Sunday, January 27, 2008

Learning lessons from Paul?

Looking forward to the evening service today. It's the last one in its current time-slot - next week we have two (more on that in a moment).

The reason I'm looking forward to tonight is that we reach the climax of our reflections on Clustering around the Table based on 1 Corinthians 11-14. And I am keen to explore whether the model Paul assumes - relatively small, home-based gatherings around the meal table - is a model that would help us build community and share our faith with our neighbours in more informal and interactive settings.

The early believers took the Greco-Roman symposium as their model for what happened when they met - a meal followed by a structured conversation in which everyone participated. One of the key things to notice in this, it seems to me, is that the early followers of Jesus didn't create something new and didn't amend something noticeably religious as the pattern for their gatherings. So, could we take the dinner party or summer BBQ as our model for church?

Next week we launch our new evening programme for an experimental period. We're replacing the hallowed catch-all 6:30pm service with two gatherings. At 4:45pm we'll be having a classic-style service with hymns - old and new - prayers and a sermon. Then at 7pm we'll have a late service with more contemporary music, an informal feel and interactive worship and teaching. It will include elements from our cafe-style gatherings and a more flexible and fluid approach.

It'll be interesting to see how it goes. My hope is that over time it might double the numbers coming in the evenings as people feel able to invite their friends to one or other of the services. Our primary aim in all this is mission - we want to provide people of varying temperaments worship formats that they feel comfortable inviting their friends to.

Of course, in many ways this is but a stepping stone along the way to working out how we might apply what we've been exploring in Clustering around the Table to how we create church here that builds believers and provides opportunity for others to hear and respond to the Christian message.

In due course, it would be good to see groups meeting in cafes and pubs on Sunday and other evenings through the week in order to do and be church. But revolutions start with baby steps...

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