Being Church: A new Model
In a time of such dramatic change to our daily lives it might seem like madness to even consider changing how we ‘are’ and ‘do’ church. Surely it would be wiser to stick with as much comfortable familiarity as possible, after all the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!’ Why change? And more importantly why change now? The Christian Church has always been changing, from meeting in Upper Rooms to gathering under Solomon’s Colonnades in the temple to traveling all over the Roman Empire – the early Church was constantly changing and changing rapidly to adapt to swift growth and brutal persecution. Even Cramner, who wrote so much of what is familiar to many of us from the original Common Book of Prayer intended for his prayerbook to be updated and adapted every ten years or so! Quite what he would have made of centuries of unwavering adherence to his beautiful tone and language is not clear, but he definitely intended change as he was writing it. Even before Covid-19 attempted to redefine the world, the pace of change in everyday life was rapidly increasing to such an extent that it was almost impossible to keep up. Cultural norms were changing even faster than new models of iPhone were emerging! Indeed, for many, the pace of change in the everyday, needed to be countered by a strict clinging to the traditions and rituals of our religious past. They used to say that changes in business life and practices took 2-3 years while change, (even basic change) within churches could take up to ten years.
But no longer! I have been quoting frequently of late, WB Yeats line from his poem ‘Easter 1916’ ‘All’s changed, changed utterly – a terrible beauty is born’.
These words resonate so succinctly with what is happening around us- everything we hold dear, all our normal cultural practices and pastimes have changed irrevocably in just a few short months. There is simply no going back to the way things have been – at least for the foreseeable future. That is why you will hear more and more about ‘the new normal’; However even that ‘new normal’ is not at all yet clearly defined because of how quickly everything changes. How we grieve – together but apart, how we marry – online or outdoors; how we worship – no singing, no greeting, no tea or coffee together; all these things have changed completely without our agreement or even awareness. We are left with a simple brutal choice – to be tossed and blown by the waves of change and momentum around us; or to ‘gird up our loins’ (don’t ask!) and make some choices that will help us not to be defined by Covid–inflicted changes, but rather to decide collectively as a Christian community what we want our core principles and fundamentals to be.
We are being forced (we should rather embrace the opportunity) to identify what it is that makes us ‘Church’. Funny enough we as a parish were already exploring this in recent years as we reflected on the vision of the ‘ARK, (I bet you wished you’d listened to all my recent sermons now!). Just to remind you of our parish vision (it’s spelled out on our website www.christchurchbray.ie ), ARK stands for Acceptance, Renewal, Kindness. Who knew that while this vision was emerging, that Kindness would be an important bit of the ‘new normal’ but not nearly enough. Our vision is to meet people where they are at rather than expect them to come and meet us where we are (Acceptance): To be open to the unconditional Love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by surrendering to God’s will and purpose to be renewed by God’s presence with us and in us (Renewal): To accept the inherent goodness of God in our lives, and to live lives filled with a heartfelt response to God’s love (Kindness). So, by the Grace of God, our Vision is on course, but it is painfully clear that the model of how we are church needs to change urgently and significantly. This is in no way to imply or suggest that how we were ‘doing’ church before was without value or worth. It had much to recommend it. But if we are honest, our model of church has been limited for some time. And so we find ourselves living through era-changing circumstances that are still emerging with insufficient depth to sustain our Christian witness during such a difficult time.
To face the challenges and opportunities ahead we already have core values and principles that root us in Scripture, Tradition and Reason (our Anglican essentials). We cannot be Church without fulfilling the very role we were created for – to worship God. Prayer, both personal and corporate (communal), and Bible study are essential to grow deeper as individuals and as community. We are fortunate to live at a time when there are plenty of resources to help us understand both – Alpha, Nua, The Bible Course, the Prayer Course and many many resources are available to help us to grow in faith. Whether we can meet together in person, or online to study together is still unclear but thank God we live at a time when communication is multi-faceted.
Pastoral care has always been one of our core values and while our connection with people of all ages is more restricted, (FaceTime/ Skype visits to nursing homes will be part of the new norm). I have been heartened by the organic emergence of a Mothers’ Union WhatsApp group that has welcomed and virtually embraced Mothers’ Union members and many more. The gentle grace and sometimes hilarious memes present us with another model of being church in a different way. As does a ‘Zoom coffee’ gathering after church each Sunday which we have been trialing in recent weeks. We plan to make this a parish-wide gathering from September onwards. If interested in joining in (it’s so much simpler than it sounds) contact Avril on 087 291 3419 and she’ll add you to the growing number who are logging in.
This online way of connecting will be critical in the Autumn as we try to reconnect with our younger members in fun, engaging, interactive and pastoral ways. Obviously there must be appropriate protection for all as we move towards a blend of online and physically gathering community. We’ll have more details in our next magazine.
So what is the glue that holds all that is new and traditional in our parish family? Obviously it is God’s love and a shared searching for truth and meaning – but it is also becoming clear that there needs to be a coherent and cohesive approach to all aspects of our parish life and ministry. A common theme for a season that is reflected in everything we do and are as a parish family.
‘The Big Picture’ is an emerging idea which I believe will help us not just survive this global pandemic but also to grow through it. Some of you may remember in my previous writings I spoke about the past 20 years in Ireland as a modern-day mirror of the story of Joseph in Egypt and the dreams he interpreted for Pharaoh. There were seven years of plenty, an opportunity to store up reserves; Seven years of want when famine threatened to consume even all that reserve that was stored. And while there were many years of safety and deliverance for Jacob and his descendants, ultimately those years became defined by almost 400 years of slavery. What I like to take from that story is that we in Ireland had well over 7 years of plenty with the Celtic Tiger which we squandered as the Church failed to speak prophetically like Joseph of the challenges that were fast approaching. The last 10 years reflect the Seven years of famine in Egypt. Everything we once held fast to as secure and reliable failed us and let us down. Just as we were beginning to re-emerge from the legacy of the financial crash – albeit not all that much wiser nor sensible – we find ourselves entering what could easily be 400 weeks of enslavement to Covid-19 and its impact on all things familiar and comforting. The key part of nearly every single Bible story and event is that God ultimately saves His people. From Creation to Resurrection God steps in and delivers his children from despair, loss and failure. He Redeems His people. Surely this theme of ‘God saves/ delivers his people’ is a heart cry to the nations today. Surely the hope of Salvation and Deliverance is critically relevant today when all is stripped away that once was security for us. And so I’d like to propose that over the next 10 months (September to June) we look, each month at a particular Bible experience of how God Delivered His people and how he is delivering us today. Using Sermons, teaching, Bible studies, videos, Lego, Sunday Rocks, Confirmation Classes, Youth fellowship, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Milkshake Club, Choir rehearsals, committee meetings, podcasts, blogs, Tik tok, whatever to learn and apply what God is teaching us to our daily lives. An obvious starting point in September is Creation and the Fall with its themes of disobedience, stewardship, climate care and so much more. We will literally be making this up as we go along but I know that if we embrace this monthly theme creatively, biblically, and prayerfully we will ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds (and hearts). Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good pleasing and perfect will’. Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Wouldn’t it be nice to free ourselves for a while from being defined by a pandemic and to allow ourselves to be defined by God’s extraordinary love in much more detail next month