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Thoughts for NYNO on ‘Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting’ (5)

(5) Being a ‘Real’ Church

Towards the end of the report, the question of ‘structures’ is addressed, and in particular membership and sacramental validity. The mixed-economy model offers diversity within the church, and the prospect of emergent churches sitting alongside traditionally ordered ones with equal respect and validity. This shouldn’t mean conformity to one shape of church and should allow developing emergent congregations to be valued and nurtured for what they are, rather than what they are not.

So, with regard to membership, the report has this to say:

In the final analysis, if people whose only ‘real’ church is an emerging group are then required to become members of traditional churches, this is not only a denial of the ethos of the mixed economy church but is also a recipe for ensuring the non-sustainability of emerging groups, and for those that begin without the support of an existing parish, the question will be more urgent still.

For NYNO, as it works within Stockethill this is less of a problem. Stockethill Parish has worked hard to develop a multi-congregational understanding of its parish ministry. The origins of this probably lie in the decision to be a parish church without a building. Once this decision had been made, and many different meetings, potentially with different people at each, make up the life of the church, then it’s far less obvious where the ‘centre’ of the church is. And further, when it comes to membership in Stockethill people are committing to a local group of people that exists as part of something larger. We become members of the parish church, but the parish church is composite body of many congregations. It is, if you like, the pattern of relationship that exists between the Church of Scotland at a national level and an individual parish church repeated within the scope of the parish with its constituent congregations. This really is a mixed economy, where new congregations are peers of other congregations. In this case there is no compromise with having to join a traditional church; in Stockethill we’re joining a wider body than merely ourcongregation – and everyone in every group has to do the same.

As I’ve explained, this works well in Stockethill parish. Things will become less clear if NYNO groups are created in other parishes. We can’t worry too much about that right now. If we come to deal with it, a lot will depend on personal relationships between ourselves and any hosting parish. I’m guessing that it may also prove helpful if at least one elder of the local session decides to be part of the leadership team for that new group.

There’s one other, perhaps more important, issue that I want to address here. This one, I fear, cuts to the heart of the difficulties facing emerging ministries in the Church of Scotland. In the Church of Scotland, and indeed according to the Westminster Confession (27.4; 29.3), only the minister is allowed to administer the sacraments. At the same time, it probably wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the whole point of emerging ministries is that it should facilitate and acknowledge the latent gifts of the laity in the church in order to multiply the times and places where the church is able to meet with the world and witness to Christ. A not insignificant benefit of this approach is that it doesn’t require the expense of a minister of Word and Sacrament, at least as we currently conceive of them as parish ministers with a stipend.

So, we have a whole discussion focussed on advocating the use of the anglican-birthed expression ‘mixed-economy’ in the Church of Scotland, and so a search for new forms of church to sit alongside our traditional parish congregations, but in the Church and Scotland, and according to a significant aspect of the reformed confessions, the celebration of the sacraments is a necessary mark of any church and this is forbidden the leadership of every single one of these emerging churches unless they have been ordained. As far as I am aware, this isn’t possible for a local leader, committed to developing an emerging church for their local context without them having their attentions distracted from their church by the challenges of the selection and education procedures for ordination that purposely take place outside of the local context. As far as I can see this is still the case for Ordained Local Ministry, which would potentially see pioneer ministers working on behalf of the presbytery to create new forms of church.

Emerging churches, to be churches in the fullest sense and perhaps in the smallest sense, need to be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is not optional. Emerging churches are meant to be flexible, to innovate and be inspired by the energy and ideas of laity. It is impractical to ask a pioneer of an emergent community to have to occupy themselves with ordination and education and then to come back to their project when all the criteria has been fulfilled, especially when their funding is likely to last for a maximum of three years. I suspect as well that there are cultural issues surrounding the ministry of word and sacrament that involve social status, hierarchical ministry and the perceived aggression of the presbyterian court system that would make many emergent pioneers run in the opposite direction.

