Monthly Archives: January 2015

Optimism and Realism

The following is a new section of orientation material from the NYNO booklet that is slowly taking shape.

The NYNO project was begun with an optimism that had sprung from a fresh – for us – reading of Scripture. We felt that we had seen, as though for the first time, something of what it meant to be the Church and that we had before us a place and a people in which that understanding of Church could be lived out as though we were a city on a hill. This meant that we went forward to start the project with a confidence that God could and would provide.

We knew that what we were proposing to do would not immediately appeal to many in the wider church. This was not because anyone would deny the importance of what we were trying – its basis in Scripture, its nature as a missionary action – but rather because we all find ourselves committed to our current congregations and it can be hard to embark on something new. There are lots of valid reasons for this. One the one hand, many Christians feel embattled and defensive in the face of increased secularism and gathering together in larger churches full of peers helps alleviate some of that stress, helps give confidence in mission. In contrast, NYNO appears to offer the prospect of commitment to a small congregation, full of older people: not immediately appealing. On the other hand, many existing congregations in the historic denominations are struggling to meet their financial commitments and require all the help they can draw on. Placing your attention on a new initiative may well be seen as a betrayal, leaving the burden of maintenance for the existing congregation on an ever fewer number.

Despite all of this, or perhaps even because of it, we want to insist that the Church can exist in ways that are faithful to God and so constantly surprising to us and to the world. If God is with us, who could be against us? We knew we were seeking to answer a question, the answer to which was not obvious. But we also knew that Christ was raised from the dead and therefore the Church must not simply live according to rules defined by the expectation of success. Christ would never have died for us had he followed those rules. What we are seeking is the fullness of life of the kingdom of God. The figure of Zacchaeus springs to mind. Here was a man who gave up his wealth and yet … rejoiced. We know that NYNO offers a challenge to many of us, particularly to the younger generations, but we do not believe the Gospel calls us to selfless misery. There is joy to be had in a NYNO congregation. It seems to us, as it must have done to Zacchaeus, that though this way offers challenge, it also offers something better.


An optimism founded in the new reality of the Spirit of Christ, who died and rose again, is a necessary characteristic of the Church. Such an attitude will always receive accusations of naivety. All such criticisms cannot simply be dismissed. A criticism of our optimism that stemmed from a cynicism and lack of faith would have to be resisted. This would be a criticism that failed to recognize the reality of the kingdom of God as the constitutive basis of our Church. This is not, however, the only criticism possible. A criticism based on a failure to observe the reality of the world is also possible and it is here where we are most at risk of rightly being called naïve.

Starting a NYNO congregation presents lots of challenges. There are personal challenges for the individuals who try to start it, there are challenges for the church community as it forms itself, changes and continues while its members grow frail and die. NYNO pioneers need to know what they are getting into. To use the Zacchaeus example, they need to know how much money they have before the full significance of giving it up can be experienced. We need to know that people may not flock to join us, they they may have many other claims on their time and energy. We need to know there is no set pattern of success that can easily be followed to achieve a ‘thriving’ congregation – that we ourselves will need to go into our situation in faith and with prayer, seeking answers for our own situation.

To return to the language of the kingdom, it is helpful to remember that the fullness of the kingdom will not be known until Christ returns. The challenge and task of the Church is to live in and according to the reality of the kingdom, to live in the Spirit, in a world that does not yet know the newness of the kingdom or the refreshing life of the Spirit. This is not achieved by closing our eyes and humming a hymn, but by knowing full well the challenges that are ahead and yet nonetheless believing that God looks with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

Praying in Silence, Participation in Public

The following is a first draft of a new section from the NYNO booklet, which is slowly taking shape, currently titled: Beginning a New Church …

Our practice of praying in public has changed over time. Originally, before NYNO started, we used the ‘chaplaincy’ model of conducting a service in which the minister figure led the prayers. We feel there are limitations to this form of worship. To recapitulate: when the minister leads all of the worship the congregation can begin to think of themselves as passive recipients of a spiritual good. When this happens, spiritual community can be assumed to be an additional and non-essential aspect of church. It is possible that this is exacerbated in our case, where the congregation consists of older people who have become accustomed to their role and contributions being peripheral to the life of their churches.

With respect to prayers, there are different ways of addressing this problem. An obvious solution is to invite members of the congregation to contribute to different parts of the service and, in this case, to lead the prayers. This is a sensible way forward in that it encourages a wider public participation and yet acknowledges the diverse giftings of the congregation: for whatever reason not all have the confidence or aptitude to take a public role.

In our own situation we felt that increasing the number of public contributors while keeping the same model of service was not the best way forward. We thought this for a number of reasons. Firstly, even if we encouraged some people to lead prayers and succeeded in getting them to do this, the majority of people would still not be doing so. We would still have in place a model of worship in which community could be seen as peripheral to church. We would still have a congregation who through their age and living situation have become less than central to the life of a church centred on a parish building. What we hoped for instead was to find ways to emphasize the importance of each member and the value of his or her contributions, whatever they were. Inevitably, when a service is led or conducted this leading role will be especially esteemed, to the detriment of valuation of the contributions of everyone else.

Secondly, in our particular situation we felt that it was particularly difficult to be seen to be ‘raising’ people into church leadership. The problem lies in part in the way Church of Scotland ministers, and no-doubt those of other denominations, are viewed in society generally and perhaps especially amongst the older generations. It would be difficult for any individual to be seen to taking on that role in such a small church that largely existed within a relatively small housing complex. All manner of attractive and unpleasant power dynamics would be possible if a resident were to take a role as a church leader for a church that largely consisted of residents. Of course, leading prayers or even taking a public role in worship does not entail church leadership, but it does imply it to some degree with a led service model and where few people are willing to contribute publicly.

Lastly, we recognized that we might be unsuccessful in finding people who would want to contribute to the service. We simply might not have such people. Our congregation might be too frail or too intimidated, for reasons discussed above. It had to be possible to find a form of worship that could be embraced and enjoyed even when the giftings of public speaking were not available.

For these reasons, we turned to a form of silent prayer in which the prayers of all the saints are recognized to be significant and there is no necessity for anyone to be understood to be praying on behalf of the whole congregation. Everyone can and must pray, is called to do so, and this is reflected in how prayer is conducted in the liturgy.

Our current liturgies are largely composed of prayers and statements of faith and the congregation says these prayers and statements together, to God and to each other. When we come to intercession, we recognize that we are responding directly to the differing situations of our lives and so there is the need for words that respond to this. Simply put, this section of the service begins and closes with set prayers (when we are not celebrating communion, we close with the Lord’s Prayer) that remind us of the reason why we can and should pray. In between these prayers pieces of paper are distributed and people are asked to write down topics for which we can all pray. These are collected in and then one person has the task of collating these topics and simply saying ‘Let us pray for …’ before a period of silence and concluding the silence of prayer with the responsive prayer, ‘Lord in your mercy,’ to which the congregation responds ‘Hear our prayer’.

There are undoubtedly limitations to this approach. It’s advantage is that it is simple and requires relatively little preparation and so can be used by anyone. At the same time, this simplicity and silence means that we are not teaching people to pray in any particular way. Well structured and thoughtfully composed prayers, teach us to pray according to what God has revealed of himself. Such prayers teach us to pray with faith, hope and love. It is possible that a selection of collects could be used to accompany these prayers, but there will always remain a balancing act: the richer and more varied we make our liturgy, the more demanding it is to prepare the service. Perhaps the way forward is to keep a simple basic form of liturgy, but to allow individuals to enrich it as they have the time, energy and inclination to do so.