New life outside the city walls?
I draw a number of conclusions from all this:
- Interestingly most of the above take place outside the structures of the institutional churches.
- They incarnate a face of God other than that incarnated by the church.
- They often involve men and women of deep faith taking risks, stepping out into the unknown, not knowing where they are being led, and not being sure that they are right.
- They frequently require people to accept failure as part of the process.
- Yet, they appear to be overwhelmingly life giving, for all that is touched by them.
- Often those involved in them are people who have either left the churches or are only clinging on by their fingertips.
- When they come together they are, by definition, new ways of being church.
- One of the things that frequently typifies these people is a willingness to trust themselves.
- Trusting God and trusting oneself are two sides of the same coin: it’s difficult to do one without finding yourself doing the other. In doing so we discover who we are called to become and something of the nature of the God Who calls us. It is invariably Good News.
I find myself reflecting that the New Testament tells of how the persecution of the early Christians in Jerusalem drove many of them out of that city. It must have felt like a terrible loss combined with an uncertain future. I wonder if something similar is happening now. Many are finding themselves driven out of the institutional churches. They often find it a bewildering and lonely experience. But it also seems to be a seedbed of creativity. I wonder if it is God Who is driving people out of declining churches, bringing about a death, so that there can be a re-birth?. And perhaps this God is already planting signs of new life, indeed has been doing so for some time?
If there is truth in this, then the Church’s task is not to save itself. At the heart of the Christian message is the reality of death leading to resurrection. The current form of the Church appears to be dying. We need to embrace that dying as a gift not a problem. We need an honourable and dignified funeral [I think that Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke in these terms] and we need a celebratory excitement about the signs of new life that are emerging. Crucially we need bridges to be built between the dying and the new.