What solutions might there be? Well, it seems to me that the reservation for the ordained of the administration of the Lord’s Supper is a sensible ordinance. The Lord’s Supper is the act of unity amongst the church; it wouldn’t make sense for anyone to be able to celebrate whenever they wanted to. Reserving its administration to the ordained is a hierarchical way of forcing the church to come together and acknowledge its unity. However, if this is the rational for this Reformed law (that’s speculation on my part, I haven’t researched it) then there is nothing ontological in the minister that means he or she is the only person who can preside. If this is so, then it should be possible for a minister to grant another to preside in his or her place. No authority is lost, the authority can be withdrawn, the authority could be delegated specifically for individual celebrations rather than given to an individual in perpetuity.

The other option would be for the church to become far more flexible over the selection and education procedure for Ordained Local Ministry. Emerging Ministries in the Church of Scotland is putting its weight behind the Mission Shaped Ministry Fresh Expressions Course. This is fine, but I don’t think there’s any likelihood of this being sufficient preparation for ministry. The course is also, to my mind, not a theological course. It offers more functional guidance than theological reflection.

In summary, if emerging churches are an essential part of the Church of Scotland, then the sacraments need to be at their heart. Two options occur to me. Firstly, allow delegated authority for the administration of the sacraments. If not this, then I’m guessing that the church needs to offer a path to ordination that is directly targeted at giving education and training for the work that a candidate has embarked upon. I should add as well, that the dual demands of pioneer ministry and education would be significant, and that it would be impractical to ask someone to do this in their spare time while working for a living: there should be the option for these candidates to be supported for the important task to which they are called.

Matthew

Thoughts for NYNO on ‘Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting’ (4)

See 1.2.4 of the report.

Personality Types and Planting a Catholic Church

I don’t warm to the use of personality tests and types. I’m not sure why. It’s probably my personality … I think that while I know I have a certain character and limitations, I don’t like to be limited. It feels to me that the whole of life is about growth and overcoming of obstacles that at one time seemed insurmountable. I don’t want an excuse not to try to learn and adapt.

At the same time, this section of the report points out something that I can’t ignore.

Working with an understanding of personality types in terms of four polarities (introverts and extraverts; sensers and intuitives; thinkers and feelers; judgers and perceivers), it can be demonstrated that conventional churches attract high proportions of introverts, feelers and judgers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that fresh expressions of church are probably redressing the balance by reaching more extraverts, thinkers and perceivers, though at present no empirical evidence is available to either confirm or deny that.

Broadly speaking this analysis seems intuitive: it fits with some of my personal experience. This has implications for NYNO in a couple of ways.

At the heart of the NYNO ideal is a view of the local church that is ‘catholic’. As far as I understand, the term has a number of different but related meanings. I want to use it here in the sense in which it’s used in our title, Neither Young Nor Old: we want our churches to be open and accessible to all types of people. We don’t want our churches to appeal only to intuitive radical thinkers, or to traditionalists. We all need each other, we miss out without each; this is the body of Christ metaphor expanded beyond the local church to the whole of humanity. We might be tempted to think that life would be easier if our church simply contained the like-minded, but we have to believe this is not in fact the case, even if it doesn’t actually feel that way some or most of the time!

Quite practically for us, this is going to affect how we try to shape worship in NYNO congregations, the resources that we provide, the music that we use. It’s also going to be a question that we keep returning to: are we shaping churches in our own image, or Christ’s.

I think as well, that this could prove a challenge. A socially or culturally homogeneous congregation will be (I predict!) more attractive to folk, than one that genuinely values people with diverse character types and the preferences for styles of worship and forms of church that they will likely bring.

To conclude my train of thought, here’s a few more general thoughts on the churches, culture and the emergent missionary theology which does seem to being widely advocated.

All churches have a culture. That can’t be avoided and is necessary for group formation and identity. At the same time, there is only one church and it is universal (catholic in another sense) and this is the case because Christ became incarnate, one of us, a human.An unnecessarily divided church is a denial of our mutual humanity as it exists in Christ and, perhaps, a denial of the incarnation.So, the Church Catholic has to be able to reach beyond social and cultural divisions. A big task for a small church? Well, yes, but all it really comes down to is trying to recognise the unhelpful things that divide us unnecessarily from other people, perhaps naming them, and seeking to go beyond them. This is significant for life within the church, but also as the church reaches out and is open to others in mission.

