Sunday, 22 November 2015

Making Church 'Relevant and attractive'

Sitting in the study this morning, the room temperature a balmy 12.4 degrees celsius, daily office said and prayers done I find myself reflecting upon the past week and some of the conversations Ithat occurred during it.

There were the conversations relating to making Church 'more relevant and engaged'; conversations shared over bread and wine in the homes of those unable to make it to the church building; conversations with people troubled by the apparent chasm that exists between clergy and those things which are biblical and were taught to them as right thinking (orthodox) throughout their Christian lives thus far, but are now being rewritten by those who are called to lead them.

I have wept with people at loss, betrayal and exclusion; exclusion from family, friends and employment.

I have smiled, laughed and celebrated the pinnacles of life made all the sweeter by comparison with the absurd, challenging and  often arduous bits of our existence.

I have met colleagues who have challenged me and taught me, and others who have taught me that avoidance where they are concerned might be the least damaging to my enthusiasm and spirit!

I've dressed up and made the journey as one of the Magi from the Orient (no, I wasn't in Leyton!) to a stable in Bethlehem in the company of a couple of other similarly dressed folk in preparation for the 'Living Nativity' which will be performed (three times) during the lighting of Tamworth's Christmas lights (gets earlier each year) - the Christmas tree festival is now in full swing in the Parish church and Ho, Ho, Holy cow;  the poppies weren't gone before the decorations were up!

One of the main reasons this blog exists is to enable me to have a scratch pad which originally was shared with a few friends as a means of internal dialogue with self being made visible so others could pray, suggest and offer correction where necessary.

I have been 'taught' how to 'do church' by people who, to be quite blunt, don't even know hop to get the building set up for a service! The arrogance that we all display when younger (and some continue with it into their dotage it seems) which speaks in clichéd terms of the obvious and resorts to the same trite statements that once resonated, and emanated, from us once as well. The reality is that those newly ordained might bring fresh eyes to a situation but they don't always accompany those eyes with informed brains and experienced hands and so, having gleaned, the rest is gently put to one side.

BUT (and there's always a 'but' somewhere, isn't there?)

Top of the list of all the things that have challenged, wounded and made me sad this week (and there have been more than a few of them) has to be the amalgam that is 'relevant and attractive' - the reason being that I don't find what they peddle to be either. Let me give you three little points* which will illustrate the places I need counselling and care:

WARNING. I can make no apologies for the word 'sin' appearing, for this is the correct term in this context. The the same for the use of the words 'He' when referring to God (I know He's male and female, but grammar and tradition apply here).

i. Church is about being sinful people who have been reconciled to their Creator by the death of one man who took our place on a cross.

ii. We are called to turn away from our sin (repent) and to believe in Jesus, the Christ, and living accordingly as His followers (apprentices or disciples) we uphold His teachings and live lives of service emulating Him for He is the servant of all.

iii. Christian life is about setting ourselves, and others, free from those things that bind us. It is about choosing the right course of action - after all, even on a one-way street, we can always park the car and walk in the opposite direction! We are not compelled to act in any way we don't want to, there is always a choice before us - a 'Yes' or 'No' moment which leads us in a different direction.This is as true a choosing to follow Christ as it is in choosing to act as we do in our daily lives.

Here's a little note on life: It is always about choice!

But apparently where someone makes a choice that is contrary to that which Christians are called to do, then in order to not make those around us who have chosen not to accept or follow Jesus feel uncomfortable or slighted or acted against we, being 'called to peace', are expected to compromise our position and beliefs so as not to upset those who have chosen something contrary to our own position. If we don't do this then were are making the Church irrelevant and unattractive.

Here's the rub: If we do compromise such that we endorse wrong choices then we deny Jesus and in watering down the Word (here meaning both written and living: Jesus and the Bible) we are not attractive or relevant but are apostate and fallen!

We can engage in gender issues with open hands and hearts - taking the middle path where neither Misogyny or Misandry are indulged in or entertained (personal note: I see more Misandry than I see Misogny these days, the latter being something people are afraid of being labelled!).

We can deal with sexual issues without condemning but also without compromise or the applauding of wrong** attitudes or actions. The 'God just wants you to be happy' brigade are, it seems, more often indulging in their cowardice rather than their courage. Nothing separates any of us from God's love and the Eucharist was never meant to be used as a weapon but those who condone, encourage or 'turn a blind eye' to those engaged in sexual sin are weakening the word and are themselves making the Church relevant and dualistic - this is the cancer that is killing the Church!

Politics are great, they allow us to make our point, have arguments and stand on our soapboxes. But don't confuse the soapbox with the pulpit! If you want to get political then head for Hyde Park's 'Speakers Corner' or find a street corner and make your point - but remember that whilst the Church should be involved in politics (because that's what democracy is about - and we are good citizens of this place even though we are but 'aliens and sojourners' here) the pulpit is not the place for your own views. Interestingly, even though many assume that the CofE is 'the Conservative party at prayer' I have to say that I hear increasing left-wing views coming from the space above many dogcollars these day - sadly too many seem to think that Jesus was the first socialist/Communist, but this is not the case; Jesus was the first Christian. I think that might just be a hint!

The problem is that, for many, attractive means toothless, valueless and impotent and this doesn't build the kingdom and doesn't fill your church building either. So why don't we start being 'counter-cultural' and stand up for what we believe (which is easy because you'll find it in the Bible) and state it without fear of opposition or criticism or being unpopular. If we seek to make Church popular by making it more and more like the world around us then we remove any reason for people to come in and engage with us because where' and what is the difference between us and the world?

The answer, in case you are unsure is: JESUS!

* There could be many more but I think these three tick the basic boxes.
** 'Wrong' here refers to those things that are contrary to that which the Bible teaches and the Church has traditionally upheld as being right behaviour and thinking.

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