I was really impressed by our 800+ clergy and churchwardens en masse, with a different kind of feel for what’s going on all over Bucks. Having completed all five events for this year, people have been asking me what I said! So here goes:
We have a problem — people admire Jesus, but not the Church or Christians. We need to take this very seriously. pPeople are supposed to see in Church the life of Christ, corporately lived out among them in acts of loving service, creativity and imaginative renewal. The breakdown of this linkage says something uncomfortable about us. So how, honestly, do we reconnect?
We need to touch the real world — Almost all churches have global links, ways to open hearts and minds to bigger reality. Karen and I recommend a growing trend among clergy, which we follow, to give a week’s ministry every year to somewhere completely different overseas — goes to South Africa and I go to India. As well as the diocese, Missionary societies and other organisations like SOMA are bursting with good ideas. Churches are also doing local events to build understanding of real world issues, and raising awareness of ecological challenges, like Think Local Food Fairs and Ecological events in the Chilterns.
The big resource to bridge the gap is vibrant community. Consider the questions that are asked at Church Council meetings:
- What have we always done?
— good question for an organisation that lives faith in momentum, often in fabulous historic buildings
- What have we got to do?
— get this one wrong and there’s nothing to pass on
- What do we want to do?
— the Church has transformed from an arm of state into a voluntary organisation in the past fifty years. It matters very much to take account of the value we add to people’s lives
- What ought we to do?
— we need to ask this because we aren’t here entirely to please ourselves, but to proclaim and enact a different way of life according to Jesus’ values
- What can we do?
— a good question, because trying to do everything is a sure recipe for ending up doing nothing.
- Where’s the fire?
— In the communities we serve, in our churches, in us?
In the Oxford Diocese we have been trying to picture what needs to be on church agendas.
Sustaining the Sacred Centre
— right at the middle of what we do
— a way of life, not an hour Sunday morning
Changing the World
— not chasing our tails
Building Vibrant Community
— radically inclusive, earthed and responsive
Shaping confident collaborative leadership
— so Goodbye to the Vicar as Fat Controller of Everything
These could be seen as additional chores — extra carrots on the pile. They don’t have to be that. Rather they are ways of understanding what we’re already doing, and focusing it. Thus Six Days in Lent — not extra stuff to do, but an opportunity to carve out extra free time to feed your soul. Many people had used this really fruitfully and joyfully, including churchwardens.
Putting the act together, I picked a story, which various people at the Visitations gave me parallels to from elsewhere in Bucks, from Turweston. It’s a small village (200 people) with a large medieval Church and, 3 years ago, a struggling small congregation. They have developed what they call “Village Worship” — a monthly meeting point with a decent breakfast, an opportunity to pray together, and simple worship. This brings between 30 and 60 people in, and has brought new heart to the village. Margaret, Andy and Harriet take up the story:
The budget, incidentally, was, er, Zero. Extraordinary things await those who ask “Where’s the Fire?”
He is the Way...
Follow Him through the land of Unlikeness,
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life!
Love Him in the World of the Flesh
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
W. H. Auden:
So what are you waiting for?