The current use of contextual missionary theology could, no doubt unfairly, be caricatured as colluding in the sinful division of humanity in the way it encourages emerging ministries to locate and adapt themselves to a local cultural and social context. What needs to be added, I’d suggest is a recognition that culture and society is fallen and that therefore there is a real danger in a church culturally adapting itself. It may be a necessary activity, but it’s also a dangerous one. A ‘catholic’ ecclesiology that offers an alternative societal picture, one that recognises the diversity and unity we have in Christ, might be a helpful companion as we plant churches in our divided society.

Matthew

Thoughts for NYNO on ‘Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting’ (1)

As NYNO kicks off with its preparatory research we’re trying to get a handle on a lot of different things. We’re eager to be involved in wider conversations going on in the UK concerning innovative forms of church and so one of the first things we sat down to read was the Church of Scotland’s Report, Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting, submitted to the General Assembly in 2011 and prepared by John Drane and Olive Fleming Drane. It can be found with a quick internet search.

Having said this, we’re not trying to be emerging church gurus but rather solve a particular small(!) set of problems surrounding every-age churches that are accessible to older people. To that end, as we read through material in the coming months and post small articles, we’ll be writing very much for ourselves and the issues we face and certainly aren’t offering a super-critical supposedly objective judgement on everything we encounter.

So, what did we gain from reading the report?

For this post let’s start with the preference that we noted for creative worship over and against what might be described as a rationalistic word focussed theology and the worship it shapes (3.1.4).

We already have ourselves a desire for NYNO churches to be places in which people’s creative impulses can be shared and put to the service of worship. We’ve got some ideas, some borrowed, some new, that we think could work well, although of course they’re all untested in our context as of yet.

Our current thoughts are, though, that reflection and creativity will be most productive and faithful when occurring within a theological framework. We haven’t, to put it one way, given up on words. A couple of things about how we hope to use words:

Starting a church is difficult. There’s a need for the new members to form, to receive, understand and participate in the identity of the church. In one sense, this will be catholic and so no different from any other church. In another sense, this identity will also be very particular, depending on the precise context in which the church meets and the lives of the people involved. Words will be important for forming this identity, for corporately finding and telling and sharing the story of who we are. Of course, the report is not criticising the use of words but an abstract technical division and categorisation of Christian belief at the expense of the imaginative.

We’re planning to do our own research on worship. If we’re going to be innovative in worship, there’s no point reinventing the wheel or making the mistakes of yesteryear. One of the things I have a hunch is missing, and I’ve already alluded to this in a previous post, is an appreciation of the spiritual dynamics of what happens when we meet. There’s lots to be said about this, but put very simply Word and Sacrament point us to reality of God acting, speaking, and the content of God’s speech to us is Jesus Christ. This being so, we’re looking for our meetings to be places where spiritual events occur, which we’re expecting to be God speaking of Jesus Christ and us hearing this and knowing our sins are forgiven.

With that framework in place, the possibilities of creativity open up on a secure basis. I’m guessing this is all the more important where NYNO groups might have lay leadership or are less confident at being able to maintain coherency between the shared faith and any new contribution.

It’s very likely I’ve read into this section of the report more than was necessary, but as I mentioned earlier, the purpose of these notes and reading the report was to help us form our own mind with regard to the particular tasks in front of us.

Matthew

The Shape of the Church to Come

If … basic communities gradually become indispensable – since otherwise in the present situation and that of the immediate future the institutional church will shrivel up into a church without people – the episcopal great church has the task and duty of stimulating and of contributing to their formation and their necessary missionary activity … If the basic community is really Christian and genuinely alive, the result of a free decision of faith in the midst of a secularised world where Christianity can scarcely be handed on any longer by the power of social tradition, then all ecclesiastical organisation is largely at the service of these communities: they are not means to serve the ends of an ecclesiastical bureaucracy defending and wanting to reproduce itself.

