I've been reading an intriguing book by Alan Billings. It could well be standard middle-of-the-road Anglicanism for all I know - but since I'm not one of those...
Alan is the reason I'm a Christian. He prepared me for confirmation in the early 70s before I defected to the free church across the road (better girls!) But the indelible mark he left on me was that Christianity was absolutely about the world we live in. God is interested in the world and not just the souls of people.
His book looks at why people in a secular culture come to church to have their babies baptised, get married and bury their dead. He argues that it's because people are 'cultural Christians' and when faced with these key moments in their lives want to face them in some way in the presence of God.
It's an intriguing and sometimes compelling argument. I do find myself in sharp disagreement over his definition of Christian and hence wondering whether his label 'cultural Christian' really has any validity. But it's made me think - and not many book do that.
What I am really wrestling with at the moment is his discussion of different churchmanship - the parish versus gathered model. This is ecclesiology 101 but it came as a forceful reminder to me as I read it this morning that this one reason why we - a gathered church - struggle with being inclusive.
The argument is that the parish model enables the church to include everyone in a defined area and in some way offer to serve them. The gathered model says that church is for the people who have chosen to be part of it and our only engagement with the wider neighbourhood is for evangelism.
I want to be a gathered church doing parish-style ministry. But is that possible? Do the 'cultural Christians' who live around me - if that's what they - see my church as a valid expression of the Christianity they think they want when they are hatching, matching or dispatching? Or is the default position of English people to seek these services from the church of England - of which we have plenty.
I am just embarking on marriage prep with a couple who are not church attenders at the moment, though she used to come to our church when she was younger. They want to get married in church for precisely the reasons Alan suggests in his book - 'it's not really proper getting married anywhere else.' 'I want God to be part of the ceremony'.
But I suspect that most people like this couple would seek out the parish church rather than my Baptist church.
The question I'd like to work with for a while is this: can we identify an area - not well served by other churches - and offer to be a 'parish' church to its residents? What would we have to do that was different? What services would we have to provide?
More fundamentally, how could we let people know that we were operating in this inclusive, parish way and were not just a congregation for those opting to join and prepared to get over the hurdles to associate with us?
Ah, questions, questions. What fun!
Saturday, November 19, 2005
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I found your comment on the book thought provoking too. I'm not sure that the church necessarily needs to offer a particular service or needs to find a niche market in order to create a valid expression of itself though. The fact that people come at key stages in their life is encouraging in that there is a constant awareness of the need for spiritual expression and God's presence, even in the most secular of settings. Perhaps if the church community spent more time in the market places so to speak, rather than striving to get people to come into its own domain then we would connect more and people could find a more ready gateway for them then to go on and engage with their spirituality.
So lets have a drink in the pub rather than a coffee morning and march with those on the margins at Downing Street rather than stand outside the BBC complaining about Gerry Springer. We might show more spiritual awareness if we could become more of a witness and advocate in our communities rather than an irrelevance and out of touch moral judge. I reckon that could work in either of the parish or gathered community models? After all neither model is doing great at the moment anyway.
Oh dear this sounds a bit sour. I long for us to engage though and I'm just not sure that our main aim or call is one of service provision.
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