Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Serving-First



While recognising that new churches emerge in a whole range of ways, Michael Moynagh (in “Church for Every Context”) suggests two models that will often provide the strategy, either a worship-first journey or a serving-first journey.

A worship-first approach provides for opportunities for worship in the hope, and often with the result, that a viable church may emerge.  There are different ways in which this can happen, but the point is that the church’s core activity is being provided as a base for the life of an emerging congregation.  This may work well, for example, in a new community, when Christians will be amongst those moving in. 

However, especially if we are looking to reach the ‘scarcely’ or ‘never’ church, Moynagh rather commends the serving-first approach.  “The journey starts with listening to God and to the people the founding community feels called to serve, which is an act of love in itself.  The community begins to build loving relationships and engage in acts of service, as Jesus did.”  Service, simply defined as “acts of kindness” thus provides a basis for engaging people in church. 

As an example Moynagh quotes Barbara Glasson’s bread-making initiative which became Liverpool’s bread church and her comment on the gospel engagement that occurred as people made bread together.  He quotes her comment: “Side-by-side encounters are infinitely less threatening than face to face ones.”

Moynagh goes on to suggest that we can identify this approach in Jesus’ ministry.  Loving and serving is the starting point that subsequently leads to the challenge to discipleship.  After all, as Moynagh comments: “Breaking down barriers between church and life is precisely what Christians are called to do.”

Monday, 30 December 2013

God - the 'Beyond' in the Midst



Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who went to prison for his beliefs and who was executed by the Gestapo shortly before the end of the Second World War, once wrote: “God is the “beyond” in the midst of our life.  The Church stands not where human powers give out, on the borders, but in the centre of the village.”   

I think that what Bonhoeffer meant by that is that God’s being ‘beyond’, God’s transcendence, to use the big theological word, is to be found right in the midst of life.  God is engaged with people where they are.   

Sometimes we seem to think that we need to move away from the ordinary, to discover that special place, in order to find God.  Not so!  Of course, we can go off to special places.  We can seek out that extraordinarily holy location.  That can be good.  It can be special.  It can be meaningful.  But we need to remember that we can also find God, and that God is very present, in the ordinary things and places of life, in the supermarket, on the bus, at the school, in the café, on the street, at the leisure centre, wherever people go and gather.  

Essentially, the church is to be found, with God, ‘in the centre of the village’.  God is right where people are.  There is no need to go looking for God.  We won’t find God hiding in obscure corners.  God is where God is needed.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Insane Grace



Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly one of the outstanding figures of the twentieth century.  His gracious leadership will long be an inspiring example.  Richard Holloway talks of standing outside the cell Mandela occupied on Robben Island for so many years - "The enormity of forgiveness flowing from such conditions is impossible to understand.  It is the insanity of grace.  ("On Forgiveness", Canongate, 2002)

Holloway talks about forgiveness, particularly in the light of those situations in which we need to 'just forgive' in order to escape being completely taken over by the horrors of what has happened.

Moses established a system of proportionate response - Exodus 21 - an eye for an eye, and all that stuff.  Holloway points points out that "One of the most outrageous things that Jesus ever attempted was to replace this sane and carefully calibrated response to injustice with a system of non-resistance."  Jesus suggested going second miles, giving away extra items of clothing and turning other cheeks.

This forgiveness thing is not easy, but it does need to be tackled and, in the end.ased on forgiveness works much better than one based on seeking revenge.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Forgiveness



I believe that forgiveness is one of the most needed things in today's world.  There are so many examples of relationships that have got messed up and need a new start.  I have been reading Richard Holloway's "On Forgiveness" (Canongate, 2002) in which he suggests: "The real beauty and power of forgiveness is that it can deliver the future to us."  Forgiveness opens possibilities up for us.  Holloway goes on to refer to Nietzsche and his recognition of "how the past can rob us of the future and how our lives can be stunted by remembrance and sorrow.” He also quotes the ideas of Hannah Arendt who recognised that "forgiveness is always of individuals, never of actions.  We cannot ever forgive a murder or a theft, but we might learn to forgive a murderer or a thief."

Forgiveness is often a difficult area but it is an important part of our human capacity.  Jesus was very clear that it was something that we need to do.  He told Peter to forgive seventy times seven times.  Forgiving is an important element in the Lord's Prayer.  There are also a number of stories or parables that Jesus told to make the point.

Are we ready to pray and live that part of the Lord's Prayer?

Friday, 27 December 2013

Food



Trystan Owain Hughes’ “Real God in the Real World” offers a reflective reading for each day from 1st December to 6th January.  Yesterday’s focussed on food, an appropriate theme for both Christmas and Jesus.  We enjoy our eating at Christmas, and often take a much longer to both prepare and eat the food, this making it the occasion that a meal should be.  We also can say that Jesus was well known for sharing meals with others.  It was a hallmark of his ministry, and so symbolises much of our sharing, not least, but not only, when we gather around the Lord’s Table and celebrate Holy Communion.

Hughes is a university chaplain and he mentions the way in which the chaplaincy gathers students to discuss a whole range of things, but not least the major festivals.  However, he also talks about a termly celebration of what he describes as “a festival that we have invented”.  They call it World Food Night and invites students to bring a dish from their own country to share – “We are treated to a veritable feast with tasty delights ….  (and) .. the food actually facilitates some wonderful conversations … “

Hughes goes on to contrast the rush that we are often in to eat our food with the expansion of cookery programmes and books and the many celebrity chefs.

There are many examples of how food is a prominent, and often missional, part of church life.  It is certainly a prime way of offering hospitality.  Our bring-and-share lunches, community cafés, harvest suppers, Burns suppers, messy church meals, and even coffee after the service can – and do – play their part in the building of relationships and engaging in mission.  Gathering around food is often a good means of attraction and engagement.  Let’s be ready to take the opportunities that come our way to engage in such hospitality.