Karl Rahner, The Shape of the Church to Come (SPCK: London, 1974), pp. 114-15, quoted in Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, rev. edn. (Darton, Longman and Todd: London, 1989), pp. 9-10.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Final Speech in the House of Lords

Older People: Their Place and Contribution in Society

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity afforded to raise the pressing and still largely ignored question of the well-being of older citizens in our country. I doubt very much whether, in your Lordships’ House, I need to underline the fact that those over, say, 62 are readily capable of making a contribution to society. I think that we may take as read declarations of personal interest in this regard; though I must also declare a specific interest as a patron or vice-president of practically all the voluntary agencies I shall be mentioning in the course of thesen remarks. Yet the fundamental issue which has prompted this debate is the undoubted fact that we are becoming dangerously used to speaking and thinking of an ageing population as a problem, a burden on public purse and private resources alike. My hope for this debate is not so much to strengthen support for particular initiatives, although I shall be mentioning some, as to plead for a change in attitude that will appropriately recognise the dignity of older citizens, whatever their condition.

As things stand, more than half the over-60 population are involved in some sort of formal and structured voluntary work; over half the population in general believe that this is part of what they should aspire to in later life; and a third of the population declare themselves willing to take part in informal volunteering. These facts are of basic importance. They mean, quite simply, that a majority of the older population are ready to do what they can, unpaid, to support the fabric of society; in other words, people are doing exactly what we expect responsible citizens to do. And a majority of us see this as a goal for our own later years. A conservative estimate of the value of the voluntary work already done in caring and family maintenance alone by the over-60s is in the region of £50 billion.

The first question we must address, therefore, is what can be done by government and other agencies to harness most effectively this resource, not just as a way of solving problems that require such resources, but as an affirmation of positive models of living for older citizens. If we live in a society that expects its older citizens to continue to support the fabric of their society and values them for doing so, we shall at least put to rest the damaging stereotype of older people as being essentially passive in relation to society at large. And that means in turn that we may stop seeing the older population as primarily “dependants” on the goodwill of family or neighbourhood or state. As we have seen, a majority of the population expect that there will be positive opportunities in their later years; we need to work with that perception and reinforce it strongly. The Equality Act 2010 has laid clear foundations in this respect, but more needs doing to build some solid embodiments of the principle. For example, we need to ask how businesses not only prepare employees for such a future, but how they foster a continuing relationship with older citizens in their own exercise of corporate responsibility. A vigorous dialogue between business and local advocacy groups is essential here.

It is only against such a background that we can usefully address the questions that do arise in relation to dependency, because it is of course a fact that advancing age is likely to decrease physical independence in various ways. But rather than taking this as the core issue, we should see questions of dependency as basically about how our public policy and resourcing seek to preserve both dignity and capacity among those who may be increasingly physically challenged, but who remain citizens capable of contributing vital things to the social fabric. There is a lot to learn in this regard from the work done by disability rights and advocacy groups. We must recognise that it is assumptions about the basically passive character of the older population that foster attitudes of contempt and exasperation, and ultimately create a climate in which abuse occurs.

Shockingly, Ruth Marks, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, estimates that one in four older people report one or another form of “elder abuse” ranging from patronising and impatient behaviour to actual physical mistreatment. In passing, it is worth considering whether the model of an older people’s commissioner is one that Wales might helpfully lend to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Delivering Dignity, the February 2012 report of the Commission on Dignity in Care for Older People, sets out a comprehensive picture of what older citizens have a right to expect in terms of care and respect, with far-reaching implications as to the training of professional carers and care managers in and out of the NHS. It recommends, for example, that the Government’s Nursing and Care Quality Forum should expand to include healthcare assistants and those working in care homes, and significantly, that the status of such care workers should be promoted by means of a “college of care”.

One of the less recognised results of a dismissive attitude to the needs of older citizens receiving care is a view of carers for the elderly as a sort of proletariat among health and care professionals. There is a vicious circle at work here that needs dismantling. It is worth mentioning that some hospices, such as the pioneering St Christopher’s, have blazed a trail in defining first-rate care standards. Needless to say, the same applies where we are talking about more than merely physical incapacity. Dementia and depression are painfully familiar challenges -I would guess that a good many in this Chamber have experience at first hand of caring for family members living with such conditions. The Alzheimer’s Society, in co-operation with the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, has an initiative aimed at creating dementia-friendly communities, and more needs to be done once again in challenging those attitudes that lead to stigma and increased isolation.

