortifying our geographical mision in a transient world. I’m all for local expressions of church, I believe that where it’s at, but even in a geography like the town I live in, there is such a huge varience in time, availablility and lifestyle that it makes what many know as ‘traditional congregational life’ quite a challenge to sustain. We need to think creatively about how to navigate this.
Strikes me that it’s possible to invest your life in bolstering up, or placing scaffolding around, traditional formats, whilst never making any real steps forward. Strikes me more that we need a pattern of life and mission in the church that will help maximise our reach and connection, and which takes more seriously the context we are in.
*by radical, I mean ‘close to the roots’ rather than ‘fanatical’ or ‘fundamental’. Such a shame that the word radical has been hijacked.