This returns us to the challenge of the commission’s report, which flags up the need for integrated care, drawing together home, hospital and care home. The commission recommends that hospitals perform a full assessment of older people’s care needs before they are discharged, with a named staff member taking ongoing responsibility for liaison with patient and family. Once again, many hospices have developed increasingly extensive and sophisticated ways of involving the wider community in their work, in a way that impacts constructively on general attitudes towards the older population.

All this also underlines the importance of the intergenerational relationship. As family structures become looser and more scattered geographically, it is vital that there be regular opportunities for interaction between younger and older people, not least between children and older citizens, whether through schools arranging visiting and befriending or through formal and informal oral history projects, which have been a very significant aspect of the life of some schools in creating and developing liaison with older members of the community. It is here, too, that the contribution of churches and faith communities may be particularly significant. In a good many contexts, these are simply the most robust and effective promoters of intergenerational contact and formal or informal volunteering opportunities for older people.

Much more could be said about specific questions and proposals. We have had two extremely important contributions in recent years to the overall policy landscape in the shape of the Dilnot report and the Delivering Dignity document, to which I have already referred more than once.

In conclusion, I return to the matter of attitudes to the elderly. A great deal of our culture is frenetically oriented towards youth-notably in entertainment and marketing. Up to a point, this is perfectly understandable: people want to put down markers for the future as they see it and to capture the attention of a rising generation. However, the effect of all this can be to ignore the present reality of responsible, active people in older life, who are still participants in society, not passengers. Its effect can also be to encourage younger people to forget that they are ageing themselves. To speak of an “ageing population” is, in one sense, simply to utter the most banal of all cliches, because ageing is something that we are all doing whether we like it or not. Younger people may forget that they are ageing themselves and will be in need of positive and hopeful models for their own later years. We tolerate a very eccentric view of the good life, or the ideal life, as one that can be lived only for a few years, say, between18 and 40. The “extremes” of human life-childhood and age, when we are not defined just by our productive capacity and so have time to absorb the reality around us in a different way-are often hard for our society to come to terms with. Too often, at the one end of the spectrum, we want to rush children into pseudo-adulthood; too often we want older citizens either to go on as part of the productive machine as long as possible or to accept a marginal and humiliating status, tolerated but not valued, while we look impatiently at our watches waiting for them to be “off our hands”.

The recovery of a full and rich sense of human dignity at every age and in every condition is an imperative if we are serious about the respect we universally owe each other-that respect which, for Christians, is grounded in the divine image discernible in old and young alike. I beg to move.

Original text here.

The Problem of Belonging

One of the big problems that any work like NYNO will face is that of it being ‘second-class’ church.

Most work, I’d suggest, that is done to meet the needs of older people who find it difficult to attend their old church is admirable. Putting on a small, short service, once a fortnight or once a month is not a bad thing to do. A subtle problem that those who are running it face is that we rarely think of it as church, with all the spiritual significance that would go with that. It’s a service that we do (to God and to these people in front of us), not really church on its fullness. This is understandable. There are relatively few people there. They are older than our usual congregation. We have other things to do!

We have found that even if we want to take these small congregations seriously, it’s very difficult to do. Perhaps one way of summing up the problem is that we don’t identify with these people, we don’t belong to them. In our own minds, we belong elsewhere. The amount of time and effort we spend on other congregations rather than these small ones is an indicator of where our heart is.

The problem exists in another form too. Christian residents of sheltered accommodation will often have existing long-term connections with other churches and these connections must in no way be undermined by our work.

The answer lies, we hope, in those who lead any individual NYNO congregation committing to it as their primary place of Christian worship. NYNO congregations can’t be extra good works. To be different at all, they have to be ‘first-class’ church. They have to be places in which Christians can participate in Christian community, in sharing their lives together, in which younger people can be blessed by older people.

NYNO congregations cannot primarily be about more able people going into the accommodation of older people in order to be nice to them, or even to bless them with the word of God. That risks being patronizing. If we can’t recognize that older people are our peers, that it’s genuinely a privilege to be with them, that we belong with these people, we need to think again.

 

Church Leadership and Mission

Where two are three are gathered …

This being the case, any gathering of Christians can be considered the Body of Christ in the place that they gather. While it’s true that these two or three must not pretend that they are isolated from the wider communion of saints, including what we might more intuitively call the local church, the opposite also holds. Those two or three must not pretend that that are less than the body of Christ, the church. Just because they are a subset of a wider Christian community does not mean that they can or should forget that they are to live in accordance with the life-giving grace of the God who has saved them and brought them together. Or, to get to the nub of the issue for this post, the two and three are called to mission by the God who is missionary in his nature.

Now, the previous paragraph was something of a flanking manoeuvre. What I had in mind is the interesting fact that a church leadership team, and church planting team, are an expression of church and perhaps a more than usually important one. Whether they be two, three, four or more, they are a Christian community and as they live their lives together they are called to be a witness. Again, this doesn’t mean they can think of themselves as an exclusive club because they are the church. In fact, precisely the opposite is the case. Because this group are the church they are called to embrace and witness to others.

The logic of this seems to take us to some interesting places. It means, for instance, that church planting team cannot be static in its membership. If such a team is genuine Christian community and not merely a group of people exercising church leadership, then it must it be out-going in its life, seeking to bring others in, sharing its life. It means that the membership of such a team must seek our diversity and can’t be content with its own life. In its very constituency and life a leadership team must exercise a ministry and communicate a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). Quite practically, this means being diverse and introducing its ideas to new and different people. The leadership team needs to be missional. This will be lifeblood for the future church. Here is a leadership who model in their life together the overflowing grace of God, constantly seeking to enlarge the scope of its conversation because it recognises that the content of its conversation is the life changing Gospel.

What might the alternative look like?  Well, it would be an inward looking group. One that had no confidence in its message and had no desire to share it. One that was frightened or jealous of the stranger. One that held onto power, forgetting that control belongs to God.

All of this is said in awareness of the much that is said of the necessity of preserving the clear ethos and vision of a young fresh expression of church. It is undoubtedly the case that a strong character who does not share the distinctive ideas of a new project can derail it quickly. But let me suggest further though, that all God’s people have a contribution to make to the church. While I might be tempted to agree that power seeking Christians with borderline personality disorders should be firmly shown the door if attempting to make themselves comfortable in new leadership teams, at the same time, might it not be better to ask first if truth can be told, repentance sought, and reconciliation achieved? The consequences of not doing this may well be that further down the line we discover we have built a church that is not missional and therefore, as some would have it, not a church at all.

Evangelism

The world is tired with words of the Church.

I think I may be too.

Words without actions are dead, I’m tempted to say. Cruel, possibly, too, if it comes to us arrogantly, without humility, a declaration of truth as a statement of power to which others must submit. This can be the case even when the truth being enunciated is ostensibly one of God’s grace in Christ.

But all we have are words. Is this not the case? The words of the Bible, the message of the Gospel. Is not God’s forgiveness a word.

But equally, I’m frightened of the alternative. If the communication of God’s grace in Christ is dependent on my ability to live a saint’s life, then this is all hopeless.

We can’t rightly talk about evangelism independently of the nature, character, attitude of those who witness to Christ and how this is formed by the Gospel.

Christians, and the Church, do not possess a truth that they are responsible for communicating to the world. (Yes, it can be seen that way, but it may not be helpful in this day.) Instead, we are those who have heard the Word of God and so found themselves to be guilty, proud, arrogant, possessive, fearful. In Christ we find ourselves to be both judged and acquitted at one and the next moment.

All we can do, all we should do, is live in the light of this, in humility and quietness and faithfulness. Our words as the church are empty. We have nothing to say, no position of power from which to argue and convince. On that basis we will realise our position is hopeless and we will be driven to prayer.

Does this mean we will say nothing? No, it just means that we must experience the knowledge of our state before Christ, judged and loved, before we can adequately witness to him before others.

Anything else will just be propaganda.